Yesterday, I turned in the first round of edits on my May 2016 collaboration with Jolene Perry. We wrote this book almost 5 years ago at the start of our publishing journey so (as I'm sure you can imagine), it essentially needed an entire rewrite. Luckily, Jolene is about the most mellow collab partner ever and we were able to have conversations to work out all the hiccups (read: "novice writer problems") that we had.
The whole process got me thinking about collaboration and how sometimes we can go into these with blinders on. I was very fortunate to have Jolene as a partner, but I have heard stories where this becomes a huge mess. Proceed with caution when it comes to collaboration, because friendship and business don't always mix.
So without further ado, here are the best and most challenging parts of a collaboration project.
PRO: You get to write with a pal. Or someone you creatively respect. For those who often feel the weight of loneliness in publishing, this is a huge win.
CON: You may love your friend like whoa, but you may have very different writing styles that don't fit. This can be everything from "I hate setting and you keep adding so much of it and it's boring" to "What do you mean you don't think we should put ladyhead in this book?" Similarly, your collab partner might write super fast, bouncing chapters to you each day, but you may want to edit as you go and ruminate over your chapters and it might take you a week to write your chapter. Talk about how you draft beforehand.
PRO: The point in which you say, "God I hate this book" is the point you get to pass it over to your collab partner and make it their problem. If only everything in life were as easy as saying, "This blows. Hey Jolene, fix this." THE BEST.
CON: Your collab partner also gets to volley back their mess to you to fix. Jolene and I had a rule of always "editing forward" which meant that we never went back to earlier drafts if the other one had fixed something. We could fix over them, but we could never go back to what we first had because it obviously wasn't working for our partner. Make sure you communicate about things that are working/not working every step of the way.
PRO: Two people means that book gets drafted faster and you always have great feedback of "OMG, I LOVE WHAT YOU DID HERE!" Wahoo for constant cheerleaders.
CON: Two people means editing takes twice as long. I did not expect this. I'm not sure we've figured it out even yet. But that thing where you can't read your book another minute and you want to send it off? Well, you send it off to your collab partner and they do stuff and then send it back to you and you find more stuff to do and this cycle can go on and on and on.
PRO: Two people means you have options for what you want to do with this book because often a first-time collaboration isn't locked into any sort of previous contract language around "option clauses" or "additional books".
CON: Two people often means two agents, figuring out whose publisher to sub to or if you're going wide, and a whole slew of other "business things" that you don't ever think of. It also means figuring out how to merge two brands. Jolene writes contemporary love stories, I write fucked-up broken love stories that end terribly. You would not believe how much this book has changed since we first wrote it. And similarly, how much both our "author brands" (ick, I hate that term) have changed. At one point, we were considering the idea of having two different endings for this book and letting readers vote on them like the movie Clue (I KNOW! That idea is awesome, but sadly a logistical nightmare for our publisher).
PRO: Collaboration means you have two author fan bases to tap into, so more readers! Yay for more readers! This helps your backlist.
CON: Collaboration also means half the money. This should surprise no one. You're splitting everything and that means royalties/advances/etc.
PRO: Collaboration means you don't have to promo that book by yourself. When you're like me and hate promo, this is great, particularly if you have a collab partner who doesn't mind slapping your book up everywhere.
CON: If you don't love the way your collab partner promos, you're going to need to have some uncomfortable talks. So much of collaboration is a lesson in compromise, communication, and how to be "mostly happy" with how it turns out. All of publishing involves a certain amount of collaboration (unless you're a lone wolf who won't let anyone touch your book and you do everything and never outsource anything because you think you're perfect...in which case, congratulations, Jesus, let me know how that works out for you). A collab partner just means that there's someone else in the kitchen with you.
So, I guess that I would say if you're going to collaborate: CHOOSE WISELY. Lay out expectations beforehand. Have a contract between you two. Have an out if it doesn't work. Communicate, communicate, communicate. If something isn't working, don't let it sit between you. If something is working awesome, tell your collab partner because they need to hear that. Consider the collaboration from as many angles as you can think of, not just writing, but the entire publishing process.