There’s no disputing that social media has disrupted and changed, perhaps forever, the way we receive and deliver information. It has also changed how we read—and because of this, I think it goes without saying that it has influenced our stylistic choices as writers. But another phenomenon seems to be emerging, beyond style and digitized text: the rise in collaborative works. In the television and film world, multiple collaborators on any one project is nothing new, but then, most of those writers work in one room, spit-balling ideas off of each other. But it’s hard to imagine making this work in the novel writing world when we’re scattered across the globe. Yet it’s happening, and we very likely have social media to thank for this.
We’re all so much more accessible, for one, but we also have the ability to work “side by side” and “simultaneously” via Google Docs. (Some tell me they work in a joint Scrivener account or via a single Word Doc emailed back and forth as well, though that sounds cumbersome to be honest.)
Social media is certainly one of the big instigators, but collaborative works might also be popularizing because of other factors. For example, authors have been forced to become entrepreneurial. In doing so, we have realized the essential need to work together with others to promote our works. Two heads really are better than one in this case. Another factor in the rise of collaborative novels, is our need to find new ways to break into the increasingly tight book market. When you fuse the audiences of two authors together, you’ve doubled your reach. More and more of us are seeing the value in this approach.
Collaborative works can be seen problematic from a sales standpoint, however, as it encourages the book glut, one of the bigger problems in the industry. After all, many of us are now writing twice the number of books. Some publishers are also hesitant to pick up these works because the contracts become more complicated, as does the editorial and sales process. Still, perhaps all of this buddying up is bringing a wonderful array of new and unique projects with fresh voices.
In fact, from a writer’s standpoint, collaboration carries quite a few pros and cons, so you choose to go down this road, it’s important to weigh all the factors. For example:
The positives of collaborating
- First and foremost, you’re splitting the workload. This is always a huge plus. I find I can safely co-write a novel and simultaneously work on my own novel on the side because the load is shared.
- One of the bigger joys of co-writing is sharing in the milestones during the writing and editing process with a partner/friend who understands the book and characters only as you do. There’s nothing like the two of you jumping for joy when you wrap that first draft.
- When there are pitfalls or unexpected turbulence as there often is in the making and publishing of a book, you have someone to lean on and with whom to commiserate.
- Another, and perhaps the best aspect of co-writing is the wonderful shared excitement of seeing the book sell, watching the foreign sales roll in as well as the reviews, and if you’re lucky, hitting lists! In some ways, the entire process is more meaningful when you can celebrate with each other.
- You have a chance to push your craft to a new level, as you learn how to weave your skills and views together with someone else’s. It’s amazing what I’ve learned!
- It’s just plain fun, working with someone else.
But there’s always a flip side, so let’s look at…
The challenges of collaborating
- Choose your partner(s) wisely. Best friends don’t always make the best working partners. You need to share the same work ethic, communicate well, and be flexible. Sometimes you won’t find this out until you begin a project and issues arise, so be ready to abandon ship if doesn’t appear to be working.
- Be certain you and your partner share the same vision for the characters’ personalities, motivations, and arcs. (The same goes for the plot, but that never seems to cause the same level of intensity in a dispute as with characters. They’re nearer to our hearts.)
- Finding time to write with multiple schedules can make things difficult and chaotic, so you have to decide on something realistic and COMMIT. Again, back to similar work ethics.
- Your social media and promotional efforts have now doubled. Decisions need to be made about websites and Facebook pages, and how all of these important items will be handled. Perhaps appointing duties here would help.
- Leave your ego at the door. It’s not about who is right, but what best serves the story and the characters, so sometimes you have to let go of an idea that isn’t working and be open to something totally different. It doesn’t make the other writer better than you, and you aren’t better than them. It all comes out in the wash in the end.
And just for fun, here are a few collaborative writing teams, I’ve noticed of late:
Hazel Gaynor & me
Liz Fenton & Lisa Steinke
Stephanie Dray & Laura Kamoie
Beatriz Williams, Karen White, & Lauren Willig
Then there are the two-people writing teams who publish under one pen name like Liv Constantine, authors of The Last Mrs. Parrish. And finally, there are the large, multi-person teams who write novels (not anthologies!) together like the History 360 team. I recently co-wrote a French Revolution era novel with the History 360 team with five other authors. It was insane and fun, and one of the most challenging projects I’ve ever worked on.
I’m curious about your thoughts on this trend and about collaborating in general. Do you think there’s a link between social media and collaborative writing projects? What about indie publishing and self-publishing? Do you think these aspects of the publishing business have contributed to this phenomenon? Is this a good or bad thing? Would you ever try it?