Tips for Successful Writing Teams

Writing is very often a solitary task. We think and write in solitude. We rethink and revise the confines of the booth at the local coffee shop or home office. Alone.

That aloneness allows for productivity, banging out words and clarifying thoughts as they turn into words on the screen. But working with others is a unique experience that may help you become an even better writer.

In 2015, I had the privilege to participate in the creation of Live Happy: 10 Practices for Choosing Joy by Deborah Heisz and the editors of Live Happy magazine. What a fantastic experience! We had a hard deadline: March 20, 2016, the International Day of Happiness, and we began the process late in the summer of 2015. So how did the project go from an idea to a beautiful 70,000-word book in less than a year? A plan and a whole lot of collaboration.

I was a lead editor for the Live Happy book, but I didn’t have all the information or resources necessary. The author as well as the magazine’s managing, web, science and contributing editors had already written and read hundreds (maybe thousands) of articles. They had background information and insights I just didn’t have as someone who was not intimately familiar with the research and message.

Additionally, the author and publisher wanted to include 40 personal stories to bring the science of happiness to life. Do the math. We had only a few months to write, edit and polish the content of the book—including doing more than 40 interviews in order to find the right stories for the book. Sure, one person might be able to do it all if they had nothing else to do. But every person on the project, from the author on down had full-time responsibilities on the magazine. Working with a team of professionals with a common goal of creating a unique and meaningful book made it happen.

Lessons I Learned from Working on a Group Writing Project

You’ve got to know the audience and the goals of the book. This is true for any book, but on a group project it’s especially important. Create a solid book proposal, craft a comprehensive outline and really get to know your reader. Get clear from the beginning and then stick to your plan.

If any one person on the project is unclear about the intention or message, someone is likely to end up backtracking or re-doing work. Hard deadlines mean you don’t have time to waste doing things twice. If good tangential ideas pop up during the creation process, remind your team (and yourself) that you can always write another book when this one is done.

You’ve got to be open to input. As an editor, I’m usually the one offering input for how to make a book stronger. That was true in this case, but we also had an amazing editor from Harper Elixir who gave us feedback, challenged ideas and encouraged us as we worked to craft the best possible book. Listening to her helped us refine the message even further.

Most of the authors I work with are very open to input. In fact, the whole reason they hire an editor and publishing team is to get feedback and ideas on how to share their message effectively and clearly. They want to be sure their book enhances their credibility as a speaker, coach, leader, or educator. I know it isn’t always easy to see red marks and comments marring the work you’ve done; I so respect the brave authors who are willing to do whatever it takes to create a first-rate book—even if that means killing a few “darlings.” (Time-tested advice from Arthur Quiller-Couch’s lecture “On the Art of Writing.”)

You’ve got to let it go. (And now I hear Elsa singing in my head. Thanks, Disney.) Lone, self-publishing authors have the final say over every aspect of their books—from the design to the punctuation and every word between the pages. Self-publishing offers ultimate freedom—and comes with the responsibility of checking each of those words (or hiring people to do it for you).

Working with a traditional publisher has its perks. Its editors, artists and production team do the hiring, planning and stressing over deadlines and delivery. Publishers, because they have a financial stake in the project, also get to have the final say. As a contributor to this book, there were a few times when I wanted to change or include something and was told “no.” (GASP!) And that’s when Elsa started singing, “Let it go.” Publishers want their books to succeed. Good ones aren’t going to say no to something that will harm the book. Ask for what you want and make a good case for changes that are important to you. Just know that you may not get your way on every detail, especially if you’re feeling a bit of publishing anxiety and are requesting constant changes as a (subconscious) way to prolong the process.

Put your best work out there, get the input you need and then let it go.

And then promote your book like crazy.

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