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Top 5 tips for creating and maintaining a successful coauthoring relationship

Frank Carrano and Timothy Henry have coauthored two editions each of computer science textbooks Data Abstractions & Problem Solving with Walls And Mirrors C++ and Data Structures and Abstractions with JAVA. Here they detail their top five tips for maintaining a successful coauthoring relationship.

1) Have a Coauthoring Contract or Agreement

When you and your coauthor decided to work together, you may have been long-time friends and coworkers, you may have been connected by your publisher, or you may have met at a conference. However the relationship was established, it is important to have your writing relationship clearly stated in a contract. A coauthoring contractual agreement should specify royalty splits, writing responsibilities, and future edition commitments. If you have not worked together previously, you may want to consider a work-for-hire arrangement to test your ability to collaborate. This can reduce the risk to future editions. Another option is to add the coauthor for the current edition only. That is, amend your contract for one edition at a time.

2) Decide on a Working Relationship

If you are an established author who is taking on a coauthor, you must decide the amount work you want to do and your level of involvement in the decision making process. You may be planning to retire and want your book to live on with new editions. In this case, you must reluctantly release control of your book, which can be done over several editions. Or, you may have brought on the coauthor as an expert in an area in which you are weak, and you want to work together as a team through this and future editions.

As a new author working with an established author on an existing book, you might be looking for a mentoring relationship for an edition or two. Or you may have been brought on to inherit the book or to add depth of coverage in a field where you are an expert. The royalty and rights arrangements in each of these cases can vary greatly, so it is imperative to work this out clearly at the start.

One important issue that needs clarification is whose name appears on the book’s cover. Sometimes the established author gives total control to the new author, and both names will appear on the cover. Other times, the established author wants a say in the revision, but the contributor really does most of the work. If the two of you create a new first edition, you likely would want both names to appear on your book. If this is a work-for-hire arrangement, a mention of the contributor in the preface could be sufficient. If you are an established author who takes on a coauthor for a new edition of your book, do you want to share the spotlight on the cover or simply thank the person in the book’s preface? If you are joining an established author to create a new edition of an existing book, are you willing to stay in the background?

3) Agree on a Philosophy

The coauthors should generally share the same perspective on topics covered in the book and agree on many of the pedagogical aspects of the book. Discussing your diverse opinions within the book can enhance the reader’s education, but a strong disagreement between authors is counterproductive. You will not always agree on every detail, but if a consensus or compromise does not occur, one author should make a final decision. This deciding author can be the senior or original author, or it could be the author with greater expertise in the area of discussion. In either case, it is important to include how conflicts will be resolved in the contract.

Disagreements can be captured and included in the book. Several times we have debated, sometimes for an extended time, the best way to design or implement certain programming structures and algorithms. We captured those discussions and used them in the textbook to provide students with a better understanding of our thought process and to see alternatives to what we presented in the book.

4) Create a Common Workflow

Having a good workflow and managing edits and revisions is challenging even when you are working alone on a book. Adding a coauthor with different experiences and writing methods complicates the process. Creating a workflow that works for everyone is as important as agreeing to a general philosophy for the manuscript. No one wants to have a week’s worth of writing accidentally deleted, and no one wants to be the one accidentally deleting your coauthor’s work!

Most authors break drafts into files by chapter so it is easier to divide the work and write simultaneously on different parts of the book. Adopt a naming convention for file names that identify the file’s most recent revision and author. Though it is possible to email drafts back and forth between authors, it may not be the best way to coordinate work. Cloud storage services, such as OneDrive, Dropbox, Box, iCloud, and Google Drive, enable you to share folders and files with multiple people. You can set up and share folders for each revision, or you can organize the folders by the author working on the draft.

Carefully track edits each author makes to a chapter. Using the “track changes” feature in your writing software is useful for reviewing and coordinating work from multiple authors. Some tools, such as Microsoft Word, let you merge two versions of the same document and highlight the differences. This can save your work if by chance, multiple authors simultaneously made conflicting changes to a previous version.

5) Have a Single Point of Contact for the Publisher

One author should be the primary contact person with the publisher. This author would regularly update the publisher on progress, issues, and other matters while keeping the coauthor copied on any correspondence. Having a single publisher point of contact reduces the chance for miscommunication or conflicting directions. This is especially important during production and as the page proofs are reviewed. The authors should remain in constant communication with each other throughout the process.

Frank M. CarranoFrank M. Carrano is Professor Emeritus of Computer Science at the University of Rhode Island. He has taught computer science courses for over thirty years and has authored several well-known textbooks.

Timothy M. HenryTimothy M. Henry is an Associate Professor and Graduate Director at the New England Institute of Technology. He brings over twenty years experience in information technology project management to his writing and teaching. He has co-authored three textbooks.