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I have been writing my first project that I intend for publication, and as with older projects, I have been bouncing ideas off of people here and there when I am in a creative rut. But how much help does a person need to give me before I have to consider them a co-author?

I am not sitting down with these people and actively writing with them, it's more like generic advice. Things like sample questions to ask one's self about new characters in order to make them well-rounded and define motivations, or their feelings of interest based around the general plot.

My concern is that since I have only just started writing, and really haven't gotten stuck-in to the meaty bits, that there might come a time when I start asking people for help that should constitute a credit. I am not opposed to having a co-author(s), but I would like to know if there is any hard and fast rule about how much input one needs to have to be considered as a co-author.

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In many books you'll see an author's note at the beginning (or sometimes end) in which the author thanks various people for their help -- beta readers, members of a writing circle, editors, advisors on particular subjects (historical periods, military protocol, xenobiology, whatever), family members who put up with the project taking over, and so on. These are called acknowledgements, and it's how you publicly thank people who significantly helped you but weren't actually co-authors.

It sounds like you have people you should acknowledge in this way, but not co-authors. A book takes hundreds or thousands of hours; even though you might have had lots of brainstorming sessions with friends, it probably doesn't add up to a significant share of that work. They aren't expecting to be listed as co-authors, but they'll probably be pleased to be publicly acknowledged.

I have co-authored one book.1 My co-author and I spent many long hours going over content together, trading sections back and forth for critique, planning, reorganizing, reworking, and making decisions. We were full partners in the project and its decisions, and both our names went on the cover. If the people you're consulting don't have a similar level of ownership, they're not your co-authors.

1 Actually, many more -- but most were works for hire that did not involve anybody being publicly named as authors.

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I think if you have repeatedly and deliberately "worked together" at your request to create and answer various writing challenges then this is co-authoring.

However, if you ran a couple of issues or ideas past someone whose opinion you trust and it was helpful then this is best handled as a thank you or acknowledgement.

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