Simple Co-Writing Tools for Authors
Co-writing is a growing trend in the author community. There are many reasons for this. Having a buddy makes spit-balling ideas more fun and helps to avoid feelings of isolation. By pooling resources, some authors have discovered that they can launch books higher in the charts or write and publish faster. This allows them to grow and stabilise their incomes faster than they could alone. Whatever the reason, co-writing is more popular than ever. It’s sparked a gold rush, and with it a tide of innovations from companies eager to make writers’ lives simpler.
These days, however, there are so many toolmakers pitching software and other products that “help” that they’ve actually complicated the process. Basic spreadsheets and Word files, once shared between friends over email, have now turned into convoluted portals, so gamified that they’re distracting. They have infographics and analytics, rewards and penalties. They force users to enter data before and after they’ve completed tasks, doubling their workload in a misguided attempt to keep them accountable.
If you have Googled the tools available then you might already be overwhelmed by the options. But co-writing doesn’t have to be complicated. You don’t need a lot of the fancy systems and software to talk to your collaborators and write a good story. A 2003 Word document and an email account can still do the job even in the modern world. If you do want to make the process a little more organised and interactive, however, here are some of the simplest tools you can use at every step of the co-writing and publishing process.
The inability to communicate effectively used to inhibit many authors from even contemplating a co-writing project. Confined to their local area for the most part, they couldn’t find potential co-writers who wrote in their genre, let alone propose a novel or anthology they could work on together. Social media platforms like Facebook and Twitter have largely fixed that issue, bringing together writers from around the globe. Yet they are still limited in their ability to help users share ideas. It’s hard to replace the energy that occurs when writers can sit together and brainstorm face to face. Ideas flow faster, collaborators can compare notes and feed off each other’s enthusiasm. It takes a lot to replace that magic.
2020 has a lot to answer for, but one silver lining we can take from it is how the pandemic has made all of us more comfortable in front of a camera. Indeed, video chat technology has come a long way. Zoom, Skype and Microsoft Teams have all exploded in popularity this last year, not only bringing together professionals but also friends and families. They’ve changed the perception of video meetings from an awkward tech nightmare to a common way that people chat and have fun. This shift in public opinion has made video the perfect way to work on ideas with fellow writers.
Co-writing requires more than just the sharing of ideas. To create a product, you also need to share files and organise everyone involved. Thankfully, there are lots of tech solutions for this too. Sharing files isn’t a big problem these days. You can send a surprising variety of file types over most social media apps. Where things get a little more advanced is ensuring that everyone has the most up-to-date version of each file and that they work on whatever section of the project they are responsible for when needed.
There are web-based solutions that help with the version-control issue. One is Google Docs, but it’s limited by the range of software options it provides. If you like to write using Scrivener, for example, Google Docs can’t help you. In that case, Dropbox is your best bet. If you’re unfamiliar with it, Dropbox is basically an online storage solution you can install on any device and use in the same way you would “My Documents”. The main difference is that it syncs with the cloud, allowing you to keep up-to-date file records across multiple devices. You can even create shared folders to keep collaborators automatically updated.
As for delegating responsibility, you could use apps like Slack or Asana. A simpler alterative, though, is Facebook. Most people understand how to create, join and interact in Facebook Groups, so it rarely requires a learning curve. Plus, it’s free. Organising collaborators and discussing projects as a group is straightforward using this method. You can even share files and notes in posts.
Writing and Editing
A decade ago, having several people edit a single document at once while sat in different locations was impossible. Now, it’s routine. In Google Sheets, which looks like Microsoft Excel, you can even watch multiple users’ avatars on your screen, all working side by side. This can save time when users work in cells that don’t interfere with each other. However, in Google Docs, which resembles Microsoft Word, it can get confusing. Google has made it possible for 10 writers to work on a document, but that doesn’t make it practical. For authors, all the paragraph and comment changes can make working in this way a distracting nightmare.
Using Dropbox’s regular functions can help you to avoid this pandemonium. Creating a shared folder syncs all connected partners in almost real time. You’re limited to having only one person work in a document at once when working like this, but files automatically update for everyone not long after every save. An added benefit is that Dropbox files can be accessed offline. That means that you or a co-writer can go off the grid and access and contribute to shared files without an internet connection. And the moment you or they reconnect, everyone gets the updated version.
Some authors challenge themselves to write as many words as possible in timed blocks to improve their efficiency. They call these blocks “writing sprints” and occasionally work in teams at libraries or coffee shops to keep each other motivated. As meeting in the real world is no longer easy, safe or, in some cases, legal, proactive author teams have taken sprinting sessions digital. You can do this over Zoom or Skype with your co-writing partners. It can be nerve-wracking at first, but the camaraderie it generates helps to keep everyone working on your projects engaged and on schedule.
One drawback is that you can’t see what everyone else is writing using Zoom or Skype as you could in a coffee shop. Only one person can share their screen at a time. This isn’t for everyone but, if you want to ramp up the intensity, you can all go full-Olympics and broadcast your sprints to a crowd. Some authors do this alone, sharing their webcam view on Facebook Live while broadcasting a screen-share so everyone they know can see their face and words as they write. As a team, all of you could do this together by broadcasting into your exclusive Facebook Group. It’s intense, and not absolutely necessary, but the pressure can lead to impressive results all round.
Publishing and Accounting
In the early days of the self-publishing movement, authors who wanted to collaborate on a book or box set had to tackle significant admin hurdles. Namely, one author had to publish the finished book on their various accounts, collect royalties, then distribute any money earned to collaborators. While tolerable for a one-off payment, this method becomes a chore that’s not worth the time as books age and royalty payments drop. Hence, authors often historically have decided to publish co-written books or box sets for a limited period.
Thankfully, book aggregators have developed features that tackle this issue to great effect, leaving publishing authors with more time to write now that they don’t have to manage royalty splits every month. Bundle Rabbit was one of the early players. Later came Abacus, a service provided by PublishDrive. The latest player to offer automatic royalty splits is Draft2Digital. All three are reliable companies that offer customisable split options. All you do is upload your co-written book to their platform as you would your own books and then enter royalty split agreements and everyone’s bank details. They take care of the rest.
Co-writing is easier than ever. Finding potential co-writers, spit-balling ideas, sharing files, organising the team, writing and editing, publishing the books and even distributing the funds is now simple and seamless, even for authors with basic technical knowledge. The process is less complicated, more transparent and more fun for everyone involved. You can co-write with anyone, anywhere and anyhow. The possibilities are endless.
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