Q&A: How do you phase out a co-author?

Textbook PublishingQ: How do you phase out a coauthor who is now retired and with whom you have worked with for many years?

A: Mary Ellen Lepionka, co-author of Writing and Developing Your College Textbook: A Comprehensive Guide:

“The best way to phase out a co-author is to bring in a new co-author and increase the proportion of a new content, but so long as the book has original content contributed by the original author, that coauthor has a legitimate (and legal) stake in the book. Publishing industry standards for textbooks call for a gradual reduction in the royalty split, reflecting the reduced contribution, proportionally, to revisions. New co-authors’ names are added on, but an original author’s name remains on the cover until a pre-determined benchmark is reached that is spelled out in the Agreement–e.g., until there is no longer any original content belonging to that author, or less than 15 percent remains, or until 3 years after the author’s death, etc. Co-authorship ultimately is a decision your publisher makes, so I suggest you talk to your editor about it. The publisher could ‘request’ the addition of new coauthor(s) to cover new developments in the field, requiring a new contract–preventing a ‘divorce’ scenario and getting you out of the hot seat. (If the co-author is a spouse and there is a divorce, however, that’s another matter. I once had to count every single word each author contributed to a popular textbook to enable a court settlement that would make the lead author the sole author.)”


Writing and Developing Your College Textbook Mary Ellen Lepionka is the co-author of Writing and Developing Your College Textbook: A Comprehensive Guide. She is a retired publisher, author, editor, textbook developer, and college instructor with a Master’s in anthropology from Boston University and Ph.D. work at the University of British Columbia. In the 1990s she worked in higher Mary Ellen Lepionkaeducation publishing as a developmental editor of college textbooks, principally for Houghton Mifflin and Pearson Education. Between 2002 and 2011 she established Atlantic Path Publishing as a retirement business and published two editions of Writing and Developing Your College Textbook and related titles. She presently is an independent scholar writing a history of Native Americans on Cape Ann.

Listen to her 2017 TAA Conference webinar, “Creative Self-Help for Authors”

About Kim Pawlak

Kim Pawlak is Director of Publishing & Operations for the Textbook & Academic Authors Association (TAA). She has been writing about the textbook and academic authoring and publishing industry for 20 years.