“My book got a great review today,” my colleague announced proudly.
“Aren’t you supposed to say ‘our’ book,” I interjected, “there were two of you who wrote it after all?”
“Of course, I meant ‘our’ book,” he replied in voice that was fully one octave lower.
There is an old saying that goes: a pleasure shared is a pleasure doubled. Whoever came up with that was certainly not thinking about the co-authors of a book because when it comes to reviews, it seems that great review shared is a great review halved.
Psychologist Thomas Gilovich joked that when it comes to shared projects like book writing, the sum of each co-authors perceived contribution will invariably be greater than 100 percent. It is the same if you ask a couple what proportion they each contribute to the housework; the sum of the responses always surpasses 100 percent. This doesn’t happen because either partner is deceitful; each one might genuinely believe their stated proportion is correct. The erroneous perception is a product of the salience of the effort each individual contributed. A husband, for example, is fully aware of the housework he did – he was there; he witnessed every grueling minute of it – but he might not have witnessed all the work done by his spouse. The same applies to co-authors of a book; the salience of one’s own efforts relative to the co-author’s results in a misattribution of the credit.
Even after the housework is finished, it is difficult to correct this misperception. A cleaned living room is a cleaned living room; the effort required to achieve the result is difficult to judge. Did you work harder dusting your shelf and polishing your window than I did cleaning the shower? With a book, one would think it would be easier to judge because there are a countable number of words and pages, but it is not. This is because it is mostly irrelevant who typed word. The whole collaboration was the product of years of working side-by-side, and of hours of discussion. Over time, the thoughts of one person become the ideas of the other. Even my thoughts and ideas made it into the written word, but my name is not on the cover. Perhaps I should be writing about the great review for ‘my’ book.