First of all, there is no wrong or right way to co-author a book with someone. The key is to figure out the method that works best for you and other person.
Second, I’ve discovered that not all co-writing endeavors are created equal. While I can write this way with Stephannie Beman, I can’t do the same process with Janet Syas Nitsick. For Janet and I, the best approach was to do the anthology.
In case anyone is wondering, Janet and I are currently looking into doing a second anthology. 🙂
Why did Stephannie and I decide to co-write some books?
Stephannie and I don’t live in the same state. In fact, we have never met in person. We met back in 2008 on Live Journal. From there, we moved on to WordPress. We did work on a book in 2009 (I think) that became My Lord Hades.
Back then, I had done the first draft and she went in to flesh it out. When I realized I didn’t want to keep writing mythologies, I gave her the book with full rights to do whatever she wanted to. Back in 2008-2009, I was in the “What kind of writer am I?” stage so I did some experimenting. In the end, I realized my heart is in romances with ordinary, every day people. Writing about myths just wasn’t what I wanted to do.
Fast forward to 2013. Stephannie and I have been chatting on AIM since 2009 (or 2008, I don’t remember).
We decided to write another book together because it was fun doing My Lord Hades. After brainstorming for a couple days, we settled on writing a historical western romance. (She let me pick the genre and since it’s my favorite one, it’s what I chose.)
Before we start writing...
We get a contract written and signed. After a good year of trying to figure out the best way to co-write a book and consider royalties, we came to the conclusion that we’re better off working on two books at a time. We are both self-publishing these books, which means these books are potentially forever. That being the case, we had to consider what would happen to the books, the rights, the royalties, taxes, etc to the books after we die. The cleanest and easiest solution was to do a barter.
We have decided to write two books at the same time. One book goes to Stephannie and the other book goes to me. That makes it a clean, easy trade where the rights and royalties are clearly defined. The contract spells out all the details. The idea is to make life as easy as possible for our families who will have to deal with our businesses when we’re dead.
2. Get a brief description of the books
We brainstorm at the same time we do the contract because we need to state which books we’re working on. At this stage in the game, we only need the book title (with the option to change it later) and a brief summary of the book.
3. Setting the stage for the books
Stephannie likes to get a solid understanding of the characters and setting, so she usually does the bulk of the research while I sit back and “look pretty”. I’m sure my lack of pre-planning drives her crazy because she does more planning than I ever do. She doesn’t outline her books, but she does like to get a good grasp of the cast of characters and the location where the books take place.
I am very much a “write by the seat of your pants” kind of writer. I can’t understand a character or know the setting until I’m writing the book. As long as I know how the first scene starts, I’m good to go. The rest just develops as I go along. Characters figure out how they look, what their personalities are, and what happens to them as I write. It’s rare that I know any of this before I start writing.
And yes, sometimes what Stephannie and I have figured out before we start writing has changed while writing the book because as I write, I realize my character has a different personality than what we originally agreed on. The nice thing is, Stephannie’s flexible and works with me when this happens.
4. Writing the book
This is always the fun part.
We each take a main character. If Stephannie takes the hero’s point of view, I’ll take the heroine’s point of view. And vice versa. In The Rancher’s Wife, I am taking the hero’s point of view, so everything he says and thinks comes from me. Stephannie’s taking the heroine’s point of view, so everything she says and thinks comes from her point of view.
We agree on a time to be on AIM and write the book.
So let’s say today we are at the point in the book where we need the hero’s point of view. I will pull up my Word document and start writing the scene. We do agree on what will happen in the scene before we get to it. For example, let’s say this is a scene where the hero sees the heroine for the first time in women’s clothing. (In the beginning of the book, he thinks the heroine is a sixteen-year-old boy because she’s dressed up in men’s clothes, is taller than the average woman, has her hair hidden under a hat and is wearing a duster that covers her from head to her mid-calf.) But today she is going to be clean from her recent bath and will have on women’s clothes.
So here’s an example of how we would work through AIM:
I’ll write this on my Word document: “Thayne turned his attention to the porch when he heard the front door open.” Then I’ll copy what I wrote into AIM.
Stephannie will write this on AIM: “Abby steps onto the porch.”
I will probably ask on AIM: “How does Abby look? What is she wearing?”
Stephannie might say on AIM: “She’s wearing a shirtwaist but pants because the skirt she’s holding is too short and her ankles will show if she wears it. She has a good breast size, probably a size C if she wore a bra. She has a dark shade of red hair that reaches down the middle of her back.”
I might ask on AIM: “Is her hair straight or curly?”
She might say on AIM: “Wavy.”
I will take what she told me and put this into the Word document: “His eyebrows rose in interest as his gaze settled on Abby. Without all the dirt and grime on her face, it was easier to get a good look at her. Her dark red hair fell in soft waves down her back. She wore a green shirtwaist, and he’d be lying if he said her ample bosom didn’t arouse his attention. Forcing his gaze off the shirtwaist, he noted that she wore pants instead of the skirt she was holding in her arms.” Then I will copy and paste it on AIM so she can see it.
Then I write in the Word document: “He headed over to the porch. ‘Is something wrong with the skirt?'” And I copy and paste this in AIM so she can see it.
Stephannie will then write in AIM: “‘It’s too short.’ Abby seems like she’s worried she’s inconveniencing him.
So I will put into the Word document: “‘It’s too short,’ Abby said in a cautious tone, indicating that she worried she was asking too much.
So you get the idea. We go back and forth like that. When it’s Stephannie’s turn, she’ll write the stuff in the Word document. When we finish a scene or chapter, we email the other person the work we did. This way we both have a copy of the book.
5. After the book is done
Stephannie takes the first draft and fleshes it out. This is the process where she smooths everything out so the story flows well because when you have two people working on the same story, it can lead to some choppy work. She also adds in any details that will enhance the story. She’ll then have a beta reader or two go over it and take their input so she can fix up anything else in the book.
Then I take it and send it off to my editing team since I have an awesome group of people who are good and dependable, two key things that can be hard to find. It’s also easier to use the same people for the books since they will remember what happened in another book in the series and can help with consistency issues.
Stephannie does the covers, and I do the interior formatting.
6. Then we each take our own book and publish it.
Then we will figure out what books we want to work on next because we already know we’ll want to work together again. 🙂
Co-authoring doesn’t work for every author, and there needs to be a good blending of the personalities of the writers who do co-author a book.
- You need someone you trust because you don’t want them to bail on you or break the contract.
- You need someone you can be honest with because there will be times when the two of you don’t agree on what to do with a scene or a character. Compromise is big in this area. You do have to be flexible. It’s not just your book.
- You also need someone who is similar enough to you so the storytelling blends well together. (This is not the case with doing an anthology since you would have your own story and the other author would have theirs.)