Friday, May 29, 2020

When Two Writers are Better Than One: How to Collaborate on Your Next Novel

By Sarah Skilton, @Sarah_Skilton

Part of The Writer's Life Series

JH: Teaming up with a fellow writer can be a great way to share the writing burden and produce more books. Sarah Skilton shares thoughts and tips on things to consider when considering collaboration.

Tash Skilton is the pen name of Sarvenaz Tash (author of The Geek's Guide to Unrequited Love and Virtually Yours) and Sarah Skilton (author of Fame Adjacent and Club Deception), who met on Twitter and parlayed their online friendship into an IRL one. Their Guidebook to Forever Friendship includes getting each other's '90s pop culture references, passionately discoursing their favorite TV shows/books/movies via email, and cheering each other on through the psychological matrix that is motherhood. They have a complicated relationship with the Internet, but will also always love it for facilitating their bicoastal friendship (and the writing of their books).

Their first book together, Ghosting: A Love Story (a multicultural, millennial spin on You’ve Got Mail), released May 26, 2020 from Kensington in paperback, e-book, and audiobook, and has sold foreign translation rights to five territories.

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Take it away Sarah...

Have you ever wondered what it would be like to write a novel with a friend? My close pal Sarvenaz Tash and I had each published four books as solo authors, but we were eager to collaborate on a project. A few years ago, we took the plunge. The resulting rom-com, Ghosting: A Love Story, became the book of our hearts, an homage to the films of Nora Ephron, and a paean to our friendship. With book two on the horizon, we wanted to share what we’ve learned and offer tips on collaborating.

Questions to Ask Before You Collaborate

1. Why do you want to collaborate?

Is it for love or money? (Pro-Tip: Doing anything creative because you think it’ll make you fast cash may lead to disappointment.)

In my collaboration with Sarvenaz, our main goal was to make each other laugh. I believe the finished novel reflects this. It also helped that we were in similar stages of our respective careers, and we share a lit agent (shout out to Victoria Marini!).

Here are a few more pros and cons to consider. I’d advise making your own list as well.

Pros to collaborating:
  • Someone’s waiting to read what you’ve written (inspiring!)
  • The joys of a teammate and partner to pull you out of a slump
  • Half the work, twice as fast
Cons to collaborating:
  • Someone’s waiting to read what you’ve written (pressure!)
  • Every single decision must be shared, including characters, plot, publishing goals, revision style, edits and, yep, author photos

2. With whom would you like to collaborate?

Would you rather work with a close friend, or more of a business partner? Is physical proximity important to you? What about writing style and genre?

Sarvenaz and I met online in 2011, prior to the publication of our respective debut novels. We became each other’s beta readers and support systems over several years, and since we already admired each other’s writing and shared a similar sense of humor, working together seemed like a no-brainer.

While writing GHOSTING together, our strengths and weaknesses complemented one another. My POV character, Zoey, is an L.A. transplant to New York, so I was able to funnel my lack of knowledge about NYC into Zoey’s lack of knowledge. Sarvenaz is a native New Yorker, just like her POV character Miles, so her expertise benefited us both. When I had trouble figuring out some side characters’ traits, Sarvenaz saved the day, and when Sarvenaz wasn’t sure about an editorial note we’d received, I jumped in. The entire journey, from concept to final draft, was a fifty-fifty effort, and the book is stronger because of it.

(Here's more on 10 Tips on Collaborative Writing Success: Are Two Heads Better Than One?)

You and your writing partner are ready to collaborate! What’s next?

There are three areas you ought to discuss before you begin.

1. Creative Aspects for Collaborating

Will you create an outline or beat sheet first, and if so, how detailed would you like it to be? Will you create character files with physical descriptions and personality traits? You want to be on the same page about how characters look and behave.

Will you alternate who writes which chapters, as well as alternate POVs, or will you draft the whole thing together?

Are you a pantser or a plotter? What about your partner? How will you resolve your tendencies if they cause problems?

Maybe you’ve always viewed yourself as a pantser, but you’d rather be a plotter when it comes to working with somebody else. The way you think you work and the way you actually work may not be the same, and you may not know this about yourself until you’re in the midst of collaborating and discover you’re not happy or comfortable with the current set-up.

Also, you might know what your habits are as an individual, but what are your habits as a duo? Maybe you need more time to write your sections than you first realized.

Be upfront with your expectations, but keep in mind that your perceptions about yourself could change.

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

2. Logistics for Collaborating

How often will you share what you’ve written? Every few pages? Every few chapters? One a week? Once a month?

How quickly do you intend to write? As fast as possible (a la NaNoWriMo), or slow and steady for as long as it takes? Will you set a hard deadline, or more of a vague understanding for when you’d like to be done?

Will you revise as you go, allowing your writing partner to make changes within the text in real time, or wait until a draft is complete before offering suggestions?

Do you wish to receive edit notes each time you share pages, or do you strictly prefer to receive positive reinforcement and cheerleading during the first draft?

3. What You’ll Do After the Draft is Finished

What are your goals for publication, if any? Are you both on the same page re: self-pubbing or traditionally publishing? Be honest about your expectations business-wise. Is this a writing exercise, or do you intend to pursue a sale?

Assuming your goal is publication, are you planning to sell the collaboration as a partial or a full? If the former, you’ll have to decide how to write the synopsis together.

Is one of you represented by an agent and one of you is not? Is one of you published and one of you is not? Does your contract specify whether your option clause includes a collaboration?

When the draft is complete, who will your trusted readers be? You’ll need fresh eyes and feedback that comes from outside your two-person bubble. 

Happy co-writing!

Dumped by his fiancée, not only is Miles couch-surfing across New York City, but downsizing has forced him to set up shop at a café. Also, he no longer believes in love. Not a good look in his line of work . . .

Do not present a “perfect” image. No one will trust it. Nor should they.


Zoey’s eccentric L.A. boss sent her packing to New York to “grow.” But beneath her chill Cali demeanor, Zoey’s terrified to venture beyond the café across the street . . .

Think of your quirks—such as cosplaying B-movies from the 1980s—as a “Future Honesty.” Save these as a reward only for those who prove worthy.

The only thing Miles and Zoey share is their daily battle for Café Crudite’s last day-old
biscotti. They don’t know they’re both ghostwriting “authentic” client profiles for rival online dating services. Nope, they have absolutely nothing in common. . . . Until they meet anonymously online, texting on the clock . . .

Never remind the client you’re their Cyrano. Once you’ve attracted a good match, let the client take over ASAP.

Soon, with their clients headed for dating disaster, both Miles and Zoey's jobs are at stake. And once they find out their lines have crossed, will their love connection be the real thing—or vanish into the ether?. . .

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