It is a common misconception that co-writing is the cheap and easy way out of writing a novel because two heads are always better than one, right? That was our thought process when we started our first novel together too. We were both passionate about a subject (any Shakespeare lovers out there?) and had an amazing story nugget forming in our conversations. We jumped in headfirst without much thought process to how the actual nuts and bolts of co-writing worked. Here are a couple of things that we found during the process that we should have known ahead of time. Thankfully, for us, we ended up having such a great time doing it that we’ve now co-written several novels, novellas, and other short stories, but that won’t be the case for everyone. So pay close attention to these beginning issues to ensure that you have the easiest, most conflict-free writing experience possible.
1. Know your ultimate goal for the project.
There are many different approaches to writing. Especially in fiction, which is what we specialize in. If your ultimate goal is publication, talk with your co-writer about which direction you would like to take your story (and it is our professional obligation to advise you to get this and some of the other questions in writing). Some common options to discuss are self-publishing, small publishers and publishers with open submissions, and traditional publishing via an agent. For more on the responsibilities involved and how to navigate the querying trenches with a co-writer, please join us for How to Co-Write without Committing Murder, where we will go into detail about each option and how they can be modified to fit a co-writing model.
2. It is not less work.
While yes, technically you only have to write half as many words as you would doing a full novel on your own, everything leading up to (plotting, character development, etc.) and everything after (marketing, querying, etc.) should still have 100% as much effort put into it by both parties to ensure the best outcome possible. If you are going into co-writing because you believe you can capitalize on someone else’s hard work and talent, you might be better off looking into a ghostwriter.
3. Predetermine deadlines and realistic time management
There is nothing worse than having to push deadlines, delay releases, and race against the clock. At the same time, if you don’t have a deadline or at least discuss timeframes with your co-writer, then you may be opening yourself up to the potential conflict. Make sure the deadlines you either have agreed to or implemented yourself are feasible. And again, communicate. Make sure you have time to check in with your co-writer often, acting as both an accountability partner and a sounding board to potential issues.
4. Will you plot or pants?
Regardless of your personal preference, you and your co-writer need to come to an agreement of some sort when it comes to the forward trajectory of your story. The best way to do that is to create some sort of plan so that you both will be on the same page whether you’re writing at the same time or taking turns. This doesn’t mean you need to work out an outline longer than the story itself (though if you want to do that, by all means!) But it will make your experience more enjoyable and easier to navigate if there is something that you both can use, whether it’s using notes, or a list, or scene beats that are easily accessible by both of you.
5. What software will you use?
A huge conversation within the writing community is the best software to use for drafting. Scribner, Standard MSWord, YWriter, and others are frequently used but they aren’t always co-writer friendly. Google Docs is our go-to because it is free, allows you to see what the other is writing in real-time, and has a chat function. But it also comes with its own limitations. There is other software out there like Microsoft Word Online, Quip, and Dropbox Paper which all offer collaboration functionality. So talking about the pros and cons of each one and making a decision on which to use is important. You don’t want to switch in the middle of a project and risk losing any work.
6. Will you alternate chapters, scenes, points of view, none of the above?
We tend to invite chaos when we write. Because of our solid outlines and open communications, you’ll often find one of us writing one scene while the other skips forward, and then we write until they connect. Other writers may prefer things to be more structured. This can easily be achieved by alternating chapters. Especially if those chapters are told from two separate viewpoints. Another way is to have someone write the bare bones of a scene (dialog and action) and have the other fill in the description as they revise. We refer to this as ‘sketching’ and ‘coloring’ when we do it and it can work well if done correctly. It’s best to have the conversation about this with your co-writer before you begin so you know how the flow of the writing will go.
7. Will you have continuous access to the other’s writing or will the two of you check in often?
If you are using a software that allows you to see the other writing (like those mentioned above) you may want to schedule writing times when you can both be at a computer. Otherwise, set up a schedule on how often the two of you should swap your work, especially if there’s a deadline you need to meet.
8. How will you edit? As you go? Once you finish? Third-party?
Even as we write this blog post, we are constantly checking and reviewing the other’s words. For us personally, editing as we go helps us in that while one is drafting the other is reviewing, making it easier when we go back to do a full round of self-edits before sending it off to our editor. Some might find it easier to edit in chunks, especially if you’re alternating chapters between one another. Others may find it easiest to just complete a full draft before tackling any editing at all. As with all other aspects, you will need to find the one that works best for both of you and your story.
9. Who pays for what? How will royalties be split?
Money conversations are never easy to have, but they’re important when co-authoring. In an ideal world, fees and costs should be handled as evenly as possible, and royalties should be split down the middle unless you and your co-author have another arrangement already in place. Consider what you’ll need to spend money on and work it out from there. Between cover design, editing, and marketing, no one person should shoulder all the costs. Contribute as best as you can but be certain it’s communicated with your co-author whether you’re splitting the cost of each task or evenly dividing the responsibilities.
10. You do not have to be best friends with your co-writer, but it’s okay if you are.
Co-writing is a business partnership. As long as there is open communication, a willingness to compromise, and a mutual passion for the same goal – you will be able to co-write your novel without having to be personally connected. The best friends/co-writer thing works for us well because we talk daily anyway and can keep our writing separate from our outside friendship. If you aren’t on a regular speaking basis with your co-writer, make sure you schedule times to check in to make sure you are both still on the same page (figuratively, of course).
Despite these considerations, the main thing you need to be prepared to do is to communicate with your co-author. All else will fall into place as soon as you figure out the best way to convey your ideas, listen to theirs, agree, and compromise. Co-writing may seem glamorous or it may seem daunting, but there is one thing it absolutely is… possible.
M. and Laynie have written both separately and together, and have hit Amazon bestseller rank both ways. M.’s work includes The Empire Series (Two Thousand Years, Mark of the Empress, and the accompanying novellas) published by Parliament House Press, and Cut to the Bone, set to be published by Filles Vertes Publishing in 2021. Laynie’s debut novel, Adeline’s Aria, was published in January with Fire and Ice YA. Together they have published Faust University, included in the Academy of Magic box set by Enchanted Quill Press and will publish Escaping the Grey in the Prison of Supernatural Magic box set in April. When writing together they combine their strengths to create unique queer characters with sass and backbone in both the contemporary romance and romantic fantasy genres.
Check out their class right here at SavvyAuthors!
- How to Co-Write (Without Committing Murder) with Laynie Bynum and M. Dalto – November 16th – November 29th