Monday, January 5, 2015

The "Rules" of Co-Writing

For anyone who has followed me anywhere on social media, you'll know I've been doing a lot of co-authoring recently, and I'm constantly being asked how it works and what the process is. So, I figured it was time to share the secrets of my success.

The first time I ever wrote with other authors was back in 2013 when I collaborated with Aria Kane, Melinda Dozier, and Ana Blaze on LOVE AND OTHER GAMES. Each of us wrote our own 20k novella and tied them all together with a common setting and theme. While we were all responsible for our own stories and characters, we worked very closely together to brainstorm the idea, ensure they stories were all linked, and to make sure none of us wrote anything too similar. It was one of the best experiences I've had as an author and couldn't wait to do it again.

At the start of 2014, I hosted the Anaiah Press Co-Author Contest in which I picked one lucky author to co-write and publish an adult romance book with me. Then, later in 2014, I was approached by David Jemal and asked to work on a new series of books, this time a YA dystopian thriller. This was completely different than my previous experience because me and this "stranger" would be working on the same book...together. {GASP!} We would have to merge our voices and writing styles, come to agreements on everything related to the characters, plot, conflict, etc. And once we did all that, we then had to decide who was going to write what.

So, how do we do it without wanting to rip our hair out, scream at each other, scrap the project and give up on writing for the rest of our lives? Here are my top 5 "rules" for co-writing a book:

1. Communicate. I cannot stress this enough. If you and your co-author aren't able or willing to talk to each other, then the project is doomed from the start. Talk often. Talk about everything, even things unrelated to the book. Become friends.

2. Negotiate. There are going to be times when you and your co-author don't agree on something. It's inevitable. You have to be willing to negotiate. Find a compromise you can both be happy with, and then move on. Don't pout because you didn't get your way. Just let it go! For example, during the editorial process for DANGEROUS LOVE, there was a scene I had written where Dr. Parker falls to his knees. Our editor and Jody felt it was too much and should be removed. I'll admit, I tried to defend that scene. lol. But in the end, I realized I needed to compromise. So I did, and now that scene is much stronger as a result.

3. Establish Expectations. Every author has their own processes and methods and abilities to work at different speeds. Figure out what they are, and then set reasonable expectations. If this is the only project your co-author has at the time and you have several, then be honest about how much time you can devote to this project. If you can only write one chapter a week, then say so. If your co-author can and will write more, then so be it. On this point, I do recommend balancing the workload. If one author is writing more than the other, then the other should do something later to compensate. For example, while writing INFERNO with David, he wrote a majority of the first draft due to other commitments I had. So, to balance things out, I handled writing the query letter, synopsis, and a bulk of the edits.

4. Check your ego at the door. There's no room for it in a partnership like this. Yes you need to believe in what you're writing, but not so much so that you think every single word you put on the page is golden. You have to be willing to allow your co-author the freedom to make suggestions and even change your words at times. It will sting a little at first, but trust me, in the end, you will have a more cohesive, well written story.

5. Have fun! Not everyone can write a book with another person. It takes a lot of patience and a willingness to be flexible. So, if you can do it, have fun! Brainstorm crazy ideas and laugh about them. Joke about the mistakes you both make -- because you will make them  -- and congratulate each other when you write that perfect line or work through that major plot hole.

As any author knows, writing a book is a very personal, solitary experience. To open yourself up and share the entire process with someone else is nerve wracking and terrifying. But having done it a few times now, I wouldn't trade it for anything! I've made a couple of wonderful friends as a a result and have written new books I am so proud of.

Have you ever co-written a book? What worked or didn't work for you? 
Share your experiences in the comments!