When I was a kid, I used to hate group projects in school; I strongly believed I’d rather do all the work myself than juggle a collaboration with a classmate. As an author, I’m in awe of people who make collaborations work. One of my Book View Cafe colleagues, Irene Radford, has made a collaboration work. I asked her to share a bit about how and why she chose to work that way, when she wrote The Lost Enforcer with Bob Brown. Of course, Irene and Bob collaborated on their response to my question
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In your favorite book shopping venue you stumble across a book written by 2 of your favorite authors. Joy, oh, joy. This has got to be the best book ever written.
Or is it? Have the authors brought their best to the table or have two egos warred with each other, each suppressing all but the worst of the other?
We’ve seen both happen. As an author Irene has tried collaboration twice. The first time was an unmitigated disaster and had to be abandoned by both parties to avoid bringing in the lawyers. The second, with Bob, though, has proven much more successful. What was the difference?
Remember the old carpenters’ advice: measure twice but cut once. When contemplating entering into collaboration think twice, and commit for one project at a time. Think long and hard about what each will gain, what each can contribute, and why you want to share.
In both cases for Irene, she was the more experienced or better selling author. By attaching her name to the other author she gave their careers an endorsement. They gained from her reputation and visibility. In return, she gained fresh perspective, enthusiasm, and imagination. This at a time when she’d started to feel sluggish and repetitive in her writing. We both gained.
This situation also set up a working process where Irene was the “senior” writer with a more honed skill set, but Bob was the creative driver. This led to each having a limited veto power. For questions of style and technique, Irene was the senior, for progression of the story, Bob took the lead. But like any leadership role, it requires the consent of the governed. Many a bad plot idea was patiently commented on until the faults were self revealing. While Bob, would apply the same process on points of style. Both gave in to the partner’s points only after expressing any concerns and no matter how tempting the moment might have been. The words “I told you so,” were never uttered.
For the second book in our collaboration we will follow much the same pattern, but now Irene will have a stronger voice in story and Bob will have a stronger sense of style points. Both will blend as we approach parity. We both understand that this is not Irene’s book, or Bob’s book, but our book. And like parents, we want it to grow into a solid work that the readers will like.
The next thing to think about, is trust. A collaboration is much like a marriage, only more intimate and open. As in a marriage, you have to trust your partner to bring to the table the same level of commitment as yourself. Do you trust your new partner to listen to your concerns as well as your exiting (to you) ideas? This is one of the most important things in a collaborative relationships. In Irene’s first collaboration the relationship dissolved when neither could trust the other not to sabotage then entire project over an active or passive narrator, a point of view character, a word choice, or a level of sensuality. We made sure that a high level of trust was established early on, and it paid off with a successful collaboration. So successful that we look forward to doing at least two more books in the series.
Respect goes hand in hand with trust. Every writer has a different creative process—Irene’s is long and slow, Bob’s comes in flashes of brilliance. We also have different working schedules and contracts for other work. We have to respect that and work with it, rather than against.
Respect is born through communication. Lots of it. Every brilliant idea needs to be shared before including it in what we called the Master Document. Sometimes one of us will write a scene and then share it and talk about it, other times we spend an hour on the phone thrashing through the consequences further into the story if we include it. Either way we talk. Often. With honesty—no secret agendas or subplots. We email. And we meet up several times a year as SF/F conventions for longer and more involved conversations with dueling laptops. We live 200 miles apart and have a mutual friend half way between who loans us her dining table where we spread out pages, reference books, notepads, etc. We foresee Skype in the near future—but this requires rigid scheduling and may not happen.
Like any great partnership, a prenup is in order. This doesn’t have to be written in stone or signed in blood, but you need a strategy for walking away if things do not turn out well or you discover that a premise does not a story make. You can start with a simple statement of how you intended to share royalties. Then decide how you will split the assets. Who can take which characters or sub plots to other projects, or if the book must die and be buried intact. Being able to end a collaboration on friendly terms is a valuable asset in and of itself. It leaves doors open while closing only one behind you.
The actual writing process will be different for every book as well as every collaboration. We do a lot more outlining on the collaboration books so that we both know where the book is going, how it gets there, and why. Side trips are allowed if discussed. Once the plot arc and characterizations are set out we choose the scenes we want to write and where they fit in the book. One will write, the other will edit, and then the initiator will go back over it. Then it can be included in the Master Document. Final edits of the complete Master Document can eliminate or re-arrange scenes. We always know who has custody of the one and only Master Document and formally acknowledge the passing of it back and forth. That saves a lot of headaches in continuity and which is the latest version.
Planning is essential in a collaboration. Remembering why you trust and respect each other enough for honest and frequent communication has to come before letting the story flow. That opens avenues of creativity above and beyond the limits of any one writer, and truly can achieve the best of each, and possibly something more.
Buy link: The Lost Enforcer (on Amazon)
Bob Brown lives, works, and writes with his two pugs, two cats, and several dozen chickens in Washington State. He is the author of numerous short stories and the recently released children’s book, The Damsel, the Dragon, and the Knight. He is well known in the science fiction convention community as RadCon Bob, due in part to the nature of his work as a Health Physicist at the Hanford Nuclear Reservation, where he supports clean-up of nuclear waste left over from the Cold War. Bob is an avid gardener and a teller of chicken jokes. You can follow Bob on Facebook: Bob Brown or www.bobbrownwrites.com.
Irene Radford has been writing stories ever since she figured out what a pencil was for. A member of an endangered species, a native Oregonian who lives in Oregon, she and her husband make their home in Welches, Oregon, where deer, bears, coyotes, hawks, owls, and woodpeckers feed regularly on their back deck. A museum-trained historian, Irene has spent many hours prowling pioneer cemeteries deepening her connections to the past. Raised in a military family, she grew up all over the U.S. and learned early on that books are friends that don’t get left behind with a move. Her interests and reading range from ancient history to spiritual meditations to space stations, and a whole lot in between. In other lifetimes she writes urban fantasy as P. R. Frost and space opera as C. F. Bentley. You can follow Irene Radford on Live Journal: rambling_phyl or on FaceBook: Phyllis Irene Radford, or at www.ireneradford.com. Her latest publication from DAW Books is The Broken Dragon, Children of the Dragon Nimbus #2.