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Friday, August 23

10 Tips on Collaborative Writing Success: Are Two Heads Better Than One?

By Heather Webb and Hazel Gaynor, @msheatherwebb, @HazelGaynor

Part of The Writer’s Life Series

JH: Ever wanted to write with another author, but weren’t sure how to start? Heather Webb and Hazel Gaynor visit the lecture hall today to share their top ten tips on being a successful writing team.


Hazel Gaynor is the New York Times, USA Today, and internationally bestselling author of seven historical novels including The Lighthouse Keeper’s Daughter which is longlisted for the 2019 HWA Gold Crown award. She was the recipient of the 2015 RNA Historical Novel of the Year award for The Girl Who Came Home, and was shortlisted for the 2017 Irish Book Awards with The Girl from The Savoy. Hazel lives in Ireland with her husband and children.

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Heather Webb is the internationally bestselling and award-winning author of six historical novels set in France, including Becoming Josephine and Rodin’s Lover, and the upcoming Ribbons of Scarlet, Oct 2019 Heather lives in New England with her children and husband. 

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Hazel and Heather’s first co-written novel, Last Christmas in Paris, won the WFWA 2018 STAR Award, and Meet Me in Monaco is a finalist in the 2019 Digital Book World Awards for Best Book (Fiction). Their third co-written novel will be published in 2021.

Take it away Hazel and Heather…

Writing tends to be a solitary and very personal process. The image of the writer hunched over their desk, struggling with word count, plot, and self doubt, will be all-too-familiar to many of us! It’s no wonder, then, that the prospect of sharing that isolation with another writer is so appealing. Yet collaborative novels are a rare, and slightly mythical concept. How do individual writers, with unique styles and voices, come together to produce a cohesive novel with seamless prose? Are the challenges worth the rewards, and what—if anything—can we learn from working closely with another writer?

Our Top 10 Tips for Collaborative Success

1. Choose your writing partner wisely.


Your best writing friend is not necessarily your best writing partner. Though friendship will likely develop as an effect of working so closely with someone, it’s not a necessity. On the other hand, being professional and challenging each other to be the best writers you can be, is. You want a satisfying working relationship in which you can trust the other to hold up their end of the bargain—and not cop out with personal excuses. Dropping the ball and personal excuses may be more common with people who will love us no matter what.

2. Have a clear vision for the book from the start: tone, plot, structure, and characters.


Make sure you are—literally—on the same page so there aren’t sticky issues down the road. It’s important to be sure your vision for each of the integral pieces to the story match. One author might assume a character is a bit of a rogue, and the other author might see him as a passive sort of fellow who is shy toward women. If these character sketches aren’t fleshed out ahead of time, or at least agreed upon during drafting, it could cause some in-fighting. The same goes for Discuss, discuss, discuss.

3. Choose a style and structure for the book that allows dual writing to work to its best.


This will be completely dependent on what the authors choose, but typically, it’s best to use more than one point of view character, or use a structure that allows for easy swapping of chapters and scenes, back and forth. That being said, many authors work on a single point of view character with ease!

(Here's more on 7 Tips for Collaborating on a Novel)

4. Agree on a realistic writing schedule to which you can both commit.


Keep in mind, you will also have solo projects in the works. There are a variety of ways to split up the work time, including alternating chapters or writing different points of view. In addition, decide how to divide the working week. It’s important for both writers to have the same work ethic, and a clear idea of how the workload will be divided during the writing and editing, as well as during the marketing and promotional phases of the book.

5. Leave your ego at the door.


Sometimes we don’t realize how attached we are to a particular idea or thread, and one of the authors really believes that’s not the way to go. Co-writing isn’t about who is right or wrong, or who is the best writer. Both writers bring unique qualities to the table and each can put an interesting spin on something that might work. But there is a best choice for this particular story and it’s up to each author to let go of their ego and be open to suggestion to create the strongest, most engaging story possible. Which brings us to our next point:

6. Be flexible.


This may be the single most important aspect of co-writing. This encompasses what we’ve already mentioned above in terms of structure, style, characters, and changes to the story arc, but it also includes scheduling issues. You’ll learn a lot about your co-authors’ kids, pets, and family life and those responsibilities or random unforeseen issues that are beyond our control. Rework the schedule together to make it happen, and above all relax. Being a control freak while working with another person is going to cause a lot of unnecessary friction. Co-writing can be a lot of fun, but keep in mind that writing a book with your best friend or a family member isn’t always the best call. You need a professional partner, and if friendship follows, all the better!

7. Meet regularly (if possible), or schedule regular Skype chats.


Email can only achieve so much. Continual communication is vital to ensure both authors are continually on the same page. Never assume you know what the other is thinking. English can be a nebulous language. Schedule phone calls or meetings as often as needed to work things out.

(Here's more on Some Musings on Co-Writing a Novel)

8. Commit.


If it is your day to work on the book, work on the book. Eating bonbons and working through your email inbox that day should come after the writing is done. When it comes time for promotion, if you say you’ll create graphics and organize book lists, then do it. You aren’t just letting yourself down—you’re letting your writing partner down and the book will suffer for it.

9. Have fun.


Share storyboards and Pinterest boards and interesting clips that relate to the book, or plan research trips together, if possible. This is a great and unique experience. Enjoy it.

10. Celebrate milestones and successes along the way.


This is the best part! When word count is reached and drafts are finished, covers are revealed and foreign sales come in—be sure to toast your accomplishments! Promotional road trips are great fun with two, but the brainstorming, eureka moments, the triumphs and celebrations are really wonderful to share, too. Experiencing all this with a friend adds so much meaning to novel writing, especially since it can be such a lonely pursuit. All that hard work should be rewarded!

(Here's more on Two Heads Are Better Than One (co-authoring a book for dummies))

Writing a collaborative novel can be a hugely rewarding and enriching experience. Writers can learn a lot from each other, and can certainly enhance each other’s strengths as well as provide that much-needed motivation and inspiration when the going gets tough. And when the book is complete, what could be better than having a co-author to celebrate that achievement with?

About Meet Me in Monaco

Set in the 1950s against the backdrop of Grace Kelly’s whirlwind romance and unforgettable wedding to Prince Rainier of Monaco, New York Times bestselling author Hazel Gaynor and Heather Webb take the reader on an evocative sun-drenched journey along the Côte d’Azur in this page-turning novel of passion, fate and second chances...

Movie stars and paparazzi flock to Cannes for the glamorous film festival, but Grace Kelly, the biggest star of all, wants only to escape from the flash-bulbs. When struggling perfumer Sophie Duval shelters Miss Kelly in her boutique to fend off a persistent British press photographer, James Henderson, a bond is forged between the two women and sets in motion a chain of events that stretches across thirty years of friendship, love, and tragedy.

James Henderson cannot forget his brief encounter with Sophie Duval. Despite his guilt at being away from his daughter, he takes an assignment to cover the wedding of the century, sailing with Grace Kelly’s wedding party on the SS Constitution from New York. In Monaco, as wedding fever soars and passions and tempers escalate, James and Sophie—like Princess Grace—must ultimately decide what they are prepared to give up for love.

Heather: Amazon | Barnes & Noble | iTunes | Indie Bound | Kobo |

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