I am currently working on a book with several fellow researchers, and there seems to be a disagreement of how the author names should be listed. The book will be published by a major university press and will be listed on its website as well, so the order of names of the authors has become a touchy subject and disagreements ensued. I will describe everything in third-person to objectively portray the situation.

Z is the lead researcher of the project. Z has done more than 90% of the work and everyone seems to see this. Z is a professor.

A and B are staff researchers and their jobs were mostly editing and proofreading. A and B are professors as well.

U, V, W are graduate student researchers and have done the remaining 9% of the work, which were mostly grunt work that do not have particular intellectual value.

Now here is where the situation becomes sticky. The book made its way to a major press and A and B suddenly want a piece of the action. The problem is, Z's last name is the last in alphabetical order and making A and B authors will push Z's name to the back of the author list. While Z is considering adding A and B as the authors, U, V, W feel that A and B did not add much value to the book and therefore strongly believe that Z's name should appear in the front. Some even think that they themselves did more work than A or B, and A's name and B's name should not be listed as the author just like them.

Is there are way to resolve such issue? Is there a way to distinguish between the lead author and supporting authors, possibly by forcing the lead author's name to appear in the front? Or is there a way to make everyone authors of the book but make only the lead author's name appear in the book cover rendering the other two merely authors in name?

  • 10
    And this is why we agree on authorship issues before the work is done. I must say, it seems strange to me that somebody whose main contribution is proof-reading is being considered as an author at all. Jan 21, 2017 at 21:34
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    Almost every textbook I've seen has a lengthy "thanks to the following individuals" page on the inside for proofreaders, grad students, etc. If the situation really is as you claim, this seems pretty cut and dry -- include A, B, U, V, and W on the internal "thank you" page and let "Z" be the author. If A and B don't like it, tough luck -- they are not authors.
    – tonysdg
    Jan 21, 2017 at 22:05
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    "A and B are staff researchers and their jobs were mostly editing and proofreading. A and B are professors as well." You lost me -- I don't understand what it means to be a staff researcher and a professor. Jan 21, 2017 at 22:55
  • You also lost me -- Who cares if A, B, U, V ,W, and Z are professors, grad students, or janitors?
    – JeffE
    Jan 22, 2017 at 3:10
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    @JeffE - It matters politically. Pissing off fellow researchers and professors may hurt more down the line than pissing off the janitors. Or, in my experience, vice versa (since janitors have lots of keys and papers lying around can go "missing").
    – tonysdg
    Jan 22, 2017 at 7:12

2 Answers 2


First of all, I agree with @tonysdg that A and B don't sound like they deserve any form of authorship. The same may be true about U, V and W, but I feel less strongly about that. So Z can simply argue his/her case forcefully, and if necessary appeal to the department chair or other outside objective parties. The facts are on Z's side, so I expect he/she will win the argument, though possibly at the risk of alienating his/her colleagues.

Second of all, with regards to your comment that "The problem is, Z's last name is the last in alphabetical order and making A and B authors will push Z's name to the back of the author list", I don't see this as a problem at all. There is no rule that the list of author names on a book has to be in alphabetical order. So, it is perfectly acceptable and legitimate to list Z's name first, and indeed sounds like a very good idea (regardless of which other names end up being on the author list) considering that the project is overwhelmingly Z's intellectual offspring.

Third of all, one idea for an author byline that allows including minor authors but would still make clear the large disparity in contributions from the different authors is to use the "with contributions from" pattern, as in:

The Great Book of Science

By Z
With contributions from U, V, W, [optionally:] A and B

See here for a real-life example.


It sounds to me like your group is trying to apply a model and understanding of coauthorship that is suitable for academic papers (in some fields) but is really unsuitable when it comes to books.

As an aside, I wonder whether you really mean a textbook, which has the connotation of a book used for instruction rather than the dissemination of cutting edge research. It sounds to me like what you have written is rather a research monograph. If you were actually writing a textbook, then a significant amount of editing and proofreading would be done by the editorial staff of the publishing company. So I suggest that you clarify the situation in your question. (At the extreme, there are certain books which are essentially book-length articles and such that treating as an academic paper would be more appropriate.) Here is one key question:

Does the book contain new academic results, so that by including someone or not as an author the results will be attributed to them or not?

If the answer to that is yes, then this could be a major issue, such that not publishing the work as a book may turn out to be easiest and best.

As others have already pointed out, one has to say that it is not a good practice for a book to be written and worked on by several parties without discussing the authorship issue. In this case, you say that the book was submitted to the publishing company and accepted for publication without this issue having been sorted out. I wonder how that is even possible: certainly when you submit a text it includes a list of authors, and the editors will take the information very seriously. What is the list of authors on the version that was accepted by the university press? How did Professor Z convey the authorship situation to the press? (If he really didn't say anything at all, then it is not clear that you should proceed with the publication. If Z comes back and says to his editor "Actually the authorship issue is very complicated," then the editor may well agree.)

Anyway: here are some options:

Have Z be the sole author of the book.

If Z did over 90% of the work and even more of the intellectual work, then in my view this is the option to work towards if possible. The amount of work it takes to publish something is so great that even 10% of it is a lot, so Z should be looking to compensate his coworkers in some way. Of course they should be warmly acknowledged at the front of the book. I think Z should also consider some sort of payment.

It took me a little while to remember this, but the summer after I finished my PhD, my postdoctoral advisor asked me to proofread his book, a research monograph. Or rather, he offered me a certain amount of money to do it (I can't quite remember the amount, as this was 2003; maybe $1000). I accepted, and this was a nice experience for me. I really can't remember how long I spent on it; 20 hours would be a very rough guess. Of course I did not appear as a coauthor!

But one of the main differences between books and articles is that for books, people who are involved are usually directly paid. The A and B who did mostly editing and proofreading seem like good candidates for being paid, and perhaps paid by the publishing company. By the way, for a major university press, the company itself is almost certainly going to do editing and proofreading of its own, which makes it a little stranger that Z got his colleagues to do it.

Have Z be listed first as author, followed by A,B,U,V,W.

Since Z's name comes last alphabetically, having him appear as the first author should signify an extremely unbalanced authorial contribution. Since he is characterized as doing more than 90% of the work, this seems appropriate. The question is whether everyone else did enough to be included at all: did they actually write some of the book or not?

Have Z be the sole author, and add a line "with A,B,U,V,W"

This is a bit unusual, but not really irregular. If there is no other way to compensate A,B,U,V,W for their secondary work then maybe this is the best solution.

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