Tuesday, May 12, 2015

Two Heads Are Better Than One (co-authoring a book for dummies)

By James R. Tuck, @JamesTuckwriter

Part of the How They Do It Series

Writing a novel is usually a solo endeavor, but there are plenty of writers out there who team up to put words to paper. James Tuck is one such writer, and he's here today to share his experience writing as a duo for those thinking about trying a joint effort on their next writing project.

James was born and raised in Georgia and grew up drawing and reading a steady helping of Robert E. Howard stories, Golden Age comics, and books he was far too young to be reading. Combined with a very Southern involvement in church and watching horror movies, this became the bedrock of his creativity. He became a tattoo artist, and now writes dark fantasy. He's the author of the Deacon Chalk: Occult Bounty Hunter series, a variety of short stories and novellas set in the same world (and some outside of it), and the editor of the Thunder on the Battlefield anthologies. His newest series (co-written with Debbie Viguie), Robin Hood: Demon's Bane, comes out in the fall.

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Take it away James...

Writing a book is hard work. It isn't digging ditches or anything but it does tax your mental stamina and there is a physical strain to sitting down and writing 80,000 words. Even a prolific writer with lightning fingers will spend as many hours writing as they would at a part-time or sometimes even a full-time job.

So if you had a co-writer your work should be cut in half. Right?

Sort of.

I have the pleasure of co-writing four books at the moment. A stand alone weird western with Krista Merle and a three book Robin Hood retelling with Debbie Viguie. (Book one Mark of the Black Arrow is out in August from Titan)

In my co-writing I have discovered a thing or two about the process..

Find An Author You Can Work With

How do I do this? you ask. Well, first things first, get out of the house. Go to a convention or join a critique group, become friends with other authors on social media. Hanging out with authors is how you find if you have chemistry. It's actually very much like dating, you gotta get out there and make the magic happen face to face. Both my co-authors were convention conversations that turned into work. I have other friends who are co-authoring that have been friends for years. And other friends who met online and began talking via facebook messenger.

The process with me and Debbie was this:
(Sitting on a panel together) Me: Hey, we sure do have a lot of views in common.
Debbie: We do, we should write something together.
Me: (to the “crowd”) You all heard that. You are my witnesses.

And thus a three book series was born.

Find Your Process

Are you an outliner and your partner a pantser? Do you write in scheduled days of production while your writing partner is at the whim of their muse? The fact is that there is a process to co-authoring and you have to find it out. Who will write what?

With Robin Hood, Debbie and I mostly write in 10k chunks. Both of us are busy and we churn our words quickly but there may be 2-3 weeks between getting the manuscript back and being able to write. Plus there are something like 14 different viewpoints in our book so we keep hopping.

Krista and I are doing a loose chapter swap. I write one and she writes one and we pretty much stick with only the two viewpoints of the main characters.

Both are easy and both are hard.

On a practical note, you also need to find out how you are swapping the manuscript. Both my projects use email and we just attach the work we've done to the email when we are ready to relinquish the reins. I have friends who co-author using Dropbox to exchange files and another set who use Google Docs. You will find your comfort level with something.

Can't Split Everything

Look, you both have your strong points and your weak points. Don't be stubborn. Help each other out. I am VERY good at description, especially in an action scene, something both my co-authors are a little soft in. That's cool cause one is an ace at plotting and the other is a badass character builder. We work the parts we have and make sure the other has room to work and if you do this, you wind up with something well worth doing.

It's a Lot of Work to do Only Half

Co-writing takes the same amount of planning and outlining as a solo authored book however now you have two people in a discussion. There will be disagreements and differing views on particulars in the story and it is best to talk long and hard about your project to hammer out any of the major ones. Now don't mistake me, this is the really fun part of the process. It's like talking with your geek friends a what-if scenario of your favorite fandom except this time it's YOUR fandom and you get to actually do something about it.

But you want to get all the big issues cleared up between you so you don't have any curveballs in the actual writing.

You Will Have Curveballs in Your Writing

No matter how much you plan for it, somewhere one of you will be writing your section and a great idea will spark and instead of discussing it, you will just write it and hope for the best. Either you will do it and throw your partner for a loop or you will get the manuscript back and what is written will be NOTHING like what you discussed. This is where the texting or the emailing or the whatever form of communication happens. Don't be afraid to call them on the change but also don't be afraid to take a moment and see if it works. Sometimes those curveballs can be the best stories.

I have found both my experiences co-writing to be fulfilling and enjoyable. I'll do it again. I highly recommend you do it also.

About Robin Hood: Demon's Bane

Sherwood Forest is a place of magic, and Prince John and his allies are demons bent upon ruling Britain. The solstice draws close, and Prince John and the Sheriff hold Maid Marian, whose blood sacrifice will lock the prince’s hold on the kingdom and the crown. Unless Marian can reach Robin with a magic artifact coveted by the enemy and entrusted to her by the Cardinal, the ritual will occur. (releases August 4, 2015) 

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  1. My biggest concern is sharing the marketing efforts, managing the edits, even splitting the royalties without issues.

  2. James, thanks for a fine piece here. I've often considered a collaboration, and you roundly answer most of the points I've wondered about. But though I've read an enjoyed a few collaborations, I can't get rid of the nagging doubt that readers somehow look at a book with two author names on it and (unless one is a suerstar) will be somehow will be less attracted to it. I suspect this is more to do with my own psyche (been a solo self-employee all my life even before becoming a writer) than anything real...but the doubt lingers. Have you ever come up against or wondered about this? Is there any foundation to the notion?

    Because in many ways I think it would be a lot of fun to do, and I certainly know some authors I'd *love* to work with, with possibly terrific results.

    Best and thanks again,