The Myths of Coauthoring

It’s a myth that coauthoring is easier than single authoring.

What every editor knows and few authors know is the myth of coauthoring. The myth stated simply is: Coauthoring is better, easier, quicker and less work than single authoring a book. The myth is false on almost all counts. Yet it persists. Why?

Primarily because it seems self-evident. Two authors bring twice as much experience, knowledge and expertise to a manuscript than one. And writing half would seem to take less work than writing the whole thing. But what often happens is that both authors end up spending as much time on the book as if they had written the whole thing (and still get only half the royalties).

The work isn’t cut in half for several reasons. First, coauthors may have large areas of agreement about the topic of the book, but often they disagree about key issues. (Sometimes by virtue of having considerable knowledge and expertise, the disputes can be even stronger.) So those disagreements need to be negotiated. That can be a long and arduous (and even acrimonious) ordeal. (One couple told me they almost didn’t make it through coauthoring a book on marriage.)

Second, coauthors write their own portions and then they rewrite each other’s portions. Or if not, one of the coauthors rewrites the other’s portion. That part of the process is needed to give the book a consistent voice so readers don’t feel jerked back and forth between two very different styles from one chapter to the next or within a chapter.

Another challenge related to voice is, Who is speaking? Who is the “I” in the text? Is it Author A or Author B or both? Here are a few alternatives.

* Option A: The voice is that of one author, in which case the other author is referred to in the third person (or not at all). (E.g., Praying.)
* Option B: The “author’s voice” is always “we” unless a personal story is being told; e.g.: “I (Andy) got stuck on an airplane once when . . .” (E.g.: I Once Was Lost.)
* Option C: The “author’s voice” is always “we” and when a personal story is being told, it is done so in the third person for both authors. (E.g.: Heart. Soul. Mind. Strength.)
* Option D: Each chapter or subsection leads off with the name of the author of that portion of the book, which is then written in first-person singular. (E.g., Being White.)

All of these options (and others that could be noted) all have their advantages and disadvantages. In Option A, one coauthor may resist being relegated to the third person. I find a certain jarring, distracting quality in each of Options B, C and D.

I have only scratched the surface of the problems that could arise. This is not to say that one (or two) should never coauthor. It’s a matter of first counting the cost.

One response to “The Myths of Coauthoring”

  1. Not to mention deadlines: it’s so often challenging enough for one author to meet deadlines with his/her busy schedule, but getting two or more? Yikes!