Author Vs Co-Author
By Debra Shiveley Welch
Just as we are all individuals, unique and complex, so is each co-authorship. The dynamics involved will vary from partnership to partnership, and no one can predict the success or lack thereof of any joint venture.
I am often asked what it was like to co-author a novel, “Was it difficult? “Was it fun?” These questions are usually followed by, “I’m thinking of writing a book with my friend. Should I, and do you have any tips for us?”
Just as we are all individuals, unique and complex, so is each co-authorship. The dynamics involved will vary from partnership to partnership, and no one can predict the success or lack thereof of any joint venture. However, there are aspects that should be considered before venturing into a project with another individual.
First, you must ask yourself why you wish to co-author instead of completing your work as an individual. Is fear stopping you? Is it lack of expertise in a subject matter such as murder investigation? Or is it a weakness in certain aspects of writing, for example, dialogue?
If it is fear, then rethink your wish to bring someone else into your project. Eventually, one of you might feel that you are doing a major portion of the writing, and your project may suffer because of those feelings. Rather than trying to hitch your star to someone else’s wagon, try your hand at going it alone. Learn the mechanics of creating a book, begin writing, find a proofing buddy to help with punctuation, grammar and those pesky typos that creep into every book. You can do this! You can create your own star. You just have to try.
Now, let’s say that you feel you are capable of writing a book on your own, but, gosh, you’ve always wanted to write a crime thriller. You’ve got a great plot all worked out, some intriguing characters in mind, but you know nothing about the investigative process or courtroom procedure. Your friend, however, is a detective, and has been dying to write a book. You now have a valid basis for co-authoring a novel. This partnership should be entered into exactly as any other joint effort.
Write a Contract You wouldn’t open a store, for instance, investing your time and money, and then turn over half of everything to another person, would you? Of course, you wouldn’t. Nor would you put your heart and soul into a literary effort without some kind of understanding. Sit down with your partner and write out a contract. Lay out the parameters of what each of you will and will not do. Here, a code of ethics is created by both of you. This policy would cover such things as, not altering the work without both parties in agreement, not claiming credit for each other’s work, no interview conducted without the consent of both individuals.
Put Your Ego Aside Your finished product will be your “baby,” the result of a joint effort, and you are both the parents. Always put your work first, and your ego second. If you have written a scene that you are just busting with pride over, but it does not fit in your book, accept the fact that the scene may have to be re-written or possibly cut completely. The same rules will apply to your partner. Don’t expend energy into who has written more, or less, or who has done this or that. Work together and always keep what is best for your “child,” uppermost in your mind.
Create a Solid Outline Together An outline is a road map, which will get you from point A, your killer first paragraph that grabs the readers’ attention, to point B, the windup. Your objective is to keep their interest, keep them turning the pages until your final chapter. This will cause your reader to search the book stores, eagerly awaiting your next publication.
Design your outline in such a way, that your book will flow in an organized manner. Although the outline may change, never alter it without the consent and collaboration of your partner.
This is the time to decide who will tackle which aspect of writing. Obviously, if your partner is an expert in a field that you are not, they will write scenes using that expertise. If you are better at dialogue, then you may wish to do the major work in that area. Some chapters may be written exclusively by you or your co-author, and others may be a joint effort. Just keep in mind that it is a dual effort, and the book comes first.
Use Character Sheets Create these sheets to help you and your partner keep track of your characters’ attributes. Include such facts as height, weight, hair and eye color, likes and dislikes, basic characteristics, etc. Pick out a celebrity that both of you can use, so that whoever is writing about that particular character will have a picture in their mind.
Talk About Your Characters Discuss them as if they are truly alive. “Do you think Diedre would do this? What would be her motivation?” My co-author and I would meet for dinner. Our servers became curious enough to ask who was so ill, thinking we were discussing real people. That is how it should be. If they are living and breathing to you, then they will come alive to your readers.
Get Together Often You have to discuss your work frequently. As often as possible, meet physically to review your progression, and assess any changes that need to be made. Talk about your book regularly.
Hire an Editor Neither of you should edit your own work or each others. Hire a professional to edit your book. An outsider’s view will benefit your “baby,” and will assist you and your co-author in making important decisions and changes together. Part of an editor’s task is to help different styles of writing, blend together and flow smoothly.
Respect Your Co-Author You’ve finished your project. It has been edited, and you’ve found a publisher. The book is for sale. You have interviews lined up. Now is the time to share in the glory.
Again, this was a creation of two minds (and sometimes more). Respect your co-author. Don’t fall into that nasty habit of glorifying yourself. Praise the book. Praise the people who helped you. Praise your partner. Never, never take any special credit, or be guilty of self-aggrandizement. Your book will suffer if you discount the efforts of anyone involved.
Do Your Homework Take out books written by co-authors. Compare chapters and see if you can tell who wrote what. I would suggest, for starters “Motion to Suppress” by Perri O’Shaughnessy, the sister team of Mary and Pamela O’Shaughnessy, and “The Talisman” by Steven King and Dean Koontz.
Good Luck! Whether you co-author, or decide to tackle your project alone, good luck! I wish you every success in your endeavor.
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