Searching For A Collaborative Writing Tool

I’ve finished writing the book Startup Communities: Building An Entrepreneurial Ecosystem in Your City (a solo effort) and am now deep into Startup Life: Surviving and Thriving In A Relationship With An Entrepreneur which I’m writing with Amy.

I’m looking for a great collaborative writing tool for a book. I used Scrivener on a solo basis for Startup Communities – it’s outstanding for the first draft. I eventually had to drop into Word to work with the production system for my publisher (Wiley) but that’s probably the case for any non-self-publishing experience at this point.

However, I can’t for the life of me figure out a workflow with Scrivener that works effectively for two writers. It’s a single-user product and all of my Dropbox related contortions work to share the file, but then only one person can actually work in it at any given time. So “pair programming” (or “pair writing”) might work, but we are both banging away at the book next to each other while on our treadputers (on different computers).

I’m moving everything to Google Docs for now, but I’m looking for feedback from other writers who have done books as joint projects where there were two writers. I don’t really want to pass documents back and forth (or share separate files via Dropbox) – I want a true collaborative writing solution.

Any thoughts out there?

  • If you use plaintext to store your work (and potentially using something like LaTex for markup), git/github would be a really great tool to write collaboratively.

    • Github has some great collaborative dynamics, but I think it would actually suck for a writers workflow. We want to be in the same document at the same time.

      • I +1 for the version control. It doesn’t matter that you are in one doc. Merging will solve the majority of issue. Furthermore, if you split book into several files (e.g. for each chapter) you will avoid most clashes.

      • I +1 to version control. It is what these system have been inveted for 🙂 Especially if you split book into multipe files, e.g. one per chapter, the merging will be quite simple as you will not create much conflicts.

        You can use tools like for converting from different markups into PDF or even MS Word. I’ve used to prefer LaTeX, but it is much more convenient for others to use simpler markups e.g. reST as we are doing for https://api.nangu.tv

        • COECOVentures

          Doc Merge has been my secret in controlling versioning for contracts. So many times track changes is turned off accidentally. I’m as guilty as anybody else in this regard. Merge and highlight changes allows a clear picture of what is new. It’s really easy to accept all changes and save a new master document.

  • Joe
  • Word with SkyDrive works great for this. Make sure that both users open the file from the SkyDrive website (not from the local file-sync app) and click “Open with Word” – every time you save, you see each other’s changes. It’s perfect when you’re Skyping or standing next to each other on separate computers.
    If you want me to walk you through it, just ping me on Skype.

    • Does it work with Word on the Mac (Office 2011 Mac)?

      • Supposed to. I will test and let you know.

      • I just tested with my sister-in-law (can’t win ’em all over to Windows …), and it worked great with Word 2011 for Mac on her end and Word 2010 for Windows on mine (3 time zones apart over at least one shitty hotel connection).

        I’ve used Google Docs, too … it’s certainly good, but I like the Word experience a lot better.

        Feel free to use me for support.

  • Super topic.. obviously. 🙂

    I used to like Etherpad.

    They have a bunch of options listed in that I haven’t tested.

    But this will serve more as chapter by chapter work rather than a whole book, is my sense. They will likely do the job better than google docs will.

  • There’s an open source product called Booktype from that is used for collaborative writing of books. It’s the underlying app for

  • Pressbooks, which lets you export into various formats:

  • Tony Ferrendelli

    Try Celtx Cloud for collaborative writing

  • In Google docs if you share editing rights and go to File>See Revision History you can see each other’s changes. Don’t know if this works in real time.

    • It works – it’s awesome.

      • I have also had some issues in Google docs with longer docs. And if you’re doing a lot of reorganizing/editing, it’s not great. But nothing else is either that I’ve found. After eight books I truly hate Word!
        I’d like an interface like video editing- all my chapters and content as clips that I can move around and meld into a final order/doc.

        • Good suggestions. We are doing one doc per chapter.

  • Been co-writing a book in Google Docs for several years now and it works mostly well for us.

    Positives: Convenience, ease of use, tons of added features; we can email each other through docs, see revision history, insert comments;

    Negatives: We break each doc into chapters because it slows & often crashes at more than 20 pages (at least it used to – haven’t checked recently because we’re in our groove); no offline version.

    When we compile the chapters into one for editing, we’ll have to run it through Word/Pages.

    • This is the approach we’ve decided to take for now – glad to see that it’s working for someone.

  • Hi Brad,

    We’re building this very thing (7 of us here in Toronto). I wish I could tell you we were done, but we’re probably into September by the time it ships.

    The key difference over Google Docs is clear attribution/agency over each “idea” (or contribution) to the document. I’m at andrew at rocketr dot com if you’d like to hear more about it.

    Sorry we couldn’t help you at exactly this moment.

    • When you have something for me to play with, please holler!

  • Used to write proposals with multiple people in the doc with MS Sharepoint

  • very cool topic. I worked very briefly once for a CMS company and their enterprise suite had document management functions that allowed for something similar to what you are proposing. The company was Readyportal ( I imagine that other Enterprise content management softwares might have similar features but it is not usually cheap. If you need help contacting Readyportal, let me know

  • dimdol

    Try 3Rabbitz Book(

  • We used Git/GIthub, Vim and Leanpub to write our book. We are 3 co authors and the setup we had using Pull Requests, branches, commits, diffs was very efficient, combined with the fact that we split our work in multiple files to diminish conflicts. We started with Google Docs but it was more painful for such an iterative and collaborative editing process where you want to have conversations around what each author wrote, make suggestions etc.

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  • You should give GatherContent a try, not specifically for writing books but you should be able to apply it.

  • rpk

    If you are both on a mac you might give Subethaedit a try ( ) . In combination with markdown syntax it might be what you are looking for.

  • I’ve started using Werdsmith. I think they’re working on the collaboration tools now. I’ll mention this post to Nathan the CEO so he can chime in. He is a writer so he understands this problem pretty well.

  • Using GatherContent for the last month and loving it so far!

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