Stephen King did it. So did Anne McCaffrey, Terry Pratchett and Neil Gaiman. Julia Child did it with two people. They’ve all written books with others. Collaborating with another person can be a great way to help ease a heavy workload, tackle new subjects and maybe even find that new best friend you’ve always wanted.
Let’s face it. Writing can be a lonely experience. You sit there perhaps at your desk or in a crowded cafe. But still alone in front of a computer or a piece of paper with nothing but your thoughts, a fist full of words and a dictionary or two. The loneliness can be overwhelming for a freelancer who longs for company or at least someone to can talk shop with—someone who knows what it is like to spend twenty minutes trying to find the precise words to convey a mixture of fury and joy. Then spend another three hours digging up sources for an article on growing tomatoes.
Astute writers find many ways to help combat such a sense of isolation. Some find it helps to join a writer’s group. Others discover that getting a part-time job in a non-related field can be a way to earn money, meet friends, and share ideas at the same time.
One of the best ways to let go of that aching sense of isolation and help expand a career at the same time is by working with another writer on a project that both people find interesting. This is a common strategy that has been effectively used for as long as writers have been writing. Many writers also find that it is a good idea to work with a layperson who has something to say but is unaware of how to prepare a manuscript for submission or how to shape ideas into something that sells.
This is especially true when confronting a large writing project that may be too hard to tackle on your own. Working with a co-author can be fun, exciting and even wonderful. I know this firsthand. Once upon a time I wanted to write a book. Years of dreaming had only led to a series of hesitant half starts and abandoned thoughts. I’d written pieces for various publications over a decade but never dared something so audacious. I realized I needed help. Help to face my fears, find a publisher and weather the enormous criticism from some uniformed critics that I knew would be mine once the book was published. So I took a deep breath and began the search for a co-author.
Thanks to her amazing patience, determination and fierce intelligence, I was able to narrow our book’s focus, find the right publisher, have someone else to critique my work and help me figure out what I wanted to say to readers and how I wanted to say it. Most of all I found a terrific new friend who shares my enthusiasm for the subject of our book and always has my back. Together, we have dared publishing house queries, braved critics, written hundreds of words and shared in amazing triumphs that have changed both of our lives for the better.
Along the way I learned some very important lessons. Anyone can do the same. Co-authoring is one of the best ways to share; a true act of generosity that benefits both parties. If you are a writer who is thinking about starting a large project that you lack time to fully explore, consider working with another person.
Find a co-author who shares the same enthusiasm
The first step is to find your potential co-author. Everyone doesn’t always have a book inside of them but they probably have an idea for one somewhere. For the skilled and confident writer, the focus with a co-author should be on finding something who has as much enthusiasm about the proposed project as the primary writer does. Writing skills can be taught. Language can be honed. Grammar mistakes can be fixed. The willingness to stick to a specific project, to work on something long-term and stick to a vision in the face of obstacles, to be both calm and daring at the same time—that is far more rare.
Tap into the internet’s resources
One of the best ways to begin is to look in the right place. The Internet has made this process vastly easier. Perhaps the best arena to look for a potential co-author is in the right space online. Partners to-be can be found on message boards. Start with a search of boards that are related to the subject of the proposed book. Thousands of message boards exist all over the web. Nearly any non-fiction subject, from vaccines to color theory to dog ownership, will bring out fans who are willing to spend hours discussing it with others. Someone who feels passionately about something may be just the right person for a book project.
The same is true of another writer who may have ideas they have spent time thinking but may not have time to fully develop the idea into an entire book. A writer’s message board can be just the place to look for another person who wants to collaborate on a given idea.
Contact potential candidates
Once you have identified a potential co-author or co-author(s), you have two choices. Place a generalized ad on the site if possible or contact potential candidates directly. Each method has advantages. A generalized query may result in several potential candidates to pick from. Contacting specific people allows you make the first move and only pick people you want. A message seeking writers should be highly specific. Indicate the name of the project you are planning, the kind of credentials you have to write it, and any desired qualities in a co-author. A private message should be very much the same thing.
Speak with the co-author to develop a writing plan
After picking out a co-author, any writer should have a long conversation with a co-author. Ideally each side should agree on the terms of the writing plan. This includes the number of chapters that will be written by each partner, the way any earnings will be split and even the order of names on the title. Flexibility is key. Be upfront with the person. If you have childcare commitments, another primary job or anything else that may require negotiation, then tell the co-author.
Put it all in writing
Put all of this in writing. Each writer should have an assigned role in the creation, promotion and production of the book. If looking for a standard traditional publisher, each partner should divide up the finished proposal and then submit it to publishers separately. Once you have a book contract, take the time to divide up who will write each chapter as well as who will do any research that may be required.
When properly planned two people means two sets on eyes on a manuscript. It means two people to promote the book; two people to answer critics; two people to form a partnership. Most of all, it means two people together to share in one of the world’s most wonderful experiences.
About the author:
Stacy Mintzer Herlihy is a freelance writer based in New Jersey. Her work has appeared in many publications including USA Today and The Newark Star Ledger. She is the co-author of “Your Baby’s Best Shot: Why Vaccines are Safe and Save Lives,” Roman & Littlefield, 2012 paperback 2015). Ms. Herlihy lives with her delightfully geeky husband, adorable daughters and two very spoiled mush cats. She is presently at work on a second book.