When I was younger, I had a bit of a bias against co-authored books. I tried reading a few and I never particularly liked any of them; the rational conclusion in my mind was that they were bad because more than one author was a recipe for disaster. How could writers combine ideas, tone, etc. to make a cohesive whole? I decided it couldn’t work.
My own school experience seemed to confirm this. Any time a teacher or professor suggested writing a “group paper,” I knew I was in for trouble. Group papers had all the problems of group projects, except worse. No one could really figure out how to write a good paper with more than one author. Either the final product was a horrid mix of three different writing styles, changing paragraph by paragraph or section by section, or one person had to do the bulk of the work and just write the paper by themselves so it would sound decent. It seemed like a “too many cooks in the kitchen” scenario all around.
More recently, I’ve read several co-authored books that I quite enjoyed (including Illuminae and Honor Among Thieves, for example), so it clear that co-authorship actually can work. I began thinking again about all the struggles that must go into this, however, when I saw the announcement for Great or Nothing, a Little Women retelling set in 1942 by FOUR different authors: Joy McCullough, Caroline Tung Richmond, Tess Sharpe, and Jessica Spotswood. How on earth, I thought, is THIS going to work?
The book is set to be scheduled in 2022, so I haven’t read it, of course, but basically I am filled with sheer admiration that four authors could come together to write a single book at all. Part of their solution is that each author is going to write from one March sister’s point of view, so any difference in voice or writing style will be a feature rather than a flaw.
However, there still seems to be a lot of room for conflict with it comes to co-authorship. How, for instance, do the writers decide what the plot will be? How do they keep from devolving into arguments about not just whether they want to include the other person’s idea in the book, but whether that person’s idea is just completely stupid? (Ok, that might still be my tension about group projects talking. I’m sure most professional writers know how to be civil in disagreements!) But, really, how do they get anything done at all–and do so in a way that they come up with a polished, enjoyable finished product and also still have their friendships in tact? I’m really quite in awe.
So to anyone who’s successfully written something in conjunction with someone else, I salute you! And I can’t wait to check out Great or Nothing when it’s published.