Co-authoring ups and downs

I’m constantly asked how I handle writing with a co-author, and how we do it effectively enough to write best-selling, award-winning books.

First, I have to admit that in my current, and probably my last—because I’ve found my writing soul mate—co-author relationship, there are very few “downs” but I’ve lived through them in the past.
My co-author, Madison Layle, is one of my best friends. We think alike, we write enough alike that no one who reads our books can tell that it was written by two very different authors, and our husbands even look a little alike, which is scary. *grin*

Way back when—seems like several lifetimes ago—I had a co-author. We had a falling out over the book we were working on, and I honestly never heard from her again. We did manage to publish one book together before this happened, but during the writing of book two, I realized our writing styles were on completely different levels, and she hadn’t. Imagine trying to tell your friend and business partner that you find their writing juvenile. Yeah…that wasn’t a good day.

When Madi, who was a critique partner of mine, gave me a manuscript to read that set my brain to work on so many ideas, and I told her about them, and she proposed that we work together with those ideas, combining them with hers, I was quite terrified. I wanted to, I really did, but I lost one friend trying to do this, and I really, really liked Madi. She was becoming a good friend, and the most amazing critique partner I’d ever had.

I finally gave in, and it was one of the best decisions I’ve made in my career.

So, lesson one: Make sure the person you will collaborate with meshes with you, especially where business and writing styles are concerned. Make sure your goals are the same for your co-authored work. And also, it’s a must that you can communicate openly and honestly with each other.

That leads to lesson two: If you cannot be honest with your co-author, get out now.

Madi and I have always had an open and honest relationship. When we were critique partners, we were brutal with each other. There was no pussyfooting around the point if there was a problem with what we were critiquing, and neither of us took it the wrong way if one of us told the other something like, “This chapter is crap. Get rid of it.”

I’m not saying you should be this way with your critique partners normally. If you are, you probably won’t have a one for long, but it was nice that Madi and I were able to be this honest, and it’s what we both needed at that point in our careers. In a relationship that involves creativity, it’s imperative that you or your partner are not overly sensitive to criticism from the other, because I guarantee there will be times when you have to have a difficult discussion over something they wrote.

Madi and I have had several of these discussions over the years working together. One time I wrote the most boring sex scene imaginable, and she had to tell me to redo it because it sucked. (She was right.) And then, just a few months ago came what could have been a potentially disastrous discussion—but it wasn’t, because as usual we were on the same page. We actually agreed to throw out 50,000 words—a completed manuscript—because it just wasn’t up to our standards, and we didn’t want to put subpar work out to the public. Tough decision to make, but even tougher when we, almost simultaneously brought it up to the other that, “This really sucks.”

You have to make sure you are always on the same page, and when one partner says “this sucks” to the other, he or she cannot get pissy about it. You have to have the ability to let go and not think every word you write is gospel as some new authors are wont to do. I am not sure about Madi, but I had to learn to let go of a lot of control. How your partner writes a particular scene is not exactly how you would write it—it can’t be, you’re two different people—but even if you had one idea, and your co-author has another, as long as it works in the book, you must learn to accept it. On the other side of that, if your partner says something doesn’t work, you have to be open enough to either change it or get rid of it.

It helps that Madi and I love reading each other’s writing. I think I’ve read everything she’s written, including her early manuscripts that will never be published.

Now, I think I’ve covered the writer/writer relationship during co-authoring. It’s almost as intimate a relationship as I have with my husband (minus the sex, of course). *grin* Madi has seen the darkest sides of my imagination, and I’m pretty sure that would scare the hell out of my dear hubby!

As for, “How do you write with a partner?” That’s not as easy of a question to answer.

Our very first co-authored book was a triad, BDSM romance. For our first endeavor we each picked the point of view (POV) of one of the men (two men one woman in the book) and then split the woman in half, taking turns writing her POV. We did that with a couple other triad books, and then there was a book with just one man and one woman. One of us wrote the guy, the other wrote the girl. Now, six years into our writing relationship, we’re definitely not structured. We write what we feel like writing. Sometimes it’s chapter-by-chapter or scene-by-scene. Other times it’s one character’s POV over another. Sometimes it’s a scene we feel most strongly about.

We write when it works for us and brush it off to the other when it’s not working. Every now and then one of us has more time to write than the other, so that writer will take on more of the workload for that particular book, especially if we’re under deadline.

Basically, we’ve been together long enough to know each other well enough to push the limits with each other and not wind up in a grave because we’ve pushed too hard. *grin*

You must love your co-author’s writing, respect them as a person, respect their ability, and respect them enough to be brutally honest with them. You must, must, must have discussed the career path you want to follow with your co-authored books.

I guess what I haven’t mentioned is that it’s a heck of a lot of fun. Writing is so solitary, and you can spend the time it takes to write a whole manuscript in isolation. Having someone to share the ups and downs with, who takes half the load, is really awesome.

So, if you want to co-author…

Be careful, and make the right decisions, or it leads to heartache. In my case, with my first co-writer, it led to a book I can’t do anything with now that the rights are returned, because I have no idea how to find the woman I ticked off years ago. But, with my second, well, that story’s still being told.

Anna Leigh Keaton

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3 responses to “Co-authoring ups and downs

  1. Great post Anna!

    A lot of that can be transcribed right over to a critique partner relationship also.

    K

    • I was thinking the same thing, Katy. 🙂

      You know you’re with the right working partner when you can say “this sucks” or “I don’t like this chapter” or “This character would never say that” without bothering to apologize.

      On the flipside, if you can hear those things and not question it for a second because you trust your CP implicitly, you’re also in the right relationship.

  2. I don’t co-write fiction, but I do co-write my non-fiction with my partner at 1st Turning Point, Jacquie Rogers. She and I work well together on the non-fiction front: she outlines with detail, I write a wordy first draft, she fine-tunes and adds and tweaks, I do a final read-through, and we’re done. I never thought I’d be able to write with someone else, but I really enjoy the co-authoring on the non-fiction front. Fun article, thanks!

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