Tuesday, July 20, 2010

Collaborations between writers

Would you ever collaborate with another writer on a book?

I started thinking about this when I spoke to MJ Goodnow, an online friend whose recently released SF novel Red Storm Regime was co-authored with writer Marie Pacha. Curious, I asked how they had divided up the work. MJ explained that he did the first draft and Marie took it from there, but he had a final say. She also developed his characters further and added a few new characters.

I asked whether they had ever disagreed. He laughed and replied that they had discussed differences of opinion and worked it out.

The reason I’d never considered a collaboration - and was wondering about disagreements - was because when I first become interested in publishing, I found this article by author Holly Lisle. She didn’t have a good experience with collaboration and she describes it in detail, though she also suggests ways to improve the experience and avoid pitfalls.

Collaborations are much more work than solo novels. They can be much more frustrating. They present special legal problems. They can cost you in a lot of hidden ways.

On the other hand, three successful collaborations came to mind right away. C. T. Adams and Cathy Clamp, Spider and Jeanne Robinson and Judith Michael – the pen name of husband-and-wife team Judith Barnard and Michael Fain. Still, that’s only three. If anyone knows of any others, please drop me a line in the comments section.

I thought a bit more about collaborating with another writer and realized that while it might work well for others, I would most likely never be able to do this. A couple of reasons why…

1. Sharing creative control

I’m a control freak (due to a demanding upbringing and a peripatetic past where it wasn’t even clear whether I could continue to live in the countries where I’d grown up). My work was the one aspect of my life where things always went the way I wanted them to go. So the idea of someone else being able to legally redraw the map of Eden or change the one biological weakness of Weaponbearers is a bit disturbing.

Critiques, revisions and editing are different. My friend Jordan suggested a change to the first draft of The Mark of Vurth that was, quite simply, a brilliant idea which ended up shaping the entire book. I also like having an agent’s or editor’s input, because the creative details rarely if ever get changed, and I’m flexible plot-wise.

Besides, when doing revisions or editing, writers are still in charge. An editor will point out when something doesn’t work, but won’t step in there to rewrite it. The characters and the world and the events are still mine. All mine! My precioussss…


2. Deadlines and expectations

I’ve been planning for months to write the sequel to Before the Storm, During the Fire, over the summer. So being the Type A personality that I am, I wrote 93K words over five weeks, ending up so exhausted that I slept for most of the weekend (and still feel kind of fuzzy). But I completed it. Made my self-imposed deadline.

But could I realistically expect that from another person? I was able to do little except drink tea and write for days on end because I didn’t have school, didn’t have work and didn’t have a family to take care of. When you work with another person, you have to keep their schedule in mind as well – and what if that other person has problems that delay their share of the work?

Not to mention that it’s best to have a contract between co-authors that defines who owns what, how the royalties are to be divided, etc. and that’s just too much hassle for me, especially if I can manage the book on my own.

So these are my own reasons for my choice. But I would love to hear from other writers on this topic. Would you ever collaborate with someone else, or have you already done so? What are your thoughts on it?

Image from: http://www.jupiterimages.com/Image/royaltyFree/88374722


fairyhedgehog said...

I loved Good Omens which is a collaboration between Terry Pratchett and Neil Gaiman.

I'm not sure I'd be able to collaborate with another writer but if you could think up the story together it might be fun.

Diandra said...

I think I might collaborate with another writer if we knew each other close enough. But I guess it would be rather difficult.

Vegetarian Cannibal said...

When I was in middle school, I worked on a comic with a bunch of friends and that was really fun...but a novel is so personal, I doubt I could collaborate on that without butting heads with the other author. Besides, I don't know any authors I'd want to collaborate with!

Marian Perera said...

One reason to collaborate with another author that would work for me: the other author is a Big Name. Sales are likely to be good as a result.

On the other hand, chances are I'd be playing in their universe and they'd hold most of the clout in the partnership. So it's a tossup.

Marie Pacha said...

MJ and I live approximately 1,000 miles apart and communicated a lot by telephone in the early days of the project. When he first explained the project to me, I saw a great deal of potential.
When I read his rough draft, I realized there was room to expand and improve. From the beginning, he said that I was inside his head, as if I knew where he wanted it to go, but he hadn't seen the path clearly by himself.
The first week I added some 20,000 words (it was a pretty intense
writing period.) Some subplots developed, and characters gained a great deal of depth.
There were times when I outright told MJ "NO! We can't do that." There were other times that he insisted something could not be changed. Since the project was his vision, his opinion outweighed mine as far as I was concerned, yet we found a way to make it work.

In the process of writing this book, we answered questions about the sequels we have planned (and already started) that will make the segue from this story to the next more intriguing.

Greymuzzles said...

I’m a pretty big fan of the Tunnels series (think it’s a trilogy, but not entirely sure XP). It’s a kind of cross between realism and fantasy that takes place in both our own world, and a brilliantly designed underground (complete with its own beasties and a unique culture / design for its humans) :D
The series is by Roderick Gordon & Brian Williams

I, for one, don’t think I could do a written collab (even though the idea kind of appeals to me...a little) ‘cause I get too attached to my characters & worlds to give the control to other people XP

Anonymous said...
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Anonymous said...

I think this way really helped the book being complete. I wanted to share the Regime Guard Series and did so with lots of faith in my collaborator. I think you need to click with that person to collaborate, and also seem to have the same mindset going in.

There is no red pencil marks of ideas but people, places and things to be expanded upon. There must be some plain out "No!" in order for the story to happen and also if that occurs, more input into the manuscript by the authors so that some things or all the story is told.

I can say being a part of this partnership has been a huge step and success for me and that to continue that success with the reception we have had that it is plainly and simply to "work on all fronts together and efficiently."

Abby said...

I think probably I wouldn't be too good in a partnership, unless I got a good one. I get to worried that they won't finish stuff on time or won't communicate or stuff like this. Oh well...

Marian Perera said...

Abby - "I get to worried that they won't finish stuff on time". That's how I feel as well. Of course, you can have a contract with your co-writer which specifies when the first draft should be sent to you, when the edits should be done, etc. but a contract isn't a guarantee that things will happen.

When I write on my own, the only real variable in the equation is myself - and I usually know what I can or cannot do.

On the other hand, I like seeing things from another perspective, especially when it comes to writing, so I'm glad to read MJ's and Marie's perspective on collaboration. The part that really summed it all up for me was how MJ felt as though his co-author was "inside his head", sharing his vision and improving it. Sounds like the two of you clicked, partnership-wise. :)

Marian Perera said...

fairyhedgehog : Thanks, I'd forgotten about Good Omens! And there are also the co-authors of the Edge Chronicles series, though I can't remember their names.

Plus, on the role-playing gamebook front, two successful partnerships are Steve Jackson and Ian Livingstone (Fighting Fantasy) and Dave Morris and Oliver Johnson (Blood Sword).

Kami said...

Writing at different paces can be killer. So can having different editing thresholds. I write fast and tread lightly. A great friend of mine, with fabulous ideas, wrote more slowly and did more editing. I think we might have worked it out over time, but I got too busy, she had young kids, and the pace slowed down to a complete halt.

Having a contract in writing, even between friends, would help a lot, but I myself wouldn't hold someone with a different process for developing characters to deadline if they gave me warning along the lines of "I'm really struggling with hearing this character's voice and want to start over." I'd want them to do the same if I were in their shoes. On the other hand that sort of thing tends to snowball if the one that's struggling is the slower writer, so anyone who is considering this, it would behoove them to either:
Choose someone who writes/edits at about the same pace (and intensity)
Go forward with the understanding that the slower writer will focus on the dual project while the faster writer will probably have more than one project in the works (if they can work that way)
Go forward if both will focus on just the one project and one is slower with the understanding that the writing may take extra time than the faster writer is used to and having that be okay.

Yes, the faster writer can write the majority of the book, but then sometimes resentments develop over credit and content (why am I sharing credit/why is this book almost all the other person's content) Guilt monsters and elephants in rooms tend to appear.

I think it would be neat to have a collaboration between someone who writes fast first drafts and hates editing and someone who struggles with first drafts but loves editing.

Angela Ackerman said...

I would, but only if it were with the right person and a strong reason to do so. I couldn't do it with someone I didn't already have a strong connection to.

Hope all is going well with you!

Angela @ The Bookshelf Muse

Anonymous said...

I love the books by Douglas Preston and Lincoln Child. They make a great team.

As for me, I wonder about it from time to time. Some aspects of it sound like it would be a lot of fun. But, in the end, my desire for creative control would probably prevent me.

fairyhedgehog said...

I think it would be neat to have a collaboration between someone who writes fast first drafts and hates editing and someone who struggles with first drafts but loves editing.

That sounds like a very tempting idea.

LM Preston said...

I have a lot of authors as friends. I love them dearly and because of that, I'd never collaborate. I'm a structured writer that sets mental deadlines and am cranky if I don't meet them. Most of my peers have their own distinct styles and none of them are on my writing schedule.

Marian Perera said...

Hi Angela! Yes, things are going well - just finished the sequel to my first book and editing it.

It's funny, but I think I could collaborate better if I didn't have a strong friendship with the other person. We'd need to click on a mental/creative level, of course. But I'd prefer it if we were business associates rather than friends.

I'd just find it easier to discuss contracts and shared royalties and legal obligations with that level of polite distance between us.

Kami - Excellent point about the pacing! That's what the ideal collaboration should be - the other person does easily what you might find difficult and vice versa.

Thanks, Tasha, another good example. And I shouldn't forget James MacDonald and Debra Doyle either.

JH said...

Haha, I was going to say, in the revision process you have no problem ceding some creative control when some punk says "Hey this idea is dumb as heck," and rewrites fight scenes to make fun of implausible survivability. ;)

Thanks for the mention, it made my day.

Mary Witzl said...

Greg Mortenson and David Oliver Relin collaborated on Three Cups of Tea, but they are no longer working together after a dispute, so perhaps they aren't a good example.

I wrote a 'book' with my best friend when we were ten. We shared the text and illustrations and had a blast. I can imagine doing this on a non-fiction project with a like-minded fellow writer, but I'm sure I could never share the writing for a novel. I've got my own ideas which I'm selfish enough to want full credit for, and I can REALLY see myself grabbing my ms and hissing, "My precious!" Which is a little scary.