In order to get down to the heart of my post today, I need to first tell you a story. But don’t worry, it’s an encouraging success story– the kind that everyone likes to hear. Also, it’s about my dad, so I figure that I’m justified in going around doing some mild bragging on him.
Back when I was very young (younger than 5) my dad supported our family as a full-time novelist. He was (in my obviously unbiased opinion) great at it. But unfortunately that old truism about it being hard to get published but even harder to stay published was in his case entirely true. Through no fault of his, his publishing house went through a major restructuring, his editors left, and his books were largely abandoned. It must have been incredibly hard work, but my dad landed on his feet; he went back to law school, climbed the corporate ladder, sent me to college (thanks, Dad!) and has done some great work that mattered over the course of a successful career. But . . . all the time, he still had the heart of a writer.
Enter the digital publishing revolution. After watching me publish both my traditionally published books and my indie series, my dad felt energized to start putting words on paper again. Working nights, early mornings, weekends, etc. around his full-time job, he finished a novel, hired professional editors, cover design, etc., and published the book about two years ago.
His sales were good, his reviews even better. Very quickly, he attracted the notice of an editor at Thomas & Mercer, who offered him a contract on the first book of his series and an option on the second book. My dad signed– and has for about the last year had incredible excitement and support from his publisher. He’s earned out his advance, he continues to pile up the five star reviews . . . one of my favorite English actors has voiced the audiobook version of his novel, and the book has hit Amazon’s top ten in the Kindle store. Thomas & Mercer accepted his second novel, and will publish this coming October.
So I suppose really that this is part one of the heart of my post: these seemingly fairy tale-esque success stories aren’t just fairy-tales. They do happen. Of course there are no guarantees, of course my dad put in loads of hard work and even years when he wasn’t writing at all. But at the end of the day, great things can happen if you keep your writer’s heart nourished and don’t give up on the dream.
At any rate, though, maybe six months or so ago my dad and I were talking about his series. He has a secondary female character whom he really liked and felt that she had stories to tell, but didn’t feel as though he could give her an authentic first-person voice. (This is not to say that male authors can’t nail a female POV, just that my dad didn’t feel it was in his particular writer’s toolbox). Now, it’s not frankly all that often that a family dilemma can by solved by the ability to write historical fiction– so I more or less jumped at the chance to offer my services. Sounds like fun, I told my dad. Give me some outlines, and I’ll see what I can do.
Working together, my dad and I brainstormed some plot and character ideas, and I dove in.
It was one of the most fun, joyful, effortlessly delightful writing experiences of my whole career. Writing can be a very solitary profession– which I honestly don’t mind, introvert that I am. But it was also lovely to be able to bounce ideas back and forth with my dad, to have company throughout the creative process. Also, I was writing purely for the delight of writing and because I wanted to do this with my dad.
If you’re a full-time writer, supporting your family through your books, the reality is that the business side of things does creep in. It just does. Of course I’m passionate about every book that I write. Of course I would write every day, even if I never earned another dime. But since I’m a breadwinner as well as a writer, I do need to pay attention to marketing and small-business models, etc. None of which is a complaint in the slightest. I’m so, so lucky to be able to earn a living and support my family as a writer, whatever the job entails. But while I was writing the story with my dad, it was also delightful to let the business angle fall entirely by the wayside and to just write— immerse myself in the moment without worry about what to do with the book when I was done.
As it’s turned out, my dad’s editor was excited about the idea of our collaboration and has asked to read the book that I turned out; it’s with her now, and we should hear her decision within a few weeks. Now, maybe it will be published along with my dad’s books, and maybe not. If not, my dad plans (with the full and generous approval of his publisher) to publish it himself as a companion to his series. I’m truly happy with the outcome either way. But whatever happens from now on, I feel as though I’ve already had the best gift that the book could have given me– the experience of writing purely for the sake of the writing itself. It was a beautiful reminder of why I do this job: simply, for the love.
What about you? Have you ever collaborated on a writing project? How do you balance the business and creative aspects of the writing life?