of Bayard & Holmes
We writers tend to be an odd and solitary lot, lurking in the corners of libraries and coffee shops and playing with our imaginary friends. Though most of us are content with our solitude, we periodically meet up with writer friends or migrate like spawning salmon to conferences, where we bounce ideas off each other like ping-pong balls. Usually, we hit these ideas back and forth and then take our balls and paddles back to our corners, where we once more play with imaginary friends.
Sometimes, in the course of batting around ideas, something magical happens. That rare successful writing partnership is conceived and book babies are born like little miracles.
Let’s take a look at how those little miracles can come about by examining the “W’s” of Writing Partnerships – the What, Why, Who, Where, When, and How. Yes, I know. “How” doesn’t start with a “W.” Which brings me to . . .
The Cardinal Rule of Writing Partnerships: Be flexible.
A writing partnership is a business partnership, and the purpose of business is to make money. I want to be very clear about this. Writing is an art. Publishing is a business. Writing partnerships for the purpose of publishing are businesses.
Business partnerships require controlling documents that establish the nature of the business, define the scope of the partnership, spell out how expenses and profits will be divided, and establish a legal method for the partnership to dissolve. I highly recommend you talk to an attorney in your home state and get them to draw up these essential documents. Even if the two of you are only working on a single project rather than going into long term business together, if it involves money, have a contract that defines the expectations and the financial specifics.
Bottom Line: Lay the foundation of the writing partnership in writing.
What are you going to be writing?
Make sure that you and your partner are on the same page, so to speak. If one of you is writing a romance and the other is writing a literary dystopian high fantasy thriller, you’re going to need the Dissolution Clause from the “What #1” in short order.
Bottom Line: Know what you are writing.
Why would you write with this person?
A. Because we’re friends.
B. Because we came up with the idea together.
C. Because it was my idea first, and I’m afraid they’ll steal it if I don’t tag along for the project.
D. Because each of us brings something to the partnership that the other person doesn’t have.
"D" is the only answer that is likely to bring you a successful business partnership that spawns book babies.
I am half of Bayard & Holmes. My writing partner is a 40+ year veteran of field intelligence. Together, we write factual fiction spy thrillers and non-fiction books about espionage, history, and current events. I bring the writing skill. He brings the espionage experience.
As a partnership, our finished fiction products are the result of our stories, his experience, and my writing. Our finished non-fiction products are his experience, his research, our writing, and my editing. We each have something to bring to the table that is wholly independent of the other, and it results in 1 + 1 = 3.
In another example, it’s a thing now for big name writers to team up with lesser known writers to produce books that have BIG NAME WRITER and lesser known writer on the cover. What that often means—though not always—is that the lesser known writer actually wrote the majority of the book, and the big name writer did some degree of editing and directing of the project. The big name writer brings the audience, and the lesser known writer brings the sweat. Each has something to give that the other doesn’t have.
Trouble starts rapidly when two writers are wearing the same dress to the writing party. When two writers have the same strengths and the same weaknesses, they are lopsided in their overall potential. Competition over the same tasks will arise, and at that point, 1+1= 1/2. Not the best equation for a successful business venture, and Dissolution Clause of “What #1” is imminent.
Bottom Line: Writing partners who enhance each other’s abilities are going to be more successful.
Our best writing partners are people with the same ambition, ability level, and work ethic.
Nothing is more frustrating than being the only horse in the team that is pulling the wagon. Don’t look at what your potential partner promises they will do, look at what they actually have done.
If they have been writing for five years, but they have never completed a manuscript, they’re not a good bet for finishing a book in the next six months. If the manuscript they have completed is not fit to use as kindling for small fires, they aren’t going to magically start writing bestsellers.
If they are aiming to one day self-publish their memoirs, while you are shooting for the bestseller lists, you’re going to be at What #1 before you get through the first draft. Partners need to be able and willing to work at the same pace and at the same level.
Bottom Line: If you’re a draft horse made for heavy hauling, don’t hitch up with a Shetland pony. If you're a Shetland pony, stick with those who will match your pace.
The where of partnerships is not a physical where. Technology puts us all at each other’s fingertips, which is kind of a creepy thought, but moving right along . . .
The “Where” of writing partnerships is “Where is this project going?”
Every business needs a business plan, because the saying “All who wander are not lost” never applied to a business. You need to spell out and agree to timelines for plotting, drafting, and editing, and you need to be on the same page about the delivery details of your book baby. Are you going to self-publish, go indie, or seek out an agent and one of the Big Five? Any of those paths can work, but you both have to be on the same path.
Bottom Line: Make a business plan that suits you both at the beginning of the partnership.
The “When” can be the true beauty of the writing partnership, or it can be the killer blow. Even in the best of partnerships, it’s hard to say which it will be. That’s because Life happens when we’re making plans.
Well-matched partners can produce better work faster than the solo writer. Tasks can be divided and accomplished in three-fourths or even half the time.
For example, Holmes and I often divide by non-fiction and fiction tasks, with him working on our non-fiction titles, while I draft our fiction and ask him lots of questions about the sound of bodies dropping and the finer points of jungle warfare. Together, we have compiled eighteen non-fiction and fiction manuscripts over the past few years, ready to take to market at the time of our choosing. But that’s when things are going well.
In real life, even if we are diligent and write something every day, every writer has down times—times when our creativity is sapped, our kids are sick, we are sick, house guests are visiting, we’re dealing with storms or other natural disasters, or a loved one has died. Those down times can set our plans back, and with two people, those down times can be doubled.
If one partner has a child in the hospital, the other must do double duty to keep to the schedule, or they must agree to let the schedule slip. And sooner or later, the time comes when both partners are down. At that point, it can take monumental commitment to each other and to the project to stay hitched as a team.
Bottom Line: Partnerships can produce twice as much, but they can experience twice the drag.
How do successful writing partnerships work? With communication, humor, and, above all, respect.
You and your partner have to find a way to work together without crushing each other. We all have egos, or we wouldn’t sit down at the [eventual] page thinking it’s okay for trees to die if that’s what it takes to get our words out. We also all come up with different ideas, and many of those ideas suck. Blurting out “That sucks!” at the wrong time can end what would otherwise be a successful partnership.
Diplomacy is always an excellent alternative to crushing condemnation, but style for successful communication depends completely on the individuals in the partnership.
For example, I grew up in the rural Southwest, which means direct verbal confrontation was unheard of unless you were ready to take it outside and mix it up. When I’m off in what Holmes calls My Little Pony Land with my fanciful tangents, and I throw out a horrific idea, he says, “Let me chew on that a while.”
Inevitably, I call him back a few hours later and say, “That idea sucked. Let’s not do that.”
“Yeah. It was epic.” And then we both laugh—hence the humor part of the equation. All writers have to be able to laugh at their stupid ideas if they are going to survive.
Holmes, on the other hand, grew up in a part of New York City where the cops only stopped in to get freebies from the brothels. If he comes up with something that doesn’t work, I say, “That won’t work.”
He says, “Okay. If it doesn’t work, it doesn’t work.” And we move on. He has worked hard over the years to get me comfortable with skipping the diplomacy and going straight to direct contradiction.
You’ll notice, though, that I still don’t say, “That sucks!” Because even hard core Yankee city boys require a certain modicum of . . .
R – E – S – P – E – C - T
Let’s get straight to the bottom line on this point. If you don’t respect each other, or at least become a master of behaving with respect even when you don’t feel it, the partnership, IMHO, is a non-starter. I’m not saying you have to like each other, but you do have to keep top of mind that you chose to work with this person for reasons, and if you took care of your “Why,” they are good reasons. We can’t let any impatience or differences overshadow our respect of our writing partners, or the partnership will not thrive for long.
That takes us back to The Cardinal Rule of Writing Partnerships . . . Be flexible!
Have you ever worked in a writing partnership? What was your experience? What tips would you give?
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Piper Bayard is an author, a recovering attorney, and the managing editor of the Social In Worldwide network. Her writing partner, Jay Holmes, is an anonymous senior member of the intelligence community and a field veteran from the Cold War through the current Global War on Terror. Together, they are the bestselling authors of the international spy thriller, THE SPY BRIDE. You can find Piper at BayardandHolmes.com.