Author Collaboration: How it Works, and Does it Work?
Updated: Aug 25
Guest post by Angela Ackerman
Movies tend to depict authors in one of two ways: wildly successful and struggling to manage a schedule of store-packed book signings, interviews, and lavish dinners with editors and agents, or, as a lone wolf unable to make rent, agonizing over writer’s block, depression, and self-doubt.
Personally, I think both do us a disservice. With the first, well, not to get all Debbie Downer, but for 99% of us, it doesn’t represent reality. We’ve all seen the statistics around book sales, and anyone who has done even the basics of research knows most authors get only a small amount of marketing support from a publisher, especially after a book’s been out a month or so. So a big book tour and string of TV interviews? Those probably won’t happen unless the author sets it up themselves or pays a publicist to do so.
As for the second scenario that romanticizes the tortured artist … ugh. The idea that writers must “prove” their dedication to art through struggle and isolation is damaging. It paints a false idea that we writers are expected to go it alone. Buying into this means an even longer learning curve…and the possibility of growing dejected enough to throw in the towel.
Look, writing is hard. Publishing is not for the fainthearted. Marketing can be frustrating and push us out of our comfort zone. So why make everything harder by not reaching out to others on the same path with the same goals?
The writing community is robust and filled with support, information, and advice. Help is out there, and the wisest of us will take it.
Let's Look at the Marketing Element of the Writing-Publishing-Marketing Chain
Marketing is a universal challenge, not only because there’s a lot of books on the world’s shelves, but most creatives don’t have a background in marketing. And traditionally published or not—plot twist—the lion’s share of marketing and promotion is on the author’s shoulders. There’s no escaping it (unless you have a great deal of funds to pay someone to do this for you), so we need to figure it out. Thankfully, we don’t have to try and do that alone.
Your Biggest Marketing Asset: Other Authors Who Write the Same Type of Books You Do
Another antiquated idea that needs to be kicked to the curb is that other authors are our competition, especially those who write books just like our own. This couldn’t be further from the truth! I know, it may be hard to bend your head around, after all, Amazon bestseller lists like to show us which books are selling better than ours. And getting an agent, how many other writers are we up against? Then say we make it to acquisitions at a publishing house. Our manuscript is pitted against a handful of other manuscripts and all the editors duke it out and try to convince the powers that be that their book and author is the most marketable one. Yes, there’s constant reinforcement around us to make us think we’re competition … but don’t buy into it. We’re allies, plain and simple.
The reality is, thanks to ebooks, social media, and the internet, your potential reading audience is VAST. Some will be in Australia, North America, the UK, India and anywhere else you can think of. So, are other authors out there with books like yours trying to sell to the same people you are? Yes. And it doesn’t matter.
Readers do one thing really well: read. A lot.
They fool around, too, reading multiple authors. Some juggle a few books at once, others mix new and old, re-reading favorites and devouring new stories. Still others switch between mediums and genres. The one thing they don’t do, though? Read one book and stop. So, it really doesn’t matter if they’ve read other books like yours. The only thing that will keep them from reading yours too is if they don’t discover it in the first place.
And aside from quality, book discovery is what it’s all about. There’s an ocean of your exact readers out there, so how will you find them? How can you convince them to give your book a try? One of the best ways is to leverage other authors and their audiences. If you can, find another author (better yet, several) who write books that are a lot like yours (this article goes into the importance of finding your exact audience). The why is simple. If the books are similar, it’s a pretty good bet that some the comparable author’s readers will like your book too, and your readers will like theirs. So teaming up to expose your audiences to the other’s book is a win-win for both authors. But this hinges on something important: picking the right people to collaborate with.
Not Any Author Will Do. When It Comes to Collaboration, Be Picky
When you decide to team up with another author (or group of authors) your reputation will become tied to theirs. So it’s really important to research partners to make sure they’re a great fit. So how will you know?
1. They have a book that sounds similar to yours
Every book will have things about it that will make it unique and matching these qualities to an audience with the same preferences is crucial. Not all readers of romance will like all romances. Not all readers of a subgenre will like all books in that subgenre. Take Paranormal Romance for example. If your book is about vampires in the modern world, and another author writes books about werewolves, some of your readers might read both, but it’s likely most will want more vampire stories. So a stronger match for you would be someone who writes Paranormal Romance that features vampires.
2. Their book is well-written
Someone can write a novel that lines up with your book perfectly – not only is it about vampires, but there’s a love affair between a vampire and a human just like in your story. On the outside it seems like this is the perfect author to collaborate with…until you start reading the book reviews. Oh, wow, lots of 1 and 2 stars. Lots of people complaining about the quality of writing, the confusing plot, the typos. Do you want your reputation tied to this person? No. So always do your homework and read an author’s book before choosing to collaborate. You want to find authors and books that you enjoy and will have no problem recommending to your readers.
3. They have a good social media platform
Some strategy needs to be applied to your collaborations, so take another author’s social reach into consideration. Are they on a few social platforms, do they have a blog or a newsletter? Are they interacting with their readers? Collaborations work when both people leverage their audiences. So if a potential author has no presence online or they don’t have a newsletter or other vehicle to communicate to readers, they won’t really be able to offer you much in the way of exposure. So investigate someone’s reach or know what they bring to the table and them decide if a partnership is a good fit.
4. Their brand aligns with your own
A large platform, popular blog or big newsletter list isn’t the be-all, end-all. You need to also pay attention to how a potential partner behaves online. If your brand is all about diversity and respect and you align yourself with someone who likes to post racist or sexual memes, that will damage your brand and your readers will start to question if you are genuine. The same thing goes if you are not political online and you match yourself with someone who is and there’s a lot of divisiveness in their feed. (That’s not to say an author can’t be political online, just that it should be something your readers have come to expect and you match with like-minded authors.)
5. They are as invested in this relationship as you are
Marketing in any form can be a lot of work, so you want to make sure everyone is pulling their own weight. If you find someone that seems like a good fit, ask questions to get a feel for what their goals are, what type of collaborations they might be interested in doing, and if their schedule has room for their share of the responsibilities. Unfortunately, there are always people who are happy to take and reluctant to give. You want to make sure you partner with people who are doing their fair share, not just mailing it in.
6. You market and promote in the same way
Another potential minefield is partnering with someone who isn’t a match for your promotional style. If you are in a group promotion and one person decides to dump promotion in a bunch of facebook groups and pages, spamming feeds, the resulting bad feelings from those exposed to the ads will extend to everyone involved. Set ground rules for what is and isn’t okay.
What If ...
You Find Someone Who Seems Like a Good Fit But it’s Not the Right Time
Set the possibility of working with them aside for now. Sometimes people are a good book match, but they are still working to get online or building their audience. It’s okay, we all start somewhere. But remember, relationships are really the core of everything, and so I strongly urge you to build them when you can. If you have time you can still offer to partner and mentor because we all need a helping hand. But if not, keep in touch and check in later to see if things have changed.
Someone Approaches You for a Collaboration But They Are Not a Good Fit for You
Thank them for thinking of you and gently pass. It’s easy enough to say you have a few other things on the go and you can’t take on anything else right now, or that you’re looking at other ideas at the moment.
If you need another reason to team up with other authors to promote their books, it’s this: no matter how quickly you write, you will never be as fast as your readers read.
In between books you will want to stay in touch with your readers and a great way to do that is to recommend books you yourself love. When you do, they see that you’re all about making sure they have what they need: more quality stories to enjoy. This strengthens two relationships at once: between you and your readers and you and other authors you partner with, who will also be looking to keep their readers happy in between releases.
Angela Ackerman is a writing coach, international speaker, and co-author of The Emotion Thesaurus: A Writer’s Guide to Character Expression and its many sequels. Her bestselling writing guides are available in eight languages, are sourced by universities, recommended by agents and editors, and used by novelists, screenwriters, and psychologists around the world.
On a mission to make writing easier for all, Angela also co-founded the popular site Writers Helping Writers, as well as One Stop for Writers, a creativity portal loaded with one-of-a-kind tools and resources to help writers craft fresh stories and memorable characters.
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