How to Work with a Co-Writer

Coffee cup on long wood table that says "Begin."

You want to write a book but intuitively you know you’re never going to make it happen on your own. You probably don’t even know why, so I will tell you. 

  1. You don’t have the 500 hours (or more) over 18 months (or more) or the inclination to devote that much time to turning your big idea into an actual finished book. 
  2. You don’t know how to make a book. Yes, it’s a craft and there’s a process. You could learn, but see point number one and then double the time—because learning. If you’re like my clients—you’re not going to do that, either. 
  3. You have no desire to manage the copious amounts of minutia involved in getting a book to press—even if you’re self-publishing. If you are going to get a book deal with a traditional publisher, multiply that headache by about 500%. And when I say headache, I’m talking migraine. Example: You know those cute quotes you see atop many chapters in business books? That’s called an epigraph and they are special permissions snowflakes that often require you to pay the publisher of the book they came from for the rights to use them. That’s just one example. I could go on. It’s tedium to the max. 

So then, how are so many of your peers getting books out? It’s simple. They are hiring someone to help them!

Writing a book is not unlike software development. As a business leader you know what outcome you want. To get that outcome, you hire a software development firm who then works with you to make your vision into reality. You don’t go sign up for a class in Python!

Extending the analogy, software development is expensive. But if you select the right outcome, the ensuing program should pay for itself manifold. Same with a book. If you take the time to figure out what the thesis of the book is and what’s required to support it, and it’s written in a way that’s respectful of people’s time and attention, it will raise your profile in ways nothing else can.

So how does working with a co-writer work? First let’s define the roles. I refer to myself as a co-writer but I am also a book strategist, and developmental editor, and project manager. I wear a lot of hats. Basically, I’m responsible for making sure the book actually happens, including fanning the flame to keep your enthusiasm for the project alive for a long, long time!

  • Book strategist: Helps you figure out who your audience is, where their pain points are, and what it is you have to offer in terms of subject matter expertise that would advance their agenda. 
  • Developmental editor: Makes sure the book hangs together, sequences properly and reads like butter. Acts as the reader’s advocate to make the very best use of the reader’s time.
  • Project manager: Has control of the myriad items required and keeps the plates spinning and delivering on time. 
  • Co-writer: Interviews, researches, challenges the non-writing author and then translates their thinking into words on the page, making them sound like the best version of themselves. Basically bolts onto your brain and does what is required to get the book actually written. 

You might also be wondering, what’s difference between a co-writer, a co-author, and a ghostwriter? Here’s my take.

  • A co-writer gets a shout out in the acknowledgements (at least I do). Sometimes you see Jane Doe with Josh Ray. The second name is typically the co-writer. A mention in the acknowledgements is good enough for me. I don’t want to dilute my client’s credibility with a “with.” It’s not my book!
  • A co-author is just what it sounds like, two people who partner up to create something together. In that case both names go on the cover of the book, i.e., Jane Doe and Josh Ray. In that case, my job as co-writer is to figure out what the blended voice is and that is actually a lot of fun. 
  • A ghostwriter is usually a subject matter expert who essentially takes an idea and uses their knowledge to write a book and puts someone else’s name on it. The ghost’s name is not associated with the book in any way. This anonymity is often written into the agreement and non-disclosures also can be required. Some people love to ghostwrite and that’s fine. It’s just not my jam.

Yes, I take my client’s ideas and amplify them but let’s be clear: the controlling ideas and the core subject matter expertise originates with them and the author is driving the narrative. I’ve also noticed working with a co-writer is becoming sort of a status symbol. That’s nice because the author is happy to mention me as having played an important role in bringing the book to bear.

It’s great to have one person who can wear all the hats but you can also get it done by engaging an experienced co-writer with developmental editing experience and bolting that person on to a book project manager who will handle production, e.g., directing the copy editor and proofreading and all the other pieces such as pre-order, launch, etc.

Point is, if you really believe a book would transform your business (and it can, I’ve seen it happen many times) do yourself a favor and give up on going it alone. Instead, use your leadership skills to assemble the team you need to help you manifest it—and do it now. Because as the old Chinese proverb goes, “The best time to plant a tree is 20 years ago, and today.”