Dealing with creative disagreements and differences in publishing

by Meredith Resnick

Margot Atwell is the co-author (with Eric Kampmann) of The Insider’s Guide to Book Publishing Success. Here she writes how that collaboration affected their creative processes.

by Margot Atwell

The good news

Writing with a co-author is a very different experience from that of writing solo. It can feel like less pressure compared to sitting down and writing an entire book by yourself. Having a co-author means you have someone to bounce ideas off of. Typically, you’ll each have a different area of expertise, which means you have more knowledge to draw on for the project. I also found it was easier to sustain excitement for a book-length project when I had someone else working on it with me than it is when it’s solely my project.
But in spite of all the positives, there are some serious challenges that accompany writing with a co-author.

The things that might be challenging

The most basic challenge is creating a process for writing the book. Will you each write individual sections then try to weave them together? Will one person draft the whole book? Will you sit down and try to write it together the whole way through? My co-author, Eric Kampmann, and I had very different backgrounds, so we came to a process that felt very natural for us.

He has written several book-length manuscripts before, while I approached this as a first-time book author with a decade of experience as an editor. Eric had already drafted a manuscript on the subject years prior, so we started with that as a baseline. I read it a few times and identified the major sections, then created a detailed outline for the chapters and sub-sections. Based on my experience of the publishing process, I reorganized the sections to create the most helpful book I could for our readers, who might want to use this as a step-by-step guide to publishing their own work.

After that, we moved the content that was already there into our outline, then worked to fill in missing sections. I did a lot of writing at this stage, adding more material about editing and marketing. Eric wrote a new chapter on publishing finance and a story about the first bestseller we published together. We updated all the information from his previous manuscript, as book publishing and the bookselling industry have changed a lot in the past five years.

After we finished the basic manuscript, we encountered our second challenge: making sure the style and voice of the manuscript feel consistent to a reader. Especially because the manuscript had been knitted together from a number of pieces, this was a big challenge. Eric’s writing voice is very different from mine. I tried to strike a balance between a very formal tone and a more conversational style, and line-edited the entire book several times to make sure it read well and nothing stuck out. This was probably the biggest challenge of the entire project.

A third challenge of working with a co-author are creative disagreements. Even if you essentially agree about most aspects of the project, there will be choices or phrases about which you don’t see eye to eye. Eric and I went back and forth on the content and tone of the introduction a dozen times. Each of us believed our own way was best. Ultimately, we resolved it—partly by compromising with each other, and partly by each letting go a little bit.

The bottom line

The Insider’s Guide to Book Publishing Success is not precisely the book I would have written on my own, but the significant benefit of adding Eric’s knowledge and experience to mine make it a better, more useful book than it would have been if I had written it by myself.

Margot Atwell has worked in book publishing for almost ten years, producing four national bestsellers in that time. Her writing is featured in such publications as Publishers Weekly, Publishing Perspectives, Movifone, and Five on Five. The Insider’s Guide to Book Publishing Success is her first book.

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Hi Margaret,

After reading your article, I felt that I needed to contact you about my current experience.

I am co-authoring a fictional novel (see link) with a friend. I am a story teller/editor and she is the writer.
She recently finished the first full draft version, and we’re now beginning to go through the second draft together.

The trouble I’m having is getting her to make changes that I want to see. I like how she has fleshed out my story, but there are lots of instances where I want to modify how the scene goes, what dialogue is used, etc. However, she has dismissed my suggestions by arguing that as the writer, what she has written will work better rather than if we change anything that I wanted.

We have a verbal agreement that I have final say, so her reaction to me is very surprising… and worrying.

What should I do?

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