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How to love your co-authors

Monday, 18 April 2016

Claire Bodanis – author of the chapter on Cambridge University Press, established 1534

Whenever I tell people about our collective book project, one of the first things they ask is – how does it work? Who decides? Don’t you all end up arguing? What if you don’t like their chapter? Or they don’t like yours? Or questions along those lines. Basically they’re all asking the same question, which is about the perceived impossibility of getting 12 people to agree about something as personal as their own writing. 

Since this is clearly of such interest to our readers, I thought I’d start off our shed posts with my take on this. And of course my fellow authors, each of whom you’ll be hearing from over the coming weeks, may well have different answers to this question, so please take these musings as my personal observations. They do not necessarily represent the views of my colleagues. (Although they might.)

And, since people seem to like lists quite a lot, I thought I’d give you a list.

1. Good writers: this may seem obvious, but, given how much tosh gets published these days (never by Unbound of course), it clearly isn’t always true of every single-author work! You have to respect other people’s work to want your name to be associated with theirs. Also, the help you get from your colleagues can be invaluable. For example – I was stuck on how to approach my chapter so I asked Elen who knows me well and is much better at this sort of thing than I am if she could help. And her idea, which was to approach it from a form of business writing with which I am very comfortable (I won’t give it away, you’ll have to sign up and buy the book if you haven’t already), was exactly the prompt I needed to write a creative piece.


2. Good editors – whose word is final: someone (or some people) has to own the whole project editorially, and here we are lucky in our three archangels, John, Jamie and Stuart, who founded Dark Angels and by whom we are all happy (honoured, even) to be edited.

3. Good editees - who accept their editors' word as final: I think I’ve just made up a word here, but following on from good editors is good editees – the very best writers are made even better by being edited, but not everyone takes to it well. However, we are all business writers. And as a business writer, if even half of what I started with ends up on the page, I tend to see it as a major success. Ie, we are not precious, we are used to being edited, and don’t take editorial comments personally.

4. Nice people: if we didn’t get on and enjoy being in each other’s company it wouldn’t work. If you don’t like people, it’s hard to work with them, not least on a project which involves something as personal is writing.

5. A plan: I would say this, because I am the group’s project manager, planner, general sheepdog and chivvier (think I just made up another word), but it is no less true for that. Great ideas need plans, schedules and quite a lot of chivvying to make them happen – and collective ones even more so, with so many people to be organised and gently (or less gently) encouraged in the direction of the deadline.

Hmmm… I could think of some more, but this is a blog post, not a research paper on the methodology of collective authorship, so I’ll leave it at five (a nice friendly number). And, when my turn comes round again in 12 weeks’ time, maybe I’ll have some more to add. Or perhaps I’ll write about something totally different – after all, there are some exciting steps ahead on our path to publication. Please come back and find out!

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