Two years ago I started collaborating on a novel series with someone I’d never met in real life. We became friends online about five years ago, not long after our debut novels were released (both contemporary fantasies). We were always talking business and trends via direct message or email, and ended up following freakishly identical publishing paths (after she wrote two fantasies in a series, she wrote a New Adult romance—so did I).
Deciding to write novels together was just about the scariest decision I’ve ever made as a writer (though the scariest, by far, is deciding to hit Publish—each and every time). She and I were both worried that it would be a terrible experience, that it would ruin our friendship, that it would be the biggest mistake we’d ever made. Because you’re giving up total creative control when you’re writing with someone else, and you’re tangling together two creative forces. What if you can’t agree? What if you don’t like the other person’s ideas or the chapters they wrote?
It took an incredible leap of faith, but we had a great story idea, a new style we wanted to try out (a serial novel series, laid out much like a TV drama), and we trusted each other.
And so we grasped hands and leapt into the Great Collaborative Unknown.
You know what? It was magical—the flow of ideas; the solving of plot problems (if I didn’t know how to solve it, she did, and vice versa); the motivation to keep writing, to finish the scene or chapter because I knew she was waiting for it; the speed at which we were able to complete each book. Even better than all that, it was FUN—the most fun I’ve ever had writing.
If your interest is piqued and there’s someone you’d like to write with…do it! But be sure to keep these three things in mind:
1. It has to be with the right person.
Now, I say this having written fiction with only one other person at this point, but I know authors who’ve collaborated with several people (I’m looking at you, Jolene Perry), and I don’t think collaborating can work with just anyone. To have a successful partnership, the two people need to be well-suited to each other. The two of you need to be in sync, have similar styles, ideas, and tastes. You have to share professional standards, skills, and desires. And you have to be open to someone else’s ideas.
2. You have to edit/revise the whole book as if you wrote the whole book yourself.
And that’s not easy to do. I didn’t realize how difficult that would be until we got to the first round of edits with our first book, and I remember being so worried about how she’d take my revisions. But the thing is, you can’t just edit your own chapters with a harsh red pen and go light on your partner’s. The whole book—not just your chapters—has your name on it, and has to be its best. You both have to agree to check your egos at the door and not take editorial suggestions personally. You have to be able to speak up when something means a lot to you—whether it’s something that you feel needs to change or something your partner cut that you want back in. And you have to be willing to give in when something means a lot to your partner. All decisions are made together, and while your name is on the book, her/his name is, too. Both partners must be happy with the end product.
3. Two brains are SO MUCH better than one.
Bouncing ideas off of someone who is just as invested in the project and knows the story and characters as well as you do is so much more productive—even more so than with your favorite critique partner. Story lines get worked out in a matter of minutes, outlines get completed in just a few hours. You can go from idea to writing within days when you have two creative brains spinning a story around and around. Plot problems can be solved with a phone call, Skype, a few texts or emails. If you can’t finish a scene or don’t know where to take it next, the other person will. (I can’t tell you how liberating it is to leave holes in the manuscript for someone else to fill! Makes it easy to keep moving forward.)
Two brains makes it so much more fun, too. Crazy fun. And crazy fast—we wrote, polished, and published five short novels (about 200,000 words) in five months—a speed we needed for the style of the series we were writing, and one which I never would have been able to achieve or maintain on my own.
Every book you write makes you a better writer, but every time you collaborate you get a bigger boost to your skills because you work harder, feel even more pressure to do your best (or go beyond your best) for your partner. You learn from each other. You have different strengths and weaknesses, and the things your partner does really well, you’ll naturally start to build those same skills yourself as you work together.
Since I have always loved working on my own, I never planned to collaborate on a novel. It was never something I wanted to do—I’m too much of a control freak and perfectionist. But it turned out to be one of the best decisions I’ve ever made. Because what could be better than making your passion even more pleasurable than it already is?
Jen Meyers is happiest when she’s creating—characters, novels, coloring books, salsa, sweets, sweaters, art, etc. She has worked as a professional actor, singer, and artist (among other things), and she writes fiction because she’s totally in love with making things up for a living. She is the author of the Happily Ever After series, Anywhere, the Intangible series, and co-author of the Untamed series. She also creates totally inappropriate self-affirming sweary coloring books (which make her ridiculously happy). Find her on Twitter and Instagram as @jmeyersbooks or visit www.jmeyersbooks.com for more information about Jen and her books.