When Writers Team Up, What?

Hey all. Gerry Boyle here, with a question for the group and anyone else out there in the crimewriter blogosphere.

I’m beginning a collaboration with another writer. We’re writing a crime novel together and we’re both psyched about it. We have a rough plan on how to proceed, taking best advantage of our respective skills. I love writing dialogue and action; she’s smart, savvy, on the ground, and has access to some key players in the crime in question.

I mean, I’m talking sources to die for. So to speak.

I know many writers have done collaborations before so I’d like to learn from their experiences. So here’s the question(s): Have you collaborated on a book before? How did you manage the process? What are common mistakes that first-time collaborators make?

I await your wise counsel.

Kate Flora: Interesting question, Gerry. I got into a collaboration on Finding Amy to help out a friend. As a solitary person, I had no idea what to expect, never mind any idea what I was doing. From the outset, we had a pretty clear understanding of how we would share the work, and that the credit for, and income from, the project would be shared equally. It was nonfiction, and took much longer than I had imagined, so I swore I would never do it again. But in terms of sharing, arguing our way to consensus, someone to be up when the other was discouraged–everything about it was a pleasant surprise.

So, what do you need to know when you start? That clear understanding of how the work load will be shared, and how the credit will be shared. I think it would be wise, if you haven’t done so, to have a sense of each other’s other time pressures, and a shared commitment to meet a deadline. And a conversation about how you will resolve issues of plot, character, and story when you disagree. Also a sense of whether your contributions will feel equal when you really get rolling.

Sounds like you are fictionalizing a real crime? Very interesting. You say you are writing a “novel” but that you co-writer has access to the key players in the crime in question. So you already know that you need to be careful about mixing the real world with fiction where someone’s nose may be out of joint, and their lawyer on speed dial.

Barb: Interesting, Gerry. I’m wondering if I’ve met your collaborator?

I tried collaborating with a friend on a book once. I was the fiction writer, and as with Gerry, she had the resources and connection to the real events that spawned the story. It was too early in my career and I didn’t know enough about what I was doing to be the fiction writer in the partnership and we didn’t finish. Strangely enough, the events we wrote about became the basis for my short story in Best New England Crime Stories 2013: Blood Moon, which comes out in November.

By the time Mark, Kathy, Leslie and I took over editing the Best New England Crime Stories series, we’d been in a writers group for 15 years and were good friends. We vowed it wouldn’t hurt the friendships and so far it hasn’t. It does give me back two of the things I miss most from my corporate life–working with a high-functioning team toward a common goal, and a rhythm and shape to my year. (I can hear Mark guffawing about the “high-functioning” part as I type this. And since the books are currently “stuck” at the printers, I can hear Kathy giggling–hysterically–as well.)

Paul Doiron: I have never collaborated with another author, although in a way I see all of my books as collaborations of sorts. I have first readers to whom I give the early drafts; they offer me feedback which I use to change the stories. And then my agent and editor will read the book, and they will provide suggestions. Finally, I can’t overstate the impact the copy editor can have on altering the text (one always hopes for the better), and an author always prays that he or she gets the best proofreader in the house, as well. The writer is in control throughout this entire process. You can always say “yea” or “nay,” and the final words are yours, but there is a team at work behind the scenes that is invisible to the reader.

Kaitlyn Dunnett: I’m not going to be much help here, Gerry. The only collaboration I’ve ever done was at age fifteen or so when a friend and I wrote a piece of what would now be called “fan fic.” We each took our favorite t.v. character, added ourselves as their love interests, and proceeded to write, in longhand, a “novel” of about twenty pages. Deathless prose, I’m sure.

Just on the practical side, though, I’ve often heard people say that no matter how well you get along with your writing partner you should have a legal contract drawn up to specify who does what, how credit will be assigned, and all those nasty little details that have to do with money. Just sayin’.

 

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5 Responses to When Writers Team Up, What?

  1. John Clark says:

    The first non-newspaper piece I ever had published was a chapter called Revamping and Marketing the Mental Health Library that was part of a book put out by Scarecrow Press called Libraries in Mental Health Settings. Working with other librarians in similar settings across the U.S. and Canada was a mix of scary and flattering. I had no clue how to go about it and the first draft was a disaster, all in the first person and awkward as heck. Fortunately, we had a marvelous editor, Mary Johnson, who was well versed in herding cats and had previous editorial experience. She guided me through the revision process, those involved supported each other through the sticky process of chapter sequence and cohesion and we got-er-done. Perhaps the most valuable lesson I learned from the process was when to ask for help and when to give it.

  2. Susan F says:

    I’ve never written a full-length book, but a few years back wrote newspaper articles about Alaska with Will Swagel. We met regularly, kept it fun, yet divided the research and stayed on track. After each session, we would think of the next step process on our own, and then re-convene and debate who was right – both, neither or some combination. One trick is having specific reasons for why the project should follow one direction or the other.

    Good luck!

  3. Gerry Boyle says:

    Thanks! All good advice, from $$$ to daily planning. I’ll set out a little wiser. Should be fun.

  4. MCWriTers says:

    Gerry: Got some feedback on Facebook as well, like this comment from Michael Mallory:

    Make sure you share the same vision for the piece or are close enough. Are both parties willing to compromise. Dawn is right in that it helps to have responsibilities in writing before the project starts, something they lays out who does what and how the collaboration will work. When I collaborated with long time friend Marilyn Victor on our Snake Jones series we had a motto: “Our friendship was more important than the book and the book was more important than our egos.”

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