Friday, May 14, 2021

The Ins and Outs of Coauthoring as an Indie Author

By Cassie Alexander, @CassieY4

Part of The Indie Author Series

JH: Writing with another author can be a rewarding experience, but how exactly does it work? Cassie Alexander discusses how to handle a coauthorship.

Cassie Alexander is a registered nurse and author. Her most recent book is Dragon Called, cowritten with Kara Lockharte, and they also write together as Cassie Lockharte. Prior to that, she wrote the five-book Edie Spence urban fantasy series, out now through St. Martin's Press, and the Dark Ink Tattoo series, a sultry urban fantasy about vampires in Vegas. Join her mailing list for news about her latest releases.

Website (Cassie) | Website (Kara) | Website (Cassie Lockharte) | Goodreads | Facebook | Twitter | Mailing List 

Take it away Cassie…
Hi there, I’m Cassie Alexander, one half of the indie author Cassie Lockharte. Kara Lockharte’s the other half of the team, and here’s how we started up and now keep things running.

First off, Kara and I had been friends for a very long time—we both enjoyed the other’s style of writing, and we actually met at Clarion West back in 2007. She approached me about working with her two-three years ago, and we took a few months at the time to figure out what precisely that would look like.

It’s important to consider what you want out of teaming up, what your goals are as an individual writer, and how that meshes (or doesn’t!) with your team goal.

It helps to be established in your own career and aware of your own writing patterns, so that both of you are on the same page when it comes to expectations, both of the industry and working together.

For us, we were both experienced writers and we had few illusions about the publishing industry as a whole, so our goal primary goal of Voltron-ing together into a co-brand was to Sell Out While Having Fun.

Towards that end, we had a ton of high-level discussions about what we wanted our co-career to look like:
  • What did we want to write together? Paranormal romance.
  • What brought us joy, while also the potential for earning cash? Dragon-shifters!
  • Could we break down what we were going to write about far enough in advance so that the other would feel included in the creative process, while still keeping up the thrill of the in-the-moment-word-chase? Hopefully!

We decided that we’d split royalties 50/50, after recouping whatever each of us had put in to stake things like covers, copyediting, etc. We chose a bank to use and went through the hoops of setting that up. We each ponied up credit cards to keep on file for other assorted start-up costs, FB ads, AMS ads, etc. (Clearly, there’s a lot of trust involved, but like…I know her? And she knows me? Which helps, for sure.)

And—like true friends, who wanted to stay friends, safely—we signed a contract with one another, stating our plans for all of the above, including plans for dissolution if need be.

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

When you’re starting up as a co-brand, you need to do all the same things you’d do for yourself starting up under a pseudonym.

A new url, facebook, twitter, gmail, etc, you name it, even if we’re not using it, just to squat on it and keep it as ours. Depending on your intents, too, you’ll need to get a PO box and file a DBA. (Kara took care of this, as it falls under her ‘business’ purview.)

We keep track of everything in assorted google docs and spreadsheets that we both have access to (along with our PA). And in the contract we made, we decided who would get the final say if we argued over something—I have creative control, and she has marketing/business control, although we’ve never really run up against those lines, mostly because Kara’s full of good ideas, and I really dislike marketing.

In the beginning, our writing was more of a collaborative process, and Kara wanted to include me in more of the marketing-decisions, but now we’ve kind of fallen into what I like to think of as ‘power couple’ lines. (Note: this is what works for us, and may not work for other people.)

What we do now is we check in about our goals for a book—what’s the theme? The trope? The core character problems? And how is this book going to move our characters forward in a way that’s going to feel emotionally satisfying to have resolved?

Once we’ve decided what we’re aiming for, I go off in a corner and dream something up. (Is it always great? No! But…that’s why I have a co-author!) I bring back a 3-5,000-word outline of something that accomplishes the goal we decided the book would have together, in a way that I think I’d find pretty dang fun to write. It’s mostly me talking like a hyper kid in the backseat of a car about the scenes I’m already looking forward to.

Then, before I get too attached to anything, Kara says, “You know, can they be a werewolf instead of a bear, werewolves sell better? And can we skip the whole pregnancy subplot? I’m not feeling it for that character,” and generally I agree, because her reasons are well thought out (and there’s always next book—the joy of being indie!)

After that, I go back and I write out the first 7-10,000 words and then run it by her, to make sure we’re still on the same page with our intent and tone. Once she’s checked it off, I’m usually off to the races on the rest.

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

I have the ability to write about 30-50,000 words a month. Mind you, it’s all first draft, and some of it is straight up nonsense—but like all writers know, it’s always easier to fix stuff in edits, once it’s down. And because I can write such a sheer volume of words, once I’m aimed at a story, I don’t get too precious about them. While I do have feelings about what I write and when I write, I know that sometimes things just aren’t working out and they need to be binned. It’s easier to do that when you’re working fast, for me.

So while I’m taking my three-four months to write up a first draft and make it readable at the end, what’s Kara doing in the interim, you ask? All the things I hate. Facebook ads, AMS ads, arranging covers, putting in for copyright, coordinating newsletters, drumming up reviews, figuring out translation angles, deciding when it’s time to recover/rebrand, picking out our audiobook narrators, etc. All the day to day business of running an economic enterprise that frankly I would be overwhelmed by (seeing as on top of writing, I have a full-time job.)

She also keeps track of publishing trends—for instance, she decided that our original blue covers would do better if they went gray, and we’re in the process of transitioning from using both our names on a cover to just the one: Cassie Lockharte, because readers spring for solo-authored books more often than dual. (Also, it’s far, far easier on your cover person to only have to squish in one name -grin-.) We’re getting our original series recovered this summer to reflect that.

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

But the really awesome thing is when my draft is ready, I send it to her, and within about two weeks she sends it back to me with amazing notes. Anything that I might’ve missed: opportunities to deepen the story, chances to connect with the characters, and give readers what they’re looking for, she points out. I like to think that I’m pretty bad ass (because I am) but her input’s what takes one of our books from an 80% awesome endeavor to a 110% awesome one (if you ask me.)

Then, once I make our last round of changes, and we both sign off on it, she whisks it away from me, sends it off to copyeditors, proofers, reviewers, sets up its Amazon page, starts hyping it in newsletters, and basically gets everything ready for when it’ll come out in the world.

And I chill for about a month, catch up on TV and ice my aching wrists, until we get ready to do it all again.

Both of us could do everything ourselves if we had to, we both have indie experience, and know how everything works behind the scenes. But it’s so much easier to be working with someone else who truly enjoys their part of the process—it’s really nice to just concentrate on what we both consider the dessert part of our career, instead of forcing our way through the metaphorical broccoli. (No hate for actual broccoli though, which I love -grin-.)

Sammy O'Connor didn't mean to steal a dragon's necklace...she just kind of did.

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  1. Thanks for a behind the scenes look at your process. I've had initial talks with a friend about teaming up too. We have similar writing styles but write in different genres. We have a series idea that fits us both. We hadn't gotten to considering both names - vs - one name on the cover. That's something we'll need to think about.

  2. I co-write with my sister. We've developed a wonderful working relationship. She's so much better at devising plots and the whole visualization thing, and I am better at wordsmithing. Together, it works well!