How to Co-Author a Book – Steps for Success

P.J McNulty
March 22, 2021 | 11 mins

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Are you looking to become a co-author?

Working with another writer can help you achieve more together than you could apart.

But only if you work in the right way. 

Writing a book is hard enough as it is. But writing alongside another author adds a layer of complexity to the process.

It’s important to have a series of steps to follow to co-author a book successfully. 

Otherwise, it’s better to stick to a solo book, especially if it’s your first attempt. 

But if you can’t get the urgent out to collaborate out of your system?

Here’s a way that works.

Need A Nonfiction Book Outline?

  1. What is the difference between an author and co-author?
  2. How do you become a co-author?
  3. Step 1 – Get on the same page creatively
  4. Step 2 – Agree on a project plan
  5. Step 3 – Divide up responsibilities 
  6. Step 4 – Determine your budget 
  7. Step 5 – Choose your writing tools 
  8. Step 6 – Establish a communications cadence
  9. Step 7 – Consider future projects

What is the difference between an author and co-author?

If this seems obvious, feel free to skip ahead! But there’s no harm in getting clear on the basics. 

The term author applies to anyone who writes a book. A co-author is someone who writes a book in conjunction with another author.

Sometimes, a distinction is made between co-writers and co-authors. Co-authors are sometimes seen as having equal planning responsibility with the main author. Co-writers on the other hand write alongside someone else, but might not have any other responsibilities on the project. 

How do you become a co-author?

Becoming a co-author is as simple as finding someone you want to write a book with!

Of course, that isn’t always as easy as it sounds. Not everyone will be enthusiastic about the idea of writing a book collaboratively, and some of the people who are might not be a great fit for you.

So what are some ways to find suitable writers to co-author with?

  • Online writing circles. If you’re a member of an online writing circle, you probably already have a good idea of which writers in the group you would work well with, and who would be interested in writing with you. Why not invite anyone in the circle who is interested to talk to you about co-authoring a book?
  • Offline writing groups. Writing groups that meet offline are also great places to find potential co-authors. Having face to face contact with someone is one of the best ways to know if they will be a good fit for the book you want to write.
  • Reaching out. Cold outreach can sometimes work. If there’s a writer you admire, why not contact them? It never hurts to ask, and the worst you will get is a no. Just make sure the two of you would be a good match for writing a book together. 
  • Look on forums. Forums dedicated to writing are good places to try and find collaborators for a book project. Some have dedicated sections for writers who want to work together. Just make sure to take the time to get to know the other writer before committing to a project together. 
  • Check social media. A lot of writers are active on social media, making it a great way to connect with potential co-authors outside your immediate circle. You might even be able to use hashtags to find writers seeking co-authors. 

Don’t rush into seeking another writer to co-author with. It’s a big commitment so being careful at the start can save a lot of frustration later on. 

So now that you have some places to seek out potential co-authors, how do you go about co-authoring a book?

Step 1 – Get on the same page creatively 

One of the keys to co-authoring a book successfully is to make sure you share expectations from the get go.

Just because you feel that someone is on the same page as you creatively, you can't assume that this is the case. 

So what are some of the things you need to agree on with your coauthor before you get started?

  • Your aims. What do you both want to get out of writing this book? There mustn't be a conflict here. For example, if one of you is primarily focused on making money, and the other is looking to price the book low to generate leads, you're going to run into trouble. Make sure that you have the same aim for the book, or at least aims that aren't in conflict, before you get started.
  • Your intended readers. You should have a shared vision for your intended readership. A book that aims to please everybody ends up pleasing nobody. What kind of reader do you want to reach? Which of their problems are you trying to solve? If you’re writing fiction, what type of fanbase do you want to reach? How will you meet their expectations and delight them?
  • Your tone. What tone will your book take? Do you need to make sure you write in a similar tone, or can it be a little different? For fiction co-authors, sometimes each writer writes from the perspective of a different main character. This can allow for slightly different tones between writers.
  • Your marketing approach. Marketing should never be treated as an afterthought. Discuss your intended approach to marketing before you even start writing. Do you share a similar vision? Are you in agreement on the type of marketing you want to carry out?
  • Your contingency plan. Things don’t always go to plan. It’s important to discuss contingencies before you start writing. If someone wants to drop out of the project, how will that work? Will the other co-author still be able to work on the same book? You can avoid potential conflict by reaching an agreement early on. 

After you’ve reached an understanding with your co-author on all of the above, it’s time to plan your book. 

Step 2 – Agree on a project plan

Although it’s a cliche, failing to plan is planning to fail. 

Writing a book is never easy, and when you are co-authoring, some other complexities come into play. 

It’s important to have a solid, stage by stage plan of how your book will be produced and when different aspects need to be completed by. This ensures that proper time is allocated to everything and nothing is overlooked. 

The exact project plan you settle on might end up looking a little different, but feel free to use the following example as a guideline. 

  1. Research. What kind of research will need to be conducted for your book? Which sources will you use, and how will your findings be stored? Will you divide up topics with your co-author, or will you both research the same things and share your findings?
  2. Outlining. After you’ve researched your book idea in detail, you probably have a good idea of the topics it should cover. Turn these into an outline by creating a list of chapter titles or main chapter ideas. 
  3. Drafting. How many drafts will your book need? Agree on both the number of drafts and the deadlines for them. Also, have a plan in place for what to do if one co-author needs longer to complete a draft than expected.
  4. Editing. Editing is one of the most important parts of making your book the best it can be. Agree on the types of editing you will invest in, either the editors you will hire or at least the places you will seek them, and the timescale for editing to be complete.  
  5. Pre-publication. After editing is complete, you should have a clear checklist of everything that needs to happen before publication. Things to consider include your book cover, formatting, uploading to book retailers, and having a system in place to track sales and revenue. 
  6. Launch. Launching your book the right way is one of the major reasons it will either sink or swim. Think about the number of reviews you need to get and where you will get them from, if you will use any email marketing, if book promotion sites could help you at the time of launch, and if you will invest in paid marketing. 
  7. Ongoing marketing. Too many authors overlook marketing beyond the launch period. This inevitably leads to a spike in sales at the start and then a big drop-off after. Think about how you and your co-author will market your book on an ongoing basis. Will you have ongoing paid ad campaigns? Will you use guest blogging? When would you decide that actively marketing this particular book is no longer worth it?

After you know what each stage of your project should look like, map it out. Consider using a project planning tool that syncs across devices so you and your co-author can work on the project together in real time. 

Step 3 – Divide up responsibilities 

Now that you know what your book project looks like on the whole, it’s time to get clear on exactly who will be responsible for what. 

It’s worth setting aside the time to have a dedicated, unrushed meeting with your coauthor to divide up tasks. 

It’s important to divide up both the writing of the book and also the other tasks needed to make it happen. 

When it comes to dividing up writing, you can take several approaches. If you’re writing nonfiction, you might decide to write alternate chapters. Or, one writer might be responsible for a chapter containing several sections, and the same for the other writer. Another approach is to both write each chapter but split it into sections.

For tasks outside of writing, successful division is down to both strengths and availabilities. Which coauthor has the best skillset for any given task? Who feels the most enthusiastic about carrying it out? Are there some tasks you will work on together, or will every task have a separate owner? 

This might not be the most exciting part of your book project, but you also can’t overlook it. Knowing exactly who will be doing what is crucial. 

Step 4 – Determine your budget 

Take the time to get clear with your co-author about the financial aspects of your book project before it begins. 

Every book will have a slightly different set of expenses, but some of the costs to plan for include:

  • Editing. Investing in editing is one of the best uses of your book budget. After you know the type of editing you will need, get a feel for how much it will cost. Spend whatever it takes to get the quality you are looking for. 
  • Book cover creation. Don’t skimp on your book cover! Having an attractive and genre-appropriate cover is vital. Check out book cover designers with similar books to yours in their portfolio. Compare costs and see who is available and interested. 
  • Paid marketing. Decide how much you want to spend on paid marketing. This could include CPC ads, paid book promotion services, and influencer marketing. 
  • Distribution. What is your plan for getting your book out there into the hands of readers? Do you intend to manually distribute it to different retailers, or will you use a paid distribution service? 
  • Alternative format creation. How much will it cost to offer your book in different formats? For example, you might want to look into audiobook costs or hardcover printing services. 

Having a clear budget is important as you can then calculate how many sales you will need to break even and eventually make your book profitable. 

Step 5 – Choose your writing tools

While it’s not essential to both use the same apps and software, it sure helps. 

It can be frustrating if one author is writing on Pages, for example, and another is using Google Docs. While there’s always a way to convert file types, it’s often a lot smoother to stick to one. 

To help version control, you should make sure you and your co-author know exactly which documents to work on at any given time. 

Make use of the Cloud to collaborate with your co-author. Using Google Drive can be a great way to seamlessly share files and notify each other when changes occur. 

Don’t spend too long on this step! There are lots of different options that can work well. Just get in alignment on which you will use from the start and make sure both authors are comfortable and confident in using them. 

Step 6 – Establish a communications cadence

A lot of writers like to go into a deep state of focus while working. A certain amount of solitude can be very conducive to the writing process. But this is only possible if you know exactly when and how you will communicate with your co-author.

This is one of the fastest ways to feel frustrated with the project. If one co-author feels the other is either over or under communicating it can be very annoying.

So what are some of the things to get clear on before the project is in full swing?

  • Frequency. Will you check in with each other daily or less often? Under what circumstances should you reach out to your co-author if something crops up? How soon do you expect each other to reply?
  • Medium. Will you use a chat app like Slack to talk, or will email suffice? Do you need to have a regular Zoom call? Would it be advantageous to meet up in person from time to time throughout the project?
  • Content. What type of communication do you expect to engage in? Will you have a formal structure for your meetings, or simply see what needs to be discussed at any given time?

Don’t be afraid to adjust this cadence as your project progresses. But having shared expectations in place from the start is essential.  

Step 7 – Consider Future Projects

Although it might feel like looking too far ahead, it’s never too early to start considering potential future projects!

If you plan on co-authoring a series, either fiction or nonfiction, this is a step you can’t overlook. But it’s worth thinking about even if you don’t intend to release a series at this stage.

What kind of results would make you consider this book a success? How will you assess its performance? What lessons do you want to take from the experience of writing it? 

Don’t let your ideas for the future distract you from your focus in the present, but keep them in the back of your mind. 

Are you ready to become a co-author?

Congratulations! You now have all the information you need to successfully co-author a book. 

It's time to take action and make it happen. If you've made it this far, why not brainstorm a list of book topics you would love to co-author? Or how about taking the time to reach out to five potential collaborators? 

There’s nothing more exciting than embarking on a new book project, and we wish you every success with yours!

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