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5 Top Tips for Successful Co-writing

Discover the many benefits of co-writing books with a partner and pick up top tips on how to do it successfully in this post by Aria Grace, bestselling author of m/m romance novels, drawing on her own experience of working with a co-author.

image of two laptops together to suggest co-writing

If you’ve considered cowriting but have been intimidated by the thought of sharing your stories with someone who might not love or understand them the way you do, it might be time to reconsider. It’s an excellent exercise for every author to experience at least once. Compromises are made and plot points are expanded in ways that help every author grow in their craft. At least that was my experience.

The first time I co-authored a book, it was very unintentional.

I wrote a scene that I thought was interesting but had no intention of ever publishing. I sent it to a friend, and the next day, she sent back a file that was twice as long. She said she loved the scene and decided to expand upon it.

I wasn’t really sure how I felt about it, but I added a few more scenes to what she wrote.

A couple weeks later, we had a book that is still considered to be one of my fan favorites.

However, not every cowriting partnership is that easy, nor should it be. There are a lot of decisions that should be made up front in order to avoid conflicts down the road.

Following are five tips to help you create a productive and lucrative cowriting relationship.

1. Work out the legalities and administrative stuff in advance

Whether you plan on making this partnership a long-term relationship or just a one-time experiment, don’t assume anything. A lawyer would probably advise that you set up an LLC for the new partnership, a separate bank account for the combined royalties, and a separate publishers account so if there are ever any disputes, your personal library of books aren’t at risk. However, I’m not an attorney, and there is an easier way.

At minimum, create an agreement that clearly states the royalty split (in many cases, 50/50 after expenses), who is responsible for administrative tasks (uploading files, contacting reviewers/promoters, distributing royalty payments, processing tax liabilities, etc.).

It’s also important to decide whether the arrangement will go on in perpetuity and the rights will be transferred to one author’s estate after death or if the book will be unpublished at some point in the future or made free to relieve the ongoing burden of such administrative tasks for eternity.

And as a side to that, the ongoing royalty split is work. As long as there are significant royalties to divide, it’s exciting. But years after release, when the book is earning $7 a month across all distributors, it’s a lot of work to calculate, document, and bring up paypal to send $3.50. If it becomes a burden, a 10% management fee paid to the author responsible for distributing payments and publication responsibilities is not uncommon or unreasonable.

2. Decide how the story will be written and what the author roles will be

Will an outline be created before the project begins, with chapters or characters divided between the authors, or will each author write until they get to a stopping point then hand the file back to the other author to pick it up?

As a “pantser,” I like to choose a character’s point of view and only write as that character while my co-author takes on another character’s POV. That allows us to each keep our distinct voices without having to match our cowriter. It also gives us each a little more control in how “our” characters develop.

If your book only has one POV, you can still divide up the protagonist’s lines with the antagonist’s lines. Of course, there are other methods. I know an amazing writing team who has a system in which one author writes the bones for the entire book. Then she hands the file over to her writing partner to fill in all the details.

It could take a bit of time for you and your partner to get familiar with each other’s patterns, but eventually, you’ll figure out a rhythm that works for you.

3. Use technology to keep the story straight

image of apps on iphone screen

Let’s face it, no one wants to learn new tools or spend money on tech that is just going to slow them down. But there are some tools out there that will help you work with a remote cowriter and make sure you’re never writing over files or possibly losing precious words from a previous version.

  • I use Google Docs to actually write the story. It’s not quite as advanced as Word and nothing like Scrivner, but if you just want one document that’s always saved and can be accessed from any computer at any time…it’s an easy and free tool. Oh, and multiple people can be writing/editing it at the same time. Here’s a sample template you can “make a copy” of if you’d like.
  • Google sheets is great for creating a shared series bible. You can access a blank bible file here. If you’d like to use it, just “Make a copy” and save it to your own Google Drive.
  • Google sheets is also a great way to track the royalties versus expenses in a fully transparent file. Here’s an example file (hopefully the numbers make sense in this generic file) for you to copy, if you’d like.
  • Microsoft 365 also works in a similar way if both authors have licenses (about $99/year).

4. Once your book is published, then you get to promote it

One of the best reasons for established authors to partner on a book or series is to share their existing readerships.

Unless you publish a book every few days (or as fast as readers can read them), there is plenty of room for all of us to share readers. Facebook takeovers, co-sponsored giveaways, and newsletter mentions are just some of the ways an author can expose their individual readers to their co-authors backlist.

If you’re debut authors or starting a new combined pen name, don’t fret. You can still benefit from having a second person who is as invested in the success of your books as you are.

By sharing the promotional responsibilities and evangelizing the book to twice as many readers, you have an advantage that most of us individual writers don’t have.

5. Last but not least, it’s so much more fun to write with a buddy!

photo of two authors at a laptop co-writingCowriting is so much more fun for me than writing on my own. Not only do I get to see inside someone else’s thought process to create a new world but having that daily connection to another author who is in exactly the same spot (literally) that I am in the writing process has made writing feel so much more interesting than ever before.

Not to mention that when I get a chapter back and it’s my turn, I’m much more motivated to turn it around asap because I don’t want to be the bottleneck. So if you’re trying to do rapid releases of a new series, cowriting could be a less-stressful and highly productive way to make that happen.

Cowriting isn’t for everyone, but by opening your mind to other writing methods, you might be surprised by how fun and efficient the writing experience can be. 

OVER TO YOU Do you have any top tips about co-writing based on your own writing partnership? Feel free to add them in the comments!

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OTHER POSTS ABOUT COLLABORATION BETWEEN AUTHORS
From the ALLi Author Advice Center Archive

A Case Study of Writing in Collaboration: Academic Author + Screenwriter = Thriller

Partnership in Writing: How Critique Groups Help Indie Authors Self-publish Better Books

Indie Publishing 2.0: The Power of Collaboration

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One Response to 5 Top Tips for Successful Co-writing

  1. K.S. Trenten October 27, 2018 at 5:57 am #

    Thank you for sharing your experiences! I did once have a lot of fun writing with a group a collective story for a collective fantasy universe, although it was a purely creative rather than professional effort. We never got into the legalities, which it sounds like a team should have well laid out in advance before they begin.

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