How to Co-Author a Book: Tips for a Successful Co-Authoring Process

Whether you are a bestselling author with a large backlist or a debut author, readers always want one thing from you: more books. You can give them what they want by publishing frequently, but for some self-published authors, this is too time-consuming. 

Co-authoring could provide the perfect solution. Embraced by many in the indie publishing community, co-authoring helps you share the workload and speed up the writing process. And those aren’t the only benefits: co-authoring allows you to expand your back catalog, combine marketing efforts, and cross-promo with your team.

If you have ever asked yourself how does co-authoring work or if co-authoring a book and co-writing a book are the same thing or just briefly overlap, you are not alone. 

But before committing to the process of co-authoring a book, you first need to assess if collaborative book writing is the best way forward for you as an author.

This article goes over:

Collaborative Book Writing

Co-author is the term used in publishing for any book written collaboratively by more than one author. When it comes to collaborative books, there are different roles you can play: you can be a lead author, book owner, co-author, or any other contributor.

  • Lead Author: is usually mentioned as the first author and takes more responsibilities, especially in the creative writing process.
  • Book Owner: takes care of the publishing business side and owns publishing rights.

Note: The lead author is the primary writer, the person who is responsible for the majority of the content creation, and often takes charge of the book’s organization, editing, and overall direction. The book owner is the person or entity that holds the book's copyright and, thus, has the legal right to sell, distribute, and offer additional licensing to third parties. While the lead author may be the book owner, these roles can also differ if the copyright is held by another entity – a person, publisher, or company. 

  • Co-author: collaborates with the lead author/book owner and contributes to the work in the manuscript.
  • Contributor: can be a designer or illustrator.

Co-Authoring a Book: What Does It Mean?

Co-authoring helps you share the workload and speed up the writing process. When authoring books, you must make numerous choices throughout the creative process. When co-authoring, these decisions are made jointly. Authors are responsible for crafting the content, developing the narrative, and fine-tuning the manuscript.

Learning how to co-author a book involves clear communication, effective planning, and establishing roles for each writer. Co-authoring a book not only divides the workload but also encourages exchanging ideas, creativity, and expertise, resulting in a rich, dynamic, and engaging final product.

Authors must ask themselves questions such as the number of chapters, the central concepts, the title, and whether to self-publish or go with traditional publishing. Determining a clear decision-making process when collaborating on a book is essential.

There are formal decisions for the parties involved in the co-authorship process, and then there is the co-writing segment itself. If you have Googled ”how to write a book with someone else,” know this translates to months-long drafting and editing, moved back and forth between authors while abiding by the deadlines set previously during the planning stages. 

This is the ideal setup, but here is what you should know about how do two authors write a book together.

Co-author a book: pros and cons

Understanding the pros and cons of co-authoring will help you navigate the process and maximize your collaboration.

Pros of co-authoring a book:

  1. Sharing the workload: When you co-write a book, the responsibility of creating content is shared between authors. This can make the writing process more manageable and quicker, as each author can focus on specific sections or chapters, allowing the book to come together more efficiently.
  2. Combining expertise: Working with another author of books can bring together different skill sets and areas of expertise. This can lead to a more well-rounded and informed finished product, with each writer contributing their unique perspective and knowledge.
  3. Enhanced creativity: Collaborating with another writer can spark new ideas and creative solutions, leading to a more engaging and dynamic book. The exchange of thoughts and feedback during the writing process leads to further innovative approaches writers can use.
  4. Accountability and motivation: A writing partner can keep you accountable and motivated to meet deadlines and maintain a consistent writing schedule.

Cons of co-authoring a book:

  1. Creative differences: When learning how to co-write a book, you may encounter differing opinions on various aspects of the project, such as plot, characters, or style. These disagreements could hinder the creative process and cause delays.
  2. Division of labor: It can be challenging to ensure that the workload is fairly divided between authors, particularly if one writer takes on a more substantial portion of the project. This can lead to resentment and dissatisfaction within the partnership.
  3. Loss of creative control: As a co-author, you must be willing to compromise and relinquish some control over the book’s direction. This can be difficult for some writers, particularly if they have a strong attachment to their ideas or a specific vision for the project.
  4. Financial and legal considerations: Co-authoring a book requires clear agreements on revenue sharing, copyright, and other legal aspects. Without a solid understanding and agreement, disputes can arise, potentially jeopardizing the project and the authors' relationship.

How to Find a Co-author for a Book

Finding the perfect co-author of a book can be a game-changer; here are some tips on where to find your ideal collaborator:

  • Online writing circles offer a platform for identifying potential co-authors with whom you already have established rapport. 
  • Offline writing groups allow face-to-face interaction, making it easier to assess compatibility. 
  • Cold outreach to admired writers might yield fruitful results, but ensure your collaboration would be a good fit. 
  • Writing forums can connect you with like-minded individuals, but take time to know your potential partner before committing. 
  • Social media provides an extensive network for connecting with writers, enabling you to search for co-authors using specific hashtags.

How to Get Started with Co-Authoring a Book

If you have decided you can share control over your book and found the person to share responsibilities with, then you are ready to begin agreeing on what that book will be. There are two main aspects to clarify here, with the potential to make or break a partnership among authors.

1. Clarify the target audience and market positioning

In essence, positioning addresses the fundamental question readers have: Why should I choose to read this book?

Positioning involves three key steps:

  1. Identify your goals: Determine what you hope to accomplish with your book. Are you aiming to generate income, establish your readership, inspire others, or create a bestseller? Clarify the criteria for considering your book successful.
  2. Define your target audience: Recognize the group you need to connect with to achieve your objectives. Are you targeting experts from various industries or casual readers? Envision your ideal reader, their characteristics, and their requirements.
  3. Solidify your book concept: Establish the subject of your book and its relevance to your audience. What will you teach them, and how will you do it? What will compel a reader to pick up your book and think, "Yes! This is exactly what I need."?

These three aspects of positioning are interconnected, as your book must offer value to your target audience in order to achieve your desired outcomes.

But beyond achieving these goals, you and your potential co-author(s) must share a common understanding and alignment in these three areas before embarking on a collaborative project.

2. Develop your book’s outline 

The outline serves as the blueprint for your entire book, and it is essential to develop and reach a consensus on it before commencing the writing process. 

At a minimum, you should:

  1. Establish a table of contents, including the title or primary concept of each chapter.
  2. Pinpoint the hooks for each chapter to captivate readers' interest.
  3. Recognize the main points to be covered in every chapter.
  4. Specify the types of evidence that will be incorporated, such as anecdotes, case studies, or research findings.

3. Divide the work

When co-authoring a book, dividing tasks based on each author's strengths can be an effective strategy.

For instance, if one author excels at writing while the other is great with research, the latter can gather data while the former composes the initial draft. If one co-author is skilled in book marketing, they can focus on promoting the book and managing social media after the book's release. You might also divide editing responsibilities based on your expertise in content editing and copyediting.

Alternatively, you can split the work by content. Co-authors with expertise in different fields can write sections related to their respective areas, such as finance or leadership. However, it's crucial to maintain close communication to ensure a unified writing style throughout the book. Discussing the content of each chapter before starting the first draft is essential to streamline your voices and avoid discrepancies. 

8 Tips for a Successful Co-authoring Process

As you begin your writing process, it's essential to remember some best practices to ensure a successful partnership. 

In this section, we'll explore top tips for effectively navigating the co-authoring process, fostering strong communication, and ultimately producing a cohesive, compelling final product that showcases the strengths of all authors involved.

1. Keep responsibilities divided

You should affirm and clarify each author’s responsibilities and establish all communication demands, anticipated progress track, timeline, and expectations regarding standards.

Try to be as clear, transparent, explicit, and straightforward as possible. People can seldom sum up another person’s train of thought perfectly. Miscommunication may cause delays and disagreements and get you further from the publication date.

Acknowledging the other’s point of view (and letting go of the ego) is an excellent way to keep conflict at bay since it is inevitable to avoid all disagreements throughout the entire process.

2. Set the budget 

Sometimes, the project and the budget will take unexpected turns, but despite them, you can still plan your expenses thoroughly. There is an array of tools self-published authors can use for free or for a fee to professionally craft amazing book covers, handle editing, or publish the book in more formats. 

When it comes to distribution and marketing, you can always take advantage of the network of partners you gain access to when publishing through an aggregator

3. Agree on a communication routine

Maintaining appropriate communication while co-authoring is crucial for a successful partnership. Writers often need solitude to focus, but knowing when and how to communicate with your co-author is essential. Before diving into the project, establish some guidelines:

  1. Frequency: Determine how often you will check in with each other and the expected response time.
  2. Medium: Choose the preferred method of communication, such as chat apps, emails, video calls, or in-person meetings.
  3. Content: Decide on the nature of your communication and whether it will follow a formal structure or be more flexible.

You can fine-tune these parameters as the project evolves, but having a shared understanding is most useful.

4. Honor your commitment

When dividing the workload, it's essential to honor your commitment. 

If you've taken responsibility for a specific task, follow through without hesitation or attempt to renegotiate due to being busy or uninterested. 

Writing a book involves some less enjoyable aspects, but they must be completed. If you've committed to a task, then keep your promise.

5. Set deadlines

Writing a book is an extensive endeavor, and there may be moments when other life aspects take precedence or when you experience writer's burnout or even writer’s block.

Co-authoring provides mutual accountability, which can be beneficial. Establish deadlines for each stage of the writing process and stick to them. Being punctual with deadlines demonstrates respect for your co-author's time and effort while ensuring steady progress.

6. Establish a process

Before starting your book, establish a workflow that works for you and your co-author(s). Tools like Google Docs can be beneficial, as they're cloud-based, collaborative, and allow for easy tracking of changes and drafts. If you prefer a traditional program like Microsoft Word, agree on file naming conventions to keep drafts organized and avoid confusion.

It's important to have a scheduling method in place. You could share a digital calendar, use email reminders, or set specific communication guidelines (for example, limiting book-related conversations to email) to avoid getting lost in conversation.

7. Merge your writing

Before writing the first draft, discuss the content and tone with your co-author to ensure you're on the same page. Then, write a rough initial draft without worrying too much about perfection. During the editing phase, examine areas where the tone of voice or style might not match and collaborate to make the text more cohesive.

This process might require significant effort, especially if your writing styles differ. However, the advantages of creating a rough draft outweigh the time spent refining the style later. If writers focused on perfecting the voice from the start, progress would be slow. With the ideas already on the page, it's easier to determine what works and what needs improvement.

8. Remain point of view consistent 

Deciding on the point of view is one of the most challenging aspects of co-authoring a book. The first-person perspective is an obvious choice when there’s just one author. However, with multiple authors, it becomes more complicated.

Using first-person singular ("I") requires clear indications of who is speaking, which can become difficult to master. First-person collective ("we") may work, but it can make personal stories sound peculiar. Alternatively, the third-person omniscient perspective keeps personal viewpoints separate but might sound strange for personal narratives.

It's crucial to determine the appropriate point of view early on to maintain consistency throughout the book. There's no right or wrong choice; you must select which option works best for you.

Split Royalties Among Co-Authors

Working together with others, such as co-authors or other contributors (translators, editors, illustrators), can present difficulties for published authors, particularly when it comes to dividing book royalties. 

That’s why we created a royalty-splitting feature for co-authors, Abacus, which you can use even if you’re not distributing with PublishDrive.

PublishDrive’s Abacus

Abacus is a cloud-based royalty management tool that allows indie authors and publishers to manage their publishing royalties and related book-selling finance. Dealing with coauthorship in the book project is no longer a stressful business but a transparent data-sharing collaboration that leaves all parties on the best terms.

How it works:

  1. Import files: use the drag-and-drop function to import your Prior Months' Royalties Report. Once the import based on sales is ready, select the titles and months you want to include in the royalty report. 
  2. Add contributors: allocate contributors to the title. To include a new contributor, select the drop-down field labeled Assign contributor to this title. Insert their name, royalty percentage, email address, and role (author, editor, or illustrator).
  3. Preview relevant details: preview your author royalty report before proceeding to the import summary.
  4. Review the import summary: in this section, you will see a summary of the data for books sold during a specific timeframe. If all the details appear accurate, click Finish. If adjustments to your royalty report are necessary, click Previous Step. After completing the import process, you can extend invitations to contributors and access reports on the payment division.

Why Abacus? 

Simply put, Abacus is a stress-free, streamlined royalties management system.

  1. Add any number of team members for each title and calculate co-author royalties for print-on-demand, ebooks, and audiobooks. 
  2. Calculate and divide royalties earned from all major retailers such as Amazon KDP, Apple Books, Google Play Books, Kobo, and Barnes & Noble. 
  3. Produce comprehensive sales reports for all team members. Note that contributors can only view their portion of the royalties. 
  4. Monitor the payment status of your co-authors or contributors in the Payments section. 
  5. Maintain open communication using the integrated message board: go to My Shared Titles or Titles Shared With Me > select the desired title > click See Report and scroll to the bottom of the page. 
  6. Update contributor information after the initial import process and add end dates to team contracts.

We carried out a case study to examine the effectiveness of our feature for authors and publishers. The majority of authors we spoke to used to distribute royalties manually, which is far from a simple task without a specific background in finance.

Michael Anderle, a bestselling author and CEO of LMBPN Publishing, used to dedicate over 20 hours each month to this responsibility. He identified two primary drawbacks associated with this approach:

"First was hours expended for the royalty process. The second was the number of times we needed to check and recheck our numbers since so much of what was done to compile the royalty payment information was manual.(...)  Before PD Abacus, we'd spend approximately 20-25 hours per month calculating, checking, and distributing royalty information to authors. We anticipate cutting that time to between 2-4 hours per month with PD Abacus."

Publish with PublishDrive

PublishDrive provides ebook publishing services to support authors during their self-publishing journey. Authors can publish and distribute their books worldwide while using the marketing resources offered by the platform to boost their books' visibility and success. 

Streamlined processes, such as those offered by PublishDrive, mean more time for authors to do their work without worrying about technicalities while maintaining total control over publishing and distribution.

Here is how it works in a few steps:

  1. Create a PublishDrive account.
  2. Go to My Books in the Dashboard, and choose to upload a new title – ebook, audiobook, or print.
  3. Fill out the creators' names.
  4. Fill out the book’s metadata and add a relevant description. 
  5. Set the book’s price.
  6. Define your rights and set a publication date. In this step, you can also set pre-orders.
  7. Select the stores. Click Enable on each store you want to distribute your book to.
  8. Click on the Publish button. 
  9. Start collecting revenue. 

Note: After publishing, once you earn royalties, you’ll start seeing those payouts after two months (although it could be longer, depending on the reporting and payment cycles of the different stores.)

Publish Away!

Now that you have understood how co-authorship works, learned tips to ease into the partnership and turn creativity into revenue, and one of the best tools for royalty management, you are well set to start your publishing journey. PublishDrive is here to support you and your co-author(s) every step of the way.