Episode 8: Preparing for Co-authoring


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Season 3, Episode 8: Preparing for Co-authoring

Hi, my friends.

Welcome to Amie Kaufman on Writing, a short podcast that answers one question each week about how writers do what they do.

If you’re a writer, or you’re a reader interested in how your favourite authors craft their stories, then you’re in the right place.

This is Season 3, Episode 8: Preparing for co-authoring.

The most frequent questions I get, both here on the podcast and also at my in-person events, are about how co-authoring works. So I’m going to devote the last three episodes of season three to co-authoring, answering one question each week. Next week I’ll be talking about the everyday practicalities of co-authoring, and for our final episode of the season, I’ll answer an extremely frequently asked question: how does one deal with disagreements while co-authoring?

But for now, here’s my friend and producer Kate with this week’s question. Hi Kate, how are you?

Hi Amie, I’m good!

This week’s question is from Phillipe, who says: I am thinking of starting a co-authoring project with my friend, but I’m worried we have different ideas about what the project will involve. What happens if one of us wants to stop, and the other one wants to keep writing? Who owns the story? Can you please make an episode about questions like this?

This is all good stuff to be thinking about, Phillipe. Having these conversations up front dramatically reduces the likelihood that you’ll end up imploding about issues like this down the track. This is true, of course, of any endeavour you’re undertaking with one or more other humans.

If you think about it, you’d never set off on a holiday with someone without discussing all kinds of things. Where would you like to go? What’s your budget? Do you want to book all your accommodation and tours ahead, or do you prefer to show up and see what grabs your attention? Are you the sort of person who likes to pack in six or seven sights a day and then party at night, or do you want to lounge by the pool and maybe venture out for one cultural excursion each day? Are you going on this holiday for a week, a month, or longer? Does one of you need to rest often because they suffer back pain when they walk for too long, or does the other snore so loudly that sharing a room isn’t wise?

All this seems obvious, when you consider it in another context, but it’s rarely discussed when it comes to co-authoring. And I’ll admit this: I began my first co-authoring relationships with Meg Spooner and Jay Kristoff without discussing most of these things, at least formally. We had a sense that we wanted the same thing, and luckily for us, it turned out we did. We also all have really strong skills when it comes to figuring out what could otherwise be disagreements, and I’ll cover that in a future episode.

So, we were lucky. But because I’ve co-authored some fifteen books, I’ve found myself something of a go-to for people who are co-authoring and want advice, which means I’ve had the chance to see just how many things can go wrong.

As with many situations when things fall apart, a mismatch of expectations is often where it goes wrong. So, here’s a non-exhaustive list of things you might want to discuss with a co-author before you start a project together. I strongly encourage you to think about questions you can add to this that are specific to you and your situation. I should also note that I’m talking about fiction here – when it comes to non-fiction, there are a whole host of other questions in terms of the expertise and audience each author brings to the table, and so on.

So, question one: Your writing model. Are you going to sit together and get words on the page? Are you going to take different points of view and pass the manuscript back and forth, writing a chapter each? Is one of you going to outline the novel, and the other will write it? Will you edit as you go?

Two: Your pace. When do you anticipate having this story done by? This doesn’t have to be exact, but if one of you wants to write it in a month during November and the other anticipates a lazy writing process over the course of a year, you should figure that out now. If you’re passing it back and forth, how often will that happen?

Three: What happens if one of you wants to stop? The book might not end up completed, but would it be okay for one of you to write something using a character they created? Or one that’s similar? What about a plot that’s similar? How similar? This stuff can be difficult to nail down, and of course it’ll depend on the specifics of the situation, but even an early conversation can be helpful.

Four: What happens when you’re done? Does one of you have an agent, or do you both? Or will you query together to seek representation? Or are you going to self-publish? If so – and this isn’t an area of expertise for me – who’ll handle publicity and marketing expenses and other obligations?

Five: How are you going to make story decisions? Do you both prefer to plot, or pants your way through it? For what it’s worth, none of my co-authors plot when they’re writing alone, but all agree that it’s worth doing at least some outlining when you’re together, so you don’t end up killing off a character the other person was about to use. But more than that, you should talk together about what kind of story you want to write – from the basics, like whether this is a fantasy novel or a contemporary novel-in-verse to whether it’s a standalone or a series, who the characters will be, the setting, and so on.

There’s a theme running through all of this – mostly, I want to remind you that much of what you’re taking for granted could be very different to what your co-author is imagining. Make sure that if you’re imagining a month-long hike through treacherous canyons, they’re not imagining a casual week by the pool with a fancy drink with an umbrella in it.

Co-authoring relationships can be incredibly rewarding. They can elevate your writing to a new level as the two of you complement each others’ skills. You’ll learn from your co-author, you’ll deepen your friendship with them, and you’ll find that all those moments when you have no idea what to do next, or how to fix your story? Well, now you have a friend there in the trenches with you. Co-authoring is absolutely wonderful, but it’ll be all the more so if you and your co-author are on the same… well, page.

That’s all for this week. Next week, I’ll be answering a question about the practicalities of co-authoring, from writing software to editing each other.

In the meantime, I’ll remind you to subscribe, and leave the podcast a review wherever you listen. Both these things help new listeners find the podcast, and I really appreciate it. I’ll also remind you to check out Pub Dates, where Kate and I will take you behind the scenes on the countdown to launching our next books.

You can find me at my website, which is at amiekaufman.com – you can subscribe to my newsletter there, for behind-the-scenes peeks at how I write, and any other news about new books, events or the podcast. You can also submit a question for the podcast on my website. You can find me on instagram at @AmieKaufmanAuthor or on twitter at @AmieKaufman. This podcast is produced by the lovely Kate Armstrong, author of the upcoming novel Nightbirds. You can find her online at katejarmstrong.com.

For now, thanks so much for listening – enjoy your reading, and enjoy your writing.


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