Monday, November 24, 2014

The Secrets to Co-Writing a Book

I feel a tiny bit deceitful writing this post. First, the title implies that I've co-written many books before, and second, that I have some kind of formula for being successful at it. Neither of those things are true.

I am, however, currently co-writing a book. And I have, however, learned a lot about what works and what doesn't through our many stops and starts along this path to our almost-finished first draft. I figure, why not share those now before you get started with your partner instead of starting and stopping a million times like we did? So, I bestow you with my sorta-kinda wisdom of co-authorship:

Pick the Right Partner. I know, I know. This seems like a no-brainer. But you'd be surprised how many partnerships fail when they stretch from "just friends" into "business partners" territory. And that's really what co-authoring a book, is: a business plan. It's our intent to write a marketable book, present it to our agents, and sell it. This is a business transaction, and then it's a friendship. That means you need to pick someone that has a writing style that gels with yours, who works in the same manner you do, has similar goals for the story and the finished product as you do. And, most importantly, will be honest with you and you're comfortable showing your very crappy rough draft work to. But underneath all that, there's the friendship element that matters too: Do you genuinely enjoy this person? Do you like talking to them, outside of book-related things? Do you feel like this person is caring and understanding of your life situations, if by chance you won't be able to make a writing deadline you set? Both of these elements matter. Choose wisely.

Sign a Co-Authorship Agreement. My partner and I are still working out the details of this, but basically: put something in writing. It doesn't matter so much during the drafting phase, but as you get into the publishing phase, you'll need to set some terms. What if you sell the book and then one of you wants to back out? What if only one of you can't make the publisher's deadline, so the other picks up all the slack and then you both get the same cut of the money? These are all possibilities. Life happens. It's important to protect yourself, your friendship, and your work.

Create a System That Works For Both of You. One of the reason why our first plan to co-write crashed and burned was because we didn't really have a system, or at least not one that made sense. We shared a Google doc with our story, and then we'd text and email each other our thoughts as we went. This did not work, for obvious reasons. Texts get deleted, emails get lost in the void, and stuff did not turn out the way either of us thought. If you're going to have two people with two totally different brains writing a story, you have to get organized. We still have our massive Google doc where we keep adding on chapters, but we also have a folder with separate docs for each chapter. After one of us writes, we'll also create a new doc for the chapter we've finished and jot down our general thoughts, where we think the story is going, and notes about what we'll need to fix in revisions. We also go back and comment on each other's notes before we write the next chapter to clear up any confusion. So far, this has worked well. It's allowed us to still dialogue about our story, but all of our notes are in the same place and will be easy to sort through in the revision stage.

Find a Pace and Keep Going. Momentum is crucial here. I'd say it's even more important with a co-authored project than one you write on your own because you're building off someone else's ideas. When I sit down to write after my partner's finished a chapter, it takes me longer to get back into the project because I have to re-read her chapter, notes, thoughts, and try to put myself into her head before I keep going. Imagine trying to do that when it's been a week since you've worked on this story. You lose passion for the story quickly. For us, it's been important to set a deadline that works for both of us. We started with a 24 hour chapter turn-around, but bumped it up to 48 hours. I have small kids at home, and sometimes it's just damn impossible to get a chapter done within 24 hours. It works better for each of us to have 48 hours to finish a chapter and get it up on the doc, and it's still at a pretty fast clip so that we don't lose our momentum.

With these systems in order, it has been such a blast writing this book with my partner. When you're organized about the nitty gritty stuff, you can allow the magic to happen. Her brain works so differently than mine and it's been fun to watch the direction she'll take the story in before I pull it back in my direction. And bonus: it's created natural tension in the plot, which is awesome.

Have you co-written a book before? Am I missing anything? What system did you put into place to help get you through?

Andrea Hannah writes about delusional girls, disappearances, and darkness with a touch of magic. When she's not writing, Andrea runs, teaches, consumes epic amounts of caffeine, and tries to figure out how to prevent her pug from opening the refrigerator (unsuccessful to date). She's represented by Victoria Marini of Gelfman-Schneider/ICM, and her debut novel, OF SCARS AND STARDUST, is coming from Flux in Fall 2014. You can add it on Goodreads here!

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