I wanted to write about co-authoring since I thought it’s an interesting way of both boosting one’s own sales as well as providing aid to those authors who might be a little further down the ladder than you. Thus far, I’ve had 3 co-authored books launch, and I’m working on another 3 right now (two with existing co-authors, a third with a new one and a fourth to be discussed).
Quick background – I do decently well in my sub-genre, with many of my books in my main series launching in the top 100 (via pre-orders and KU) of Amazon.com. I have a dedicated and hungry fan base, though the numbers are a little more limited (i.e. max ceiling is lower) than say, mystery or romance. So while I launch high, I often fall fast to stick around the 3-5k range after that.
Still not bad, obviously; but this is necessary to provide context about some of the other comments.
Now, co-authoring is fascinating for me since it provides (in my view) benefits in both craft and business.
What you get on the craft side I find varies depending on how experienced the other author is. If they’re very experienced, you get to see how they work, why they choose certain things and get a feel for their voice, pacing, etc.
I learnt a ton – and I’m sure I’ll learn more – working in this way.
With less experienced authors, I find that you become a dev and copy editor. (I don’t do line edits. That requires a skill set I suck at). You learn to voice your opinion and change things, copy edit and figure out WHY you personally do certain things that way.
Tricky part is, and this is why I prefer co-authoring rather than playing publisher, is keeping the voices from clashing too much while not overriding/over-writing the other entirely. The way I mostly work is having the other author write the first draft and I come in to edit, so I have to keep a light hand on my edits to keep their majority author voice intact.
Obviously, this might differ depending on how you work. I’m working on a co-author project where we take turns writing different POV chapters. There, there’ll be less editing since each voice will be different. I’m sure there’s more.
Oh, I’ll also add – there’s something to working with other creatives that can really help spur creativity while also adding deadlines that might do better for certain personalities.
I’m sure there’s more craft benefits, but I’m going to stop there.
– writing in the same universe and launching in an established universe sees a bump in sales. For myself, when one co-author launched in my established universe, I saw a bump of at least 100% from previous months. We just launched the second in-universe co-authored work, but I’d expect the same kind of bump this month too from what I can see.
– Smooths out the release timeline and speeds up number of releases. I have released 3 self-authored works this year. There’s a 4th major series release planned for Dec 1. Having co-authored works in my world means that I have even more releases this year, which provides a huge benefit for the Amazon algorithim.
Basically, adds to the number of releases per year and expands your backlist.
– co-authoring in a shared universe makes the entire universe seem bigger which can really help your brand establish itself. For myself, my main series that the 2 co-authors have written and released in was a major player in its sub-sub-genre, and having more works releasing into it regularly will ensure I stay there, I believe. Each book is also a new entry point into the universe, tapping into different demographics that might have chosen to skip my previous works for one reason or the other.
Disadvantages of Co-Authoring
– Timelines can be longer and/or mutable. Since every work has be to edited multiple times, often the timelines we set-up are much more flexible than what I do myself. Burnout, need to work on personal projects, inspiration and multiple editing times and finding editors, all those push timelines out of whack. Don’t rely on co-authored projects to hit their deadlines and fill in gaps just ’cause.
– co-author contracts. Legallese is always annoying, and having to adjust is even more so. You also need to understand your contract 100%.
– it doesn’t always work. Of the 3 projects, 2 which tap into my existing universe and fanbase have been roaring successes. (Yes, the other one launched only on Nov 1 so I don’t have full data yet, but it’s done well).
The 3rd was in a new shared universe that was off-genre and did poorly. It did not see an increase in readership or sales for either of us.
– it doesn’t always work (II) – Wasted Time. Oh, and did I forget to mention the number of co-authors I worked with who dropped out. Now, this is partly because I was working with new authors for the most part, and many dropped out after the contract was signed and a few chapters written; but it’s all wasted time, especially when you have to read and critique those chapters.
This is less of a problem with authors who are already published and who take it seriously, but trust me, it’s a lot of time that can be wasted chasing people on things like this.
– can be costly. This varies, again, on how you set-up but there are cost (editing, covers, etc.) that end up needing to be covered. Under my contracts, I pay for all costs; so when a project fails, I take the brunt of the losses.
This includes the monthly fee in my bank for the escrow account where I partition any royalty’s coming in, so that I don’t touch them for my own expense, advertising costs, audiobook production cost, etc.
– Don’t forget that you are stuck distributing royalties for the rest of your life. Thanks to the way Amazon is set-up, you’re mostly stuck creating royalty reports and distributing funds. Depending on how your contract is written; you might be doing this either before the funds actually hit your bank account or multiple months after the money has arrived.
Which means you need a seperate account for all that. Yes, you need to do that.
Alright, some last thoughts. I started this post by saying it can be helpful for an established author to work with newer authors, and if your project is successful; you can see an increase in sales for the newer writer in their backlist too (currently around a 20% increase!). This can be a huge benefit for authors who are great writers but just haven’t been able to market their work well.
It doesn’t always work that way, since if your project doesn’t launch well, the added readers might not be there. But it’s certainly a potential benefit.
On top of that, of course, is the royalties you pay out. The difference between launching into a successful, established universe and one that isn’t is significant and can mean a huge difference. While it’s not, in a single work, enough to make a career (backlist still rules!), the benefit of steady income, having somoene handling the marketing / advertising and the mental awareness that it’s not their writing that is the problem can be huge.
End of the day, co-authoring is another avenue of splitting income, working with new people, helping some up and improving your craft. There are negatives and it can take working with a few before you find someone you can work with, and it’s always a balancing act; but there are definite advantages.
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