Friday, September 25, 2009

The Anatomy of a Coauthor

As some of you have noticed and pointed out to me, more and more often it seems that New York Times bestselling authors are coauthoring books with lesser-name writers. In many cases, in fact, the bestselling author’s name is the only name recognizable on the cover. After reading such a book, based on the NYT author’s name, one reader had a number of questions for me, first and foremost: What is the benefit of coauthoring? and that one I think is pretty easy for me to answer. It’s the money. By coauthoring with a big-name author the coauthor is pretty much guaranteed a rather large advance and easy sales. She’s riding on the coattails of a big name, and while she certainly has her work cut out for her, she knows that the payout is going to be much more lucrative than if she did the book on her own.

But what about the big name? Why would she bother working with a coauthor? Well, there are a number of reasons, some more altruistic than others. Some big-name authors feel that by bringing a lesser-name author on board they can give back to the writing community and hopefully launch the career of someone who is talented but hasn’t yet been discovered. Others, however, are simply expanding their brand. In much the way Star Wars turned into a massive franchise selling movies, books, action figures, lunchboxes, shoes, and anything a name can be added to, authors want to sell their brand and their brand is their name. By hiring a coauthor who typically writes the entire book, the author is further expanding her brand beyond just what she’s known for. This is an opportunity to branch out from just romance (for example) to YA, children’s books, or even nonfiction. It presents an opportunity to introduce new readers to your name and hopefully build an even bigger readership.

Now, before everyone starts getting excited and emailing NYT authors with ideas of their own, you should know that getting a gig like this is difficult, competitive, and often led by the publisher or the author’s agent. In other words, this is not something that is just going to fall in your lap. While you might not recognize the name of the coauthor, typically it’s someone who has already established herself as a force in the ghostwriting community and has built a name with publishers. How the contract is handled (another question this author asked) and who gets what in terms of the advance and royalties is determined and negotiated between the authors’ agents. Either way, the big-name author is going to get final say on how the book reads, what goes into it, and what comes out.