Several years ago, when I lived in the San Francisco Bay Area, I took a writing class from a woman teacher and met Carole, who became my writing partner for three novels. Since two of them have been sold to publishers and the third is currently being read at a publisher, I consider this a successful collaboration and hope our method will inspire other authors.
Not that I’m encouraging writers to seek out a partner. When our collaboration began it wasn’t because we planned it. The teacher conducted a “workshop” style of class and encouraged writers to read their work aloud and let the other members critique it. This resulted in my learning that Carole, an intelligent well-educated young woman, was a fine writer and had a good command of language. I, on the other hand, excelled in action scenes and lots of dialogue. At about the same time, we both realized our styles complemented each other and might, therefore, be an asset in writing romance novels, which had become popular at the time.
That teacher also introduced us to a larger critique group of about 30 women who met in an unused room at a local Sears department store. All were writing romance novels and some were selling them to Harlequin and other publishers and making money. With my son’s tuition bills a considerable expense, I wanted to do that too. Carole had read some romance novels and I borrowed three of them from her, resulting in my saying, “I can do that.”
I’ve told how I managed to become a romance author elsewhere, so won’t repeat it here. This post is about co-authoring and, inasmuch as Carole and I were rather successful at it, I can suggest some tips to others about how we worked together.
1. Choose someone as much like yourself as possible. Although Carole still had a day job (schoolteacher), we lived in the same town and could get together on weekends or the summer break, so we became friends as well. We both had middle-class backgrounds, were close to the same age, and even each grew up with a sister. Neither of us had sold any of our writing at that time, so we were both “newbies” and open to learning all we could.
2. Respect your partner's talent and style. I soon learned that Carole was a “word” person and I was a “story” person. These were my own descriptions, and I later wrote an article explaining that, which was published in a writers’ magazine. I also used it as the basis of talks I gave to several RWA chapters in California. Carole’s original method was sitting in front of the typewriter, trying to find the perfect word, for the perfect sentence, to put in the perfect paragraph. This could take hours, whereas I could dash off an entire 3000-word story in one day. I called my method “down and dirty.” Sure, it needed rewriting and improving, but that’s where our collaboration came in.
3. The process. Having decided to write a romance novel, we first “brainstormed” the plot, and sometimes those synopses ran to 15 pages. Then I wrote the first chapter, getting the action going and using plenty of dialogue. Next I handed the pages to Carole and she’d improve the language, add descriptions, and use similes and metaphors that elevated the writing.
4. Work together. This meant discussing what each of us brought to the project and making sure we both agreed with the outcome. Sometimes I thought Carole inserted too many adjectives, and sometimes Carole thought we needed to add more backstory about our characters.
The only serious disagreement we had during one of those sessions was about the attitude of the hero. I had written the scene with him feeling one way, and Carole thought it was unrealistic. We slept on it and then I asked my husband what he would do if he were the hero and he said I was right. At that time, Carole had not yet met the man she married, but she finally agreed with me.
5. Details. As I said earlier, we wrote three books together this way, but then my husband retired and we moved out of the Bay Area. We still kept in touch and - since I had more time to devote to it - I was the person who submitted our books to publishers, and, from time to time, Carole would send me a check to reimburse me for paper, envelopes and postage.
6. Other Rewards. Each of us continued to write our own novels. Carole wrote a historical romance she later had published and I wrote eleven books in the next thirteen years. In addition, when one of our three co-written books was returned, I sometimes rewrote it somewhat, taking advantage of comments by editors or things I was learning through reading writers’ magazines and books, or through classes and critique groups I joined.
I sold seven of my self-written books, and then, as I mentioned in an earlier blog post here, I finally sold the first book Carole and I had written together, SOUTHERN STAR. Avalon Books took it, sent us generous advance checks and then went out of business. However, they sold the company to Amazon and we became Montlake Romance authors.
In addition, thanks to e-mail and compatible computer software, we rewrote our other two novels together to bring them up to date and to satisfy publishers’ requirements. That, as before, was another fulfilling experience.
Carole, too, has written more books on her own. I can’t speak specifically for her about her new methods, but as for me, what I learned while we collaborated obviously made me a better writer. I learned how to write interesting descriptions (I used to hate descriptions) and I found myself enjoying thinking up similes and metaphors to add to my otherwise “plain vanilla” writing. So, in addition to selling the books we wrote together, we established a lasting friendship and continue to write and publish novels.
If you’re thinking about co-authoring, or have it thrust upon you in some way, take our advice and go for it. It might be one of the best moves you ever make.
P.S. If you’ve already done it, tell me about your experience, good or bad, in the comments.