Are Three Pens Better Than One?


Dear Natasha…

If your material is The Goods, editors won’t balk at a 3-person writing team. But be ready for extra scrutiny from them and reviewers: Three authors? Must be three times as good! Your voices must be seamless if they’re meant to blend. Or, if there are three different parts, each voice must be distinct, and changing from one to another must offer insight you could only get from that voice.

For insight into packaging a threesome, I tapped my favorite publicity collaborators, the duo at Blue Slip Media. They do point out possible marketing challenges: 3 author names on promo materials is tricky design-wise, and it’d be 3 times more expensive to bring all of you to conferences or go on tour, and having 3 agents pushing for top billing for their authors could be a headache for the Marketing Director. These might be arguments for packaging the group under a pen name—one that hints at or directly declares your team-up. You can brainstorm it with the Marketing Department when the times comes; you needn’t have it completely finalized when you submit. Despite these challenges, Blue Slips says that Marketing would welcome the unique possibilities your threesome offers: 3 sets of networks to tap into, 3 locales where you can push for local publicity, and potential for some great trade coverage (like Publishers Weekly and general newspapers/magazines) for the unusual approach to writing fiction. Having 3 authors makes the book stand out from the pack, a key in publicity. Just be sure you work together seamlessly (that word again!) so you can agree on things quickly and move forward.

I also checked with a publishing law attorney, Lisa Lucas at Lucas LLP. After all, a collaboration is a business partnership, and many authors forget that in the excitement of creating and submitting. Turns out Lisa blogged about this very issue earlier this summer. Her main message: Brainstorm the entire process, consider all the things that may come up, then assign responsibility and memorialize that on paper. For instance, when one author is at a conference doing the selling, should she get a bigger cut of those sales? Your agents, too, must work things out among themselves before bringing in the outside pressure of a publisher. Of course, you can’t predict everything (Lisa cites a case where one author in a collaboration commits murder—yikes!), but do take to heart her message about proactively discussing touchy things.

Happy writing!

The Editor


  1. Great tips…First and foremost is the writing…I’d suggest going to conferences and meeting editors or agents in person. This would give you the opportunity to strike up a personal connection and the opportunity to discuss your partnership on the novel.

    Best wishes…

  2. I agree with the seamless part. It’s hard to accomplish with more than one author. I guess most readers are like me and wonder just how it was done? What was the collaborative process? But when done well, that wonder can be a good thing and that is the positive marketing vibe you can develop. Good luck.

    • I think this is under the assumption that each of the writers already has an agent. You wouldn’t then go out new representation just for the project….

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