Is a problem shared really  a problem halved?

If you are anxious about the amount of effort you think it is to write a book, you might be tempted to pool your skills with other authors to get the job done more quickly.

Picture this: someone you know has excellent writing skills that paired with your years of professional expertise should lead to success! Guaranteed!

What’s more, you’ve been friends for years! What could possibly go wrong?

The answer is: lots!

Whilst not all joint book venture crash and burn, many do.

Good will, good vibes and promises often can’t withstand what it takes to write a book with others. When that initial enthusiasm fades and the project goes off the rails, you may lose the friendship as well as your book dreams!

To sidestep the issues and collaborate successfully you need to consider some important questions, and come up with a plan you can agree on.

Decide who is doing what and why

In nonfiction projects, there are many ways to collaborate. The simplest would be to interview a series of other people and collate all the interviews into your finished book. This is a fairly low risk strategy. If one person lets you down, you can simply approach another interviewee.

The problems start to arise when the people you choose to work with have to contribute for a longer period. For example, if you are worried about your writing, you might be tempted to get the other person to review and edit what you have written. Or, perhaps there is a section of the book where your friend or colleague has more credibility and a deeper understanding, and you feel it is better for them to explain that part.

While this seems straightforward, you’ll also need to agree upon

  • how much information, time and effort the each partner should contribute
  • how much control each partner has over what information is included in the book
  • how much control each partner has over how that information is presented
  • what are the deadlines for each person’s responsibilities
  • who is writing which sections
  • how will you ensure that your work flows seamlessly together, your writing styles match and your work is complete and consistent
  • whose name will appear first in the list of contributing authors

Decide if all effort is “the same”, or “different”

When you consider each author’s contribution, how will you determine the “value” of that contribution?

In an ideal world, there is the intention that there will be an equal split, for example 50-50 between 2 writing partners.

However, when someone feels like they are “burning the midnight oil” to get a job complete and are foregoing important things in their life to focus on the “shared” book, resentment can start to build. It no longer feels like an equal 50-50 split, rather 1 person is contributing the “lion’s share” whilst the other person slacks off.

If cracks start to appear and the 50-50 split stops feeling fair, consider developing another method of “valuing” each partner’s share of the work. This could be

  • the word count contributed rather than a purely time-based percentage
  • the level of funding provided for your book project, for example your partner pays for professional editing and proofreading, freeing up your time later
  • someone contributes their existing resources, like tools and templates that are incorporated in the final book, rather than writing additional material
  • playing to your strengths – if your partner is a hopeless writer at the start, later in the process, they might be a brilliant public speaker and be able take promoting your book on stage or on the radio or TV in their stride, something that you might not be able to contribute to as effectively

What are the deadlines and what happens if they are not met?

If one partner fails to do their share of the work on time, frustrations begin to build. Both partners being to feel like failures and let down. Friendships are put under immense pressure.

Allow for different ways of working. I always prefer to get things done in good time and I get infuriated with “lastminuters” even if the finished work arrives just in time to a good standard. Others wonder why I am “fussing” right from the start and there’s still plenty of time left!

Also remember, we have different commitments and obligations in our personal lives. Sometimes those things can be draining as well as time consuming, making it difficult to sustain intense levels of effort, even with something as exciting as becoming a published author. Plan some “slack” into your book project deadlines to allow for unforeseen problems.

Establish accurate, reasonable and realistic timelines for each person’s share of the work. Agree on the plan and promise you’ll meet those deadlines.

Who will have the final say over issues of style and content? Who says when the book is “finished”

If someone has done more of the writing, do you want that person to have more control over the final version and presentation style of the information? How much control will / should the non-writing partner have over the final result?

Are they best placed to judge when the book is finished and if it meets your professional standards? Alternatively, when the book’s first draft is complete, can the other person begin helping again, gathering reviewer feedback and you jointly decide on any improvements that need making?

  • If you are both writing sections of the book, how will you resolve differences in style or “voice”?
  • What if you have different viewpoints on what matters to readers and have differing opinions on approaches to meet reader needs?
  • Who will sign off the final proofread and edited book? How much double checking should each contributor perform?

Arguments over how good is good enough can quickly turn a book project sour. What happens if one person is a “get it out there, then fix anything minor that was overlooked” and the other person is a die-hard perfectionist who will only release something when they are 1000% sure it is correct.

The key is to anticipate, plan and decide as much as you can in advance to avoid problems before they happen. Also have some mutually agreed rules to apply if you run into difficulties later.

Professional relationships and friendships are valuable – don’t risk them due to minor misunderstandings that snowball out of control when professional reputations are at stake.

Look out for part 2.

As this is a big topic, I have split it into 2 parts. I’ll publish the follow up tomorrow.

Want to work with someone on your book but not collaborate?

If you’re feeling overwhelmed about writing your book, I offer one-to-one book coaching. If you’d like some help to get your book published and launched, let’s arrange a free stressbuster consultation. Just send me your details, and let’s arrange a convenient time to talk.

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