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Co-authoring a book: What you need to know

Many people are writing about their domain and it’s now easier than ever before to self-publish and distribute your book.

After writing two books, co-authoring The Agile Change Playbook with Dr Jen Frahm was another new writing experience – and an immensely rewarding one. But it does take some discipline.

If you’re considering a venture with another author (or two) here’s some tips that are good to know:

1. Know thy author: This process relies on trust, trust and more trust. Previous work-related collaborations are a good indicator.

2. Plan it upfront: Find a method to get all your ideas together. We created a story board which helped us develop our chapter plan.

3. Agree what you will outsource: Do an honest appraisal of what is not your specialty, e.g. cover design, typesetting, professional editing, illustrations, marketing, social media.

4. Assign who writes specific sections or chapters: Then the other author reviews and makes suggestions on your work and vice versa.

5. Be mindful of your mindset: Remain open to feedback on changes that you weren’t expecting. Sometimes your co-author sees a connection or opportunity before you do. This may alter the planned course or nudge you to iterate on your earlier plans.

6. Be prepared to work asynchronously: You don’t need to work together on everything in real time. Digital tools help, such as a shared drive as a minimum, a Trello board so you can see the progress.

7. A fair chunk of your work (and your co-author’s) will end up on the cutting room floor: Ouch! But it happens. It’s better to start with lots of content and cull, than get to the end and think – we don’t really have much here. Don’t despair about the cuts – if the content is good, but just didn’t fit in the content flow, you are likely to have short content pieces for social media. It’s cut, not lost forever.

8. Letting go of more: It’s not just content that you might need to let go. It’s your ego. It might be one of your pet paragraphs or sections that are culled. This is the time to remove attachment from your content, not take things personally and act for the greater good of your book…and your audience.

9. No micro-management: This is not for control freaks and micro-managers. If you are this type, accept it, own it and control it. If you can’t, write a book by yourself. Don’t put another person through misery.

10. Ask others to review and edit. When you work on the content with your co-author, some objectivity is lost because it’s still your work. Invite fresh eyes to look, read and offer feedback.

11. Own your errors. If you mess up, own up. If you’ve overlooked something or see something that needs to be fixed, talk about with your co-author. There is no-where to hide here. Once published, it’s out there. Whatever shouldn’t be there…will be spotted.

Parting words

Mutual accountability is a great motivator. At the same time, so is mutual respect. This relies on honesty and open communication. Other priorities do crop up. While there was no way I would intentionally let my co-author down on deadlines, when competing priorities cropped up we were able to work around them.

Be prepared for deep self-discovery - you learn a lot about yourself.

Happy to hear your tips too!

Would I do it again – HELL YEAH!


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