Swoon Authors Tarun Shanker and Kelly Zekas: Is Cowriting a Book Right For You? Or, Murder Isn’t Too Big A Crime, Right?

It’s February! This is so very exciting, because in 5 short days These Vicious Masks will be in stores and we will be finally taking a very, very deep breath. It’s been quite a year and we can’t fully believe we made it here.

Throughout the process we have learned a lot about drafting, editing, marketing, publicity and working with all the wonderful departments at Swoon. But we have also spent a LOT of time working with each other. Like… a lot. And while it’s mostly wonderful, we also may or may not have wanted to kill each other once or twice. So if you’ve been curious about co-writing a book and/or destroying a beautiful friendship, here are the pros and cons we’ve found from seven years of writing together.

Similar Tastes

Pro: If you have the same favorites and influences, it’ll be pretty fun and easy to agree on a project and your goals for the story. You’ll basically have a second version of you coming up with exciting ideas. When you get a little stuck or confused, your co-author has fresh thoughts and elements. Yay!

Con: You will fight to the death to get to write the best parts and be all the more picky about how your co-author handled it.

Different Tastes

Pro: You’ll each have your own expertise, focus on different aspects and balance out each other’s weaknesses. One of you might be plot-oriented, while the other cares only about character. Someone could be more into the action and mystery, while the other is giving that same attention to the romance. Your final story could have a nice mix of elements that will appeal to different people.

Con: You may die of exasperation as you argue over which elements are more important. You’ll have to compromise and go with an idea you both like, rather than one that you alone loved.


Pro: When you’re drafting, you only have to do half the work. If you’re one of those writers who constantly fails to reach their daily word count goals (join our fun club!), there’s a wonderful relief in seeing that number reduced, while knowing you’ll have a finished draft of a novel in the same amount of time.

Con: All that time you just saved in drafting? That’s going to get completely eaten away in editing. You’ll have to do twice the amount of work here trying to make sure the two halves match. There’s a lot of back and forth with your co-author here as you both make sure the other person is OK with every plot decision, every scene, and by the thirtieth draft, every word.


Pro: When you are feeling like your book is the worst thing anyone has ever written but you don’t want to complain to your editor again, your co-author is there to remind you of all the great aspects. They are there to push and prod you along until you finally remember that yes, there is a reason to do this, and you are worth it.

Con: But when both of you are feeling lost, terrible, tired and just… low, it is twice as crappy. When neither of you can muster up the enthusiasm to fix a plot point or change a character motivation, it can be pretty easy to use the other person’s lack of progress to justify your own and keep spiraling downwards.

Darling Killing

Pro: You have a beloved darling. It’s your favorite scene/line/element/character. But it’s just not adding to your story. Your editor is gently explaining how and you get it, you really do, but you just can’t bear to kill it yourself. Thankfully, your co-author can! Your co-author has never particularly cared for that part and is happy to squash it like the little bug it is.

Con: You now want to violently, horribly murder your co-author. You have seen them for who they really are: a monster. And you want revenge. So you kill off THEIR darling. And the cycle continues until your book is concise and better, but you both carry a lingering resentment until you die.

Credit and Blame

Pro: Whenever you are discussing your work without your co-author present, you have all the control. You can claim responsibility and bask in the praise for any part that you’re told was amazing. Then, whenever you’re confronted with a criticism, you can nod sympathetically, shrug and say in a hushed tone, “I know, I agree with you, it’s just my co-author is... sometimes a bit ridiculous.”

Con: Your co-author is elsewhere, doing the exact same thing. Sometimes rather openly, and on Twitter.

sherlock thinking gif

So, the choice is yours. Seeing as we’re both still alive and talking to each other, we definitely endorse co-writing. There are moments of frustration, but ultimately we feel lucky to have another person on this crazy journey. Just find a writer you trust and respect, and you’ve already got a pretty good start.

Author spotlight

Tarun Shanker & Kelly Zekas

Tarun and Kelly met in a freshman year writing class at NYU and started writing These Vicious Masks a few …

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