Wednesday, September 12, 2007

Connecting With the Experts

The other day I received an e-mail from someone who wanted some co-authoring advice. The e-mail began with some wonderful flattery about my work (always useful when asking someone for advice). The author then gave me a brief accounting of her experience in writing, ghostwriting, journalism, and publishing.

Then came the question:

Ok, I wanted to ask some advice. I want to write a book about [a very competitive sport]. Because the competition for this type of book is fierce, I want to ask a local [pro athlete] to co-author with me. For starters, I'm doing a newspaper interview with him.... and I want to ask him about co-authoring the book. The writing is no problem.... but I want to capture his philosophy on training (exercises, warm ups, getting into the zone, etc.).

Would it be best if I interviewed him at length, and then wrote the book myself... and asked him to write the forward? Or would that not be enough motivation to work with me? Just wondering if you have any ideas, tips or strategies... so I have a better chance at being successful.

Confusion about how to approach an expert, and how much "credit" to give an expert that helps with a project are common. There is no right answer, as every situation involving expert and author will differ. However, that didn't stop me from offering the following suggestions:

(First, I thanked her for her kind words about my writing and website. Kudos are always appreciated!)

To begin with, unless you are well-known (or known to some degree) as an expert in the field, you almost need the name recognition of an established competitor to sell a book on a competitive sport and lend it the cache and credibility needed to attract an audience. The more established the name, the more reliable the information appears. Therefore, the more salable the project.

My advice would be to keep the professional relationship with the pro athlete as amiable as possible. Make him look great in print, send him tear sheets of printed articles along with thank you notes for his contribution. Mention the book project you would like to do, and see if he would be interested in pursuing it with you once you have a publisher interested.

While you are maintaining the connection with the expert, develop a killer proposal for the book you intend to write and start sending it out to publishers.

(The best advice I can ever give any writer is to have a contract before writing a non-fiction book.)

In the proposal, tell the publishers of the way you intend to use the knowledge / experience / name / connections of the pro. Once you have a publisher interested, and contract talks begin, you can determine how best to bring in the expert competitor so things are mutually beneficial to all parties.

* You may want to have the book appear as if it were written by the pro, with you as a credited co-author. The book content would consist of his theories, techniques, and exercises, and would be promoted largely on his name recognition. You could split royalties, and both of you would be responsible for promoting the finished product.

* You may also want to appear as the sole author and include some nod to the expert ("With training secrets from Mr. Big Wig!") in the cover credits or byline. That way, most of the book would be your content, but the more technical stuff would come from the expert.

* On a related note, you could appear as the sole author of most of the content, but have a chapter or two attributed to the expert. His byline would appear as a contributing writer, and could appear both within the book, on the appropriate chapters, and on the cover.

(An example of what I'm talking about is the book "Photographing and 'Videoing' Horses Explained." Charles Mann is credited with the content, but videographer Stormy May contributed the chapter on videography. She is listed as an author on the cover. I edited the book and wrote a chapter, but I am hardly a horse photographer -- or a photographer of any kind. I'm not credited as an author on the cover because my name wouldn't have done anything to help move the book. My name does appear on the chapter I wrote, however.)

I would advise against interviewing the expert at length, writing a book based largely on his theories and experience, publishing it under your own name, and asking him to write the foreword. For starters, imagine if the situation were reversed, and someone published a book on your area of expertise under his or her own name. Not good.

Even without taking ethics into consideration, the fact remains that the book will stand a better chance of selling if the expert's name is prominently featured on it as a contributor or co-author. As the writer, you have an obligation to your book to make it as salable as possible.

Since the author who wrote me had published credits to her name, I told her I believed it shouldn't be difficult to get the expert interested in allowing her to pursue this project, with the understanding that if the proposal sells, then a working arrangement or collaboration of some sort may be in her future.

Regardless of an author's publishing credits (or lack thereof), remember: You could be a god-send to the expert who has something of value to contribute to his sport, but no means of getting his words out there. In my experience, we writers are very much in demand, and the experts are more than willing to allow us to guide them through the perils of publishing.

The Edit Continues

My Major Project is in the midst of the editing process. All requested changes have been made. Now, I'm going through all 100,000 words of the text and editing for continuity, format, consistency, and other nit-picky things. Yes, it's a wee bit tedious. But it's going smoothly, and I am very happy with the progress of the project. Yay! The end is, indeed, in sight.