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 is 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. In this article, we’ll explore the benefits of collaborative publishing and show you the essentials of becoming a successful co-author.
What Is Co-Authoring?
Co-authoring is the term used in indie publishing for any book written collaboratively by more than one author. In a co-authored book, there are different roles you can play: you can be a Lead Author, Book Owner, a Co-Author, or any other Contributor.
- Lead Author: usually is mentioned as the first author and takes more responsibilities, especially on the creative writing process.
- Book Owner: usually takes care of the publishing business side and owns publishing rights.
- Co-Author: collaborates with the lead author/book owner and contributes to the work in the manuscript.
- Contributor: can be any kind of contributor, like a designer or illustrator.
Types of Co-Authoring and Collaborations
Co-authoring is a popular tactic used in the indie publishing world, and you can collaborate in different ways:
For co-authored books, the contributing co-authors usually agree to divide up writing the chapters and then split the royalties equally. You might also invite a co-author to join you for only one book in your series. In the PublishDrive platform, we have many romance writers like Mina Carter who co-write in this way.
Anthologies are collections of articles/short stories, or any literary piece by multiple authors. They provide excellent cross-promotional opportunities for authors and are great for networking as well. For example, indie publisher Aurora Metro Books cross-promotes their authors in anthologies.
World Building and Writing in the Same Universe
The sky’s the limit when it comes to collaborative publishing projects. Some authors even create worlds with their own rules, and give other co-authors the opportunity to write in the same universe. LMBPN Publishing does a great job with this type of collaboration.
Benefits of Co-Authoring
Writing can be lonely, but not when you’re collaborating! Here are some other benefits of co-authoring:
Expands Back Catalog
As any self-published author knows, one of the keys to a long-term writing career is having a large back catalog to generate passive income. As mentioned by Rebecca Morgan and Ron Rosenberg, you can easily expand your back catalog by writing more content with co-authors.
Boosts your Productivity
Most importantly, you can speed up your publishing time and boost your productivity, as Lisa Tener explains in her article about co-authoring.
Author Relationships and Support
The best support you can get in the indie publishing world comes from other writers. With co-authoring, you have a built-in support system and someone to help keep you accountable for your work. The ability to build a long-term partnership with your co-author will serve you well throughout your career. As Sandra Butler and Nan Fink Gefen said in a Writer’s Digest article, “We learned how to move towards and stand back from each other as co-authors, and as a result, our thinking, our writing abilities, and our friendship expanded. In the end, that was the deepest success of all.”
Cons of Co-Authoring
While co-authoring provides many benefits, there are some downsides. Here are some challenges you might face:
- You do not agree on writing style.
- There is no trust, so the business relationship suffers.
- The co-author needs too much micromanagement.
- There is not enough communication.
- There is no delivery on promises.
If you end up with a mismatch, there is always a way to go back and let it go. Make sure that your contract has a clause where you agree on what happens if the business relationship does not work out. We all know that life happens, and this clause may protect the book owner, the co-author, and other contributors from legal conflicts.
Tips for a Successful Co-Author Project
Co-authoring has different elements: creative writing, contractual terms, publishing process, project management, financial management, and more. The most enjoyable part is creative writing; however, to make co-authoring fun, smooth and lucrative, you have to streamline the business aspects. Follow these essential tips before starting a co-author project:
1. Choose a coauthor according to your goals
Finding a co-author is like choosing your partner. You might have met at a conference in person before, or chatted on an authors’ group on social media, or you simply did your homework by researching who might be the best fitting co-author for you.
In any case, do not forget that despite your emotions and affections to the other writer, thinking long term can help you pick the right one for you. Choose the best co-writer based on the target audience, the writing style, and tone as Brad Borkan mentioned on ALLi’s blog. Before starting to negotiate the terms, consider doing sample work together for a short story or a chapter, so you can see whether you would be a good fit for each other.
2. Agree on the terms beforehand in writing
After you both feel comfortable that this partnership is going to be paid out, you have to confirm the business and financial terms. This is the part where you have to figure out how you will work together, so you both can set your expectations without getting into awkward situations later. Don’t start the project without agreeing on the most important things below in writing.
- Royalty terms: who earns how much?
- Publishing rights: who will publish the work?
- Notice or expiration date: what happens with the book and publishing rights after expiration/death or if someone wants to get out of this project?
- The afterlife of the book: who can decide on the second edition and how?
- The scope of the project: will it be one title, a series, a whole universe?
- Any other responsibilities: who decides on publishing partners on editing, proofreading, cover design, blurb, etc.?
- Cost splitting: who pays for what and how to handle that in terms of royalty payouts?
When you finalize contracts, we suggest you use any cloud-based contract management software like DocuSign. Read more about the importance of contracts in “Co-writing a Book” by Joanna Penn and J Thorn.
3. Use collaborative tools
Collaboration is wonderful but can be a headache if your productivity is drained by ineffective processes. To avoid missed deadlines, make sure you use tools that allow you to work efficiently. When you start collaborating, transparency and sharing everything from day 1 is the key to success.
Check out co-writing tools like Google Docs and OneDrive, or other products designed for writing in the same universe like StoryShop or WorldAnvil. For quick chat updates, Slack is the perfect choice.
4. Set deadlines and workflow
Nothing gets done without having firm deadlines. To make sure everyone’s delivering, set deadlines and make sure the workflow is transparent for everyone involved in the co-authored book project. Most importantly, communicate regularly in video chats, on Slack or on the phone, so everyone understands their responsibilities and expectations.
However, be prepared that some things might come up that will change your priorities and deadlines. When it comes to co-authored book projects, always leave room for flexibility, as Lily Harlem suggests on The Write Life.
5. Make the story and editing a priority
Always put the story first, not your ego. (Lily Harlem, on Writer’s Life) Always. If a piece of the story has to go during the editing process, let it go.
Editing is one of the biggest challenges for co-authors, because they have to ensure their book reads like it has been written by one person. The best solution is to hire editors from the very beginning, or decide early on who will be responsible for editing in your team.
If you are interested in different techniques and how to write a story together, read more in this Wattpad article.
6. Plan the launch together
The best part of co-authoring is that neither the writing nor the publishing process is lonely. You can find synergies based on your target audience, and you can set up a launch plan where all contributors play a role and bring something to the table.
Set up a Zoom meeting online and brainstorm ideas – you never know who will have the best out-of-the-box idea! Then create a spreadsheet where you can collect all of these ideas and decide on what to include in your launch plan. The launch plan should include important dates, like preorder, release date and timing of other releases (in case of series or shared universes). Also, do not forget to include preparation time – you might need more time than you expect.
7. Publish and cross-promote with mutual effort
Publishing is not just hitting the publish button. You might have to set a preorder launch campaign, send out ARCs to get book reviews, and more. All contributors are needed to get the word out. It will also help your SEO efforts if you have backlinks to each other on your sites and you mention the other author in your marketing materials.
To further boost discoverability and visibility, be sure to mention each other on your blogs, interviews, podcasts, and even at conferences. It’s a good idea to let the other know if you mentioned them anywhere, so you can measure whether it has any effect on sales.
8. Run email swaps and/or other mutual campaigns
If a book has more contributors, you should leverage all of your networks to increase visibility and discoverability. You can do email swaps promoting the same co-authored book, run contests together, and much more to boost the long-term marketing effects. Consider recording videos or running webinars together where you talk about the book, the characters, how you came up with the story, or anything related to your book that might be interesting to your readers.
9. Share and divide marketing costs and other expenditures
There are costs involved in the production and marketing side of co-authoring, so you have to be clear on who is paying for what and how much. Of course, try to put everything in writing in the beginning, but unexpected costs will always come up later. Make sure you document everything transparently, so you can easily do accounting later on.
What kind of costs can appear? You might have to do another round of editing, or re-design your cover and marketing materials. Certain marketing techniques require money as well, such as Facebook Ads, Amazon Ads, and Bookbub Ads. You should communicate clearly how to divide all of these costs. Be sure to also track costs and share them with your co-authors.
10. Report transparently
Every month on the 15th, Amazon publishes its KDP sales report, which authors eagerly wait to receive. As the lead writer or publisher of the book, you have another responsibility also: you have to incorporate royalty reports into your process to maintain healthy business relationships with your co-authors. This is one of the biggest pain points for co-authors: manually calculating royalties and tracking costs each month can be a huge headache.
Luckily, there’s a solution for this: PublishDrive Abacus for Co-Authors. This service makes it possible to easily calculate co-author royalties for all book formats (including KU page reads, ebook, print, and audiobook). You can also share royalty reports with your team and track additional revenue streams or costs, allowing you to manage all co-author financials in one place.
In the short term, this will greatly speed up your monthly accounting process. In the long term, it will help you maintain happy, healthy business relationships with your co-authors.
+1: Have FUN! :)
Don’t forget that co-authoring can be a fun, wonderful experience. There will be ups and downs as in any relationship, but at the end of the day, readers will be grateful for the new and exciting content you created for them. And that’s all that matters!
Co-authoring is an exciting journey that gives you many benefits, but it presents some challenges. However, when you find the right partner, it’s like having constant fun with another creative mind which can result in beautiful books and even better, readers receive what they want: new content from their favorite authors.
Improve Your Co-Author Workflow Today!
Say goodbye to manual royalty splitting to save time, write more, and worry less! The full version of PD Abacus is currently FREE while in beta until August 12, 2019. After the beta period ends, the price will be $2.99 a month per title.