How to find a coauthor: What you need, what you want, and where to look
During a recent TAA webinar, “The Joys and Agony of Co-Authoring: Practical and Legal Tips from Two Author-Lawyers”, presented by the award-winning co-authoring team of Karen Morris and Sten Sliger, the pair shared a list of both necessary and desirable traits to look for in a coauthor as well as tips on where to start searching for the people who possess them.
While working with a coauthor has several advantages, like a reduced workload, added expertise and creativity, and a different perspective, the wrong relationship can be a recipe for disaster. To increase your chance of success, this list provides some food for thought when considering a co-authoring relationship with someone.
Necessary traits of a coauthor
Morris and Sliger shared six traits that they consider essential items to look for in a coauthor.
1) Knowledgeable in the field
First and foremost, a potential coauthor should be knowledgeable in the discipline for which you are authoring. They should be current in the knowledge set necessary for inclusion in the resulting manuscript.
2) Good writing skills
As an author, the potential coauthor should also possess good writing skills. At a minimum, they should be able to clearly express ideas in writing and follow established style guidelines for the manuscript.
3) Sufficient time
Authoring takes time. A potential coauthor should be willing and able to commit the necessary time to writing in order to meet established project deadlines.
4) Commitment to the project
Knowledge, skill, and time are not enough though. A commitment to the project ensures that the potential coauthor is invested in the ultimate success of the title and willing to invest the time and effort needed to that end.
5) Motivation to complete the project
Motivation is different for everyone, but there needs to be a driving incentive for completion by all coauthors to ensure that the project doesn’t get abandoned prematurely.
6) A stable job
Whether a full-time teaching position, a discipline-related career, or other established income source, a stable job is very helpful. What you don’t want is a coauthor who is looking for a gig to fill time between jobs as they may leave the project if and when that job presents itself, regardless of whether the book is finished.
Desirable traits of a coauthor
Once you have found someone that has the essential traits listed above, you should also consider the following desirable traits in a potential coauthor to add value to the relationship.
1) Enjoys the field
While knowledge and experience are essential traits, it’s far more desirable to work with a coauthor who genuinely enjoys the field in which you are writing.
2) Known in the field
Working with someone who is known in the field can add credibility to the title and increase potential sales volume as a result.
3) Respected in the field
A positive reputation is better than simply a known presence in the field. Working with a coauthor who is a pioneer in the discipline or otherwise a significant contributor and respected in the field will further enhance the reputation of the book.
4) Teaching experience
Especially for textbook authors, teaching experience adds to an understanding of pedagogy and actual use of the resulting book in a classroom environment. For active teachers, it may also provide an immediate market for sales or testing the material.
5) Rapport and compatibility
Although many coauthors write independent of one another, perhaps on individual chapters or sections of the text, establishing rapport among coauthors improves the overall consistency of voice and reduces the potential for conflict throughout the writing process.
So where do you find this perfect coauthor?
Much like any other relationship, there are some things you can do to improve your chances of finding Mr. or Ms. Right. Morris and Sliger shared five tips for doing so.
1) Go looking – don’t leave it to the publisher!
Identify people with whom you can work well. Seek those people out. Blind dates rarely result in optimal compatibility. By being active in the process, you can find a coauthor who fits your ideal definition of a long-term partner rather than someone else’s choice for you.
2) Colleagues at your school
Oftentimes the people we’re looking for may already be part of our network. Consider colleagues with whom you have completed other projects successfully and who share similar interests. Ask them if they have considered writing a book.
3) Conference attendees
Whether a discipline-specific conference setting where you can find others who share a common knowledge base or TAA’s Textbook & Academic Authoring Conference where you can find people with good writing skills, conferences provide connection opportunities with people beyond your immediate work environment.
4) Contact authors of existing works you admire
Perhaps an author within your discipline who has an established reputation is also looking for a coauthor. Maybe they have provided significant contributions as an author of journal articles and may be open to coauthoring a book. You’ll never know if you don’t ask. Reach out to those whose work you admire.
5) Be open to the unexpected
Almost anyone who crosses your professional path is a potential coauthor. If you strike up a conversation with someone and find that you share interests and they indicate a desire to author, explore it further and use the traits above to evaluate them as a suitable match.