Episode 9: How Co-authoring Works


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Episode 9: How Co-authoring Works

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 9: How co-authoring works.

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 Wendy, who says: Can you talk about the nitty-gritty of how you co-author? Do you take it in turns to write? What software do you use?

These are all really frequent questions—I get a lot of questions about co-authoring, but Wendy’s hit on a few of the big ones, which is why we pulled her question out of the pile. If you missed last week’s episode, it was about the practicalities of preparing to co-author a book. This week, I’m going to talk about the writing itself.

The first thing to bear firmly in mind is that there are no rules about this – I’m going to talk to you about the approach I take with my co-authors, but I can’t stress enough that this isn’t a magic formula. These processes may be useful to you in and of themselves, or they may be useful as something to define yourself against—if you don’t like the sound of something, then think about why, and that will probably lead you toward what does work for you.

I figured out my processes early, writing These Broken Stars with Meg Spooner, so when I started co-authoring with first Jay Kristoff and then Ryan Graudin, I brought my habits with me, and they’ve worked for all of us. As we work on our next novel, Meg and I still do things the same way today as we did at the start.

First up is the fairly basic question of what software you use. There are plenty of options – shared documents like google docs, and so on – but I just use Microsoft Word. Yes, it drives me up the wall frequently, but we all know how to use it, it’s got easy options for tracking changes, and the book will need to be in Word anyway, to go to our editors.

My co-authors and I will take it in turns to work with the document, sending it back and forth, and – I cannot stress this enough – this leads to one important issue you must never forget. Version control. If both of you are working in different documents at different times, you’ll need a way to make sure everything you’ve done ends up in the same place. For us, that’s very simple – we have one Master Document, and everything happens inside that document. If you don’t have it, you’re not making changes. When we send it back and forth, we literally say ‘you have the master’ in the document, to avoid any confusion. Trust me when I say that this is a valuable habit to adopt.

The next question is what we’re doing with this document when we’ve got it. Well, in our case, we’re writing and editing. I tend to write two-POV novels with a strong romance thread with Meg, and books about squads with Jay, which have had up to seven points of view. With Ryan, it’s back to a couple of cousins, and two points of view once more.

Whatever you’re doing, it’s important to know who’s writing what. When we have multiple points of view, we divide them up – the truth is that we both write every character, because those characters appear in every chapter, but we’ll each be the ‘steward’ or the ‘originator’ of one or more characters. So until we’re both used to them, the steward of that character might do a little editing and tweaking, to help the other person learn how their voice goes.

That editing will continue throughout the writing process – as I work with Meg right now, the process goes like this:

I write chapter one. I congratulate myself, and send it to Meg.

Meg goes through chapter one and makes suggested edits with tracked changes, and then writes chapter two. She sends it all back to me.

I go through her changes. If I love them, I just accept them. If I’m not sure, I’ll leave comments asking for her thinking, looking for another way to tackle the problem, or explaining why I don’t agree. We’ll talk more about this aspect of it next week, when we talk about what to do when you’re not on the same page. I might also make my own editorial suggestions, based on what she’s said, and I’ll track those as well.

Once I’ve done as much as I can on chapter one, I’ll make my own edits – always tracking them – on chapter two, the one she wrote. And finally I’ll write chapter three, and send it all back to her.

And then it begins again. She looks at my comments, at my edits, she inputs her edits on chapter three, and then she writes chapter four. And so on, and so on.

For us, this means that by the time we get to the end of our draft, we have quite a polished draft, and it also means that we’re continually teaching each other how certain characters should sound. We’re told a lot that one of our trademarks is that our characters have distinctive voices, but the voice of the novel itself is incredibly cohesive, and we’ve always put this down to our habit of continually editing each other. It braids our voices together until they’re indistinguishable in the ways that count.

So, that’s what we do – it doesn’t mean you have to, of course, but I hope it raises some helpful questions for you to think about. If the book only has one point of view, then you’ll need to do some prep around the voice of the novel, if you’re hoping to have both authors sound like they’re writing the same character.

There are plenty of other things you can do to make sure your voices blend together – for example, you can write each other little vignettes beforehand, showing the backstory of the characters, and introducing them to each other. You can open up a google doc and write conversations between them in real time, which I’ve done plenty of times – just let it flow back and forth, see what the characters do together, and let their dynamic together emerge.

However you go about it, communication is key – remember, you’re co-authoring because you each value what the other can bring to the project, so you want to make sure you never drown out your co-author’s voice.

And that’s all for this week. Next week, for the final episode of the season, I’ll be answering a question about that communication in more detail – if I had a dollar for every time I’ve been asked what happens when I fight with my co-authors, I’d only need to write for fun, not profit. Tune in, and I’ll talk you through how we handle it.

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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