Team Writing: How to Coauthor a book

I recently received an intriguing e-mail.  “How would you like to coauthor this book?  Here is my idea based on a family-members life.  You have the writing and organizational skills to pull this off.  I’d really like to work with you again.”

In spite of the compliments, I had to think long and hard before I replied.  You see, I’ve tried working as a co-author.  To put it delicately, it was an unmitigated failure.  In part, this was because we were both new writers.  Maybe this was why we didn’t come up with a detailed outline of who was responsible for what.  We thought we had a plan but soon discovered that it wasn’t detailed enough when we started stepping on each other’s toes.

Because of this, I wrote back that I was interested but had some questions:

  • What are the parameters of the book?  Would the book focus on her family member or would we present information on all of the women in this role?
  • Do you have a publisher lined up? She has a track record in publishing.  I have a track record in publishing.  The two together look like a Venn Diagram with a tiny little overlap.
  • Adults or children?  She’s done more writing for adults.  I’ve done more for children.  Let’s make sure we have the same plan.
  • What is the timeline for starting and finishing?  The books I write for Redline have a 6 week window.  That’s going to be tough with us sending things back and forth.
  • What part of the research are we each doing?  She had the idea and had already done some work on the topic.  Please don’t make me duplicate your efforts.
  • What part of the writing are we each doing?  Are we dividing the chapters?  One of us doing draft one and the other draft two?  How can we both work on this?

I have a whole folder dedicated to our correspondence but we’ve ironed out the details so that we both know the topic, the audience and who is responsible for what.  It’s the best way to ensure a successfully coauthored project.