5 Textbook authors share advice on coauthoring relationships

textbooksQ: “I am currently writing on my own but considering taking on a coauthor. What are some different ways that coauthors can work together?”

A: Maggie D.C. Finn, mfinn@nycc.edu:

“One simple way is to use Word in ‘Track Changes’ mode. That way drafts can be send back and forth electronically and you can quickly see where your coauthor has added or edited something.”

A: Jay Devore, Professor and Chair, Department of Statistics, Cal Poly State University, jdevore@calpoly.edu:

“Depends partly on the discipline. The first time I worked with a coauthor on a statistics book, I took primary responsibility for the first draft of most of the exposition, and my coauthor focused on examples and exercises. But books in many disciplines don’t have substantial exercise sets or separated examples within the text.

The more common model, which I’ve used recently in several projects, is just to divide the chapters in a sensible way.”

A: Rolf Seebach, Amelox Incorporated, rws@amelox.com:

“I am assuming that you are concerned about the money split?

1. make it 50 – 50, or

2. divide it according to the number of pages each contributes and gets accepted by publisher, or

3. agree on a formula that weighs the importance of each contribution, or

4. combine points two and three by normalizing the result.

table

The above example takes into account that Author A contributes fewer pages but those are more important to the overall subject matter.”

A: Dan Moody, dmoody@swc.cc.ca.us:

“My coauthor, Anna Ingalls, and I each work on one section, then when we are ready to transition to editing, we send each other the drafts and put suggested changes in colored text.

If those changes are fine with both parties, we’re done, at least until final proofing. But we also email back with more suggested changes if we are not quite satisfied.”

A: Stan Gibilisco, www.sciencewriter.net:

“My experience with co-authors has been uniformly bad. Usually, the co-author ends up procrastinating to the detriment of the project. Sometimes they don’t do any work at all. In one case, however, the co-author did plenty of work (this was a revised edition, where the first edition was entirely mine), but was bitterly critical of my writing style.

I do not wish to come off as a wise guy. Perhaps I am just a hard person to please or get along with. But honestly, my advice is to avoid co-authorship arrangements unless you have absolutely no choice, or you happen to find an Angel of Light to serve as a co-author. Your peace of mind is almost certain to suffer from any such relationship. There are exceptions, but they are rare, in my experience.

As a recommended read along these lines, I suggest  A Message to Garcia by Elbert Hubbard, written a century ago but still applicable today. It can be obtained from Amazon.com for a few dollars in pamphlet form, and is, at the very least, entertaining.”