Writing a book with a writing partner

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I wouldn’t be doing what I’m doing today if it wasn’t for a hot summer conversation with Jeff Senne. It was the early days of the internet, and Jeff and I had both been looking for a book to recommend to our clients. We went back and forth for a while about what the book should be like, and then one of us, I think it was Jeff, said, “Why don’t we write this thing ourselves?”

And so we did. The book was Cyberpower for Business. Inc. Magazine called it “A book every CEO should own.” The book was a success and so was the writing experience.

I discovered that writing a book with a partner can be an amazing experience. Up to that point, I had written several books as a solo author. Working with Jeff taught me what a good collaborative partnership could be like.

Two Heads Really Are Better Than One

When there are two of you and you have complimentary skills, the book gets better. When there are two of you and you can toss ideas back and forth and argue the merits of them, the book gets better. Today, I’m the kind of ghostwriter who works as a writing partner. Here’s the way a good partnership should work.

At Least One of You Should Like the Writing

In a lot of writing partnerships, both partners write parts of the book. That’s fine. But at least one of the partners should like the writing process. I mean the rewriting and tweaking and self-editing that writers enjoy and most other people find either tedious or hard.

For the business book, Scaling Up Excellence, my friend Bob Sutton and “Huggy” Rao worked on the book together. Bob discovered that he enjoyed the writing process, and so he did many of the rewriting chores that made the book excellent.

All Writing Partnerships Have Some Element of Back and Forth

All the effective writing partnerships that I’ve seen or been part of involve people sending work back and forth. For Jeff and me, it was writing alternating chapters and then sending our chapter over to the other person for review before we had a conference about it. That’s like the process that Karin Hurt and David Dye used when they wrote Winning Well.

Back and forth is one of the great things about a writing partnership because you get the power of both brains on the material. That said, you need to set things up so you harmonize your individual styles and thoughts. Technology makes it easier to do today than when Jeff and I wrote Cyberpower for Business.

Sometimes One of The Writers Is a Professional

Anders Ericsson is a psychologist and researcher, well-known for his writing about deliberate practice. When it came time to write a book about his findings, he teamed up with Robert Pool. I don’t know exactly how it worked for them, but I suspect that one of the big advantages for Ericsson was that he had to explain his findings and process to another human being. The book, Peak, is much clearer than any of Ericsson’s previous writing.The writing process is usually a process of clarification, and that’s much more likely to happen when one is the subject matter expert and the other understands what it means to write a book for people who aren’t experts in the field.

One of You Should Understand What It Takes to Write a Book

Writing a book is different than almost any other kind of writing. It’s different from blogs and different from reports and different from long-form articles. Writing a book means producing a large body of work where all the pieces work together. You don’t need to have a professional to make that happen, but at least one of the writing partners should have the experience of writing a book so that you, as a team, understand what must be done to create a good book.

Some Other Things Your Writing Partner Can Do

When I work as a professional writing partner, I’m almost always the fingers on the keys for the manuscript. But there are other things that I found I do for clients that help them produce a better book. You should consider for any writing partner.

I work only on books about business and personal development because I have some knowledge of those fields. The result is that often I will suggest other content that will enhance what my partner already knows about. Even if you and your writing partner both are experts on the topic of the book, you will each have specific knowledge that the other doesn’t have. The beauty of the partnership is that you get to share it.

Your partner can help with the research. For some of my clients, I have done both primary and secondary research to help make the book better. I’ve often helped with the research design. And sometimes the back and forth of writing involves reviewing interviews and other research material.

Sometimes your writing partner can be helpful when it comes to connecting to the publishing process. He or she may have an agent that will be helpful or, he or she may know vendors who can help you self-publish a book that doesn’t look like it’s self-published.

Bottom Line

If you’re looking for a good writing partnership, make sure you find a partner whose knowledge and skills enhance your own. Make sure you have good personal chemistry and a similar work ethic.

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