Co-author credits for an indie book: is this a terrible idea?

Hey all. For the past sixteen months or so, I’ve been working as a developmental editor for a fairly prolific (largely indie / self-published) author, let’s call her Sally Roe. For some of her older works, she’s received some negative reviews and she was unhappy herself with the books’ quality; that’s why she hired me to re-edit the books with her. She pulled them from the virtual shelves and we began the work nearly from scratch. As a very young author with no training, she’s needed a great deal of help in understanding character development and plot structure, as well as removing some highly derivative elements. (She was, um, rather influenced by Lord of the Rings, Narnia, Harry Potter and a bunch of other fantasy works. There was a character in one book who looked exactly like Movie Arwen and was named Liv, for heaven’s sake.)

Anyway, for one of her fantasy book series (five books, originally aimed squarely at a middle-grade audience), I went beyond mere editing and was asked to help her with so many new ideas and even characters, elements that turned the books from low-rent Harry Potter to something quite special and emotionally gripping–uh, if I do say so myself–that Sally graciously asked me to co-author the reworked series with her, wanting me to do more of the writing and re-plotting/character work.

I agreed and the books are now moving from middle-grade to young adult / new adult, since some of the themes have turned more mature and we’ve gone darker and more psychological. (Angst is kinda my thing.) Because the books will have crossover appeal, at least I believe they will, we’ve comissioned two different cover editions: one for MG/early YA (her preference) and one that’s more suitable for YA/adults (my choice).

We’re working on a collaboration agreement now – yes, belatedly, feel free to smack me.

Anyway, here’s my question: All along, since the books were originally hers, we’ve been using the credits


(Jane Doe being me, natch.)

Since we’re coming out with two editions of the books, however, we thought that it might be nice to swap the author credits for each edition. So the books aimed at the younger set would use the above credits, while the editions aimed for the YA/Adult crew would have my name first.


My question, after all this (I should’ve hired an editor for this post!) is: is this a terrible idea? Will it be confusing? The books will likely be sold exclusively online, if that matters at all. If there’s any problem about the swapped credits then obviously I’m fine with having her name first even though my name comes first alphabetically, dammit. :smiley: After all, this was originally her playground–I’ve just removed all the safety hazards and litter and added tons of new grass, a petting zoo, a pool and lots of new rides so that everyone’ll want to hang out there now.

Any thoughts about whether this is a no-good, silly idea? Or does it not matter? As I said, I’m perfectly sanguine about having her name first if consistency is important. I’m just wondering if consistency is important. Ideas, please?

I have no particular expertise here, but I should have thought that, sales-wise, consistency is important. If the books catch on, people will be looking for the same names in the same order.

Is it important to you, or her, to have your real names on it? Maybe a joint pen name would be better.

Usually it’s best to have the names listed in the same order in both cases. In this case, it’s hard to be sure, but I suspect the plusses and minuses of each will cancel each other out.

I’d keep it consistent. While few people might not understand that Jane Doe and Sally Roe is the same as Sally Roe and Jane Doe, those that buy the book and realize it’s one they read before get pissed. Also, there’s a stocking issue – assuming you have two different last names, libraries wouldn’t have a good way to put it on the shelves and bookstores may see it was an underhanded way to get the book stocked twice.

njtt’s idea of a joint pen name is a good one, but you will have to add “originally published as Sally Roe” somewhere on the previously published books (with something on the cover saying “Completely revised!”). Publishers are scrupulous in avoiding mistaking one book for another (My favorite example of this was the BC comic collection** Life is a $1.99 Paperback (formerly Life is a $1.50 Paperback, formerly Life is a 95 Cent Paperback, formerly Life is a 75 Cent Paperback) **)

I say do it! I think fans these days are educated enough that they’ll understand what you’re doing, and it could add to the books’ coolness factor.

Something else to keep in mind, I can’t find the article I read, but as I recall, “and” implies (at least with movie scripts) the first person wrote it and the second person helped. Maybe they added something later, maybe the proofed it, whatever. & is for when the two people sat down and wrote it together.

You might not care, publishers might. Also, come to think of it, I wonder if a publisher is going to have a say in which way your names are ordered.

That’s not true for movies. (People can get their names on a script even if every last line of their dialogue is replaced by later writers.) It’s absolutely not true at all for books.

There is no publisher and - Chuck - there is no stocking issue because if I’m reading the OP correctly, these are ebooks. The names will come up equally either way when either name is typed into the search box. In the virtual world, the ordering of the names is a matter of personal preference and pride. I’d say it makes sense for the OP to change the order to reflect reality. That would help her later on if she decides to write a series on her own. That’s also why a joint pen name is a bad idea.

Thanks for the responses, guys.

Yes, Exapno Mapcase is right (or very close to it) regarding the books – they won’t just be ebooks, but they will be self-published via Smashwords, Createspace, Kindle Direct, etc. (anything but Kobo, heh!), and will be sold almost entirely online. So, print-on-demand / short-run publishing, in short.

I suppose there’s a possibility we would be able to get some stocked in local libraries and bookstores (well, in my partner’s tiny hometown, anyway, since there’ll be the ‘local celeb’ factor–here in NYC, I’d be laughed out of the store), but generally we’re selling via our own website and in the venues mentioned above.

As an aside, I personally disagree with this decision–I am very confident that these are now strong enough to shop around to a publisher, which normally wouldn’t be likely considering they’ve been self-pubbed already, but considering their almost completely rewritten nature and the new titles, I think we could get around the ‘first publication’ issue–but my partner’s adamant, as she wants them on the virtual shelves as soon as possible. And I do see the benefits of going indie these days. These will be my first self-published books (I have four other novels in print) and I’m actually quite interested in learning more about the indie scene.

Anyway, that’s all backstory. :slight_smile: I can say that there’s literally no way my partner would agree to a joint pen name unless it was her own real name. And, considering she has other books out that I wouldn’t want assumed to be my work, I’m not hugely keen on using her name as a nom de plume. That sounds awful, but… well, her old work that’s still ‘out there’ is, um, not very strong. She’d be the first to acknowledge that. Also, as Exapno mentions, I do want my name reflected somewhere considering I have a (tiny) following and would like them to find my name. I’d also want to utilize this series for continuing to build my own platform.

So given all that, we’re left with the name order issue again. Oh, and the “and” vs. “&” thing: honestly until yesterday I was assuming we’d have the credits as:



…without any “and” or ampersand. But in looking at other joint works I do see that “and” is typical. It’s true that in screenwriting there is a difference between “&” and “and” (the “&” reflects a writing team working jointly on the script, whereas the “and” indicates two writers or two writing teams who worked separately on the script, usually at different times). In novels there are also “with” and “as told to” (but those are out, obviously, since they definitely don’t apply here). But unlike the WGA/screenwriting rules, there’s no difference between ampersands vs. “and” in books. Well, generally speaking; I might be wrong when it comes to academic works, since they have their own strict rule set.

Getting back to the main issue, I agree that it is extremely important not to confuse anyone, which is why I’m okay with using her name first, mine second on both editions if this would indeed cause problems. As Exapno Mapcase says (and your answer is very encouraging–and surprising, as I was certain that if you responded, you’d say stick with one consistent credit), I’m just not sure it would matter, for the reasons he mentioned. On our website, at least, the different cover styles will be marketed together, so people who want the kid-friendly covers can get those, and others who prefer the more YA/adult-appropriate covers will choose them. “In the wild,” as it were, the books would be searchable on either name, I assume.

I should say that the only reason I want different covers is because Sally’s taste is so very different from mine. The cover artist she hired–this was before I became co-author–has created illustrations that are almost manga-style images, more appropriate for graphic novels if you ask me; to me, they’re just not reflective of the content. This is part of the problem with having gone from merely a developmental editor to co-author about halfway through the process. Some of the decisions were made prior to my having decision-making power. So I came up with the dual cover idea, since we have the luxury of being able to produce both ourselves and market them to readers who prefer one to the other.

I guess I should open the question up – do you think this is a bad idea altogether, i.e., the notion of having an alternate cover? I prefer something more abstract (c.f. The Hunger Games) and iconic, or at least photorealistic rather than line-drawn illustrations. Even if we do have this luxury and can do it, should we?

I don’t see any problem, unless you feel your time and effort would be better spent on doing stuff that’s wholly yours. But collaborations where one person has far-out ideas and the other better understands story structure can be great!

I vote no. While I understand wanting to have your name in a more prominent position, I don’t think this is worth potentially confusing or irritating your readers.

The conclusion that I suspect a lot of educated people would draw is that these authors were trying to trick their more naive readers into buying the same book twice.

Oh absolutely–there’s no doubt in my mind that collaboration is my favorite method of writing. All of my most enjoyable projects have been the result of partnerships. I love the give-and-take.

Hmm. Yes, that’s what I was worried about. But would it really confuse readers that much? The title is what most people are looking at, isn’t it? As a reader I can’t imagine thinking: “Here’s a book called The Incontinence of Elephants: Volume I of the Zoological Misfits Saga, by Jane Doe and Sally Roe. But here’s another book called The Incontinence of Elephants: Volume I of the Zoological Misfits Saga, this tme by Sally Roe and Jane Doe. They must be different books!”

I can definitely be wrong about this, however. Thanks very much for the input, it’s extremely helpful to see how this might look to readers.

There’s plenty of time yet to mull this over, rather fortunately. The first book won’t be out until November 2014, although marketing will begin at least four months in advance if not more, so the covers do have to be set by then. And the first two books of the series will be released simultaneously, with the first being offered for free and the second at the $2.99 or $3.99 price point. Suck 'em in with a freebie!

No one has to really be “fooled” for some potential readers to be suspicious of your motives. But if you’re asking me if there are stupid and easily confused people in the world then yes, there certainly are. And considering that this series of books is actually a major revision of a series that was previously available, I think an intelligent person might reasonably wonder whether there was any difference in the content of the Roe & Doe version with the manga style cover and the Doe & Roe version with the more abstract cover.

Good points, Lamia. Thanks very much! I definitely don’t want people to ascribe any nefarious motives to having an alternate cover. So… are you saying that having an alternate cover with the same author order is fine, or are you nixing the idea of the alternate cover altogether?

According to WGAW rules, “and” in the writer credits means the writers wrote independently – Joe Smith and Mary Jones indicates that Joe wrote one script and Mary wrote another and the WGAW deemed they both get credit.

If writers collaborate, then an ampersand is used: Lowell Ganz & Babaloo Mandell work as a team.

I did miss the e-book reference, though.

I don’t think different cover art is as big of a deal, as it’s fairly common for different editions of the same book to have different covers. Different cover art also provides some benefit to the reader in that they can pick which one they like better. But if I saw a self-published book available in two different versions with not only different covers but the author names in a different order, I’d take that to mean one of the following:

  1. one of the authors became more famous than the other and the order of the names was switched on later editions to capitalize on this
  2. there’s some difference in the content, with the first author’s contribution being more significant than the second author’s in each version
  3. it’s some kind of attempt to mislead customers or otherwise game the system

I’d consider #1 unlikely for a self-published book, and you don’t want people wrongly assuming #2 or #3.

I have to go along with nixing alternate covers. I see far more potential for confusion there than with the name order. Different cover = different book. Remember that we’re just making guesses based on opinions and gossip, and your particular case may have elements that make this all nonsense.

November 2014 stumps me, though. With self-published books and ebooks, why wait a full year? Everything can change by then.

Thanks Lamia and Exapno Mapcase. You’ve been very helpful. I’ll have to forgo the credit swap if it does seem underhanded or confusing. I can deal with the blow to my ego. :slight_smile: Hmm, maybe we can do it like they do on TV shows–where one star’s name comes first, but is lower, and the second name is higher! (See Cheers and Laverne and Shirley.) Just kidding, it’ll just be SALLY ROE AND JANE DOE, straightforward. Anyone reading the book who knows my style of writing will recognize my influence. My characters suffer like crazy before any victory, and the victory is usually bittersweet.

Heh, not nonsense at all. It’s not uncommon in YA series to have two different covers, although it’s usually for different markets or countries. I’ll need to do more research to see how this is handled; if we can’t do so elegantly on booksellers such as Smashwords or KDP, we should absolutely just market a single cover.

I think on our own website, we can easily make the offer of two different cover types depending on the customer’s preference. Sort of a perk for buying directly from us.

True enough! The thing is, we’ve only finished the first draft of the final book just now. Next I need to go over the quintet again, now with a co-author’s eye rather than as a ‘mere’ developmental editor–remember, the switch happened about halfway through–to take into account the changes in style made to the later books and emphasize certain characters/introduce plot points that either weren’t in the earlier books’ drafts, or that became much more significant and need to be emphasized/foreshadowed.

I’m basically in charge of the entire final draft of this 700K saga. That should take me two or three months, depending on my work speed (I have other clients so this isn’t my only job), after which we’ll send them out for an extra editing go-round from an outside professional. (I may be a pro myself, but I’m not editing my own work–that’s just asking for trouble!) And finally there’s the final proofread.

We certainly may be done with this process earlier than 11/14, which really is just the very latest projection, but I don’t want to rush this, and I want to have a good marketing schedule in place before the first two books launch. Oh, and my colleague wants to have all of the books done before the first books launch–she doesn’t think she can put her mind to more than one thing at a time and wants to have everything complete before she focuses on marketing.

Does this make sense, I hope?

Anyway thanks again for the input. I’m glad I asked. It sounds as if Exapno changed his mind from his earlier post, but between that and the other comments it does seem like it’d be more trouble/bad blood than it’s worth just to please my desire for equal billing. No problemo!

This didn’t work out too badly for either author.

Pittacus Lore?! Jesus, if that isn’t proof that an apparently decent book will sell well no matter what name is used for the author, I don’t know what is.

Of course, we’re talking about James Frey and some unknown here. I guess Frey didn’t want his scandal to follow him to the teen market? Well, at least these books are marketed as fiction.

Ah. Wait, I remember this now. The Fiction Factory guy. Paid a bunch of young writers to get into the YA craze and forced them to sign contracts to hide their identities. How cynical can you get?


Just chiming in as a reader. It would irritate me a little bit to see the book with both a different cover and different author order, if only because I’d have to look a lot more closely than should be necessary at each book to make sure they were the same thing.

Will the blurbs for each version be the same?

Good luck to you!

Soon to be reissued as Life Is a 75 Cent Download.