Conferences / Writing

Collaboration, the odds are against you…

For today’s topic, I wanted to share some information I received during my recent trip to Tulsa.  One of the Conestoga panels was about collaborating–co-writing a book, in other words.  I attended the panel because I’ve often thought of collaborating with either my friend Syd, my brother-in-law Pat, or my nieces Savannah and Victoria.  All four of these potential partners are aspiring authors, and we’ve all spent a little time trading ideas and even outlining briefly.  However, none of the projects have ventured past the outline stage (mainly because we’re all too busy with real life).  But I went to the panel in hopes of learning the secrets of collaboration.  The panel had six authors–three pairs–and each pair had a different relationship and approached collaboration in their own unique way.

1) Christopher Fulbright and Angeline Hawkes have co-written a few books…and also happen to be married (I respect them, because I can’t imagine writing with my husband, ha).  One of them will have an idea, and then he/she pitches it to the other.  If they agree to work on it together, they decide on a strict outline they can both live with.  Then one will write the first scene and send it to the other.  The second person edits the first scene and then writes the second scene.  They continue back and forth like this until the book is finished.  There’s usually only one POV/voice, so they have to mesh their two voices together to sound like one.  If they happen to disagree about something in the story, they let their editor decide who is “right.”

2) Selina Rosen and Laura Underwood are collaborators and friends.  I was surprised to hear that they don’t really outline beforehand.  They know how the story ends, but that’s about it.  Another difference–they each write a unique POV.  So the book switches POVs every chapter.  The two ladies take turns writing chapters until the book is done.  

3) P. C. Cast (mother) and Kristin Cast (daughter) are the bestselling authors of the House of Night books.  These two were very funny and interesting to listen to.  The mother outlines and writes the book how she wants to, then sends it to her daughter.  The daughter rewrites it in a younger voice, fixes problems, and fills in current slang and fads.  The mother almost always overrules the daughter in major issues such as plot and characters.  

As you can see, all three pairs used very different collaborating styles.  But one thing they all agreed on–they would never collaborate with someone who wasn’t friend/family (unless it was for a lot of money, ha).  They said a common thread is necessary or else it will never work.  You have to be frank and honest with your partner, and you have to be willing to compromise.  Most of them said it was easier to write solo than with a partner.  The exception was the mother; she can write much faster because she knows her daughter will fill in the holes and catch mistakes.  But she said it only worked that well because of their mother-daughter connection.  The mother had tried collaborating with a friend before, and it had been much harder (and probably not as much fun).  

Another issue came up during the panel, one that I had never considered before.  They said some people want to collaborate because they think it will be easier to write or the book will be better, thus they’ll be more likely to get published.  But the panel said it’s actually the opposite–it’s harder to sell a collaborative book (can someone explain to me the reasoning behind this?  Are readers less likely to buy a book with two authors??).  The exception is if one (or both) of the authors is already a big name/established author.  If both authors are rookies, they have a very small chance of selling a book together.  Interesting…and disappointing.  

However, when I was considering collaboration, I wasn’t thinking about our chances of getting published.  I was thinking about how much fun it would be to make up funny dialogue with Syd, bounce ideas off Pat, or spend time with Savannah and Victoria.  I’m at a point in my life where I’m trying to develop my writing skills as much as possible, and that includes working with other writers.  Who knows what I could learn while picking the brain of a fellow author?

The Conestoga panel was very informative, and the authors were nice enough to answer all my questions.  I came out of there thinking that collaboration was a lot harder than I’d realized.  I haven’t given up all hope for it though.  Someday–maybe when I’m done with my current series–perhaps I’ll co-write a book with a friend or family member.  Even if it doesn’t sell, it would certainly be a learning experience.  

So any thoughts on collaboration?  Ever tried it or considered it?  Do you know of any pros or cons I haven’t mentioned here?  I would love to hear ideas/opinions!  

P.S.  I’ll be out of town Thursday through Sunday.  Hopefully I’ll be able to use the Internet in my hotel room…but that’s what I’d expected in Tulsa, too.  So if I don’t blog on Friday, I’ll be back here on Tuesday!  Have a good week!

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8 thoughts on “Collaboration, the odds are against you…

  1. I found your site on technorati and read a few of your other posts. Keep up the good work. I just added your RSS feed to my Google News Reader. Looking forward to reading more from you down the road!

  2. Are readers less likely to buy a book with two authors??

    i think so. first off, it’s unusual, and people tend to resist change. there’s also a possibility that the book will suck twice as bad because 2 different people = 2 different ideas of where to take the story. and if the authors break-up messily and publicly, that could also hurt sales…

    The exception is if one (or both) of the authors is already a big name/established author.

    i can see that. jenny crusie and bob mayer collaborated on a few books. this is their website: http://www.crusiemayer.com/index.htm they used to have a blog, but i don’t see a link for it on that page, so maybe they disbanded that. — no, never mind, evidently, they’re turning their blog into a “how to” book: http://www.crusiemayer.com/workshop/

    i was rather wary of trying their collaborative books. i was (am) a fan of jenny crusie’s books, but i wasn’t sure i’d like mayer’s writing; combine that with a lacklustre response/average reviews (from dearauthor.com and smartbitchestrashybooks.com, mainly), i didn’t pick up their books until i think a year or two after they were released. perhaps due in part to lowered expectations, i did end up enjoying them more than i thought i would. but for the most part, i do tend to be wary of collaborations/ghost-written books, and while i will likely continue to read crusie, i wasn’t left with a huge desire to seek out bob mayer’s solo books.

  3. I’m a fan of Crusie too, and I did read “Don’t Look Down” by Mayer and Crusie. I enjoyed it, but not as much as Crusie’s solo books I had read. I haven’t read any of Mayer’s solo books. So it’s interesting how that collaboration was viewed by readers.

    there’s also a possibility that the book will suck twice as bad because 2 different people = 2 different ideas of where to take the story

    LOL, good point! Collaboration isn’t easy–it requires a lot of compromise. And maybe sometimes that compromise doesn’t turn out too hot. I think a well-written collaborative could bring together the best the two authors have to offer….but not if they can’t agree on how to do it. And I hadn’t even considered how a “break-up” could hurt sales…interesting. Thanks for your comment!

  4. oh, also. i forgot to mention this yesterday, but i know of at least two romance writers who collaborate, but only under one (pen) name. i can’t recall who it is at the moment, but this is one other way to produce a book, though people won’t know who the collaborators are in this case.

    janet evanovich and charlotte [something] were writing a series together, but have now broken up. i’m not sure what it did to the series, though evanovich is very likely doing fine with the stephanie plum books. it would probably hurt the lesser known author more than the famous one.

  5. Two writers under one pen name?? That’s ironic, because I was just talking about something similar to a friend the other day, but I didn’t know if it had actually been done before. So they meant to keep the collaboration a secret? How did you find out there were two of them??

  6. I’m pretty sure I read about it on SBTB.com. How they found out about it, I’m not sure. Perhaps the writers eventually came out? Or it somehow got leaked. . .

    Some writers also have ghost-writers — someone else writes the book, but it has Big Name Author’s name on front so it’ll sell/more readily catch someone’s eye. Which is sort of like having a pen-name, I guess, or a brand name. I’m not sure if/how the ghost-writers are credited; I can’t recall if their names are on the cover.

  7. I wonder if the info was leaked to SBTB somehow. It seems odd to go to the trouble of writing under one name just to reveal it later on. Secrets that aren’t really secrets kind of annoy me.

    I’ve often been curious about how ghost-writers work, and whether or not they get any credit. Seems like it could be a thankless job. Interesting topics…. 🙂

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