Should You Co-Author a Novel? Advice from Bestselling Writer Duos

Posted by Marie on October 24, 2018

Writing doesn't have to be a solo journey. That's why we reached out to some of today's most dynamic writing duos to give their best advice on collaboration. These duos include longtime colleagues Neil deGrasse Tyson and Avis Lang, sisters Krista and Becca Ritchie, besties-who-share-a-byline Christina Lauren, and former author-editor team turned co-authors Greer Hendricks and Sarah Pekkanen.

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Neil deGrasse Tyson and Avis Lang

You may know Neil deGrasse Tyson as one of America’s favorite scientists and the bestselling author of Astrophysics for People in a Hurry. Here Tyson and his editor, Avis Lang, spoke to us over the phone about how their years-long professional relationship paved the way for Accessory to War.

Goodreads: Tell us about how you collaborated.

Neil deGrasse Tyson: When I first conceived of the book back in 2003, I concluded it would take me about a thousand years to write it. So I said, 'I need a co-author.' Then I said, 'All right, I know Avis Lang.' She’s my long-time editor from a column I wrote for Natural History Magazine.

We developed a working relationship where we knew how to argue points strongly, but arrive at a mutual conclusion. She also knew however stubborn I am upfront, I’m not unconvince-able. So that’s highly valuable in a collaboration, otherwise you wear each other down.

Avis Lang: From where I sit, there was a kind of slow, seamless evolution through Natural History Magazine into Accessory to War. In part because, fairly early during my editorship of his column, [Neil] raised the idea [of writing this book]. He raised his one eyebrow, cocked his head to the side and said, 'You don’t want to be an editor your whole life, do you?' So it was an organic outgrowth of what we were already doing.

Goodreads: What was your process? How did you bring your book to life?

NdT: I had most of these chapters spec’d in my head. [Avis] would come into my office with a tape recorder and I would recite the major points and themes in ways that would lend itself into a narrative. She’s also a brilliant and thorough researcher. So she'd transcribe it and then verify all the details I gave. That became the skeleton of a chapter we would then bounce back and forth to sharpen into content.

AL: Sometimes, when one of us is changing something the other person wrote, we gave a whole, long explanation. I would almost guess that the number of words we expended explaining why we want something a certain way, or why we didn’t buy the other person’s formulation, could almost equal the number of words in this book.

GR: What's the best part about having a writing partner?

NdT: The good thing about a writing partner is that work gets done even when you can’t get work done. [Avis] knows exactly where I’m coming from and where I’m going and what my writing style is. And it’s a blend. If I got something wrong that couldn’t be developed she tells me, 'Neil, this isn’t going to graft well because it’s just boring.' Or, 'It’s interesting, but not relevant.' So she'll just tell it to my face and that’s what you need. You need someone who’s aggressive, but resonant.

AL: There's absolute respect for the other's thought processes and we like many things about the way the other person writes, but we also read very carefully and critically. By the way, I think that there are very different kinds of collaboration.

You can get people like the Harvard political scientists who wrote How Democracies Die. They're two people from the same school, they look like they’re the same age, they both know the subject; they’re in the same ballpark. Neil and I are like two very different entities and between us, we cover a lot of ground. Ultimately, we're a workable team because we’re not the same. We come at all of that stuff from different vantage points.

GR: What would your advice be for aspiring co-authors?

NdT: You’ve got to know the author’s style because otherwise it's going to be a conflict. The authors themselves need to expect a criticism about their writing by someone who has an insight that they do not have. You can’t go in stubbornly and say, 'Oh, you’re just supporting me.' That’s not a collaboration. That’s a guest writer. You want somebody who'll say, 'I think this is a better way to do it.' You can’t have ego.

AL: Whenever you have a disagreement, be very, very precise about formulating your query. Offer a couple alternatives and say, 'Is this what you meant?' And always be polite. You will not get very far collaborating with someone if you say, "That is shit. I’m sorry. We can’t run that." You both have to figure out what's not working and then you can aim your query in a more pointed direction. You don’t just leave it up to the other person to solve it.

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Christina Lauren

Representing the world of romance is the author team, Christina Lauren—the shared pen name of Christina Hobbs and Lauren Billings. Together, they’ve written more than 20 novels including the beloved Beautiful Bastard series. Over email, they revealed how they became best friends and business partners.

Goodreads: You’ve been described as longtime writing partners and best friends. How did you two meet?

Christina Lauren: We met online in 2009 when Lauren was putting on a panel at San Diego Comic-Con on fan fiction and invited Christina to be a panelist. We met in person and quickly hit it off, then decided to write a short story together for a contest. We had so much fun that we decided to do it again, this time attempting a book.

GR: What’s the best part about having a writing partner? Were there any moments that surprised you or challenged you along the way?

CL: There are so many amazing things about co-authoring! Not only are there two people to tackle the workload, but it’s really wonderful to have someone to share all the ups and downs along the way.

There is always another person who is just as excited about the shiny new thing, and there is always someone with whom we can talk something out when we get stuck. There’s a magic that happens when we work together on a book: We tell people that being co-authors feels a little like having a superpower.

This may not have been something that surprised us, per se, but very early on we had to think of co-authoring not only as co-writing, but also as being business partners.

It’s been important that we are able to discuss creative ideas, yes, but also contracts, money, deadlines, and writing logistics. Sometimes the conversations have been complicated, but that’s where our efforts to communicate openly and clearly has really helped.

GR: Together, you’ve written over 20 books and counting. That’s quite a feat! What can you tell us about your process?

CL: In hindsight, it sometimes feels like we must have been in a fugue state when we managed to write all of these books in just a handful of years. How did that happen?

As far as process goes, we always outline in person. There’s a chemistry that flows when we sit down and start bouncing ideas off one another. Then, we decide how we’ll divide things up—whether it’s by character, by scene, or by chapter—and then we start drafting.

If a book has alternating points-of-view, it’s an easy split. But we each have different strengths and sometimes one of us will want to write a particular moment. At this point, we know what one or the other would do better. As we finish scenes or chapters we add them to a file so we can read, then we compile and revise. The key to our books feeling like they’ve been written by a single author is the revision process where we go over it again, and again, and again.

GR: What advice do you have for aspiring co-authors?

CL: Rule #1: Make sure you’re compatible. This seems obvious, but it’s very easy to like someone a whole lot, love their writing style, and decide to embark on this creative journey because it sounds like fun.

It is fun, but remember: It’s difficult to collaborate creatively when you have two of the exact same personality types, such as two people who need to be in control, or two people who leave everything to the last minute.

In our case, neurotic and easygoing tend to balance each other very well. So take the time to consider your combined temperaments, your work habits, your strengths and weaknesses before you enter into a creative business partnership.

Rule #2: Make sure you trust each other. Sharing new and rough words can feel very vulnerable, so be sure you trust your co-author to be careful with them—and you. But also: Don’t be delicate. Edits are suggested to make the story better, not because you did something wrong. Everyone’s goal should be to create the best book possible. There is no individual ego in a co-authoring team.

Rule #3: You might not always agree. Co-authoring is a relationship just like any other; you wouldn’t want to be in a relationship where you didn’t feel invested in and safe enough to argue. It’s okay to disagree, but learn where your creative and professional lines are, and draw them thoughtfully and consistently.

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Krista Ritchie and Becca Ritchie

YA fans and readers of the Addicted and Like Us series will be familiar with sisters Krista and Becca Ritchie. Through their email correspondence, they let us know that while the both of them grew up writing separately, writing together seemed just like a natural fit.

Goodreads: Not only are you two a writing duo, you’re also a sister-sister duo! Has this always been the dream?

Krista Ritchie and Becca Ritchie: As kids, we grew up writing separately, but we were each other’s biggest fans! Really, we were the only ones reading each other’s stories. Around the end of high school and start of college, we wanted to team up.

We had different styles of writing, but our weakness and strengths paired so perfectly that we quickly found writing together was more enjoyable. We’ve both always loved telling stories, but the dream of telling them together definitely came later on.

GR: What’s the best part about having a writing partner?

KR and BR: Our favorite part of writing together is being able to bounce ideas back and forth. Being fully committed to the characters and world with someone else is such a blessing and keeps our inspiration tanks full!

At the start, it was a huge shock that our styles melded so well. One of us is more focused on description and the other is stronger with dialogue. Seeing that we’re better together than apart was a pleasant surprise!

GR: You’ve both partnered on many series together. Can you describe your process?

KR and BR: We always start working on a project with major brainstorming. We’ll map out all big plot points, but we won’t outline everything. One of the most fun aspects is shocking each other with twists and turns, and in that sense, one of us always becomes a “reader” and is able to say whether the twist falls flat or works really well.

Our writing process is pretty complicated. We don’t divide chapters. Instead, we both touch every page, and we’ll essentially write on top of each other and fill in the story with more detail.

GR: What advice do you have for aspiring co-authors?

KR and BR: Our advice is to be open-minded to your co-author’s creativity and focus on communication. The best ideas are usually the ones found together. Co-writing is one of the most enjoyable experiences, and once you’ve found the writing partner of your dreams, hold on tight! Don’t let go!

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Greer Hendricks and Sarah Pekkanen

Ever wonder what it’s like to work with your dopplegänger? That's what happened to mystery duo, Greer Hendricks and Sarah Pekkanen. Their backgrounds were similar to the point of eeriness, but over email they shared how their skills complemented each other enough to bring their debut, The Wife Between Us, to life.

Goodreads: Tell us about your partnership. When did you decide to write a book together?

Sarah Pekkanen: We met in 2008 when Greer was an editor at Simon & Schuster and my agent submitted my debut novel to various publishers. Greer snapped it up and we soon became close friends. Over the years, we learned we have an uncanny number of things in common, including being the exact same age, having backgrounds in psychology and journalism, being terrible cooks, and being close to our brothers (who happen to both be named Robert).

Greer Hendricks: After working together on seven novels as an author-editor team, I left Simon & Schuster. In the back of my mind, I wanted to try to write fiction. I confided in Sarah, who suggested we write a book together. By that point, we knew we shared strikingly similar narrative instincts and approaches to storytelling. When we discovered we were both itching to write a psychological page-turner, it seemed almost predestined. That novel turned into The Wife Between Us, our debut.

GR: What’s the best part about having a writing partner?

GH: There are so many great parts to having a writing partner. One of the best is accountability. We commit to working, and we both know we have to show up. Another bonus is having each other on book tour! We especially love to go running together in new cities.

SP: The main difference from writing alone is that we both articulate our thoughts to one another before we write—whereas for a solitary writer, your thoughts and ideas are internal. As for challenges, our biggest one is always technology!

GR: What can you tell us about your process co-authoring The Wife Between Us? Were there any learnings that you applied to your upcoming second book, An Anonymous Girl?

GH: We had just one rule when we decided to write a book together: If either of us felt the process was not enjoyable and wanted to back out, we would be honest with the other and end the creative partnership. But from day one, we knew we were onto something special.

We always say that we are 'Better Together.' Sarah even got us matching T-shirts with that logo! The real trick was to find a logistical way to collaborate. So, the third partner in our collaboration is Google Docs and Hangouts. These tools let us write our manuscripts in real time while we simultaneously talk.

SP: We also visit each others’ cities to plot every month or so. We camp out in a hotel room for a 36-hour stretch and "Homeland" the walls with giant Post-it notes. When we began to write An Anonymous Girl, we had our process firmly in place. We start our days as soon as our kids get off to school and work through lunch, wrapping up when the kids come home.

Although we do all of our plotting and writing together, we also go back into the manuscript individually (often late at night or early in the morning) to do small edits and tweaks in "suggested" mode for the other to review.

GR: What advice do you have for aspiring co-authors?

SP: Pick the right partner. At this point, we aren’t merely co-authors. We are business partners, advisors, and therapists to one another. All of this is built upon a rock-solid foundation of friendship. So, choosing a co-author who is both temperamentally and creatively in tune with you is critical.

GH: It’s really a marriage, so make sure you have clear communication and respect. When you’re part of a unique team, you need to put the partnership above your ego and even your individual needs at times. But with the right partnership, it makes you the best self you can be.

Comments Showing 1-36 of 36 (36 new)

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message 1: by RJ (new)

RJ Jenkins Vi Keeland and Penelope Ward are another great team🤓😎

message 2: by Yvette (new)

Yvette Krista & Becca Ritchie are amazing! Love all of their books ❤️❤️❤️

message 3: by Jackylinn (new)

Jackylinn I admire Christina & Lauren. I picked up “Roomies” last year and ever since, I’ve been hooked. I love their writing. They work amazing together. I feel like they really know how to bring a book to life. I get into visualization mode quick 😂. I’m excited for their achievements and I can’t wait for their next book. 💙

message 4: by RJ (new)

RJ Jenkins Christine and Lauren are the bestest!!❤️ Love the characters, that they bring to life.

message 5: by Marcia (new)

Marcia Thanks Marie for inviting me to read these author interviews, I've read a number of co-authored books over the years, mainly in the sphere of science fantasy (e.g. David and Leigh Eddings, Neil Gamain and Terry Pratchett) but The Wife Between Us was the first book I had read that did not fall into that genre and I absolutely loved it. Fascinating to read how Greer Hendricks and Sarah Pekkanen collaborated to write this book. Looking forward to reading their new novel.

message 6: by Jess☺️ (new)

Jess☺️ Thanks Marie, some authors I never knew and can't wait to try and Christina Lauren I never thought anything of I thought it was one person and I've read a few books by these authors 😌

message 7: by Maegan (new)

Maegan Dixon RJ wrote: "Vi Keeland and Penelope Ward are another great team🤓😎"
Yes! my favourite duo.

message 8: by Lanie (new)

Lanie love love love Krista and Becca Ritchie! All their books are amazing reads! Best writing duo ever!!!

message 9: by Cathy (new)

Cathy Thank you for sharing this with me! Love Greer Hendricks and Sarah Pekkanen and it is interesting to see how they came together as friends and colleagues to write the book The Wife Between Us.

message 10: by Michelle (new)

Michelle I love duo writing. I have found that most duo books are complete and aren't lacking. My favorite are the Ritchie sisters. So happy to see some Q&A featuring them.

message 11: by Tracy (new)

Tracy Dave Barry and Ridley Pearson did a great job on the Peter and the Starcatchers series.

message 12: by Cassie (new)

Cassie Fischer Amie Kaufman and Jay Kristoff?!

message 13: by Jen (new)

Jen Glad y’all interviewed Krista & Becca Ritchie! They are incredible writers, and every single one of their books is an enthralling work of art! 💕

message 14: by Donna (new)

Donna Thank you Marie...

message 15: by Deborah (new)

Deborah Blanchard I absolutely love Greer Hendricks and Sarah Pekkanen books! I have read and reviewed both of their books and they were amazing reads!

message 16: by Julia (last edited Oct 25, 2018 10:51AM) (new)

Julia Marcia wrote: "Thanks Marie for inviting me to read these author interviews, I've read a number of co-authored books over the years, mainly in the sphere of science fantasy (e.g. David and Leigh Eddings, Neil Gam..."

I love David Eddings and Leigh Eddings! I was just about to add them to the list, before I saw your comment. 😊

Belgarath the Sorcerer and Polgara the Sorceress are two of my favourite fantasies!

message 17: by Nicole (new)

Nicole Aroca Alexa Riley are also a great team I would like to write more developed and complex books. And the team of Stephen King and his son, I'm dying to read your book.

message 18: by Chris (new)

Chris Purser I wouldn't mind collaborating on a project/novel if interested?

message 19: by Patricia (new)

Patricia Delagrange I received this Goodreads invitation because I bought THE WIFE BETWEEN US.
I loved reading all of these authors opinions on co-authoring.
I'd never thought of doing this before and NOW I want to do it as well.
I've written 7 novels of which 4 are published and I'd love to co-author a book. Now I'm on a search because I truly don't know how to start but I'll put my thinking cap on.
Thank you for this post.

message 20: by Adrienne (new)

Adrienne Wow. Just found 3 new books to read: and in different genres from my norm.

message 21: by Mina (new)

Mina KBRitchie's books are a must read! Glad to see them in this interview :)

Jayne {aka cupcakesandbookshelves} Loved this, thank you so much. Krista and Becca are my all-time favourite writers their books are EVERYTHING #MUSTREADS

message 23: by Betül (new)

Betül Krista and Becca are one of my all time favorite authors. They are SO awesome!

message 24: by David (last edited Oct 26, 2018 06:53AM) (new)

David I'll just throw this out there: a lot of new writers seem to desperately want a writing partner, thinking it'll be easier than writing alone, when in reality working with a partner is almost always much harder than working alone. Neil Gaiman has spoken about this somewhat, as have many other authors. Don't write with a partner unless you and your partner are already decently skilled and experienced writers on your own, and don't go in expecting it to be easier, because it almost certainly won't be.

message 25: by [deleted user] (new)

Mary Jane Maffini & daughter Victoria Maffini are another good duo writing the the Book Collector Mysteries under the name of Victoria Abbott

message 26: by Julie (new)

Julie Guay-de la ronde RJ wrote: "Vi Keeland and Penelope Ward are another great team🤓😎"

message 27: by Julie (new)

Julie Guay-de la ronde Awesome interviews!

message 28: by Deborah (new)

Deborah Swinton Jus love christiana Lauren too much.. love the style of their writing

message 29: by Laura (new)

Laura L. Van Dam James S. A. Corey is actually the pen name of 2 collaborating writers, Daniel Abraham and Ty Franck, authors of the science fiction series The Expanse (it has also been made into a TV show)

message 30: by Nancy (new)

Nancy Foster Haven't read it yet, but the only duo authored book I'm slightly familiar with is one that Brian Ferrence wrote with a collaborator that is still an ongoing series.

Quite frankly, I don't think I'd work well with a coauthor. I'm way too much of a hermit and my writing style of developing chapters in full disorder would drive most people insane. I'd also have to really trust the person with unprotected copyrightable material in the hopes they wouldn't steal my hard work and get all of the credit. These sorts of sticky situations have caused the destruction of many friendships and left books in courts to drag on endlessly for ages. One notable case would be what became of the Candy Candy manga. The story writer and illustrator got into a very nasty feud over who truly owned the rights which lasted decades.

However, if you have already formed a strong friendship with someone and have compatible working personalities and a common goal, why not give it a try?

message 31: by Jolene (new)

Jolene  Miler Dinsmore I love reading Christina Lauren books they keep me wanting to read and entertainment of their books. They make the people real while reading the story. Duo writing give you two points of view on the storyline. Plus you can pounce the story around with the other co writer when you have two writers also where you want to take the story too. That's why they excellent writers Christina Lauren.

message 32: by Damdoom (new)

Damdoom Krista Ritchie and Becca Ritchie make co-writing seem so effortless. The way both voices can be heard and yet not extinguished as two separate works is quite inspiring. Thank you guys for sharing! As always I look forward to what is next: Tangled Like Us and The Last Hope

message 33: by Lisa Schell (new)

Lisa Schell Ilona Andrews is my favorite writing duo. A husband and wife team, Ilona and Andrew Gordon.

message 34: by Finn (new)

Finn Krol I haven’t read any of these authors but I am currently co writing a book with one of my closest friends and it’s super awesome to be able to bounce ideas off one another. It’s funny how I never saw myself as wanting to be a part of a co author team but now I am! Best experience ever!! Hey

message 35: by F.B. (new)

F.B. Bennett Very insightful! I would definitely be open to co-authoring a novel. That would be challenging and fun!

message 36: by Y (new)

Y Can't wait to read another book from Greer and Sarah.

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