I’ve been writing fiction for a few years now. For the most part, I’ve found the process to be a solitary activity. My day often runs something like this: I sit at the computer, I type a few lines. I check e-mail (“Oh, look! I can increase my penis size naturally!”). I type a few lines more.
I break to have a cup of coffee and figure out how to move the heroine from a sidewalk vender where she’s eating a hotdog, to getting to “know” the hero while also enjoying a bubble bath. Somehow my plotting is awry. Maybe because I’m hungry.
I stop for lunch and another cup of coffee. Suddenly, all becomes clear on how to propel the heroine into that bath. I type a few more (meaningful, exciting) lines.
New email! Gosh, with the press of a key I can order meds online. Is this a wonderful world or what??
By the end of the day, I’ve finished off a 12-cup pot of coffee, eaten a bagel and a cheese sandwich my mother would have been embarrassed to pack in my school lunchbox, and (maybe) written a thousand words. But, by golly! I accomplished it all by myself. Yup! With nary a word spoken to any live person, I have written half a chapter.
Wow. I’m good.
Maybe your writing experience has been similar. However, almost all of this changes once you decide to share the responsibility of a book with someone else. A collaboration is different from being part of an anthology, where often several authors use one theme to create their own, stand-alone stories. When you are writing partners, the stories usually intertwine with the others in some way.
Why collaborate? There are several reasons. Co-authoring gives you: someone with whom to share the joy as well as the “I’m stuck” doldrums, someone who can help inspire, and with whom to brainstorm when the going gets tough. Unlike friends or critique partners, this person is co-owner of the project, an important distinction. An author friend once said, “It’s like having a friend sitting at my side, cheering me on. It’s always good to have someone to bounce things off of.” But the cheerleader in this case, will share the rewards (or the bad reviews) on your writing adventure. It opens a whole new world of bonding.
Collaboration can also be profitable. Readers who buy a book because they’re fans of your partner, get the added bonus of having your work. You get cross-readers (not to be confused with cross-dressers, though, happily, they read, too!), and perhaps new fans who will buy your standalone work.
I’ve been fortunate to be part of some great collaborations. In most cases, I wasn’t allowed to huddle alone in my own little cave and write. In a collaboration, communication is vital. Yes, you actually have to talk (chat, Facetime, email, DM) with someone, share ideas, receive input, and, well, be part of a team. There are necessary conversations that take place between partners, especially when the stories are interwoven.
Such was the case in Resolutions, a book written years ago with Jasmine Haynes, Leigh Wyndfield, and Vanessa Hart. Before we even started writing, we exchanged bunches of emails and chatted at length about the flows of the stories from the central thread. We had a Yahoo loop for easy exchange of ideas. I wrote the opening of the book using character information we posted in the loop. Each author used that same information to bridge from section to section and we hammered out the epilogue together, again, using the loop.
In Resolutions, each of us edited one of the other’s stories. This worked for us, but editing your partner’s work can sometimes be touchy. Multi-published author, Jasmine Haynes, recommends “…having an outside editor, someone not part of the collaborative writing team. This person can look at the project as a whole without any of the emotion writers can sometimes have, and there are therefore no hurt feelings.” Good advice!
Writing Resolutions was very different from creating any of my individual books. It was fun, interesting, and rewarding, working with these women. That’s because we saw each other as equals and were willing to share our knowledge and joy in the writing process. I learned a great deal while working on Resolutions, and my writing partners have remained dear friends.
Your Desire was some of the most fun I’ve had writing a book with another published author, maybe because my teammate was my desire—my husband, Francis Drake. Now, some women (I’ve been told) don’t like working with their husbands. Francis and I have been working together since we were in high school, a good hmmm, best-not-to-ask number of years ago. We guessed that after some of the things we’ve been through, writing a book would be child’s play. Turns out, we were right.
That’s the key to our successful arrangement, Francis says. “We trust each other totally. I knew that if you made a suggestion it was to improve the book. You knew the same about me. Even if either of us balked at the critique, we always came back to that trust, so we were able to work out any problem.”
Francis is very talented, smart and funny, and he took all of my “creative suggestions” regarding his work in good spirits. I ignored his suggestions about my work in those same good spirits. (Oh, yes, dinner conversations were a lot of fun!) I have to say, it was a joy producing a work of fiction with my husband that didn’t involve tax forms. (For any IRS officials reading this, that fiction comment was just a little author humor.)
Which brings up another point. A sense of humor is vital when you’re writing with others. No matter the stress, find some reason to laugh with your co-author. Laughter will not only relieve tension, your having fun will show in your work.
Both Resolutions and Your Desire had stories that wove together or stemmed from a common theme. This provided some challenge, but also made them enjoyable to write.
Years ago, author Vanessa Hart and I decided to take collaboration one step farther—we wanted to switch off every other chapter. We developed twin male heroes. One was a priggish teacher at a posh New England academy, the other a laid-back crew chief for a NASCAR team.
Daniel and Jonah’s book not only had a common theme, their stories intertwined, meaning Vanessa and I had to work closely throughout the creative process. We were lucky to have a day together to discuss the book in person, to brainstorm, talk about the twins’ motivation, and where and why to make their conflict interactive. Life intervened and we were not able to complete the process, but we had fun while we worked on it. And, had we been able to continue, I know we would have had an excellent book. (With Vanessa’s blessing, I used what we had started and created the three-book Good Man series.)
Since Vanessa and I were critique partners who didn’t live in the same town (or state), we used a Yahoo loop as a repository for drafts of chapters. The loop gave us a way for each partner to access work easily, wherever we were. I don’t know if a Yahoo loop is feasible now, but there are all kinds of cloud access points writers can use today. The point is to stay in touch with your partner(s) and keep work current and accessible so you’re sure you’re all on the same page, so to speak.
Okay, if you’re writing with someone and there’s no thread joining the stories, you might talk to your co-author(s) or you might not. Sometimes your only goal is keep the word count within an agreed upon range. When Rhiannon Neeley and I created I’m No Saint, Valentine, she wrote a contemporary romance between a younger man and older woman. I wrote a fantasy about an angel and demon, meeting in Las Vegas. The only thing we had in common was that our heroes weren’t saints—thus the title. (We were clever, huh?)
Our stories were very different. Nonetheless, Rhi and I were partners, assuming equal responsibility for the quality of the work. Of teaming up, she says: “Though our stories in No Saint weren’t sharing a common story line, working with Dee kept me going instead of stalling out on some minor plot point. Working with a co-author sparks my imagination to keep going with the story … critiquing and shooting me ideas when I’m stuck.”
Though Rhi and I had no complex interwoven plots in I’m No Saint, Valentine, the integrity of each story was paramount for both of us. We trusted that we could carry our own weight and respected each other as well as the work. Addressing this issue, Larissa Ione (who partners with Stephanie Tyler to write as Sydney Croft) recommends “… partnering up with someone at a similar skill level – and with a similar dedication to the craft and job.” If one partner feels they have to carry the other, or if milestones and deadlines aren’t met, frustration will result. Been there, done that, have the dents in the wall from banging my head to prove it.
Multi-published Leigh Wyndfield, agrees. She goes a step farther though, in saying she’s “… had a project or two where authors turned into squabbling children, turned in inferior work, and missed deadlines, throwing the whole project into jeopardy. Don’t believe that just because someone seems like fun they will take their work as seriously as you take yours. These kinds of experiences can leave you rocking back and forth in a cold, dark place, wondering why you ever undertook the book in the first place.”
Uh, okay. The fact is, once you’re in a bad writing collaboration, you often have little recourse except to dig in and do more than your share to make the project as good as it can be. See my earlier advice about keeping a sense of humor, and take heart. All collaborations do, eventually, pass.
In summary, whether you’re collaborating in a book where the stories are tied or your works are independent, the following is good advice. Some tips are more important if you’re attempting a multi-authored book, but all of them are worth thinking about.
- Team up with someone you respect and who has a comparable skill level. Writers in a collaboration are partners, who share ownership of the product equally.
- Brainstorm in good faith. By this I mean, express an idea with the intention of helping; receive the idea with an open mind and willingness to listen.
- Agree on a division of labor. Make sure everyone is clear on how much (or whether) one author can tinker with another’s work.
- Choose a point person to make a decision in the case of deadlock—even if the decision is to put off the decision for a time. Could be you and your partner(s) will agree on everything, but just in case, having someone take charge or call a time-out is better than squabbling.
- Be ready to compromise. When it comes to writing a book, a battle of wills is not desirable. It’s much more fun to have a meeting of minds, but if that doesn’t happen naturally, willingness to give a little is a good thing.
- Hand over the final draft to an editor outside the writing team, if possible. Someone removed from the creative process can save hurt feelings and see the book with a “big picture” perspective.
- Establish an easy way to communicate. This is especially important if there are more than two authors in the collaboration. E-mails can readily be replied to one person instead of the group, causing misunderstandings later. If you live with your partner, as I do with You-Know-Who, you can talk about the plot and characters over breakfast. However, our situation probably will not be yours.
- Provide a place to chat and exchange ideas. A place in the cloud can make things soooo much easier and ensure that everyone sees the same version of the work, as well as provides a place to communicate.
- Make sure you’re all on the same page when it comes to milestones and deadlines. This is really important!! If three people finish their contributions and one person lags behind, it’s frustrating and can lead to heated discussions.
- Maintain a sense of humor. The goal is to have fun writing, and enjoy sharing a creation with people you like and respect.
In conclusion, I admit to having adapted to my loner role when it comes to work. If I’m in trouble creatively, I like to keep my angst private—though I do moan and groan to a select, few lucky people (they know who they are, and that I love them!). But some of the best times I’ve had writing occurred when creating a story with friends.
Based on my experience, my advice is to find a partner, review the tips I’ve listed above, and jump into a collaboration. Chances are good you’ll benefit, your co-author will benefit, and certainly the readers will!
Readers can find two of the three Good Man series books on KU now. Book 3 is coming right along!
Only a Good Man Will Do: Seriously ambitious man seeks woman to encourage his goals, support his (hopeful) position as Headmaster of Westover Academy, and be purer than Caesar’s wife. Good luck with that!
One Woman Only: It takes a woman—the right woman—to make a guy see that a “good man” can always be a better man.
A few years ago, Dee S. Knight began writing, making getting up in the morning fun. During the day, her characters killed people, fell in love, became drunk with power, or sober with responsibility. And they had sex, lots of sex. Writing was so much fun Dee decided to keep at it. That’s how she spends her days. Her nights? Well, she’s lucky that her dream man, childhood sweetheart, and long-time hubby are all the same guy, and nights are their secret. For romance ranging from sweet to historical, contemporary to paranormal and more join Dee on Nomad Authors. Contact Dee at firstname.lastname@example.org.