I’ve been talking a lot about collaborating on a novel and also in anthologies these days. (I co-wrote my latest book with Hazel Gaynor). I wasn’t prepared for how many people would be fascinated by what it would be like to work on a book with someone else so I thought I’d share that with you all today.
Writing is a solitary and very personal process. Alone at our writing desks, we struggle with word count and plot, accompanied only by our self-doubt and determination. It’s no wonder then, that the prospect of sharing some of that isolation with another writer is so appealing. Yet, a collaborative novel is a relatively rare, and slightly mythical concept. How do individual writers, with unique styles and voices, come together to produce a cohesive novel with seamless prose? Are the challenges worth the rewards, and what - if anything - can we learn from working so closely with another writer? Let’s take at look at how this might work.
TIPS FOR COLLABORATIVE SUCCESS:
Choose your writing partner wisely. Your best friend is not necessarily your best writing partner—just like they often don’t make the best roommate. Besties can become lazy in their communication because they assume you know what’s going on in their lives, or they assume you know what they’re thinking, how they feel, etc. To make this work, you need a satisfying working relationship in which you can trust each other and drive a hard business line if necessary.
Have a clear vision for the book. Make sure you are on the same page from the start to avoid in-fighting or any sticky issues down the road. In other words, you need to both agree on the shaping of your main character as well as the revolution of the story, etc.
Agree on a writing schedule you can both commit to. It’s incredibly important to set a schedule, dividing the work time in a way that makes sense. Each person must commit to this schedule--treat it like a business appointment--or the book won’t come together in a timely fashion. (And you might also tick off your partner for not following through on your end of the bargain.)
Leave egos at the door. Co-writing isn’t about who is right or wrong, or who is the best writer. You’re combining your strengths and bringing out the best in each other, at least this is the goal. Make the right choices for the story, not which makes you feel like “the best”.
Be flexible. This may be the most important aspect of co-writing. You’ll learn a lot about your co-authors’ kids, pets, and family life! Expect the unexpected. Being a control freak while working with another person will cause a lot of unnecessary friction. Above all, be open to suggestion.
Meet/chat regularly. Continual communication is vital. Never assume you know what the other is thinking, or feeling. Again, set a schedule in which you touch base if not daily, weekly.
Commit. If it is your day to work on the book, work on the book. When it comes to promotion, if you say you’ll write an article, write an article. If you don’t feel like you can commit solidly to this plan, don’t. And maybe you should consider working only on your solo projects.
Have fun. This is a unique experience. Enjoy it! If you aren’t having a good time, why bother doing all the work involved in co-writing?
Celebrate milestones. This is the best part! When drafts are finished, covers are revealed, and foreign sales come in, toast your accomplishments! All that hard work should be rewarded.
Have you ever worked on a collaborative effort? What were the pitfalls? The strengths? Would you try it again—or does it not appeal to you at all?
* * * * * *
Heather Webb is the international bestselling author of historical novels Becoming Josephine, Rodin's Lover, and Last Christmas in Paris, which have been featured in the New York Times, Wall Street Journal, France Magazine and more, as well as received national starred reviews. In 2015, Rodin's Lover was selected as a Goodreads Top Pick. To date, Heather's novels have sold in multiple countries worldwide. She is also a professional freelance editor, foodie, and travel fiend. She lives in New England with her family and one feisty rabbit.
Hazel Gaynor is the New York Times bestselling author of The Girl Who Came Home, A Memory of Violets, The Girl from the Savoy, and her latest release, The Cottingley Secret. She is also the recipient of the 2015 RNA Historical Novel of the Year award. Hazel lives in Ireland with her husband and children.
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You have my utmost respect. I love many people, but I couldn't/wouldn't write with anyone, ever. See, writing is the ONE place in my life, that I don't have to consider anyone else's opinion, collaborate, settle, or try to get along.
It's one of the best things I like about it! So in spite of Fae trying to get me to write a sci-fi-fi/alien-bull-riding book (aside from the obvious problem-the subject), I'm not doing it!
But a sci-fi/alien-bull-riding book? I would totally read that! 😉
Who WOULDN'T read a sci-fi alien bull-riding book? Holy cow, that's crazy.
Some day I'm going to get Laura to agree to the book. I think it would be fun to write together and heck, maybe it would become a series!
I'm with Julie and Jenny on this! LOL
Well, that'd be the ONLY three sales we'd have!
I bet it would sell more copies than that...there's obviously a market for it (this was only my first google search on the subject): https://best-sci-fi-books.com/15-best-science-fiction-western-books/
And THANK YOU, Denise!
Well, I wouldn't buy one, but they have the BEST titles! Dragon Wrangler? Night of the Cooters? Zeppelins West? LONE STAR PLANET?!! OMG, love it!
You ladies are crazy! Ha ha! I know what you mean. Working with someone else can be tough, but that is also its strength. Two heads are better than one, I say!
I could see co-writing with someone, but as you say, it would have to be a careful selection. I'd want it to be someone I could not only work well with, but who is strong in writing skills where I'm weak and vice versa.
I'm not ready yet, but maybe someday. Thanks for the great tips!
It's interesting how it works, Julie. Hazel and I weren't all that methodical. We knew we liked each other, liked each other's work, and had the same agent, and that was in the end of it. Thanks for stopping by today!
I would TOTALLY write write with someone. Julie's caveat applies that it would be awesome if it was someone who was strong where I was weak. Co-authoring has the extra help of keeping everyone on task and I'd appreciate the extra discipline. 🙂
Jenny, what is interesting is that you don't always go to the table with something so concrete, ie. she's good at this and I'm good at that. Most writers aren't all that clear on their strengths or where they rate against their colleagues. It just sort of happens naturally, that you and you partner bring out the best in each other. If it's not natural, ABANDON SHIP!!!!!!
after seeing a few people I know try it (and the complaints even though they thought they sorted it out before they started), and knowing how I write, I don't believe I would co-write with anyone.
Oh, it's all about timing and the right partner. I suppose it's about who you are as well. Never say never! I didn't have it on my radar at all, and now we have a bestseller on our hands... 😀
much congratulations to you (both of you)! I remember "talking" to you on Bloom (Tall Poppies).
I also was sent a google drive shared doc from a friend who failed to mention she was co-writing. She wanted me to edit it, but it was problematic for me. I had edited her previous three books, but this was not a good fit. Too much purple prose, wasn't sure who wrote what, and trying to not hurt feelings. I stepped away. Not worth losing a friendship. 🙂
It would definitely be like a marriage...
Yes, or like a good relationship with a critique partner who isn't afraid to deliver the cold, hard truth. 🙂
Right now my critique group of three other writers seems like we are all writing each other's stories. I often have to bite my tongue when I listen to their "ideas" for my WIP so that is about all the collaboration I can handle.
Yep, writing is an incredibly personal endeavor. I think that's why all the critiques and suggestions are so difficult sometimes. They're necessary...but difficult.
They may not be the best choice of partner. It's worth mentioning that none of my crit partners are my writing collaboration partner. 😀
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Thanks for the good advice. 🙂 --- Suzanne
My co-writer and I are about to publish the 4th story in our Hours of the Night series (2 novels & 2 novellas, and counting.) I agree with most of what you guys say, although to be honest, neither of us set out to find someone to write books with. For us, your "choose your partner wisely" rule translated as "get really, really lucky."
For that matter, "have a clear vision for the book" is also something of a work in progress. We might think we know where we're going, but we've had our biggest snarl-ups over what seem like minor details - until several chapters or even books later, when we figure out we each assumed something completely different regarding character's underlying motivations. For us it seems to work better to take smaller bites and hash them out as we go, rather than pick some global concept before we put words on the page.
I don't mean to pick at each of your points, but I will say "agree on a writing schedule etc" is something else we've learned by doing. We alternate scenes/chapters, and Irene might take a week or even longer to send me something that I can turn back around in a day. I think if we had started out with a "plan", we'd likely have pissed each other off by not meeting a set of artificial expectations.
The rest is golden! Co-writing is not about ego, but it truly demands flexibility and commitment. The fun parts - like when she sends me back a chapter and I fall in love with our characters all over again - make everything else worthwhile.
You should agree between both who will do the editing unless there is a 3rd party doing that job..