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Wednesday, April 15, 2009
Have you ever wondered how two individuals are able to come together to co-author a book? There are, in fact, many formats and methods for co-authoring. In Co-Writing a Book, PART ONE, we will look at general formats.
In PART TWO and PART THREE we will look at deeper issues, such as: How does the process work? How do the two authors not kill one another? How does one pre-plan, begin, write, and finish a complete polished novel with another author?
-----The name recognition co-authorship-----
There are many ways to co-author a book. One of the most common methods is to have one author write the entire first, second, and third draft of a manuscript, polish it up as best he can, and then a second author comes along and gives it “his touch.” In this case the second author is usually a big name marquee writer, whereas the first author, though talented, is not generally well known. You can see these types of co-authored books all over the place, such as grocery store checkout lines, big name chains like Walmart and Costco, and your garden variety book store. Below the titles of these books it reads, "A novel by James Patterson (the big name author),” with (insert little known author here). This is intentional on the part of publishers since they know you are much more likely to buy a book if they can get you to believe that Patterson, for example, wrote more than he actually did. In fact, it is fairly common for the little known author to essentially write the book (likely after some plotting with Patterson’s input), and then after the book is finished, Patterson probably went in, did some tweaking, and gave it his touch and his blessing...and most importantly, his name. The trick in this scenario is getting a marquee writer to partner with you. However, since big name authors are inundated with requests from up and coming writers to co-author a novel with them on a regular basis, the chances of this happen are extremely remote.
Let's turn to another method that is similar in format, but done for different reasons. In the mentor/novice co-authorship a fledgling writer is taken under the wing by a seasoned writer. In this format, a novice writer with a gleam of unexplored talent writes a novel. Then comes along a seasoned writer who recognizes the novice’s great potential.
One of two things happens at this point. The novice either asks the experienced writer if they would be interested in more than just a "critique" of the novel, and offers them co-authorship of the book if they’ll go through it and give it their "seasoned" touch, OR the skilled author might offer this themselves. In either scenario, it is always best to let the experienced writer put the final touches on the novice’s promising work.
There are many reasons why a seasoned writer would agree to co-author a book with an unknown. One reason is that they see themselves in the novice, and remember back to when they were a fledgling writer, trying to get their first break. Perhaps a more experienced writer may have taken them under their wing years back, and now they want to repay the “debt” as it were. The seasoned author may also be a teacher at heart, and when they come along another writer who shows promise, is compelled to help strengthen the new writers skills. The seasoned writer may also enjoy the camaraderie of working on a book with another wiser author. Let’s face it, writing is a lonely business. Writers create characters, plots, and places in their imaginations. They are whole worlds that belong to them and them alone, with no one to really share it with. Sure, they can tell other people about their work, but their descriptions are merely faint shadows of what the story is truly about. But with a co-author, he has a partner who has agreed to come along him on his quest, and pledges to see it through to the end. Going on a journey can be a wonderful thing, but going on a shared journey is often much more satisfying.
-----Novice/novice or expert/expert, equal-grounds co-authorship-----
In this kind of relationship, we have two authors coming together to co-author a book who generally possess equal talent. This is the type of co-authorship that PARTS TWO and THREE will be devoted to in further detail.
I believe most of the readers following this article will find themselves in this category...or at least the most curious about this category. Unlike the aforementioned types, both authors are on equal grounds, and thus, there is no automatic structure for them to fall in step with. Where the talented yet unknown author automatically knows he must obey and follow the big name author, and the same with the novice following the lead of the seasoned writer, here we find no such foundation.
Whether they are both novices or experts, this format is the same. So from now on, I'll simply refer to this type as the "equal ground co-authorship."
It should first be noted that there are many different variations within the equal ground co-author relationship. Some co-author relationships may have writer #1 spending most of his time plotting the novel, and writer # 2 writing the novel. Or perhaps writer #1 is really good at dialogue, and writer # 2 is great at narration. You may also have a dynamic where writer #1 thrives in the creative environment, where he crafts the characters, plots, and story lines, whereas writer #2 is a master at polishing, and really getting a story into publishable form. How the co-authors tackle a book really depends on their personalities and preferences. With that said, I believe most equal ground co-authorship's fall into one of two categories:
1) Writer #1 writes the first draft of the novel, and writer #2 goes through and does the heavy editing of the piece.
2) Writer #1 and Writer #2 work on the outline together, and then alternate writing chapters.
The first time I wrote a book was in the first format. An author by the name of Mike Lynch approached me after a few shared e-mail critiques of some stories we had written on our own. We were both unpublished (except for a few short stories) and were certainly on equal terms as fledgling, hard-working novices trying to break out as writers.
When Mike approached me about co-authoring the novel, he'd already finished his book and was seeking a second pair of eyes, feeling that he could no longer look at it objectively anymore.
I said yes, and went through the novel twice, all the while offering suggestions, cutting, adding, whatever I felt would sharpen an already good story.
Because our first foray into co-authoring worked out much better than we anticipated, Mike and I decided to keep writing together, and have to date co-authored two more novels, but in these two later books we used format #2. Together, we decided what kind of story we wanted to write, figured out who the characters were going to be, established their psychologies, set up the plot points and setback, and then went back and forth as we wrote the chapters. Two books later, we both feel our skills have been honed and refined because of this process, with more books planned in the future.
It is in PART TWO and PART THREE that I will dig deeper into the more personal side of co-writing, such as looking at the actual co-author relationship, compatibility factors, meshing authorial voice, creating rules, creating boundaries, creating a contract, and of course...how one might go about choosing a good co-author fit.