Do You Have What It Takes to Be a Coauthor?
by Ellery Adams – ½ of the Lucy Arlington Writing Team
Ellery Queen, Douglas Preston and Lincoln Child, Jonathan and Faye Kellerman, David and Leigh Eddings, Frances and Richard Lockridge, Stephen King and Peter Straub—these are just some of the successful writing teams who’ve made their mark on the publishing world.
Have you ever considered coauthoring a book? Perhaps a friend, spouse, or business associate has tossed out the idea and you’ve been mulling it over, but don’t believe you could actually complete a project with another person.
Two years ago, I believed the same thing, but then a friend and I were driving home from the Malice Domestic Mystery Conference and began to bat about a fun and clever idea for a cozy mystery series.
“Why don’t we try writing it together?” I asked my friend and current writing partner, Sylvia May. And though we both had our doubts, we decided to produce three chapters and send them to Jessica. Sadly, my fabulous agent was less than dazzled and told us that our two voices just weren’t meshing.
Our greatest fear about working together had come to pass: we couldn’t find a way to make our separate writing styles seamless, so we abandoned the project.
Life went on. Sylvia was busy working on her women’s fiction novel and I had the Books by the Bay series to pen. Then, out of the blue, I took our proposal out of the proverbial drawer and reread it. All the trouble spots leapt out at me in a way they hadn’t before and I called Sylvia and talked to her about how we might fix them.
Once upon a time, I could have walked down our street in Richmond, Virginia, sat at Sylvia’s kitchen table, and hashed out the whole thing face-to-face over a cup of coffee and a slice of chocolate banana bread. But she moved to Bermuda, leaving us to resort to phone calls and emails (we never took to Skype).
Obviously, we polished our proposal and Jessica sold it right away. We signed a three-book deal with Berkley Prime Crime. Agreeing to split all the expenses and profits fifty-fifty was the easy part. Plotting and writing an entire novel was more challenging.
First of all, we needed to get over being polite. “I’m sorry, but do you think that character sounds a little wishy-washy?” is too, well, wishy-washy. We had to learn to get past worrying about hurting each other’s feelings and reach the point in which we could insert a comment in the margins saying, “This is awkward. Can you rephrase?” or “That doesn’t sound Southern. Let me rewrite that part and you can polish that scene between Lila (our heroine) and Trey (her teenage son).”
Once we were able to be completely honest and unafraid, everything clicked. We wrote over each other’s passages, we edited each other’s segments, debated scenes and praised stellar segments or jotted LOL next to the funny parts. Every year at Malice, we get together and have an intense plotting session. We’ve just started the third book in the series and are both amazed over how well we’ve learned to work together.
With Buried in a Book being released this month, Lucy Arlington will be all over the Internet because there are two of us promoting the book. While I’m doing this guest post, Sylvia’s doing another. While I’m Tweeting, she’ll be posting on Facebook. I’ll be signing stock in Virginia and she’ll sign stock in Bermuda and Canada.
This collaboration has been an adventure and I know that I couldn’t have done it with anyone else. If you’re thinking of coauthoring a project, make sure that you and your writing partner divide your roles before you begin. Who will create your website? Who will answer reader email? Who will order bookmarks or make the book trailer? The more you put on paper before you write a single word of your book, the smoother your partnership will be.
So . . . has it ever crossed your mind to coauthor a book or are you flying solo all the way?
Feel free to post questions.
Ellery Adams is the national bestselling author of the Books by the Bay mysteries. Her most recent title, The Last Word, was released in December. Her first title written as Lucy Arlington, Buried in a Book, comes out tomorrow! For more info, visit www.elleryadamsmysteries.com or www.lucyarlington.com