Writing with a co-author

October 6, 2017

Writ­ing with a co-author can be a huge­ly reward­ing expe­ri­ence.  Espe­cial­ly if you man­age to find some­one who shares your vision, pas­sion and dri­ve for what­ev­er it is you are both writ­ing togeth­er.  But even when you are work­ing with some­one who you like, appre­ci­ate, or respect, you still must make sure you have an agree­ment in place between you – for when some­thing goes wrong or there is a mis­un­der­stand­ing about what is expect­ed.

When you are writ­ing alone, the only per­son you have to wor­ry about is your­self – keep­ing your dead­lines, mar­ket­ing your book, approach­ing Agents1) and pub­lish­ers2), it’s all on you!  When you work with some­one, then you need to agree from the out­set who will take the lead in cer­tain things. For exam­ple, Agents will want to have a spe­cif­ic con­tact, they won’t want to have to call first you then your writ­ing part­ner to dis­cuss some­thing.  You need to con­sid­er what will hap­pen to your book should one of you back out, decide it’s not work­ing, or even die.

Below I’ve com­piled a list of all the things you need to dis­cuss and agree with your writ­ing part­ner – for yours and their peace of mind – even before you set that first word down.

  1. Who will con­tribute what?   Will you “share” an even split of your nov­el?  Will you write alter­nate chap­ters?  Will one write the nov­el, while the oth­er sup­plies the ideas and does the research?  Make sure you both know and have agreed what your pri­ma­ry con­tri­bu­tion to the nov­el will be.
  2. How will roy­al­ties3)be split?  50/50 splits are very easy to agree in prin­ci­ple.  But what if, after writ­ing, you have found that one per­son has done the lion’s share, while the oth­er has only done a lit­tle?  This is some­thing that you will notice long before your nov­el is fin­ished (hope­ful­ly) and, if it is the case and you have agreed on a 50/50 split, make sure you raise your con­cerns as soon as you have them.  You may have to find anoth­er way of eval­u­at­ing how you val­ue each other’s share of the process (pos­si­bly by look­ing at how much time you spend work­ing instead of how much you have writ­ten.)
  3. What are your deliv­ery timescales?  Have you worked out how you will both share the work you have writ­ten?  Ide­al­ly, you both want to use the same for­mat (Word, Open Office, etc) so you can ensure that you don’t have any prob­lems open­ing files.  Send them to each oth­er via email.  Keep a timescale of when your section/chapter/contribution is expect­ed by and, if there are delays, make sure you have informed your writ­ing part­ner as soon as you can.
  4. Who watch­es the style?  If you are both writ­ing, who is going to do the edit­ing?  Will you both work on each oth­ers?  Will one of you do the bulk of it?  If one is doing all the edit­ing, is it right that the roy­al­ties are still split 50/50?  Can you resolve dif­fer­ences in the way you both write, the “voice” you use or give to your char­ac­ters?  Who has final say if you can’t agree?
  5. Who is the face of your busi­ness?  Who is going to be the businessman/woman in your lit­tle team?  As I said ear­li­er, most Agents don’t want to have to con­tact every writ­ing part­ner before any agree­ments can be made, so a sin­gle con­tact is advis­able.  Does that sin­gle con­tact have the agree­ment of all writ­ers to make deci­sions on behalf of them, with­out hav­ing to con­tact every­one first?  Will there be finan­cial reim­burse­ments for tak­ing on this role?
  6. Shar­ing Expens­es.  You’d think it would go with­out say­ing that expens­es should be split 50/50, but what if one writ­ers pays for some­thing that the oth­er doesn’t agree was nec­es­sary?  Make sure you have it in writ­ing that expens­es will be shared, or that agree­ment must be made before any expens­es are incurred.
  7. Cred­it Shar­ing.  How will your names appear on the cov­er of your book?  Who will get their name first?  Or will you use a sin­gle-author pseu­do­nym4) to get around this argu­ment?
  8. What if your part­ner wants out?  We all say it won’t hap­pen to us, that our co-authors are life­long friends, but things hap­pen.  It doesn’t have to be because you’ve had an argu­ment, a dis­agree­ment or fall­en out.  It could just be that some­thing has hap­pened which means your writ­ing part­ner just can­not com­mit the time any longer.  What will hap­pen to your nov­el at this point?  Make sure you have pro­vi­sions in place,  maybe low­er the per­cent­age of roy­al­ties the part­ner receives (based upon their con­tri­bu­tion so far).  Will the remain­ing part­ner still have the right to con­tin­ue with the project, or to take on a new part­ner?
  9. What hap­pens if your part­ner dies?  Death comes for every­one and it’s some­thing most peo­ple pre­fer not to think about, if they can help it.  But what hap­pens if your part­ner dies before the nov­el is com­plete?  Does the exist­ing author get sole rights to con­tin­ue?  If you’ve already pub­lished, what hap­pens to your deceased partner’s roy­al­ties?  Make sure you have both agreed on what hap­pens in this sit­u­a­tion.

Once you have bat­tled this out, get it in writ­ing.  I know, I know – it sounds so offi­cial and we’re writ­ers, we want to just get on with the writ­ing.  But you’ll thank me lat­er!  To help you out, Adler Books have shared this nice lit­tle tem­plate for authors to base their agree­ment on – http://www.adlerbooks.com/collab.html

Hope­ful­ly, this will help any­one who is think­ing about going into a joint ven­ture.  Have I missed any­thing off?  Let me know in the com­ments !

Thanks for read­ing!


1. a per­son or busi­ness autho­rized to act on an author’s behalf
2. a per­son or com­pa­ny whose busi­ness is the pub­lish­ing of books
3. a per­cent­age of the rev­enue from the sale of a book
4. a fic­ti­tious name used by an author to con­ceal his or her iden­ti­ty; penname
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