April 30, 2008
The Joys of Coauthoring
One colleague said I seemed to be pretty negative about coauthoring when I wrote about that here recently. Since I have coauthored five books myself, I suppose one could suppose a certain autobiographical slant to my comments. That has not been the case. I coauthored three Bible study guides with my wife, another with my wife and a friend, and Heart. Soul. Mind. Strength. with my former coworker at IVP, Linda Doll. Each was a very enjoyable experience with minimal problems.
But I was on the inside of the publishing process and knew the road bumps we might run over. So I had an advantage. Many authors are surprised at the difficulties that they may encounter. A wise editor will spell out for authors ahead of time what to anticipate and help them make key decisions (like voice or who has the last say) before work on the manuscript actually begins. That should help make it a positive experience.
As I mentioned here before, Tom Woll even thinks such issues should be memorialized in the contract of multi-author books to help ensure things go smoothly. The reason: He has seen way too many projects break down entirely over such issues. Contractual terms may be overkill, but he is right to point out the need to clearly (and in writing) settle these things beforehand.
With all these provisos lined up, now let me affirm the value of coauthoring. We are about to launch a series in which each book will pair an academic and a practitioner. One (not necessarily always the academic) will be older and the other younger. This seems an ideal sort of balance to achieve. The same could be done (with similar advantages) by pairing people of different genders, ethnicities, academic disciplines, denominations or countries.
Another multi-author format we pioneered and perfected at IVP is the four-views book in which each author argues for a different viewpoint on a controversial topic. After each main essay, the other three contributors offer brief responses. An introduction and conclusion by the volume editor (referee!) rounds out the book.
The multi-views book has a nice unity even with (or because of) the different voices. Another advantage, of course, is that it is not necessary or desirable to have a single voice throughout and the coauthors (contributors, really) don’t need to (and shouldn’t) rewrite each other’s material.
Coauthoring has many advantages. Being aware of the potential pitfalls ahead of time is the best way to make sure those advantages shine.