Guest Post: Five Advantages of Having a Co-Author by Karen Harris and Lori Caskey-Sigety
Writing is often a lonely endeavor. Hollywood paints stereotypical images of writers as tormented, hermits who sequester themselves in crowded dens, sacrificing human contact for their craft. Is this an accurate portrayal? Perhaps. But solitude presents a set of challenges that can often be resolved by having a writing partner.
In our experience, co-writing has been a rewarding experience. Sure, we have had a few hiccups on our writing journey and we know that authoring a book with someone else is not for everyone, but we have identified five distinct advantages to having a writing partner.
Writing partners can inspire, support, and motivate each other through the process. Often one person becomes discouraged or suffers from the inevitable bout of writer’s block. Talking it through with a co-writer who is equally invested in the writing project is a sure cure. While co-writing our non-fiction book, The Medieval Vagina: An Historical and Hysterical Look at All Things Vaginal During the Middle Ages, we had several planning sessions at which we divided up sections or chapters of the book to write or topics to research. We each came away with our own to-do lists from our planning sessions and tackled these lists on our own. Neither one of us wanted to let the other one down, which was a great motivation to stay focused on our tasks and the end goal.
Two Sets of Eyes
Every writer knows the value of a second set of eyes reading his or her work. We become too close to our own writing…it looks perfect to us because our brains have filled in the gaps left by our written words until the passage sounds great to us, but not-so-great to others. Good writing benefits from a fresh perspective. Confusing wording, unclear passages, and muddled ideas can all be easily repaired once that second set of eyes has identified them. Solitary writers have to rely on editors or friends to provide this perspective while writing partners have a clear advantage. They have each other. Problem areas can be smoothed out before the piece reaches the editors.
Playing to Your Strengths
Writers, to paraphrase Liam Neeson, need a particular set of skills. Working with a partner ensures that each person need not be a jack-of-all-trades, but can concentrate on their individual strengths. Different backgrounds and different experiences (whether that be educational, vocational, or life lessons) mean that one person may be stronger in a particular area, such as research or editing, while the other may be better at organizing the text or marketing the finished book. Although we have both learned new things and acquired new skills during the writing process, we have made the best use of our own areas of expertise.
Divide and Conquer
Obviously, the duties of researching, writing, revising, rewriting, and editing can be divided in two when writing with a partner, but the actual writing of a book is just one step in the process, as we have discovered. Promoting a self-published book is a lot of work. In the first month after the release of our book, we both devoted countless hours to securing media interviews, promoting our book on social media, scheduling book signings, and contacting bookstores. It could be a full-time job! The problem is, we both already have jobs. Stuck in adjunct world, we both balance teaching at two colleges/universities simultaneously, as well as balancing our husbands, children, hobbies, pets, and volunteer commitments. Given our time constraints, we feel lucky to have a co-author to help with the marketing and business demands of publishing a book.
Success is Sweeter
Because we have shared the struggles of the research and writing process, as well as the tedious task of editing, rewriting, and revising, we can also share the joy of our successes. When we see the sales figures climb or when we schedule a book signing event, we can share our joy with someone who truly understands how sweet the fruit of our labor is. Our spouses, family, and friends can give us heartfelt congratulations (and they have), but they were not privy to the hours of writing, the struggles to carve out writing time, and the brain-drain we sometimes felt.
It’s Not All Rosy
Least we leave you with the impression that co-authoring is the perfect arrangement, we will share some of the drawbacks that we have encountered. We do agree, however, that co-writing worked well for us and our negatives were minimal. One drawback, of course, is that royalty checks are divided in two. Say we have a great sales month (which is a rarity for a self-published non-fiction book), that nice, fat royalty check is not so nice and fat when it is cut in half.
Another drawback is the need to compromise. A solo writer makes all the writing, plot, and character development decisions solely on his or her own, but with co-authoring, each writer must be willing to compromise and let go of total creative control.
Lastly, as any high school student working on a group project can tell you, some people simply don’t pull their own weight when they are working with others. They prefer to sit back, do the bare minimum, and collect all the credit. That’s why it is important to choose wisely when partnering with a fellow writer. Finding someone whose writing style and voice is similar to your own is important, but it is equally important to partner with someone whose work ethic and passion are also in sync with yours.
In our situation, we have realized that writing can certainly be a lonely experience. We both agree that we would not have kept up the discipline and motivation needed to finish our book has we not felt accountable to the other person. Don’t discount co-authoring as a viable writing option. Happy writing.