On “Good Morning America” recently, Robin Roberts interviewed Maya Moore Irons and Jonathan Irons, co-authors of a new memoir, Love and Justice: A Story of Triumph on Two Courts. The book chronicles the love story of the married couple along with the path Maya Moore Irons, a celebrated former basketball player in the WNBA, followed in order to achieve justice for Jonathan Irons, who had spent 20 years in prison for crimes he did not commit.
I do not know anything about how the book was written. Maybe the two authors contributed equally to the book, or one was the primary author, or maybe they had a ghostwriter. But it got me thinking about how you go about writing a book with someone else. I don’t mean a story about one person who writes the book with the help of a professional writer. I’m talking about a book that has two authors because both are involved in the story they’re telling.
The Writing Process
I’ve edited a lot of writers’ work, and I’ve had editors edit my work. That’s a clear process. Good editors do not change the author’s voice or coopt the writing voice to make it their own. Still, the editor’s voice comes through a little bit. But that’s not the same as co-writing.
You can put both authors’ names on the cover without having them both do the writing. They can decide together on the chapter topics and organization, and then the writing can go any of these ways:
- The two authors can split the writing work equally, each writing half the chapters in the book. They can each choose the parts they feel most comfortable with, they can alternate chapters, or one can write the first half and the other the second half. There are no rules, but if they want equal contribution, it’s easy to do that.
- One author can write most of the book while the other writes just a few parts. Both are authors of the book.
- One author can be the writer while the second author does the research. This can be efficient. While the second person is interviewing people and checking facts, the first one can be writing the portions that are ready.
- One author can write the first draft and pass it along to the second writer to do more than an edit and really write a whole new draft based on the first draft. This second draft may include additional information gathered while the first draft was being written. The second draft may also reorganize the order of presenting the story. This method will take longer, since the second person doesn’t start until the first person has completed a full draft.
- The two authors can literally write the book together. They can read passages aloud to each other as they collaborate and agree paragraph by paragraph.
Analysis of Each Method
That last option, truly writing the book as a meeting of the minds, may be possible, but I can’t imagine it going smoothly. I think eventually the writers would give up and have one of them write the book.
Splitting the writing by chapter or in other ways will result in a mix of two voices that will most likely make the book less cohesive than if only one person wrote the whole book.
If one author writes the first draft and the other the second draft, the result will be a uniform book with the second draft author having the dominant voice. If that’s okay with both authors, this method will take a long time but produce a coherent book.
I think the best choice is to have the better writer do the writing, as long as the authors can agree on who is the better writer. The second author can help with gathering the facts and interviewing any sources for background information or quotes. If photos will be included, the second author can gather those as well. The second person also can read the text as it gets written and point out errors, holes and organizational problems.
Advantages of Two Authors
If the story truly belongs to both authors, like the one the Irons couple is telling in their new memoir, both people deserve the title of author. They co-own this story.
When you write with someone else, you’re accountable to each other. You’ve decided together that you want to accomplish this goal. This is such a big benefit, because it motivates you to stick with the project. Then when you have your book, you share the joy with someone else.
If you’re considering writing a memoir with someone else who shares the story, go for it. It will be a powerful bonding experience.