Collaborative Writing: Tips to Successfully Work Together

tips for writing a novel with others

At some point in your writing career, you might be asked (or need) to collaborate with someone else on a project. You may co-author a novel together, you may need someone with scientific experience you don’t have when you write your non-fiction book, or you may need to hire an illustrator for your children’s book. Whatever the reason, a collaboration can be a great way to advance both of your careers and result in a great project that neither one of you could complete alone. Or it could be a disaster that makes you question why you ever wanted to write in the first place and drives you to drink. Heavily. To prevent disaster, consider the following before you agree to collaborate with others.

Identify why you need/want to collaborate

Can you simply not handle the workload alone? Does your collaborator have information/expertise that you do not? Do you want to attach this person’s name/credibility to your project so that it will seem more respectable? Figuring out exactly why you want a collaborator is the first step in choosing the best person for the job. Or, you may decide that you really don’t need a collaborator and decide to skip it altogether.

Choose someone you trust

This should be obvious. Pick collaborators that you trust. You’ll be putting a portion of your writing career in their hands, so choose wisely. A “brand name” collaborator is worthless if they’re going to make your life miserable for the duration of the project or ruin the project altogether.

Clearly assign tasks and deadlines

The time to argue about who will do what and when it is due is at the beginning of the project, not midway through. Set forth your expectations and writing deadlines before you begin. Make sure that all partners will be able to handle their parts of the work. Adjustments can be made as needed, but at least begin with a solid framework to avoid disagreements and misunderstandings.

Make sure you can communicate

Your collaborator should be someone that you are comfortable communicating with. Don’t choose someone who intimidates you so much that you won’t speak up, who never returns calls or emails, or who is never available. Successful collaboration requires a lot of communication so you need someone that is available and open.

Make sure you fight well

At some point, you will fight with your collaborator. Guaranteed. Make sure the person you’re working with is someone that you can fight with productively and move on. You don’t want to get stuck with a bully or a sulker. Ideally, you want someone who will work with you to find the compromise position.

Specify payment arrangements up front

Will you split the payment equally? Will you split the pay based on the number of hours worked, or amount of words written? Put whatever arrangements you decide on in writing to prevent problems later.

Specify credit arrangements up front

Will you share equally in the credit for the work? Will one of you be the main author with the other relegated to a smaller byline? Will both of you get bylines at all, or will one person be the ghost writer? Sort these things out before you begin so feelings aren’t hurt later.

What happens if one partner decides to walk away or dies?

While unlikely, there may come a point where one of you says, “That’s it. I’ve had enough,” and wants out. Worse, one of you could die. What will you do? Will the project continue with the remaining partner working solo, or will it just be shelved? Is the remaining partner allowed to choose another partner? What about any money arrangements that have been made? Who gets what? Specify the contingencies in writing.

Protect yourself

The most important thing when collaborating is to get everything in writing. You hope it never comes to litigation but if it should, you’ll be glad you have the backup. It’s not being pushy to insist on contracts, even if your collaborator is your best friend. It’s just smart to make sure that everyone is protected and all arrangements are understood.

Collaboration can be a lot of fun if it’s handled well and if it contributes to a better work. It can also be a pain in the butt if partners can’t get along or if agreements fall apart. Take these steps before you begin your collaborative project to keep things on the fun side.

(Photo courtesy of college.library)

  • You really need to think this through thoroughly. While having a partner can help in a great many ways, it can cause a lot of issues too. This is especially true when there is a disagreement on the vision of the project (and there will be). If you can constructively work through those disagreements, there is a chance for a good partnership. If you can’t, you’ll wonder why you ever thought it would be a good idea.

  • I have collaborated with a number of different authors over the years, and I find in most cases it’s just not worth the effort. It seems to me that most authors have very set opinions and ideas in their minds, and aren’t willing to compromise in many of those situations. If you’re a writer and you’re not willing to compromise, you don’t want to work with a collaborator. Collaboration is a team effort and you’re not going to get 100% of what you have in your mind about the way the project is going to work. What most authors want when it comes to collaboration, in my opinion, is an assistant to help them with the work they don’t want to do. Just my two cents.

    • I have to agree. I would never collaborate with another person again after two awful experiences that ended up wasting so much of my time. I think writers who successfully collaborate with each other are the exception rather than the rule.

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