They say two’s company—but when it comes to writing a book, it’s a bit more complicated! Completing a novel on your own is a huge commitment of time, energy, writing, rewriting, and brainstorming. At Writer’s Relief, we know some writers choose to collaborate with a co-author in order to share the responsibilities. However, working with another writer can also introduce the need for compromise as well as new hurdles to overcome. To help you decide if cowriting is right for you, here are the pros and cons of writing with a co-author.
Writing With A Co-Author: Pros Vs. Cons
The Pros Of Working With A Co-Author
- Unique strengths and weaknesses. No two writers are the same, so a co-author can help you build a stronger story. Perhaps you excel at the details of character building, whereas your partner is great with dialogue. Or perhaps your co-author knows how to keep up the pace, while your writing might have a touch of saggy middle syndrome. Having an extra set of eyes to proofread will also help eliminate more grammar mistakes and typos.
- Saves time. Let’s face it, with a co-author, you only have to write half as many words. And an author’s work doesn’t stop after the book is published. Having a co-author means having someone to help market and promote your published work.
- More connections. Cross-promotion is one of a writer’s strongest marketing tools. Your co-author’s audience may be totally different from yours, bringing twice as many readers to your work. Your collaborator’s publishing industry network may also bolster your promotional reach with new bloggers, reading events, or conferences where you can market your book.
- Emotional support. Writing a book is a long, complicated process. After the hundredth revision, you might feel like giving up. With a co-author, you have someone who will commiserate with you over the many hours spent writing and polishing your book—and who can offer you encouragement to keep going! Writers need each other.
- Different backgrounds. Having different backgrounds allows you to show more diversity in your characters and settings. For example, you may want to have a character who’s an optometrist or a hairstylist, or whose gender identity or heritage are different from your own. Your writing partner may bring experiences and viewpoints that allow you to write a more authentic character.
If this is your first time writing in a particular genre, your writing collaborator may have more experience that can help you make the right word count and plot choices. And if you’re disorganized while your co-author is a stickler for keeping to a schedule, you’ll have a better chance of staying on track.
The Cons Of Working With A Co-Author
- Different visions for the book. You and your co-author might want to take the book in two totally different directions. Even if you both begin with the same objective, you may find your opinions differ once you start revising. Or maybe you disagree on feedback from a critique partner or literary agent. The creative process is very personal, and you may find it means different things to you and your partner. Resolving those disputes isn’t always easy or comfortable.
- Clashing opinions on the writing process. You and your cowriter could agree on what you want your book to be, but disagree on how to get there. What if, for example, you’re a plotter, but your cowriter is a pantser? While compromise is a healthy and necessary part of cowriting, neither you nor your co-author should be forced to fundamentally change your writing process in order to work together.
- Financial issues. Money can be a difficult topic. How will you and your co-author handle any expenses that come up before publication, such as paying for research materials or securing permissions? And once your book gets an offer from a publisher, you can’t assume you’ll automatically split the advance and royalties evenly. You and your co-author will need to discuss and agree on these details, and you might not see eye to eye on who deserves what.
- Style inconsistencies. While it can be helpful to have different strengths from your cowriter, you also don’t want your overall voices and styles to be too different. Readers might notice disparities if the separate pieces don’t mesh into a cohesive final product.
- The “group project” effect. You know how group projects often work out: One person always ends up doing more work than the others. If you’re not careful, this can happen when cowriting as well, even if you both have the best of intentions to evenly split duties.
How To Make Cowriting Work
- Choose wisely. Of course you want to work with someone who has the necessary expertise, and whose writing style complements yours. But you should also consider the writer’s creative process, personality, and conflict resolution skills. You and your co-author will be spending a lot of time together, so you should choose someone you like and trust.
- Plan ahead—including how to resolve disputes. From big-picture issues like developing a timeline to details like who’s responsible for what research, there’s a lot to hash out before you and your co-author start writing. And talk about what to do when disagreements arise—because, let’s face it, there will be disagreements, even if you and your co-author generally get along well. Sometimes, spending some time apart might be best for both of you!
- Keep criticism constructive. As a writer, you should always strive to keep your criticism polite and helpful, but this is especially important when you’re collaborating on a project. When working so closely together, it can be easier for one (or both) writer’s feelings to be hurt or to become jealous of one another. Work through feedback together as openly and gently as possible.
- Pick your battles. Perhaps you and your co-author have differing opinions on a trait to give your protagonist—but your partner feels much more strongly about it than you do. In this case, it’s probably better to let your co-author make the final decision. Hopefully, when an issue arises that means more to you, your co-author will defer to your choice.
- Set and keep boundaries. If you and your co-author have an established friendship outside of this book project, it’s important to continue to maintain that relationship outside of your writing time. Set aside opportunities to enjoy other activities, and make sure you don’t spend that time talking about your work!
It’s also important to take breaks from each other—there’s such a thing as too much togetherness! When you’re spending time apart from your co-author, don’t let the book project invade your private time. Limit your writing and discussions about the book to the schedule you’ve worked out in advance.
Choosing to work with a co-author can make a big project like writing a book much more bearable and fun, as long as you respect boundaries and each other.
Question: Would you ever work with a co-author? Why or why not?