This is Part 1 of our series on Writing as a Collaboration.
As a speculative fiction writing team, the most common question we get asked, after, “where do you get your ideas?” is, “how does writing with three authors work?” Collaboration is not new in the speculative fiction world. Scan the shelves of your favorite bookstore and you’ll find many novels coauthored. From thriller giants Douglas Preston and Lincoln Child to fantasy staples Anne McCaffrey and Andre Norton, many authors have experimented or fallen in love with collaborative authorship.
What is Collaboration?
From two authors exchanging manuscripts for developmental editing to authors taking turns writing sections of a book, to full co-drafting, collaborative writing can take many forms, but at its heart collaboration is any joint writing venture where more then one author is involved in the process of bringing a novel from idea to the market.
What are Some Benefits of Collaboration?
One of the reasons some authors choose to collaborate is the belief that two (or more) heads are better than one. Worldbuilding and character development can get a great boost from drawing on the collected creativity and experiences of a team. Drawing on multiple worldviews as a story is developed is one way to add complexity to characters and their motivations.
Another reason that some authors choose to collaborate is the notion that many hands make the work light. There are many more steps than just sitting and writing that go into creating a successful novel. From world development to drafting, editing to submitting (or formatting for indie publication), and the never-ending process of marketing, authors must wear many hats. In a collaboration there is more than one person available to tackle these tasks. Especially with the rise of indie publishing, having an extra set of eyes and hands for this work can be very attractive.
A third reason that some authors choose collaboration is that working together to develop a communal world and characters is a lot of fun. Manny collaborations, including ours, start as role-playing experiments. Taking new characters and placing them into scenarios together to see how they interact is not only fun but can lead to surprising discoveries about the characters and their motivations. Authors can learn a great deal about their characters by slipping into their skins and experiencing the created world through their eyes.
What are Some Drawbacks to Collaboration?
While collaborative authorship can be enjoyable and has an element of play, there are some potential pitfalls along the way. The most perilous is the potential for disagreement. In a single-author endeavor, the author has almost total control of the project before submission. The author can make all of the decisions about characterization, setting, and plot in the first draft without needing anyone else’s approval. In collaborative writing, disagreements are likely to occur at every stage. Collaborative authors need a process in place for working through these disagreements and bringing the project back to common ground.
Another common pitfall is the emotional strain that can be placed on a friendship if collaborative partners begin to feel that there is an uneven distribution of workload. Many collaborations fall apart due to interpersonal issues that single authors don’t have to consider. Ego, differences in creative vision, and personal conflict can all derail or end a collaborative project.
Finally, on a more practical note, collaborations have more complicated business arrangements. From taxes to splitting royalties there are many business decisions that can strain a collaboration.
What Makes a Successful Collaboration?
With all of the potential pitfalls for collaborative authorship, successful collaborations need to have a few common elements. The first of these is strong communication. Successful collaborations will have systems in place not only to share ideas and make decisions together, but also to work through any disagreements as they arise.
The second element that successful collaborations should have is a healthy dose of mutual respect and trust. Solving disagreements is much easier when both parties know that their opinions and beliefs are respected by their partner. As in any close relationship, if respect and trust are missing, the relationship is doomed. Eventually, disagreements will become fights and the project will suffer.
The third element of successful collaborations is open-mindedness. Collaborative authors must be willing to consider new ideas and new points of view. They need to understand that blending more than one vision ultimately makes the story stronger.
The last element that successful collaborations should have is a sense of fun. A joyless collaboration will create a joyless story. Collaborative authors should first and foremost be friends. It is from that core friendship that the open-mindedness, respect, trust, and communication will stem.
Collaborative authorship can be a rewarding and enjoyable experience as long as the writing team works to ensure that interpersonal conflict doesn’t overwhelm the creative fun. In this article we’ve talked a little about what collaboration is and what makes a collaboration successful. Over the next two articles, we will talk about some of the specifics about collaborative authorship. We’ll tackle what are some of the tips and tricks for drafting and editing as a collaboration and some special considerations for publishing as a team.
Would you ever consider writing with another author?
What changes do you think it would make to your writing process?
A. E. Lowan is the pseudonym of three authors who collectively create the dark urban fantasy series, The Books of Binding. Their first novel, Faerie Rising, is available at Amazon. For free original short fiction and all things Seahaven, check out the A. E. Lowan website.