Writing Collaborations: Are Two Heads Better than One? By Kelly James-Enger

Writing is often considered a solitary profession, and in fact, many writers confess to a certain degree of isolation or loneliness. Perhaps it’s not surprising then that so many writers collaborate on projects. Teaming up with another person can help you improve your craft and boost your chance of success.

But there can be drawbacks to collaborating as well. Read on for a look at the pros and cons of working as part of a team and factors to consider when deciding whether it’s right for you:

Two Heads are Better than One: Benefits of Collaborating

One of the biggest advantages of joining up with another writer is that you can take on a bigger project than you might try alone. Having a writing partner lets you divide the work, and gives you a built-in writing buddy, editor, and source of feedback.

Another benefit is that the two of you may bring different strengths to the table. Maybe you’ve got great ideas but grammar and spelling aren’t your thing. Maybe you need someone to help keep you on track. Or maybe you just love the idea of working with another writer.

Not Seeing Eye to Eye: Drawbacks of Collaborating

However, collaborating can have its downfalls. Writing as a solo author, you make all the writing decisions. With a collaborator, you’re stuck with someone else, for good or bad. What if your coauthor falls behind? What if you want to self-publish while he wants to pursue traditional publishers?

Conflicts about how the piece should be written can arise as well. If you’re writing a novel with another writer, you may disagree about major issues like plot twists or even seemingly insignificant things like character names. And all those disagreements have to be resolved one way or the other.

Before you Shake Hands: Issues to Consider

Before teaming up with another writer, ask whether you trust him or her? Will he be as committed to the work as you are? Do the two of you share the same vision for the projectóand the same goals for it?

Just as importantly, what’s this person like? If you’re a driven type A who thrives on deadlines, hooking up with a writer who tends to wait for the muse to show up may drive you batty. It goes without saying that your writing partner should be, well, mentally sound. While there’s a certain cachet to the tortured writer, you really don’t want to work with someone who’s dealing with drug, alcohol, or psychological problems.

Make your Minds Meet

Make sure that the two of you agree how the work will be divided up and who will be responsible for what. Some writers draft different chapters or book sections; with other collaborative pairs, one person does the actual writing while the other edits. Email has made it possible to collaborate whether you live across town or across the country, but you’ll probably need to schedule phone conferences if you don’t have the luxury of face-to-face meetings. With my current collaborator, a health expert, I interview him for material, write drafts, and send it to him for his review; then we talk by phone to address any problems.

It’s also important to consider how any income will be distributed between the two of you. Will you be equal partners? The obvious drawback to collaborating is that you must share the proceeds of your labors with your co-author. On the other hand, the benefit is that the two of you can double your marketing efforts.

Although you might not want to think about it, you should also consider what will happen if one of you has to abandon the project. Consider too who will have the last word in the event that the two of you are deadlocked on an issue. While being equal partners is great in theory, you may find yourself deadlocked if neither of you has authority to have final say on an issue.

Get it in Writing

Finally, don’t trust your memory as to who will be responsible for what. Put your agreement in writing. It needn’t be anything complicated, but it should address the following points:

  • Who writes what? Will each of you write different chapters, for example, or will one write drafts while the other edits and revises?
  • When will work be completed and given to the other person for review? It’s a good idea to set some deadlines for each other to keep your work on track.
  • Who is responsible for selling or marketing the work, if applicable? The person who has more experience in this area may want to take this on, or the two of you may agree to share the responsibility.
  • How will you divide income from the project? Are you equal partners or is there another ratio that you will use? Decide on this early on.
  • How will the two of you resolve conflicts that arise as you work on the project? What happens if one of you bails before the piece is completed?

Teaming up, you may find that two heads really are better than one. You just want to be sure that youóand your writing projectówill benefit from working with your collaborator.

Freelancer, consultant and speaker Kelly James-Enger is the author of six books including Six-Figure Freelancing: The Writer’s Guide to Making More Money (Random House, 2005.) Visit for more information about her.