I’m guessing that quite a lot of those books you see on Amazon – you know the ones, Dinglesplotchit, by Famous J Author and Unknown Newbie, rely on Famous J Author’s name and Unknown Newbie’s effort. They appear to be co-authored, but are they really? Do they really sit down and thrash out each page together, or does Famous J Author just agree to lend his name to the project as long as it’s not total garbage?
I doubt that I’ll ever know.
What I do know is that
I’ve spent the last year working on a writing project – a book and a number of short stories, with my son. It wasn’t easy. There were times when tempers were fraught. But we got through it, and overall I’d say I look forward to doing it again.
So, if you find yourself having one of those conversations – ‘great idea – why don’t we work on it together’ here are seven things you need to do to make the project a success and make sure you’re still on speaking terms at the end of it.
- Only co-author with someone whose opinion you value. Many writers are control freaks when it comes to their work, and while most books are collaborative projects, with input from family, friends and sometimes a host of technical advisers, the author always has the right to say ‘no.’ If you’re always going to do it your way, you don’t need a co-author, you need a friend. If you believe that your co-author might even do a better job than you, then your project has a chance of success. In our case I have the advantage of age and writing experience, but my son is closer to the age of the target demographic, closer to the age of the protagonist and has formal training. His writing is often better than mine. I could ignore what he says, but I’d be an idiot.
- Find a way to divide the work. Our book, “Waterborne” is written from multiple points of view. We divided the characters between us and the result was that the characters have genuinely different ‘voices’. You both need to write. If you end up with situation where on person writes and the other comments, you’ve a recipe for disaster. It might work for scientific papers, but not for novels.
- Try to make your criticisms constructive. It’s not rocket science. If you want to work with someone, don’t offend them.
- Develop a veto policy right at the start. We agreed that we both had to be happy with the what was written, but you could take things in another direction and allow one writer to take control of a scene or a chapter. Do what works for you, but agree it up front and stick to it.
- Work out a detailed outline before you start writing, and then stick to it. We worked out a rough outline and started there. IT didn’t work. Too many things changed and the whole process took far too long. For our next project we’ve decided to work out a much more detailed outline and make sure it works before we divide up the work and start writing.
- Make sure you’re both writing the same book. If you’re writing a piece of young adult fiction, make sure your co-author’s not working on a literary novel for the over fifties.
- When you make decisions, write them up. No – you don’t need to take minutes of your meetings, but do record the decisions. There will be days when neither of you remember, or you both remember different things.
Have you ever written something with someone else? How did it work out? Would you do it again?
I’d love to learn more from your comments.