“How do you write a book with another person?”
I am often asked this question. Readers (who aren’t writers) tend to just accept it – perhaps they don’t care to think about the process, just the end result. I love them for that – explaining myself is not something I excel at.
- I come up with the overall story idea. I will have the start and the end, not always the middle.
- I talk it over with Linda. If she likes the idea, she will flesh out the story with me and add a character (or two) that she will write for.
- We plot out each chapter.
- We assign who writes what chapter (usually the best character’s viewpoint will determine this).
- We write our chapters
- Whatever chapters we are struggling with or are unsure about will be ‘swapped’ and the other person inserts or deletes at their whim. (Yes, we do save the original)
- Self-editing is usually done in bits and pieces.
- We both read through the final book to check flow, pace and style. Sometimes we swap around chapters or take them out altogether.
- We are finished!
- I will go through the final book again with a ruthless editing eye and only when I am happy with it I will send out the manuscript to 5+ beta readers. When it comes back, every comment is addressed. Sometimes we do this together, sometimes it’s just me because Linda has a full-time job as a teacher!
- All the pre-production stuff happens.
Co-authoring Fiction Is More Popular Than You Think
There are many co-written books, often marketed under a single name so it’s harder to tell which books have more than a single author.
Off the top of my head:
- James S A Corey wrote the ‘The Expanse’ science fiction series – very hot on Netflix. The pseudonym belongs to writers Daniel Abraham and Ty Franck.
- The Red Dwarf books were credited to Grant Naylor, who had creative differences after several books and then released their own Red Dwarf books independent to each other as Rob Grant and Doug Naylor. It made for a couple of interesting parallels with ‘Last Human’ and ‘Backwards’ as both books were #4 in the Red Dwarf storyline.
- Margaret Weis and Tracy Hickman wrote many fantasy book series together.
- Peter Straub and Stephen King share ‘The Talisman’.
- ‘Good Omens’ was written by Neil Gaiman and Terry Pratchett.
- Then there’s a tonne of books written by the Self Publishing Podcast authors, Johnny B. Truant, David Wright, and Sean Platt.
- James Patterson is quite known for his almost factory-like output of co-written novels, but Tom Clancy also has a few lesser-known co-authors writing with him.
There are more, of course. Maybe another time I’ll write a proper list.
Co-writing has benefits and drawbacks
You only have to write half a book.
If you don’t want to or can’t write a scene, your co-author can either help you write it or write it themselves.
Character types immediately expand with a second mindset and creative viewpoint.
Deep POV for characters will feel dramatically different (this could also be a drawback depending on how it is managed).
You can bounce ideas off your co-writer, which is so much fun!
It’s a wonderful experience to have another writer completely understand a story in all of its complexities that you want to write. If you want to talk about your book or your character to someone who understands, they will ALWAYS get it.
Every move you make feels like you have a supportive player cheering you on. Writing a book doesn’t feel so overwhelming when someone is literally writing it with you.
Obligation and responsibility to write the book are great motivators. Slacking off is fine if it’s just you. When slacking off affects a friend and/or co-writer, that horrible anxiety will keep you honest.
Co-writing is built for outlines. Every scene is best plotted so you don’t go in different directions. Leave wriggle room for creativity in the execution but every scene and chapter should have an objective. A big change in direction or a wrong turn will set back months of writing for you AND your co-writer.
Control must be shared but one writer is best having the last word on the final pass, and that person should be agreed upon at the start. Whoever can assess writing while being emotionally detached from the book is the better candidate.
If the writing style is vastly different, the book won’t feel smooth unless you can combine it into a third style (or make the two styles work with different characters).
If you are friends with your co-writer before you took on the project, your friendship might end up becoming a project friendship.
If you can’t let go of your idea to embrace another writer’s idea AND are unable to assess which idea is better between the both (or more) of you, don’t co-write.
Money. If you and your co-writer are both writing with big dreams about earning an income from your writing, it’s always best to have a written agreement about how that money is split (especially if you’re going the indie published route and only one person is taking on the costs of a publisher). A 50/50 split is usually best.