Wednesday, July 29, 2020

Author Roundtable: Collaborating With Another Author

Have you ever considered writing a book with another author? Today in The Loft, we’re going to discuss the advantages and disadvantages of writing with another partner. Joining me are the husband-wife team who write as Adriana Kraft, Lee Collins and Jane Collman, and Jo Tannah—who has co-authored books with Lynn Michaels and Ann Mickan.

S:  Good morning, everyone!

Let’s start by breaking down your relationship with your writing partner. When did you decide to write a book(s) with your writing partner? How did you know that they would be a good fit? Was the partnership for only one book or was it ongoing? Have you worked with other writing partners in the past?

AK (her):  My relationship? He’s my husband! We met in academia and co-authored a few academic publications, so we knew we could write together and we trusted each other’s skills. It’s been two decades since we made that decision and began our first romance manuscript together. Those were the days of sending printed query letters and – when we were lucky – hard copy chapters or manuscripts.

AK (him):  The decision evolved over time. We wanted to make sure that female and male perspectives informed the writing. Having written non-fiction together, we were fairly confident we could also do so writing fiction. Even then, it was a process that evolved as we gained experience with the first few books. A writing partnership requires commitment to each other, to the characters and issues that shape the writing, and to creating the best final product we can manage.

LC:  Jane has been actively involved in the last nine books I have published, and based on her invaluable input, I knew she would be a good fit to collaborate with on "An Unethical Practice." Given I didn’t propose to publish the book through my publisher, eXtasy Books, because it doesn’t fit in with their well-established genres, I wanted to get Jane even more involved in this book. I have only ever collaborated with Jane because I know her well on a personal level, and she understands what I’m trying to achieve, especially the underlying messages that I want to transmit in my books. We have more books planned for the No Plain Jane PI series, and we will, without a shadow of a doubt, be working together on those books together. Jane not only helps so much with the writing process, but she drives me during times when I need a kick up the rear end.

JC:  We have been working together for the past three years on Lee’s books, and I have read and thoroughly enjoyed all 17 of them, so I knew there would be a good fit for this book. I have learned so much from him about the complexities of the writing process, and now we have established a way of working together—who does what, etc. Lee is the only person I would dream of collaborating with because I know his works and writing style so well, and what high expectations he has of me. But I’ve never been able to resist a challenge to learn and improve.

JT:  With Ann Mickan, we’d been friends online and off for over two years before we decided to write together. It was an experiment of sorts. We would brainstorm over plots together and once we got this prompt for a summer short, we said, why not? It was easy and I would liken the work experience to chatting and brainstorming. With Lynn Michaels, it was a call to arms, I guess. There was a need for one more book and there were no takers because of commitments. Like Ann, Lynn and I had known each other online and became friends. We would chat and brainstorm. So when the opportunity came, we took it and wrote together. We finished the story in a week. I would send over a chapter, Lynn would read and react by writing from the other main character's point-of-view and once done, send it back over to me. It was a short story, so writing about 2,000 words daily each, we got to the limit fairly quickly. Writing with Ann and Lynn was fun and inspirational. It showed me that getting a story out there need not be stressful. Ever since my experience writing with them, I changed my method of writing on my solo works. I pretend to chat with myself and the rest follows. So far, Ann and I are still writing together and have brainstormed another story we’re releasing by next year. With Lynn, we’re both very busy and she’s a prolific writer. I’m sure when the opportunity comes, we’ll be writing again.

S:  Obviously, you all have varying reasons for collaborating. I am seeing two themes here. One is the quality of the personal relationship between the parties, and the second is the ability to collaborate in a way that takes advantage of each other’s strengths. Obviously, together you are stronger.

I’m curious about your writing process. Who does what? For example, how is the story line developed? Does one person flesh it out and the other work off of that? Or do you split up the chapters? How do you handle differences of opinion about the story? Is it an equal partnership or does one partner bear more responsibility?

AK (her): Time wise, the production process is pretty equal. Once we have the germ of an idea for a new book, we spend a lot of time talking together and hammering out the broad strokes of plot, identifying the themes, fleshing out the setting, developing the characters and their backgrounds, and of course deciding on the obstacles we think we’ll throw at them. He is the one who sits down at the blank page and starts putting words on it. When scene or a segment is finished, he reads that out loud, we discuss it, and we start to plan what’s coming next. Then he goes back to that blank page…

AK (him):  I would simply add that the characters play an important role in the development of the plot, story line, and outcome. We can never anticipate all the challenges and hurdles thrown their way. When we get stuck as to where the story goes next, it’s usually because we have not listened well enough to the characters. They do seem to have veto power over their own stories.

AK (her):  That answer pivots right into how do we handle differences of opinion. When we get stuck or reach an impasse, we’ve learned to sit back and wait and invariably, within a day or two, some aspect of the characters’ dilemma will emerge in our own experience and show us the way out. That’s when our time-consuming and careful work developing an in-depth understanding of our main characters at the very beginning pays off. Once we have a complete draft, we trade back and forth with seemingly endless rounds of editing. Here’s where having a partner is especially helpful--two sets of eyes to fine tune everything, two opinions to weigh in on what does or doesn’t work.

S:  (Nods.) To me that would be one of the greatest advantages of collaboration—having someone to brainstorm with. When you write as a single author, it’s not always easy to know what’s working and what’s not. It’s very frustrating to get to the end of the story and realize your plot dove off the deep end somewhere in the middle of the story.

Lee and Jane, how do you work together?

LC:  Given that "An Unethical Practice" has been published under my name and Jane’s, there is a lot of to-ing and fro-ing between us. I generally come up with the idea for a book and write a one-page synopsis which I send to Jane to review and comment on. Once we’re happy with the idea, I write the first draft of the book, then go through it two or three times to add more layers, such as detail, description, show more and tell less, etc. Once I’m happy with it, I send it to Jane for a harsh review. She really does get the claws out, and invariably, I have to do a fairly major rewrite. Once that’s done, I send it back to Jane and it goes back and forth until we are both happy with it. Then it goes off to the editor and I work with them to polish and fine tune the book.

JC:  "An Unethical Practice" is a crime suspense/mystery/thriller novel, so I wrote some small parts, especially regarding police and private investigator practices. Given my background as a police constable, I did a lot of desk research on Lee’s behalf and talked to my ex-colleagues in the police force to ensure the book was as credible and realistic as possible before we published it. Having had experience of dealing with real crimes, I do a thorough sense check on the books, question and challenge some of what Lee has written, and offer advice as to how he can rectify it. I know from previous conversations I’ve had with Lee that he wants me to play an integral role in the writing process. We very rarely have a difference of opinion, because Lee invariably runs with my feedback, but he will put his foot down and disagree with me at times—for justified reasons, of course. Bottom line is, Lee has the final word, because he has a lot more writing experience than I do, but thankfully, he is very receptive to my ideas and suggestions.

S: That’s interesting. Lee, you began your career as a solo author, but you seem to have adjusted well to collaboration. You two have done a good job of melding your strengths.

Jo, what about you? You have collaborated with two different authors. I imagine there was some adjustments that had to be made for working with each.

JT:  Basically, I do one character and Ann or Lynn does the other. We exchange chapters so the story flows. In the process, we flesh out each others’ work which can be educational. English is my first language, but I’m Filipino and I grew up speaking a language that is a combination of English and American English. My spellings and use of words can be confusing, so I welcome it when Lynn corrects and Ann edits. Ann is an editor, so yes, I do listen to her. For differences in opinions? I’m not sure I ever encountered that problem with either Ann or Lynn. Working with these two women was fun and I cannot emphasize that more. I think that’s the secret. Our work was fun, not stressful and we do love our brainstorming.

S:  Wow, I am really impressed at how teaming up with others strengthens the end product. 

That leads me to my next question. How does working with a partner benefit you as a writer? How do you decide a story is better suited to collaborating with writing a partner?

LC:  As previously mentioned, Jane has the practical experience of dealing with crimes, so that is a major benefit to me. She understands more than I do about the restrictions of what a private investigator can do in comparison to what the police can do. Given the book revolves around a private investigator, Jane, it was very important to be clear about what her limitations were. Jane therefore helped us make the book more realistic and credible. Indirectly, I have collaborated with Jane on the last nine books I have written. I relied on my editor to help me polish and perfect the other eight books. My first eight books were very personal to me, so writing with a partner was out of the question. However, with the last nine books, I felt that I could benefit from Jane’s input, and she didn’t let me down. But I only invited her to provide input to my books because she really liked my books and the style of writing. We built up an understanding and trust, which I believe is really important before you bring another author into your writing world.

JT:  For me, the most beneficial aspect of writing with a partner is the speed of it. There are two minds. I focus on one character, my partners focus on theirs, so I don’t have to shift my way of thinking when writing different point-of-views. I’ve written two books with Ann Mickan, The Boys Next Door series. With Lynn, one. A vampire story "Unchained" for the Love At Stake collection. For my solo works, I’ve got over 25, I think…
 Together we are able to consider more angles, ideas, characters and so on as they emerge. Reading aloud to a partner not only keeps both partners engaged but also allows both to hear the voices of the characters. I’m never sure whether they are our characters or if we are their” mouthpieces. We also seem to have an evolving partnership with our characters.

AK (her): Enrichment is the word that comes to me. Though we’ve known each other a long time and have grown together over the years, we still have different life perspectives, so our writing continues to be enhanced and expanded by the melding of those differences.

S:  That’s something solo writers probably don’t consider. We are locked into one perspective and often fail to realize that others may view the world through another lens. It must be refreshing to have your world view supported or challenged.

If someone is interested in collaborating with another author, what factors should they consider? What qualities make someone a bad choice? Have you ever abandoned a project because you and a partner were a bad fit?

JT:  For me, selecting a writing partner is equivalent to selecting who is or is not my friend. I need the meeting of the minds. Getting into arguments over mundane issues is not for me. I like the peaceful and stress-free relationships. And yes, I have abandoned a project with another author because not only were we a bad fit, but I found out she stole my story and published it for her own. Legit true and that’s all I’m going to say about that one.

S:  That's alarming and an obvious concern. However, it is important to own up to a bad fit and “break up” when necessary. Sometimes, that can be difficult.
I imagine that’s one benefit the Krafts have as married collaborators!

AK (her): Neither of us has tried writing fiction with any other partner, so much of this question is a moot point. Both of us have co-authored with others in non-fiction, sometimes happily, sometimes not. The qualities I think matter are shared goals, shared values, commitment to work hard, mutual trust, and clarity about the skills and problem areas each partner brings to the project.

AK (him): Our experience writing non-fiction with other partners certainly influenced how we write together. For example, we don’t try alternating chapters or scenes and such, which we know works for others. Having written together before tackling fiction meant we already had a high degree of trust in working together, although even the working together process changes with experience.

S:  Trust seems to be a key issue. Lee and Jane, what advice would you offer to authors considering collaboration?

LC: For me, personally, it is not so much about qualities, but what they can bring to the table. For example, specialized experience relating to the nature of the book--what they can do for the book that you can’t do yourself? Their fan base and how they can help promote the book, etc. For me, it is not just about how well they can write, because I can always help with that, but what value they can add to the book. I once considered writing a book with another author, but when I got to know their personality/domineering attitude, I knew I wouldn’t be able to work with them, so I dropped the idea.

JC: Having worked with Lee for a long time, I have learned that you need to pair up with someone who can write as well as you, or better. If you are a new author, as I am, you need an author who can guide and teach you the writing process—a mentor who will help you recognize your strengths and bring those out. If you are an established/experienced author you probably don’t even need to read this interview, but if you are, and are proposing to work with a less experienced author, you need to make sure that they are willing to take your guidance onboard and trust your judgment.

S:  Any other advice you’d care to offer?

AK (him):  Try to find someone you respect and trust. Be open about what you are looking for. Be clear that you will need to hold each other accountable as you try to discover what works best for you. There is no one way for writing partnerships to work. Hopefully, it will be a satisfying and mutually uplifting experience. If not, it’s probably time to dissolve the partnership.

AK (her):  I think he said it. First, get clear within yourself what you are looking for and what you believe you can contribute, and continue to develop the process openly and honestly.

LC:  Familiarize yourself with their books and style of writing first to ensure there would be compatibility. Make sure you get to know the writer on a personal level before committing to a major project with them. Perhaps offer to beta read each other’s books to begin with, so you can see how they write, react to your comments and suggestions, and see how you react to theirs. If that ends ugly, then you are hardly going to be able to write a book together. If it goes well, and you can see the value that each of you has added to the other one’s book, then write a short story together to test the water. If that goes well, then you can move onto bigger things. That is more or less how Jane and I started out—getting to know each other before we dived into the deep end. As mentioned above—when you get to know an author you may decide that they are not the one for you. You also need to establish a trusting relationship because there may be differences and squabbles during the writing process. You need to question if your relationship would survive those, otherwise you may get some ways into the book and then you both decide to write it off as a mistake. That's a waste of time for both of you.

JT:  As I said, choosing a writing partner is equivalent to finding a friend. For both Ann and Lynn, through our interactions, talks, and I guess supporting each other both mentally and emotionally in real life dramas, we grew to trust each other. Trust is the most important thing to consider.

S:  This has certainly been an enlightening conversation. Any parting words?

AK (her):  I just want to add that not only has our partnership enriched our writing, writing together has enriched and strengthened our relationship. Characters throw things at us that we have to be able to resolve, not only for them, but for ourselves, and it’s turned into an incredible ride.

S:  Thank you all for participating in my first roundtable. If you would like to learn more about these writers and their books, please visit—

1 comment:

  1. Thanks so much for running this feature, Seelie - informative, all the way around, great to learn how others do it. There's no one "right" way.