Co-writing, Eight Questions to Ask Yourself Before Jumping In

I am the author or co-author of seven published fiction titles. Along the way I’ve had the experience of working with four different writers.

I’ve spoken many times to libraries and book conventions about how it is to work with another author. Many questions have been asked about the process. I’ve narrowed the list down to the eight most voiced and will share them with you in two separate posts. Below are the first four questions and my responses to them.

1. What do I know about this author?
2. How will their strengths play to my weaknesses?
3. Can our voices blend to create a third voice?
4. Can they commit to, and keep a writing timeline?

Question one. What do I know about this author?
This isn’t so difficult if the author is someone you know. My last two co-writers, Maggie Pucillo, with whom I wrote, A Spiral of Echoes and Randolph Tower, with whom I wrote, Ice, are both from my local writing group. I am familiar with their writing styles. Even then A Spiral of Echoes almost didn’t happen.

With Darrell Bain, with whom I wrote, Shadow Worlds, the situation was different.

We met online through EPIC (Electronically Published Internet Coalition). I had already read one of Darrell’s books. I liked his style, but I read two more before committing to write, Shadow Worlds, with him. That co-writing went well. No so for another author who I will call Matt. Even though I’d read Matt’s book ahead of time and was intrigued by his characters and suggestions for a book together, it didn’t work. More about that in discussing further questions.

Question two. How will their strengths play to my weaknesses?
This balancing act makes for a great plotline. What does the other author bring to the table?

Randolph Tower is a wealth of knowledge about many things. He was a fighter pilot in Viet Nam, spent some time working with the CIA and traveled to many foreign countries.

What did he need from me? Randolph tends to write in white rooms, no setting, no background, he likes talking heads. I’m good with detail. We balance each other out.

On the other hand Maggie likes too much detail. I kept our writing tight. Along with Maggie came the setting for, A Spiral of Echoes. She has a house on the beach in Baja, Mexico where the book is set. Between Maggie and me, I was the one with the publishing connections.

With Darrell Bain, he wanted to write a science fiction thriller dealing with quantum physics. I knew nothing about the subject. Darrell did. Darrell needed a little help with dialogue and setting from me.

Question three. Can our voices blend to make a third voice?
This is the number one thing two authors should be striving for-a third voice. That was where Matt and I had the problem. He did not want to lose his voice. If that is what you want, then co-writing is not for you. A reader should not be able to tell who wrote what in a co-authored book. With Randolph it came easy. With Maggie it was more work to find that third voice.

Question four. Can they commit to and keep a writing timeline?
It doesn’t make any difference if your writing partner likes to write in the middle of the night, or at dawn, as long as you can agree to meet a writing timeline. Nothing is more frustrating than to have one writer holding up the process. Of course things can happen and you have to be flexible, but this something you should know about the other author before you even start.

Barbara M Hodges