Five Things to Think About Before You Agree to Co-Author a Book

I’m having a fabulous experience right now helping two professors get out a book on AI and machine learning for marketers. They are both brilliant and personable and respectful, not just of each other’s expertise but mine, too. As you can imagine, given the topic, it’s a bit of a beast, but the book is going to be great, and I couldn’t ask for a better project.

At the same time, I can totally see how having two authors on a book could also go horribly, horribly awry. Here are five things you should think through before you agree to write a book with someone.

  1. Do you genuinely like and trust your co-author? A book is a huge project and you will be interacting frequently for a year or more. You want someone who is capable of respectful consideration of and iteration on ideas that did not originate with them!
  2. Is your expertise complementary and on par? If not, it could lead to weird power dynamics down the road. Unless, of course, the two of you have discussed this and one of you assumes the role of “lead” author. Communication is the key.
  3. Are your writing styles similar? If not, can you hire an editor to create a hybrid voice for the book so it doesn’t come across as schizophrenic? If not, whose style is going to win? For example, I once co-authored a rather scientific article on motivation with someone whose writing style was very different from mine. I did gently push back on what I considered to be wordsmithing of the draft I submitted but she was also the editor of the site it was going on—guess who won!
  4. Does your prospective co-author have a reputation for being a collaborative? Or are they known as a control freak who needs to put their fingerprints on every word. (Read: wordsmith.) Conversely, if you are someone who has a hard time giving up control or you don’t really want to share the glory, co-writing a book may not be for you!
  5. Does you and your co-author both have the bandwidth to devote to the work? Even if you decide to hire someone like me to put the words on the page, the concepts and ideas have to get to my brain somehow and once there, I’ll need access to both of you to bake things out. If you’re really tight for time, you can still get the book done if the editor you select is also willing to do some project management and you’re willing to be bossed around on this.

When you pick the right co-author, the cross pollination of ideas and synergies that occur during the writing process can be hair-stand-up-on-the back-of-your-neck, chill bumps, no one has ever said this before, exciting.

To ensure you create that experience and not the other, choose your co-author and writing partner with care because you will be interacting with them for a long, long time.