HOW DO YOU CO-AUTHOR A NOVEL?
~Guest blog by Jen Malone and Kristine Asselin
Thank you so much for having us as part of Trick or Treat month, a theme that matches well with the overall question we get asked most often about our co-authoring experience (spoiler alert: definitely a treat). We’re thrilled to discuss some of the nuts and bolts of our experience to help illuminate a process that many writers express interest in trying (and to offer reassurances that it’s worth doing so).
To give you an opportunity to hear from each of us without trying to determine who wrote which section (though always a fun game with co-authored anything), we decided we’d interview one another, answering some of the questions on this topic we hear from fellow authors which we haven’t seen widely addressed.
Jen: Okay, Kris, you’re up first because, well, I simply decided it would be so in this case. The question is: How do you decide who will write which parts?
Kris: Ha! If you know Jen and I, you can totally figure out who wrote which piece. I don’t want to spoil it (but scroll to the end if you want to know!)
I think for us, in this situation, it came really naturally. Our natural middle grade voices really informed who would write each piece. I don’t even think it was something we consciously talked about...we just each knew who we would write.
Kris: *rubs hands together* My turn. Jen, tell our readers what tools we used to draft and revise?
Jen: Okay, here’s where we got lazy. We both knew that Scrivener offered a feature that allows for project sharing, but neither of us could figure out how to use it cohesively and we were too darn eager to get started. So we used Google Docs. The creepiest thing with Docs is that you can both be in the manuscript at the same time and if inclined, could literally watch the other type each word into a chapter. Much as I love and trust Kris, I definitely can’t write with anyone looking over my shoulder, so I would usually compose my chapters in Scrivener and then copy and paste them into Google Docs. However, Docs worked great in most other respects—it’s very easy to leave each other notes (and even have conversations) in comment bubbles as we went, we created a folder that also held our outline along with research pictures and sources for easy reference, there was no confusion about whether we were each working in the most up-to-date version because we weren’t emailing the manuscript back and forth, and we could easily check to see if the other had added new pages. We both found it really lovely to go to bed with one word count and to wake up to thousands more words added to our story, as if by magic! Google Docs proved more exasperating during revisions because we’re both accustomed to being able to jump around our manuscripts so easily in Scrivener and all the endless scrolling frayed the nerves… but we made it work.
Kris: Just to add my $.02. I wrote my sections in Word, and then pasted into Google. Google was a little slow and got a little cumbersome, but it was AWESOME to use a live document and see it updated every few days. A great thing about working with another person is that the word count goes up exponentially!
Jen: Okay Kris, speaking of frayed nerves, what were some challenges to marrying two distinct voices and two distinct viewpoints, if any?
Kris: The way we structured this book made this easier than it could have been. Each of our characters has her own distinct character arc. You could conceivably read each character’s story by itself--this made it a bit easier for each of us to tell our own character’s story. Of course there are a few times when the girls speak to each other through the portal, and whoever was writing that dialogue had to be sure to get the voice right.
There were definitely times when Jen had suggestions for me and vice versa, and some of the best scenes came out of those suggestions to make something bigger or crazier.
Kris: Jen, maybe you can explain how we approached our agents with this idea?
Jen: Sure! We’re represented by different agents, so once we determined we wanted to go for this, we reached out to our respective agents and pitched the concept. Both were enthusiastic, so our next step was getting their take on how they wanted to divvy up the agent tasks (such as submitting to publisher(s) and managing ongoing accounting for the title). Since we planned from the start to offer this to my existing editor at Simon & Schuster, rather than going on wide submission, that task was less of an issue. We were also able to have S&S split accounting on the title in-house and issue us separate (but equal) advances and royalty statements reflecting only our individual halves of the pot. Both agents collaborated on contract points—discussing negotiation strategies and specific terms together. While mine took the lead as point person in contract communications with our editor, Kris’s agent then stepped up later in the process when we had an offer for stage rights that needed negotiating… so overall the balance was kept even. Most agencies have clients who are co-authoring and I’ve found most are quite open to working with other agents to best serve their authors’ careers. In fact, this wasn’t my first time to the co-authoring rodeo, and my lovely and accommodating agent worked with six other agents on my title Best. Night. Ever., which was co-authored by seven of us. In that instance, she suggested a structure typical of anthologies, where the project’s editor (me, in this case) is the person of record with the publishing house (with respect to name on the contract and person receiving advance/royalty statements). Then each of the other authors signed contracts (through my agent’s agency) with me directly, laying out terms of their specific contribution and indicating how monies coming in from the book would be distributed from me, via her agency. (Note: in most anthologies contributors are issued a one-time flat fee, but since our case was a different in that we were all equal participants in the storytelling, we share equally in any royalties/rights sales in perpetuity. This means I forward royalty statements I receive for the title to each author, who then passes it along to her agent for review. An extra step, yes, but hardly a logistical challenge.)
Kris: I’ll pick up from here and explain what the publication process was like… how we sold the book and how we worked with our editor on it. Our experience working with the amazing Amy Cloud was wonderful. Jen had worked with her before, but every book is different. Amy was a champion of our concept from the beginning. She brought the book to acquisitions in early September 2015 and Simon & Schuster bought it with only about 50 pages written--though we had a very thorough synopsis, so she knew the entire story from the outset. We had a very brief celebration and then had to finish the book, which ended up taking longer than we expected.
One of the most unexpected things was having turned in the final version to Amy just before the election of 2016. We’d included a minor subplot of having a female president in Hannah’s present day. It was heartbreaking for us to have to change that thread, and for a millisecond we thought about not changing it. In the end, we feel like the book is stronger for the change, alluding to more work still to come in changing hearts and minds about women’s roles in leadership.
Jen: Okay, we’re getting wordy here, so before we write a tome posing as a blog post, let’s wrap up by each listing our least favorite and our favorite part about co-authoring. I’ll start:
Least favorite: Worries about not pulling equal weight at all times. I went through some life events right around our book’s release and wasn’t quite feeling in full-on extroverted promotion mode. It was a source of guilt (but also such a blessing) to have a co-author who picked up any slack with grace and care.
Favorite: Having another deeply invested person (even better because it’s a friend) to ride the ups and downs with and to share the excitement with (oh, and also the workload), especially when you balance out each other’s strengths and weaknesses.
Least favorite: When Jen had fabulous ideas that resulted in more work for me! LOL. Not really, but case in point. The soccer match that Maggie plays was not part of the original story. In writing a believable soccer game, I did a lot of research and even consulted with an expert to get it right. I’m so glad I did, but man, it was hard. (And now you know which character is mine!)
Favorite: Having someone to share the success with--I love the things we’ve been able to do together, like go on a Girl Scout trip to Newport to visit the mansion with girls. I’m so proud of this book, and working with Jen made it so much better than doing it alone!
Thank you again for hosting us here. We hope this helped demystify the process of co-writing a bit and that we convinced you to give it a try yourselves!
Click here for a review of THE ART OF THE SWAP in Book Picks.
Kristine Asselin is the author of several works of children’s nonfiction as well as the YA novel Any Way You Slice It. She loves being a Girl Scout leader and volunteering with the Society of Children’s Book Writers and Illustrators. She is a sucker for a good love song (preferably from the 80s), and can’t resist an invitation for Chinese food or ice cream (but not at the same time!). She lives in Central Massachusetts with her teen daughter and husband, and spends part of everyday looking for a TARDIS to borrow. You can learn more about Kris at www.kristineasselin.com.
Jen Malone writes young adult novels with HarperCollins and middle grade adventures with Simon & Schuster. Jen’s published titles include The Art of the Swap (with Kristine Asselin), Changes in Latitudes, Best Night Ever, The Sleepover, the You’re Invited series (with Gail Nall), At Your Service, Map to the Stars, Wanderlost, and Follow Your Art (a collaboration with Dreamworks Animation and Penguin Random House on a companion story to the animated film Trolls). Her next YA, The Arrival of Someday, releases in Summer 2019. Jen once spent a year traveling the world solo, met her husband on the highway (literally), and went into labor with her identical twins while on a rock star's tour bus. These days she saves the drama for her books. You can learn more about Jen and her books at www.jenmalonewrites.com. Find her on Twitter and Instagram @jenmalonewrites.
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