Tuesday, July 6, 2010

The Collaboration of Writers

So you write, you're full of ideas, but you think a collaborator might well be of great benefit to you both.  So, then the question becomes, how do I find a good collaborator to work with and what do I  need to consider in advance? How can I ensure my tree rises above the forest?

Well, first you have to realize collaboration can be a fantastic experience.  I collaborated a time or two and each was a great experience.  However, it can also turn into a nightmare if you haven't found someone who compliments your abilities.

The key to a good relationship is to set up some ground rules before either of you put any words on paper (or computer screen).  On one collaboration I provided the bare bones story idea up front.  He had suggestions for major changes.  We batted them back and forth, then I wrote a scene - sent it to him via email.  He made changes and sent it back. We went back and forth until both were satisfied and it worked well.  Another time I collaborated with the other person providing stories of ghost hunting which I did most of the writing on, turning them into readable and adding description to make it more visual - then checking with him to be sure it read as he wanted it to.  That too, worked well.

So, for starters you have to  make sure you share the same goals for a project. Do you both want to  make big bucks? Do you both want to help the world?  Do you both want to just entertain? Think about that.  If one wants one and the other the opposite you're going to run into trouble fast.

Decide whether you're compatible.  By that I mean if one of you is fast off the mark and the other is a procrastinator you're going to clash. don't worry if you have different backgrounds or political views or religion.The important part is whether you can be professional, set your personal differences aside, and work off each others' strengths to create something great.

Realize that a division of labor doesn't always mean writing is split 50/50.  Sometimes one does more of the writing, the other more of the idea production and research, then it bounces back to who's best at editing. Talk about your strengths and weaknesses. Don't be shy and don't hold back.  Unrecognized weakness can cause real problems.  Unrecognized strengths can hold a project back if they're not being utilized. Optimize  your publishing success by being frank and up front with each other - then following through on what your share of the project is.

Oh, and think about promotion early on.  Is one of you a relaxed public speaker and the other not? Can one compose great sales copy and the other not so good?  Can one create a great website? All important questions (and there are more to consider) to get resolved ahead of time and it's not a bad idea to write down what each one is going to be responsible for.

Be sure to have a bare-bones contract or letter of agreement between you and signed by both. It makes the whole thing feel more professional and spells out what is expected from each of you so there can be no statements such as, "but you said you'd...." and accusations of not carrying through.

No matter how professional, how friendly you are, there's going to be some level of conflict between you when co-authoring. Egos get bruised, anger can rise. It's a good idea to have some form of conflict resolution agreed to before you begin.  You might decide to designate one of you as 'lead author' on the project and after discussion, the final decision falls to that person.  Or you might designate an outside 'third' party to be available to help settle disputes. Or maybe you'd just like to settle an issue by pulling straws or drawing for high card.  Whatever it is, have it in place from the get go.

Working things out in advance is your best tool to use in co-authoring a book. A brainstorming session before you firm up the co-authoring gig is a great idea.  See how you might work together, how ideas bounce between you.  Work seriously, but have fun with it.  Keep your sense of humor and collaborating can be one of the best experiences of your writing life.

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