How do you co-author 3 books in a year and not lose the plot?

In 2019-20 I was writing 3 books with other people. Publication datesranged from Nov 2019 to March 2021, but this does not reflect the writing or editing period of the books. The books took between 9 months and 3 years to finish, and all of them overlapped in a great crash.

I think 3 books on the go at the same time was too many, but I made it work. My PhD was about collaboration and co-authorship, so it’s no surprise I like to work in teams. I’ve also been a manager and project manager for a couple of decades, and learned a lot about working together along the way.

I’ve also made mistakes in the past, and I’m learning not to repeat them! Looking back over a helter-skelter writing-editing-publication schedule, I can see where I’ve learned from previous attempts. Maybe you can skip making those mistakes yourself and just learn from my experience!

My five top reasons for making it through:

  1. Work with good people.
    You can’t always know who the ‘good’ people are before you work together, but once you have worked together you have a pretty good sense of whether someone has a compatible working style to you.
    Thinks to look out for (from my research and experience) include: track record, communication style, attitude to deadlines, attitude to publicity/sales, attitude to editing.
    In a good working relationship, every conflict leads to a better book. In a bad working relationship, every conflict is just a conflict. 
  2. Have enough time in your calendar.
    I had a specific research leave (why is it called leave when it’s an integral part of your job?) and about, at least nominally, 40% of a week that should be for writing.
    You will be much slower if you can’t put in the regular half an hour of admin to push the book forward, as well as the occasional 2 days to meet a deadline.
    Having regular author meetings and deadlines was essential to keeping all the projects on track, but that assumes you have time in your diary to meet up and meet those deadlines!
  3. Write short books. (Not actually a joke.)
    Right now the ‘slim guide’ is selling well. That meant I had 3 contracts for books of 40-50,000 words each. The traditional academic book I need to finish this year is about 80,000 words, so worth two of these books, and it needs much more careful dense writing, which is obviously slow!
    Also don’t confuse my three short co-authored books for your single-authored scholarly monograph. Hiring committees won’t count them the same (the monograph is worth way way more), and you shouldn’t either.
  4. Identify each persons’ strengths and play to that.
    One author-team includes a person who loves writing indexes. Another team includes a person who is a great line editor. A third team includes a publicity guru. Work out what each authors’ strength is and let them go to town on that aspect. You’ll bring your own strengths.
  5. Robust self care.
    This is a really important one! When two manuscripts came back for copy edits at almost the same time, my body found it really challenging. It didn’t collapse because I  now have robust self care habits—including using the ‘read aloud’ function so I could edit while resting my eyes, regularly changing  my posture, and prioritising exercise and enough sleep. 

Honestly, I expect you will make your own mistakes, and find your own way, that’s the experimental method and it’s how we all learn. Still, I hope this list helps you reflect usefully why things might not have worked as well as you planned, or that it helps you plan successfully for the future. You can do it, whatever ‘it’ is and however is that practical for you in your life!

(If you want to read an earlier story of when I failed, spectacularly, in public, read the Live Blogging the Article Series, or just skip to the end… with the real end being that both the Slessor and the Eliot articles died in the weeds. It was pretty messy, so when I say ‘wherever you are and whatever it looks like’, I mean it!)

Blah blah blah link to the books I discuss in this post:

Your PhD Survival Guide with Liam Connell and Peta Freestone

Level Up your Essays with Inger Mewburn and Shaun Lehmann

Journeying with Bonhoeffer with Andreas Loewe

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