Working with a co-author

Last month’s post described how a group of established authors collaborated to create a self-published book. Continuing the theme, this month Gerhard Erasmus writes about collaboration from the perspective of a less-experienced author. The MaWSIG blog features guest posts by members – please get in touch if you would like to write for us.

ErasmusWorking with a co-author

by Gerhard Erasmus

 

 

 

 

As part of my own professional development, I had my heart set on getting published. So when the opportunity came, I was thrilled. I was asked to write a three-book series for young learners and I could not have been happier. Then I started realising how difficult it was to meet deadlines and how easy it is to run out of ideas. There was also the doubt. Are all the instructions clear? Is this going to work? Will this be practical in other contexts?

The editor was great, but he was looking at getting something that they could publish. I was looking for feedback that would make me better at writing and, to some extent, better at teaching. In the end, I was happy with the financial reward, but I did not experience the professional development I had hoped for. That lead to quite a bit of reflection and I decided that for the next writing project that I undertook, I was going to ask someone to write with me. What follows is a combination of my reasons and experiences and why I think it is a great idea to collaborate and share as writers.

Experience

I was slightly nervous when first approaching the person I was hoping to write with. He had at the time already published materials and I was a relative newbie. It was exciting to think that I could gain so much from the experience of working with him and as our relationship grew, I realised that I also had lots to offer him in return. We have very different ideas and have worked in many different teaching contexts. As our project started picking up speed, I recognised just how valuable it was having another perspective on how activities or materials might be perceived by people with different levels of education and different experiences as teachers, and by teachers from other contexts. This has made us more aware as teachers, as teacher trainers and as writers. It has developed into a professional learning network.

A larger knowledge base

Depending on what you are planning to write, this can be a fairly good reason for working with a co-author. As much as our experiences differ, we also attach different levels of importance to certain teaching and learning ideas. How you then expand on your knowledge is to some extent determined by your own beliefs and ideas. The two of us working together has forced us to rethink some of our beliefs about learning and teaching and we have increased our knowledge in areas where we might have been weaker before.

This has been tremendously helpful for both of us. Conversations about teaching and materials have often spilled over into us making notes on books or articles the other has read. He first told me about Lindsay Clandfield’s heads up, heads down, heads together approach to lesson planning and that in return has made a huge difference to two of the teachers I manage who were having problems with more traditional forms of lesson planning. From an experience point of view, it was very fulfilling and contributed massively to my own professional development.

The best editor in the world

I am a teacher. I love teaching. I love making materials for my students or for other teachers. I’ve been asked to edit materials and I HATE doing it. Editors often edit from the point of view of an editor or a publisher. They are not teachers.

Having another teacher look over something you’ve written – an activity you’ve designed or anything else that you plan on using or publishing – has a better chance of getting you teaching-related feedback. The problem is that teachers are busy and there is little reward in it for them. A co-author reading over what you have written is very different. Their comments are aimed at making the book or article better from a writer’s point of view. They are also the author. They also want to be sure that what gets published is something to be proud of. That makes your co-author probably the best editor in the world. They have a direct investment in the positive outcome of whatever you decide to publish. In our case this has naturally lead to improved rubrics, clearer instructions and better focus on the actual outcome of activities.

More ‘test subjects’

Most teachers who write or design activities try them out on their own students first. Working with a co-author means you have another person using your activities or materials in another classroom or context, making sure that they actually work. This also means that you will be supplied with things that you can do in your own classroom; you can discuss the outcome with your co-author and hopefully be inspired to adapt old ideas or come up with new ones. This has had a positive effect on my own teaching as well as the teacher training that we do. If you are just starting out as an author, there’s probably going to be some self-doubt. Knowing that your materials work in other classrooms is very satisfying and goes a long way to boosting your self-confidence.

Possible problems

This could probably be a post on its own, but there are some things to be aware of when working with another person on publishing something.

Find someone you like and trust. You are going to be working together for some time. There might be some disagreements; you might run into scheduling or contractual issues or any other of a range of problems. In my experience, the advantages far outweigh the disadvantages, but no relationship is without problems. However, if you are working with someone you respect, and that person respects you, most problems can be overcome.

I chose to work with a co-author because I wanted to learn more, experience more and develop more. It has been all that for me. I’d be very interested to hear about other writers’ experiences of collaboration.

 

Gerhard Erasmus is the Director of Studies at a small language school in Taipei and is also involved in regular teacher training and assessment. He has written materials for teacher training courses and has published a Young Learners English preparation series through Cengage Learning. He has written two books with co-author Hall Houston: one on brainstorming, which will be available shortly from the round, and one on output activities, which he hopes to self-publish soon.

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6 responses to Working with a co-author

  1. Katherine Bilsborough 15 October 2015 at 12:51 pm #

    An interesting post on an interesting subject Gerhard. I don’t recall ever having read anything on this subject before but I’ve had many a conversation about co-authors – usually initiated by someone needing to let off steam about a demon co-author who has turned out to be a liability. My regular co-author is my husband. There are pros and cons – but at least scheduling a meeting is relatively easy. In general I’d say that having a co-author is a positive thing. You’re able to proof-read each other’s work and throw ideas around and, most of all, if you choose (or are given) the right co-author, your weaknesses will be their strengths and vice versa. One of the great things about self-publishing is that we can pair up with like-minded authors, sharing skills to write books we’d never otherwise get to write. The future is definitely about partnerships.

    • Gerhard Erasmus 20 October 2015 at 9:36 am #

      Glad you enjoyed the post, Katherine. I have also heard some horror stories, but I equate it to having kids (I have 3), because when you talk about them it is often what they did wrong or how naughty they are sometimes. That actually only makes up a small percentage of how awesome they are!
      My mom actually sent me a message after this got posted and said that she has decided to work together with my stepdad on a book about commercial vehicles. I totally agree that partnerships and synergy will be the future of writing for many of us.
      BTW, the Voices series you and your husband did looks GREAT!

      • MaWSIG Editor 21 October 2015 at 5:29 pm #

        I think we need a comment on here from your mum, Gerhard – and maybe your dad’s views, too!

        • Gerhard Erasmus 30 October 2015 at 1:41 pm #

          I will ask them to comment ASAP, but for now they’re on vacation in Europe and they mentioned something about wine and not really worrying about work.

  2. Sophie O'Rourke 15 October 2015 at 3:26 pm #

    Yes, thanks Gerhard for this really interesting post. And Kath too.
    A question for any authors out there – if you could pick anyone, who would be your co-author or writing partner? You obviously don’t have to answer that publicly on here, but I wonder if it’s the sort of the thing authors do naturally think about? Or even think about during the writing process, “I wish I had someone, or if only I could ask XX?”

    I can think of lots of ELT courses which have multiple authoring teams and co-authors/partners that seem to work really well. Particularly those teams who have formed through friendships or working relationships. And it seems to be happening more and more as Kath says – which is really exciting for the industry!

    • Gerhard Erasmus 20 October 2015 at 9:42 am #

      Glad you enjoyed it Sophie. I am very happy with Hall Houston as a co-author, but if I was forced to pick someone else, I would love to work with Scott Thornbury or Lindsay Clandfield. Also, David Valente, who is the editor for the YL SIG magazine CATS, was my DELTA tutor and I would not mind at all spending some more time in his company. For now though, I think our partnership is great.
      It does take a lot of pressure off if you have someone to bounce ideas off and they actually really listen. Hopefully in the future, Hall and I might do another book, but for now the editing is taking up a lot of time.

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