The Magic of Collaboration

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.

collaboration-magic

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?

Nothing.
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img_2359_1Jen 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.

The Life of Collaborating Writers

We are thrilled to welcome David Powers King, who collaborated with Michael Jensen on their new release Woven.

When it comes to storytelling, sometimes two heads are better than one. That was the case when Michael and I decided to team up and write a ghost story unlike any we’ve ever read. We spent five years writing, rewriting, and rewriting some more until we had what readers now have the chance to experience. We learned many valuable lessons about successful collaborative writing along the way. Thinking of partnering up to write a novel with someone? Here are five tips:

1. Have an idea that both authors are excited about: One-sided collaborations are dull, and it will show in the writing. Be involved in the creative process. Outline the story together. Brief before and debrief after each chapter. Encourage each other on a regular basis.

2. Know who you’re writing with: A collaborative project can bring out the best or worst in people. A good way to make your partnership work is to clearly define your goals with each other. Decide how you want to divide your earnings, the order of your names on the cover, who does what in your collaboration, and the means to leave the project if things don’t work out—and then get it notarized, even if this project is with your best friend.

3. Decide what collaboration style works for you: For WOVEN, we used the Lead Writing style, when one author writes the first draft while the other edits and rewrites as needed. You can also use the Turn Writing method, where authors take turns writing chapters. Or, if you’re together, you can come up with the text in the same room while one of you is the scribe, or take turns as the scribe. There are many combinations for any situation. Find what works for you.

4. Check. Your. Ego: The #1 killer of collaborations is ego. Writers can easily be carried away by how awesome they are. It’s okay, and healthy, to bump heads with your ideas, but it is very dangerous to suggest that you know better. Instead, focus on the story. What is the best choice for the story? Never take things personally and commit to work through it. You will soon find a solution better than your first ideas.

5. Spend time together: As the saying goes, “All work and no play makes a dull collaboration.” Okay, maybe not exactly like that, but it’s a good idea to interact with your collaborative partner outside of the project. Go to the movies or writing conventions together, and remember your partner has a life beyond your collaboration. It’s fun to partner up for a story, but it’s even better with a friend. Five years of collaborating Michael has “woven” us into a long-term friendship.

A good collaboration can lead to a fulfilling and rewarding experience for you and your co-author. Hopefully these will help if you are planning to write a novel together. Good luck!

Rafflecopper Giveaway Link (One of 5 copies of Woven – signed by both authors): a Rafflecopter giveaway//widget-prime.rafflecopter.com/launch.js

Michael Jensen is a graduate of Brigham Young University’s prestigious music, dance, and theater program. Michael taught voice at BYU before establishing his own vocal instruction studio. In addition to being an imaginative storyteller, Michael is an accomplished composer and vocalist. He lives in Salt Lake City with his husband and their four dogs.

Photo credit: Michael Schoenfeld

David Powers King was born in beautiful downtown Burbank, California where his love for film inspired him to become a writer. An avid fan of science fiction and fantasy, David also has a soft spot for zombies and the paranormal. He now lives in the mountain West with his wife and three children.

Photo credit: Katie Pyne Rasmussen