We all use a team when we self-publish – editors and cover designers, in particular. But co-writing a book is something quite different.
I’ve just co-written Risen Gods with J. Thorn and in today’s interview/discussion, we talk about how the process worked, the challenges and what we learned along the way.
In the intro, I talk about an update on my writing, plus my thoughts on an event with Seth Godin this week and Amazon’s new physical bookstore. I announce that I’ll be speaking in Denver at Digital Commerce Summit next Oct, which I am super excited about!
The corporate sponsorship for this show pays for hosting and transcription. This podcast episode is sponsored by 99 Designs, where you can get all kinds of designs for your author business including book covers, merchandising, branding and business cards, illustrations and artwork and much more. You can get a Powerpack upgrade which gives your project more chance of getting noticed by going to: 99Designs.com/joanna
- The benefits of accountability in co-writing.
- The advantages of outlining when working with a collaborative partner. We both recommend The Story Grid by Shawn Coyne. Here’s an interview with Shawn.
- The challenges of co-writing including the need to compromise, which might not work for artists with a very specific vision, and the importance of working with a personality that is a good fit.
- Knowing when to assert oneself in the partnership and when to pull back.
The issues of trust and copyright that come up in a collaboration, including royalty splits.
- Why writing experience matters when entering a collaborative project, as well as already having an established voice.
- The importance of brand in a co-writing project and why it matters for each author that the co-written book be on-brand.
- J’s experience of the differences between working with men and women.
- Leaning on the strengths of your co-writer.
- The legal and practical decisions that need to be made before the project begins, including time-line, frequency and methods of communication. [Collaboration Agreement. Disclaimer: example only. This is not any kind of legal advice!]
- How Scrivener helped in the collaborative process.
- The lessons learned from co-writing failures and the psychological and emotional challenges of co-writing.
You can find our book on Co-Writing on all ebook stores:
Transcription of interview with J Thorn
Joanna: Okay. Hi, everyone! I’m Joanna Penn from the TheCreativePenn.com and today I’m here with J. Thorn. Hi, J!
J: Hello, Joanna.
Joanna: Hello again. Just a little introduction. J is a bestselling horror writer and creator of Dark Arts Theater and The Horror Writer’s Podcast. J is also my co-author for Risen Gods, a dark fantasy/supernatural thriller. And depending on when you’re listening, it’s either out in pre-order or it will be for sale from the 1st of December, 2015. So, very exciting. And today we are talking about co-writing. And just so everybody knows, this is the first time J and I have spoken since we started writing, isn’t it?
J: That is true, absolutely true.
Joanna: Because we trust each other, we trust the audience, we’re going to have a no-holds-barred discussion today and share the nitty-gritty of co-writing because I think it’s something that many people are interested in doing.
So, J, before we get into our experience, just tell everyone a bit more about the different projects that you’ve done with co-writing so far.
J: Sure. I really started with marketing collaborations more so than creative collaborations. Glenn James and I, another U.K. author, we put together a series of box sets called This Is The End and that was my first taste with collaborating. I was sort of in charge of getting all the materials together and getting those things published and dealing with royalty disbursements, and all of the stuff that goes along with managing a multi-author box set.
And as I was in that I started thinking like, “Well, this is really cool, but it would be much more fulfilling to do a creative collaboration.” Instead of taking these soloed pieces of art and putting them together, which is great and it’s still great, I thought, “I want to co-create.” And I’m usually not smart enough to figure this stuff out ahead of time, so I figured, “Well, okay. I’ve never co-written before, I’ll start with a ten-author collaboration. I mean, of course, that makes perfect sense.”
It wasn’t quite like that, I’m being facetious. But really what happened was I had this idea for a story and I wanted it to be a full novel that was co-written, but it was not an anthology. I didn’t want a collection of short stories. And so I reached out to many authors and ended up fooling nine of them into writing with me, and that became The Black Fang Betrayal. And my role in that collaboration, as David Moody called it, it was an orchestra and I was conducting.
I had the whole story arc in mind, I wrote in the beginning and I wrote the end, and then I gave each author their piece to write. And they had a somewhat specific outcome, but they had a lot of freedom within that to kind of tell the story however they wanted. And I really, really love that. And I felt like the product was way better than something I could’ve made on my own. I mean, I had the story, I could’ve written the whole story myself, but having the different input.
I didn’t realize it at the time, again, because I kind of bluster into things and I don’t think a lot about them and I probably should. It should have been a disaster; on paper it should not work. I mean, you think about trying to unify voices and tone and just coherency of plot arc and all of that kind of stuff, but it just worked. And there were very few plot holes; there were very few issues of one character doing one thing and then someone else having that character do something completely different. It just worked. And so really that was pretty exciting.
And leading up to that I had Sean Platt write me some story beats and I wrote a short story called Lost Track, which is in the world of The Beam that Sean and Johnny write. And so I got a sense of what it felt like to sort of be the follower or sort of be led by a certain story structure. So I applied that for The Black Fang, and then after the Black Fang I thought, “Okay. Now if I’ve done this with ten authors, doing it with one other person should be super easy.”
So I did Shadow Witch with Dan Padavona, which came out in the spring. We call it the Game of Thrones meets Blair Witch. And in that configuration Dan and I kind of came up with story beats together and I put together a rough outline, and then he wrote the whole first draft and I did all of the revisions. And that was how that collaboration worked.
And then most recently with you and with Glynn James. Glynn James and I are writing a nine-book series and we’re just beginning book three of the first draft. We’re not going to release anything until we have at least three books, most likely. And in my collaboration with him and with you it’s been more of an AB-AB process. So we have some story beats, or at least outline. We each write scenes. They’re not necessarily linear, but we each take a turn writing every day. We’re both first drafting.
And then I have one in pre-production with Zach Bohannon and we’re going to write something together and we haven’t quite figured out what that configuration is going to be yet. I guess what I’m saying is I’ve kind of tried it in a number of different ways.
Joanna: You’ve done everything.
J: Yes. I’ve done it with many people in many different ways, and that probably doesn’t sound so great.
Joanna: Wow. You’re such a pro at this.
Are you writing anything on your own anymore? Because that’s a lot of books.
J: It is. And I have a stand-alone…well, not a stand-alone, I have a book one in a new series I’ve been working on for about two and a half years, which is really unlike me. I’m usually, I plow through the process. I like to get books to market fast. I like the story to be fresh. But this particular one, for whatever reason, is taking me longer. And I have it sitting on my desk; it came back from my editor. I’m probably only two or three weeks away from publishing it, but I’m not really sure what I’m going to do with it.
And I remember there was one episode on the SPP where somebody asked…David may have asked Johnny about, “Would you ever write yourself again?” And Johnny was kind of like, “I don’t know.” And I’m kind of in that weird spot. Of course I will always write my own stuff and I will continue to do that.
But the more collaborating I do, I find that, first of all, it’s a ton of fun and the story always seems to come out better than it would if I had tried it on my own.
So right now, yes, I’m going to keep writing stuff. I’ve got that one project I’m working on, but this whole collaborating thing is completely unexpected. I mean, I’m an introvert, like you. I don’t like people, I don’t like talking to people, I don’t like looking at people. But, no, kidding. So it kind of goes against my nature, I guess, in a way. And so here I am now, I’m sitting in this space where I’ve done all these different collaborations and I really enjoy it and I find that the end product is really great. So I’m just going to keep doing it.
Joanna: Let’s start with the pros and cons of co-writing. And this is more of a discussion, so I’m going to start. Because I’ve only done the one and we’re in editing stage right now.
To me, the biggest thing that makes it addictive is that we finished a first draft of a novel in…was it two and a half weeks or three and a half weeks?
J: Nineteen days.
Joanna: Which is crazy. And it’s like, “Okay, that’s addictive.” I can see that the pace, when you divide it by two, is incredible.
And the second thing to me was accountability, in that we agreed to write five days a week. Because I’m in England, five hours ahead of you and I write in the morning. So I would get up, I would do my words, and then we have a spreadsheet, and we’ll come to the practicalities. But I would put my words in and then you would get up, and then you would know…I had one day where I was sick. But, other than that, the accountability of knowing that you were going to get up and that if I hadn’t done my writing, I would feel like an idiot and that I wasn’t pulling my weight.
So that accountability to me was amazing because I’m terrible at accountability to myself. But knowing I had to, not please you, but I had to do stuff because you would be waiting, that really made a difference to me. So those are two big things for me. What about you?
What are some of the positives around collaboration?
J: Yes, definitely the accountability piece. And I explain it to people, I don’t go to the gym anymore and I should because I’m getting to that point in my life where things are starting to bulge out around the middle and I’ve got to work that off in the gym. But it’s that idea of having a workout partner. And it is that accountability. I felt the same pressure. I know, because I was coming in after you, I had the whole day because I knew you weren’t going to come back to it until the next morning.
But even still, I felt pressured and I probably wrote on days where if it were me I would’ve just said, “I’ll pick it up tomorrow.” And sometimes it’s okay, but I think you really kind of pushed in a way that was positive and that I felt like, “Yes, this is a fast-paced story. We’ve got to get it out this way and the reader will feel that.” So that sort of accountability felt really good to me.
The other thing that was really cool about that, and I think we’ve been experiencing it, is you’ve been looking at different map designs for the book. There is a certain level of excitement that you can share with someone that even your spouse doesn’t get.
Joanna: Yes. He totally doesn’t get it.
J: Yes. My wife doesn’t care about my books anymore. She’s like, “Whatever, I don’t care what you do.”
Joanna: Yes, it’s another book.
J: Yes, right, whatever. But when you’re co-creating and it’s just the two of you and you feel the ownership of that, it’s so exciting and so much fun. So I would say it’s the accountability and fun. That’s what’s really in it for me, and both of those I find addictive, as well.
Joanna: Yes. And I think, for me, this was actually…what I’ve really learned, a really massive thing that’s going to help me so much is the outlining. I mean, I did…in this collaboration it was my kind of story idea, wasn’t it, originally?
Joanna: And I did the outline. And it’s the story I’ve had for ages from when I lived in New Zealand. I’ve had these ideas for years about volcanoes in New Zealand and Māori gods and everything, and I wanted to write this story. It’s stand-alone and it seemed like a good thing to try. When I was doing just outline, they weren’t beats at all. It was an outline, wasn’t it? It was about two pages.
Of which we used The Story Grid and Save the Cat! by Blake Snyder. I made this two-pager and that was pretty much all we had, wasn’t it?
Then at a couple of points I said, “Okay, here is the couple of scenes coming up,” or, “you should write this next.” But what I’ve learned is that that’s not enough, and it’s the outlining.
If we were going to do this again or if I was going to do it with somebody else, that outline, to me, like the beats you did with Sean, that is critical.
And now I want to do that for my own writing because what I’ve ended up with in the editing is going through it going, “Oh, if I’d have known that earlier, we could have avoided some wasted words as such.” Not that any words are wasted, but you know what I mean.
That’s something I really learned.
What have you learned from this process or all of your collaborations?
J: Well, I also, I’m a huge fan of Coyne’s Story Grid. And I discovered him on your podcast and I bought the book. Other than Stephen King’s On Writing, which I read 10 or 15 years ago, it’s the best book on craft I’ve ever seen. If you’re a new author and you have a desire to write a novel, but you don’t know where to begin, that’s the only book you need, really. It’s fantastic. Even though I read it and I internalized it and I mapped some of my own novel with it, the way you implemented it in Scrivener, for example, was awesome. I was kind of blown away. I had never thought about connecting all the different technical pieces of what Scrivener offers with sort of a craft piece from The Story Grid.
The thing that I’m going to take into my own writing now is really making sure every scene has at least one polarity shift, that you have a cliffhanger of some sorts. And they can vary in their level of drama, but having a conflict, internal and external, and just being very deliberate about noting that in my writing in some fashion. So if you’re writing in Word, maybe it’s a comment in the margin or whatever. But that was a phenomenal learning experience for me as something I’m going to bring into my own writing.
Joanna: I’m really pleased about that and maybe we can come back to mistakes and what we do differently. In case people don’t realize, that polarity shift is like does it get from positive to negative, or negative to double negative. And the interview with Shawn Coyne was great about that, the negation of the negation, which I just love. But it does really help. And what I learned is that I should have done in the draft in the outlining process. If we’d have done it then, it would have made it so much easier to do the scenes.
Staying with the pros and cons, what are the negatives around co-writing, co-creating?
J: Well, there is a lot. I don’t mean with you, Joanna, I mean in general.
In all seriousness, I think, if you struggle with compromise or if you’re an artist with a very specific vision, I think co-writing could be a challenge. And it’s not a judgment; I know there are authors who are like that. They say, “You know what, I know exactly what’s in my head. I’m going to get it out into paper.” I have friends who I mention co-writing and they’re like, “Ew, gross! I couldn’t even. Ugh, I don’t want any part of that.”
That’s a good thing to know about yourself; I don’t think it’s for everyone. And I think if you’re going into a creative project with a very fixed idea of what the outcome is going to be, I think you’ll be disappointed because it’s not going to be that way. Even if you’re the one in the lead.
I’d love to hear to what to think about this since you sort of took the creative lead on this. I don’t think it’s exactly what you think it’s going to be in the beginning.
Joanna: Yes. I want to say that I didn’t think I could do this and I’m still struggling. The point, I absolutely admit to being a control freak and I’m much more…you very graciously, and I’ve written down here the fact that you’re so relaxed as a person. And somebody that I’ve never met physically, but we’ve talked for years now online and on Skype and things, the fact that you’re so relaxed with me as a character. There is absolutely no way I could co-write with someone who is like me. Because I realize I’m being super controlling about this.
Now whether that’s because it was my story idea and it’s been in my head for years and I lived in New Zealand for seven years and the geography is so important. There are things that you didn’t know. I mean, you’re writing about something you just don’t know.
I’m interested to ask you, am I super controlling as a co-writer? Because you’ve worked with so many people, when you’re in the driving seat, have you been controlling, for example?
J: I think, in my own way, I have. I know I may have this relaxing demeanor in front of you and in Skype, but there are things that I’m kind of a stickler for and there are certain things in co-writing that are certain non-negotiables for me. I think, for me, they show up pretty early in the process.
One of the things that I’m pretty demanding on is any type of story beat that is co-authored, there has to be a payoff, a big payoff at the end of the book. And I like that in the form of a twist. I like a twist-ending, even for horror and dark fantasy. I feel like it’s got to be there.
I’ve been in some co-writing situations and looked at some outlines, and it wasn’t there and I kind of pushed back and said, “It’s not going to do it for me. There has to be a payoff at the end.” So I did not find working with you and your control-freakery, as you call it, I didn’t find that to be anything that would prohibit me from moving forward or doing this type of thing. Again, I think the moments where you were pretty clear and direct on what you wanted really helped and I appreciated that. Because, as you said, this is kind of a story you’ve have rolling around for years. I’ve never been in New Zealand, so I had to sort of follow your lead on that.
And I think that goes to talking about, and I know we’ll probably get to this, about what makes a successful collaboration. And, I think, that compromise is really important. I think it’s a psychological challenge, you have to know when to assert yourself and when to pull back. And there is no manual for that; it’s a lot of feeling.
Joanna: Yes, which is really interesting. Let’s move into that then.
How do you find somebody, how do you know? Do you remember how we first started talking about this?
J: It’s been a few years. I think when I was starting to do the box sets we talked about some type of marketing collaboration. And I could tell that you were still not sold on the idea of a creative collaboration, so I just wore you down. And I’d come back every few months and like, “Hey, Joanna, how about that collaboration?”
I think it’s different for every pairing, every collaboration. There is not a recipe to follow, unfortunately.
Joanna: And it’s interesting because now I…and I’ve said to you, if we do it again, I would like to try following and do it around one of your stories. Because I think that would be good for me, it would be good for me to relax a little bit.
I think what changed my mind on the whole thing was James Patterson’s MasterClass. Did you do that, as well?
J: I have it on my list, I have a few courses kind of queued up. And I remember you saying that you took that course and then that convinced you that that was the way to go.
Joanna: It did. It was one thing he said, “Lennon and McCartney.” And, of course, we’re not Lennon and McCartney. But the point is that, like you said, two creative minds can create something that’s better than what you did on your own.
And that’s really a powerful thing. So, for me, it was, one, the decision to do it and, two, the fact that, seriously, out of all the authors…there was one other person I’m considering this with. But with you it was like just because you’ve done this before a number of times and also because you’ve played the different roles, I thought that was really good.
I was going to mention one of the negatives also around this is basically you’re tied to that person for the long-term. I mean, we talked there about your spouse or whatever. But what happens with copyright? Essentially we are joined with copyright once we publish this book and the agreement we have is that we’re fifty-fifty basically for the life of the book, which is our lives and 70 years after we die.
J: It’s worse than a marriage.
Joanna: It’s pretty hardcore. So, to me, the big negative is I have to…not with you, of course. I have to deal with this person basically forever now and my estate has to. And there will be royalty dispersion, assuming we make money, which we will, forever. That is a massive commitment, as far as I’m concerned.
Also, sharing. What’s been interesting for me is you’ve very graciously given me the prime editing role because I’ve been quite protective of this story and these characters because they have been in my head for longer, and that is really difficult, too. And, again, we’ve agreed that we jointly own this world.
So there is some super big trust, I guess, trust issues around the writing and you have to be pros and cons, I suppose. I feel it’s very good to have to trust more, but also the potential if we go wrong. And we’re going to come back to what if things go wrong.
Let’s talk about level of writer.
There’s no way I would, and I presume you wouldn’t, co-write with someone who’d never written a book. And probably you’d need, what, three to five books first?
J: I think that’s something I’m realizing, yes. I don’t want to sound egotistical when I say this, but the truth is if you haven’t written probably three to five of your own books, you really haven’t fully developed your own voice and your own style. And there are always exceptions to that and there are great writers who have one book out. So I’m not saying you’re not a great writer until you have four or five books, but your ability to then mingle on your voice with another writer’s voice is hard to do until yours is established.
And so we’ll talk more about what goes wrong. But, in truth, I have more failed collaborations than I do finished ones. And when I say failed I mean ones that’s just didn’t result in a publication or a product or a work of art. There are various reasons and different ways that they either sputter out or they get shelved or temporarily side-tracked. But it’s hard. And if you don’t have a lot of experience in both the writing and the marketing side of things, it’s easy to get hurt.
It’s easy to internalize and personalize critique, difference of opinion. It’s hard to look at your own writing objectively until you have established yourself and really taken some of the lumps. I mean, we all have gotten these one-star reviews and we’ve learned from those. I think you have to run the gauntlet, in a way, before you’re ready to open up and co-create because that’s a whole other level of challenge.
Joanna: And also, you need, as a co-author, to trust that the other person is going to deliver something that works.
And you have to trust that, otherwise the editing process would just be a nightmare. You have to understand point of view and setting. And with nonfiction, too. I mean, we’re also doing a nonfiction book on how to co-write. Well, co-writing. This transcript will be the basis for that. So I think that it will be exactly the same, I mean there are some of the similar things. But with fiction, very particularly, I also think one of the important things is the author brand.
For me, with you, this isn’t a horror book. This is dark fantasy. We say horror, but you write dark fantasy, too, already. And you write supernatural. I know you’re happy with demons, and that was like the big thing for me. “I know J’s happy with demons,” and that was a big thing. So even though we’re not writing horror, I mean, we’re pretty much…I think we’ve both moved, haven’t we?
Would you say that you’ve moved…I know about the ending, you said, “I would not normally do an ending like this.” How do you feel about moving the brand for this collaboration?
J: I don’t know if I am, really. I know, again, in Coyne’s book he talks about the thriller being sort of the 21st century genre that seems to be the most successful to most people, and I know that you consider yourself a thriller author. And really a horror is just a variation on that. And so I don’t feel like I moved a ton.
The way I see it is I think I learned how to write a better horror story. Because there were elements in this book that were very thriller-esque and action-adventure in a way that I haven’t incorporated into horror books before, which I think will make my horror books even better.
I think if people…and I’ve always marketed myself as myself, I’ve never really marketed my books. I think if people like my writing, they’re going to like this collaboration, too.
Joanna: And we should also say that you would generally only pick someone who has a similar level of platform. As in, again, a brand new writer doesn’t have an email list, doesn’t have a following, doesn’t have, well, enough readers.
And that was part of our point, wasn’t it, as well? Is to share some readership.
J: Yes. I mean, you can. It’s not that you can’t do it, but you lose the leverage of amplifying two author platforms on the marketing side. So we’re both going to come out of the gate and we’re going to leverage everything that we’ve built individually towards this single goal and it’s really going to be way more than we could do on our own.
It’s not that you couldn’t write it with someone who doesn’t have an established platform, but you just wouldn’t get the same impact.
Joanna: I think that’s important to consider. And, also, just even that you can have conversations that imply you both know what you’re doing around writing and marketing. I don’t have to explain to you what BookBub is or what pricing; we can have conversations where we both completely understand what’s going on. Which make it much easier.
J: Yes, definitely. That’s not insignificant. I think it’s hard to learn in a co-writing situation.
In many, many ways, not only on the creative side, but on the marketing side, I think it’s a steep learning curve. This whole business is a steep learning curve. And until you can establish what you’re objectives are, what your goals are, what you want to get out of this career, until you know that for yourself, it’s really hard to then line that up with somebody else.
Joanna: I did have a question about, again, on the type of people. I’m the first woman that you’ve co-written with. Obviously, we’re friends, lay it on the line.
How has it been different and is it because I’m a woman that it’s different or because of my character? Have you noticed anything around that?
J: I’m thinking about my words, in case my wife watches this. And I’m sure you have a nice female audience, as well, but there are definitely differences in men and women. I think we can all agree on that.
Joanna: Yes, let’s agree on that.
J: Okay. So in that context, yes, it’s definitely different. And, I think, if you co-wrote with another woman, then you would feel the difference between what you and I did. I don’t think there is anything wrong with that, I think it’s perfectly natural. In general, I think women tend to be more detail-oriented. I think, they tend to break things into smaller pieces. That’s what I felt.
The way that manifests between us is, I think, you were much more descriptive and you were much more detailed in setting scene, and location, and mood, and I learned from that. That was good for me to kind of see like, “Oh, I see how you sort of unrolled that and how you led the reader into the scene.” So yes, there are difference, there are going to be differences.
I go into every collaboration, whether it’s a man or woman, and I’m looking to see, “What am I going to learn?” I want to be a better writer and I want to be the best I can be, and most of the times that comes from working closely with someone else.
Joanna: And I feel that there are differences, too. But what I don’t know is whether that’s because you’re a man or just because the type of writer you are or how I am. And I do write setting, that is a big thing for me. And, of course, in the book, the landscape of New Zealand is important to the plot. So that was really interesting. But I found that your writing was, I would say, a harder edge to it.
And we had some characters that you are definitely better to write. I specifically kind of gave you those scenes because I thought that you would do a better job, which is kind of awesome. I think that it really works. And, again, I would be interested in writing with another woman and with another guy just to see what difference does gender make. Because James Patterson writes with women and men. So it’s interesting to me. And he writes a specific series for women that he does write with a woman, the Women’s Detective Club or something. Now I read a lot of books by both genders, so it’s kind of unknown.
But a lot of horror writers are men, aren’t they?
J: Yes. I think that’s a fair observation, yes.
Joanna: Yes. Interesting, right. I’m just going to say that again. Let’s talk about the practicalities.
What should be put in place legally, contractually, before you start? And let’s start with that. What do you need to do before you start writing and what decisions do you need to make?
J: We are not lawyers, so let’s get that out of the way. This is not legal advice. I have a pretty boilerplate template that I use for most collaborations and I have not done any collaboration that hasn’t been fifty-fifty split, both on expenses and on income and royalties. So I think it’s a pretty straight-forward thing. In fact, for show notes I can even put a PDF or something up if people want to see a generalized agreement that they’re free to use or tweak.
But yes, when you go fifty-fifty, I just think it’s important to have some written agreement, whatever that happens to be, however you want to divvy up. Having something written in place is just a best practice. And in all of the collaborations I’ve done it’s been fifty-fifty and it’s also fifty-fifty on anything beyond the novel. And I think that’s an important distinction to make, as well. Because I like to plan for success rather than failure. If you have a movie studio or some medium that hasn’t even been invented yet and ten years down the road is interested in Risen Gods, you need to be really clear on that. So I think just stating that it’s fifty-fifty forever on everything and anything that comes of it.
Joanna: And also that you both go fifty-fifty in terms of effort and doing the work and doing the marketing and that kind of implication, as well. And that the discussion of who takes the lead on the story idea. I mean, we’ve kept in contact and, like we said, this is the first time we’ve actually spoken for ages.
But we have everything in writing in a Google Docs folder that we share between each other and that’s the signed contract. We didn’t go through a lawyer, we should make that clear. We didn’t go through an official. We did this between us. We both signed it and as far as we’re both concerned that is legally binding. And that’s the agreement between us. I feel happy with that, I don’t feel the need to go pay a lawyer $2,000, $5,000, or whatever, to make our document into something, whatever. You know what I mean? So I think that’s important.
I did mention trust issues earlier around the creation side, but I certainly think that it’s very important to have some kind of trust with the person in a legal and financial sense.
J: Yes. That’s hard to figure out, too. I’m not a patient person. I tend to rush into things, but I feel like I have a pretty strong gut sense, I have a pretty good instinct. Not always, I mean I’ve been wrong about people and I’ve been burned, and we all have. But having some type of relationship with someone before you enter into any type of legal agreement or co-working space is probably just a good idea, it’s not required.
But I think of all the co-author projects that have gone to publication or created something, and those all came from established relationships. You and I have been talking for years, Glynn James and I have been talking for years. It’s just it’s a certain unquantifiable human element and that trust comes, I think, through a real relationship. So I think it’s hard to manufacture that just for a project.
Joanna: And then the other decisions we did were things like who would publish the book, who would pay the bills up front. We were always going to share the first draft, but then we kind of developed into…and I then pretty much forced the editing process. That’s been really interesting. Well, we’ll come back to editing. I’m trying to go in order.
One thing, again, and whether it’s graciously or you were happy not to do it, is that I’m doing the publishing. Which means that the money goes into my bank account, which means you have to trust me to pay you. So you’ve done it both ways.
Is this the first time you’ve done it this way or do you normally take that? How does that work for you?
J: I’ve normally done that because other people don’t want to because it’s hard.
Joanna: Oh, really?
J: Yes. Every month it’s both a blessing and a curse. Every month I get royalty checks from Amazon, it’s awesome. And at the same time I groan because now I’ve got to break out all the royalty disbursement and that one damn book’s got ten authors, I’ve got to work that out. And I’ve got all the box sets and some people are multiple box sets. It’s not easy, it takes time. You have to be organized and you have to be on top of that. And so a lot of people don’t want to be bothered with it, and I totally get it.
So in this circumstance, when you were like, “Yes, I’m totally fine publishing under my account,” it was a bit of a relief for me, honestly, because I’m usually the person that takes that on. And I would have been willing to do it again; I mean I have done it so many times now. I have a system in place; I would just plug this into that. So not having to do that, I think, is kind of nice. But, again, yes, I mean I trust you. You could certainly skip town . . .
Joanna: Skip town with all the royalty.
J: . . . with all of our royalties. I don’t know. I’m not too worried about it. Maybe I should be, but I’m not.
Joanna: I think the point is that you have to discuss this. Because at the moment there is no platform that will disperse funds. We need an ACX equivalent so that we can do more collaborations. I mean, I’ve thought about this a number of times, like inventing that, because you could just take a cut from it and you would do really well. But it needs an automated disbursement system. So like ACX, two or more creators can come together, do a contract, and then it’s automatically split. So if anyone is a software developer, this is only going to get bigger, isn’t it?
This collaboration co-writing thing, it’s only going to get bigger. So I think that is a gap in the market. And as you said, all the box sets I’ve been in, somebody has to run it, somebody has to do all of that, and it’s a nightmare. So that was something else we had to agree up front.
Was there anything else? Oh, the dates. We both said we wanted to have something out by Christmas.
And I know I moved the date once, and then I committed to a date and we started on that morning, didn’t we? And I think we finished a week earlier, I think, than we thought we would. But then the editing dates we’ve put into place later. So you definitely have to agree the dates in advance, as well.
Anything else that you should do before you start working with somebody? I guess the communication, as well.
J: I think it would be helpful to agree on both the frequency and the method. So, as you mention, we did not Skype at all during the process, but we were pretty much in daily communication. And one little piece that kind of crosses both the technical and the writing process piece, and this is something that Glynn showed me, is keeping a separate document. And we did this, a separate document in the Google Drive which is almost like a writing diary.
So when we’re done with…when we finished our piece for the day, we would then go and put something there. And sometimes it was, “Oh, okay. I’m done, it’s over to you,” and other times it was, “Wow, we really have to think about this.” But having that sort of side stream conversation going asynchronously on a daily basis, I feel like that’s really important. So whatever the method is, you’re right, you should agree upon what the frequency is and what the method of communication is because you have to have something going back and forth when you’re in it.
Joanna: I think what was good about that document, as well, is we were putting…well, I was definitely putting emotional reaction into it, as well. Which you had less of, I think, because you’ve done this before. But I remember the first morning I was the first writer, and then I suddenly realized that you were going to read my first draft. And that note the first morning was, “Oh my goodness, I feel really stilted.”
Because this, of course, I’m sure people listening, nobody has ever read my first draft before. I mean, talk about the whole spouse thing. Nobody reads it, it’s a private thing. And then it was, “I’ve just written this and now you’re going to read it,” and it was a very frightening thing. And having that notes document there meant…and I didn’t want to talk about it. Like we said, we’re introverts. We don’t want to talk, actually; we want to write. So writing down, “I’m feeling this way,” and you came back with, “That’s normal,” right?
Tell me about that. How do you feel with people reading your first draft?
J: I don’t think about it anymore. I did. I felt the same way as you. Although, this is one of the first times, I think, that I did a lot of first drafting. So, I guess, in a way it was somewhat new to me. But knowing where the project would end up, I wasn’t too worried about it. And Glynn and I, I guess, he said early on, he’s like, “Listen, dude, this is a rough draft. Just let it go, just let your creative mind go with it.” And so that’s what I brought to this.
And I’ll be honest with you, I was a little bit worried about you in the first couple of days. Because I could feel the anxiety. I could feel you’re sort of not being sure, like almost that “oh, shit” moment, like “what did I get myself into” kind of thing.
I just tried my best to kind of reassure you like, “Yes, what you’re feeling is pretty natural, it’s pretty normal.” Writing, even having a finished product that’s been edited and proofread and published, you’re still really vulnerable. I mean, you’re putting your soul out there and people can be brutal and people can react to it in a not so great way. So to share that in the process with somebody else, yes, you’re really vulnerable and it’s hard. So kudos to you for sticking with it and not being scared off.
Joanna: I’m glad you said that, it was hard. And, I mean, we’re going to take some of our diary and use it in the book. So if people are interested in the co-writing . . .
J: Just your parts.
Joanna: Just my part?
J: Not mine.
Joanna: We’re going to take some of the entries and we’re going to include them in the book so that people can see. And we didn’t know we were going to do this, right?
Joanna: We didn’t write the diary with any thought that we would be writing a co-writing book, but then we just thought, “Why don’t we do this?” And what’s funny is we haven’t pressed “publish” yet, but I’m pretty sure this is going live because we have a cover, we have a book going to the editor tomorrow. So it’s kind of crazy.
Okay. What else? Then I’ve got, “Who comes up with the story and how does the outlining work?” I think we’ve kind of covered that, haven’t we? It really depends on the situation.
J: It does, yes.
Joanna: And how we did that, again, we had the Google Drive. I did the two-page outline. You went in and did comments. And then we kept the running notes as we found more stuff and put new scenes into the notes. So that was pretty much what we did.
And as I said, I’ve learned that I should do better outlining.
How does the actual writing work? How did we manage the communication? Was there anything more, apart from our notes thing?
J: I think when I saw the incredible stuff you did with Scrivener and I had inspector envy because you had that inspector window kind of jammed with so much cool stuff and I was like, “Oh, man. You are so good at that.”
Joanna: I’m going to put a screen-print in the show notes.
J: Yes, you should. It was really impressive, and I’ve been using Scrivener for years and I hadn’t thought about using it in that way.
Joanna: You didn’t even know about snapshots.
J: No. You’re calling me out. All right. We did use Google Docs and Google Docs worked fine, it was what allowed us to collaborate in real time.
And something that Zach Bohannon pointed out to me that I’ve started doing that with Glynn is, because I have Google Drive on my phone, if I’m in the supermarket or in the line at the post office, I can flip through the docks and set the stage mentally for what I’m going to write next just when I have my phone.
However, after seeing what you did with Scrivener, and I think I mentioned this to you at one point in one email, I would be really up for digging deep technically and figuring out how to set up Scrivener in some type of shared Cloud-based drive so that we could write in that. And I know it’s not written to be used that way, but I know other people do it and I’m sure we could figure it out. But from a technical standpoint…and that does bleed into craft and process. I love Scrivener, it’s all I use to write my first draft. And so yes, doing it again probably would be worth looking into Scrivener as that first draft tool.
Joanna: I think the SPP guys, Sean and Johnny, use Scrivener. I don’t know about Sean and Dave. But you just need to put it in Dropbox and make sure, as we did when we did use Scrivener, is closing it, zipping it, sending it and it just becomes a little bit of a stack in between.
But what we didn’t mention is what we were doing was just creating a new Google Doc every day, each of us. We were creating that. Well, I was writing in Scrivener, then pasting it into Google Docs. And then, as you showed me, a little trick for new players. If the other person’s documents don’t appear, press the “refresh” button. I was like, “This isn’t working. He is not doing any work.” And then you were like, “Press the “refresh” button,” and there it was.
And we also had a word count document. So we would enter our word count in there every day. And we started off in order, like Chapter 1, Chapter 2, and then we just gave up and it ended up just being the date because it just wasn’t in order at all.
And then we put any other things in the shared folder, didn’t we? So the cover design, for example, that we started. I guess, we should talk about the…even the title. Again, the title was something that I came up with and you were pretty happy with, right?
Joanna: Generally, you’ve been really good and just nice about everything. Is that because we just think the same?
J: I think when I was younger I tended to overthink a lot of stuff and I do overanalyze. And I think introverts do this a lot, too. If someone says something to you and then you’re just stewing on it for days, like “What did they mean?” And I’m trying to get better about not doing that. And so I think it’s a good practice to kind of go with your gut. Instinctually, I think, we were aligned and that’s why I didn’t feel…
There was no point in the project where I felt like I really have to push back on this because I don’t feel like this is the right way to go. Even though it’s your story, I know if I had done that, you would have certainly listened to me. You may not have agreed, but you would’ve entertained the idea. But I honestly didn’t feel like there was any point where I had to do that.
I think that the hardest decision was the first three or four cover designs that we got and sort of trying to narrow down what that was going to be.
Sometimes too many choices for me is not good, sometimes two is better than eight. So, I think, looking at those different covers was hard and I think that’s where, again, I relied on you to kind of take the lead on that, knowing that it was a story you had in your head for a long time.
There was one point in the writing where I was in a particular scene and I just got stuck and I couldn’t get out of it. And I remember writing to you at one point and saying, “I don’t know where to go with this scene,” or whatever, I forgot the situation was. But other than that, there was no point in the collaboration where I felt like this is really off the track or this is really not what I want it to be. And really the biggest struggle was the covers. And I think that would have been true…that’s true for me on all my covers.
Joanna: That was the kayak scene, I think. And you said, “I don’t kayak. Why do you want a kayaking scene? What are you doing?” And then I wrote that, and then I got stuck and I was just like, “I’m so bored with this bit, I just don’t even know what to do.” So then I just gave it to you.
I think that’s what’s good, as well. Especially because what we should also say is that we have two main characters. That made easy in terms of that AB-AB, you were writing. And I did say to you, “I want to write the male character,” and you said, “No, I’m writing it.” So you wrote Ben and I wrote Lucy, mainly. But then we also ended up both writing different scenes from their point of views. So I took over some of Ben’s and you took care of some of Lucy’s. We both ended up doing a bit of both. But it will be really be interesting if people can tell. Certainly I think my editor will be able to tell what I wrote and what you wrote.
Joanna: But it would be interesting to see if other people can tell.
Have you found that in any of your other collaborations, is it noticeable?
J: Well, in The Black Fang Betrayal, after we had our initial promotional run where we published the book without the author’s names on the chapters and we had sort of this contest to see if you could guess who it was, and that lasted about a month or so. And then I uploaded the new version that had the author’s name attached to each chapter.
So, for that one, it was clearly delineated that this was someone else. And, I think, it was also pretty clearly indicated that I was the person who wrote the beginning and the end. And then with Shadow Witch Dan did the whole first draft, and then I came through and I did all revisions. So we didn’t really have that AB-AB kind of thing going. So, I guess, I don’t know yet. This will be the first collaboration that I co-first drafted.
Joanna: Okay. Although, we should say that we both did an edit of our own chapters, but now I’m doing an edit of the whole thing, basically. I’m smoothing over some of it, which will be interesting. And you’ve very kindly given me a kind of carte blanche.
J: Yes. You have to have someone at the end of the production line. Yes, we shared a lot and we co-wrote and stuff, but I really do think there has to be one person that has the final, “Okay, it’s done.” Otherwise you’re just kind of chasing your tail, you’re going in circles.
Of course it made sense for that to be you in this case, and I trust you with it and I know it’s going to be great. And I think that you’ll then put my writing through your own filter and it will smooth it over. I think it will be much more integrated than it would have been if we tried just completely writing separately.
Joanna: Yes, I think so, too. And I’m happy with that, as well. But that’s my feeling. And this is back to the author brand thing. So there is something, I haven’t told you this yet.
You’re pretty liberal with the old F word. I made a decision about five years ago…my readers are happy, happy with burning nuns alive, ritually murdering children, ritual sex in tombs, all the various things I end up kind of killing people with. My readers don’t like the F word. And I made this decision about five years ago, I was like, “Okay, well then…” And also, I think, my upbringing. My mom was an English teacher and she used to say using the F word means you don’t have any other language and it’s lazy. And I’m not saying that for you, I’m just saying that.
What’s really funny in the book is I’m reading it, I know that character would say that, but I can’t have that in the book. So now I’ve just told you this, what is your reaction?
J: I’m out. It’s off!
Joanna: It’s all over.
J: No. For me, it’s another word. I don’t know. I don’t have any sort of hang up with it. I don’t necessarily walk around in my day-to-day life just dropping F bombs in random sentences, but I’ve always felt in my writing that if the character would say it, then I say it. But at the same time, I think, there are other ways of achieving the same effect.
Joanna: So you’re okay that I’m editing them all out?
J: I am okay, as long as you don’t substitute it with . . .
Joanna: “Gosh damn.”
J: . . . “fudge.” Yes. You’d have to change the whole lot, I’m totally fine with that. I think trying to substitute one word for it comes off as really kind of corny and cheesy.
Joanna: It’s not happening like that.
Joanna: It’s just changing. But it was interesting because that was something that, for my brand, that’s something important. Just something I maintained. And I know that some of my readers would read it and be jolted out of the story. Whereas your readers wouldn’t be, they probably wouldn’t even notice it. And I don’t notice it as the reader, but it’s interestingly, these things that you end up kind of doing.
And, also, the cover, just looking back about the cover. What I like about the cover is that it has managed to fit with both of the covers that we’ve had individually. I think it worked nicely between us. It uses the red that you use often on your books, it uses the font that I have on my books. The colors work with both of our brands. So what’s interesting is kind of weaving together in this design and editing process is difficult.
It is really hard. And the consistent voice, this smoothing process.
I am finding editing difficult, especially as, “Should I leave that in because you care about that bit or should I cut it out because it doesn’t add to the story?” That kind of thing. So that has actually been really hard. But when you to get to this point, you’re just like, “Whatever.”
J: “I don’t care what he thinks; I just want to get this done.”
Joanna: I just want to get it done now; I just want to get it out. It’s better to have a happy finish. Because, of course, the other thing is we’re doing the full process. We both did the first draft. I did the first edit, mashed it all together and put it all in a timeline. You did the second edit, it’s come back to me for a third edit. It’s then going to Jen, professional editor, and she often does two passes, so a story edit and a line edit. It will come back to me and maybe you for rewrites, we’ll see. And then it will go to beta readers. We have a Māori specialist, Aaron, in New Zealand, and also we have Jonathan, who is a volcanologist. So we have two beta readers. And then we have a proofreader. And we want to get all of that done in the next four weeks.
J: Sure, why not.
Joanna: Sure, why not.
You said that I pushed you on editing, so tell me about that.
J: Yes. My normal process…and as I discovered in this project, it doesn’t have to be my normal process anymore. I kind of took the Stephen King approach from On Writing. And he talks about writing a draft and setting it aside for three months. And I could never wait three months, but I would definitely set it aside. I would do usually, probably now it’s more like five of six revisions. But when I first started out I would go six, seven, eight, even nine revisions.
And when I say revision, I would mean printing out the book and sitting down with a red pen and going through the whole thing, taking it back to the computer, making my changes, printing it out, doing it again. And between each one of those, I would let it sit. I would write some short stories, I would work on a different project. And I would try not to come back to it for a couple of weeks. And what that allowed me to do is to kind of percolate on the story and think about what I wanted to do in the next round of revisions.
So it didn’t hit me until you sent them over and I had that, “Oh, shit,” moment again where I was like, “Well, how am I going to do this?”
Joanna: And basically I gave you eight days.
J: Yeah. I think it was something like that, right? I got the edit and that’s when I had that moment where I was like, “Oh, yeah, I’ve got to turn this around in a week.” And I think I wrote to you, I’m like, “Yeah, I’m basically condensing everything that takes me three months into seven days.” And I was like, “Well, all right, this is what it’s going to take.”
And, honestly, I kind of procrastinated a little bit. I didn’t touch it until Friday. I tried. A couple of times I sat down and I looked at the first chapter, and there was so much I had to do on the first chapter that I wrote. Legitimate stuff, I’m not saying, “Oh, she’s totally wrong.” I agreed with everything you said. But I knew what was waiting for me, and so I procrastinated.
And Friday I was like, “Okay, I cannot let this sit anymore.” And then once I got into it I got really into it. And then I spent pretty much the entire weekend, I don’t know, at least 14-plus hours working on it. And that was good and I felt really great that I was able to do that because that was something I couldn’t do before, but I was honestly not prepared for it.
Joanna: Which is cool. And I think, for me now, as I said to you, I take longer to write the words. But my first draft, in the last couple of books I’ve written my first drafts have been pretty good. Sometimes the version, I haven’t done the rewrite. Deviance – I was really happy with that book, and One Day in New York, as well. It came really, really smoothly, almost first draft. Which is really exciting because that’s what Dean Wesley Smith says, right? That you shouldn’t have to do all this. And I think the more you internalize story, the easier it becomes. But you were…I mean, and the reason the first chapter was so hard is you still didn’t have a handle on the story, it was in my head.
That’s what I mean about one of mistakes. If I had outlined better, then you wouldn’t have had such a hard time and then you wouldn’t have had to rewrite that first chapter, especially so much, because you would have known more.
J: Yeah. Maybe, maybe. Generally, I struggle with the beginning of any book. I don’t struggle writing it in the first draft; I struggle with what to do with it when I’m done. Because, as you said, even if I map things out or plan things out, I go back and I read the whole thing and I’m like, “That beginning doesn’t quite fit.” Or I was still stumbling around trying to figure out what to do.
I think that was definitely the case here, especially because, as you said, the story wasn’t in my head, it was in yours. And so those first couple chapters with Ben, I didn’t really know who the character was or how to play them. I knew that was coming, and I think even intellectually I knew that I was not going to have eight weeks to do the editing. But it didn’t hit me as a reality until you sent me that Scrivener file.
Joanna: When you went, “Oh no.” Because I did put a whole load of notes in and highlighted things. And so I’ve learned a lot from it, from doing the process.
So I guess we’ve said a few things, but in terms of what would we do differently next time, if we do a next time. We still haven’t officially agreed that, but at the moment I’ll say I’m happy to potentially do something else. Are you?
J: Of course.
Joanna: We’re tied to each other now financially.
J: Yeah, we can’t get away from each other now.
Joanna: Well, one thing is we’re still friends.
J: Yeah. That’s true and that’s not always true.
Joanna: Tell us about the failures, when things go wrong. You don’t have to mention any names.
J: I wouldn’t do that. What I consider a failure is not getting to market. And that’s a failure of writers, in general. We all meet people who they want to give you this, “Oh, you write? I’ve got this great idea; I’m going to give it to you.” I’m like, “Thanks,” but it’s like giving me your fruit basket for Christmas or something. I have a million ideas a day. It’s not the idea generation, it’s the implementation, the execution of that story that’s hard. So the collaborations I consider failures are ones where we didn’t get to market.
And it’s weird, it depends. I’m still friends with one person, but we started something…and this is what happens more often than not. I will not give up; I’m pretty gritty in most counts. I know this is a tangent, but even something like Facebook advertising, I will just keep trying until something works, I just don’t give up. And I kind of take that approach in my art, sometimes I just fight through it, like Steven Pressfield. I just fight through it, but not everyone has that sort of grit. And other people bring other strengths and characteristics to the table.
The people who don’t have that same level of grit, what tends to happen is they kind of fall away or the project just dissolves. There isn’t a formal, “That’s it, I quit,” or, “You suck, I’m out.” It just fades. And so most of the failures in my collaborations have been that. And I can honestly say that they don’t fade from my side because I’m too gritty to give up on them. So if someone wants to collaborate with me and it’s not working, they’re basically going to have to tell me to kiss off if they want it to end because I won’t give up on it. I’ll just say, “Okay, how about we take this angle?”
In those failed collaborations I just kind of let them go. I feel like, “If this person really wanted to make this happen, they wouldn’t let it slide.” And if it does slide, then it wasn’t meant to be. And I don’t push it and I don’t endanger it. More often than not that’s what happens.
Joanna: From your perspective, did you choose the wrong person? Did you get the personality wrong or was there something about the writing that just didn’t jell? What are the lessons learned from failures?
J: Hard to say. It’s hard to tell because we never really know what’s going on in someone else’s head. And I try and be really sympathetic about that. I had one collaboration that started and then it really crashed and burned, and I felt terrible about it. I didn’t feel terrible about it because the collaboration didn’t happen, I felt terrible about it because I had inadvertently hurt someone, and I didn’t mean that. It sort of happened that way and I can’t change it. And I apologized and it was accepted, and it’s okay and it’s done.
I found out later through this person that he was dealing with some other stuff that was pretty heavy and personal, and I didn’t know that. And if I had known that, I may have even said, “Hey, why don’t we hold off on this? Get yourself where you need to be and then come back.” But you just don’t know that.
So a lot of times it’s hard to tell. I think it goes back to what we talked about, about having a relationship with people before your start creating art together. I think if you know someone really well, that it lessens the chance of that happening. It doesn’t eliminate the risk, but it definitely makes it more likely you’ll succeed.
Joanna: And also that communication, like the notes thing, that’s so important. Like you said, you don’t know what’s going on in someone else’s head unless they tell you. And the day I didn’t write, I think I was really sick, I had a head cold or something. And it was the Friday, and I wrote on the Thursday. And I felt crappy on the Friday, I just died. And I said, “I can’t write today because I’m not even alive.” And then I was back on it on the Monday. But if I hadn’t told you that and just not written, you would have thought, “Oh, she’s just being lazy.”
J: I could have. Yeah. I could have been led to that. I mean, I wouldn’t have known.
Joanna: I think the honesty and the notes thing were great. And we’re writers at the end of the day, so I think that was fine. We did have a Skype call scheduled, but we didn’t do it. It didn’t seem necessary. But, per a marriage, for me, the communication before the problem gets too big is the point.
And then, like you said, I had a few issues in the first few days. They were more about me, not about you. And at that point if I had pulled out, I could have said to you, “I’m pulling out.” That would have been fine. But I haven’t felt like doing that. It just feels quite normal.
Some of the other emotional, psychological issues that come up. For me, I’ve written down fear of judgment. So I’ve talked about fear of judgment around you judging my first draft, so we’ve talked around that. Comparisonitis, it’s very hard not to compare your writing to somebody else when you’re doing co-writing. These are my issues, then you can do your issues.
Egomania and control-freakery. Which, again, I’ve mentioned. The fact that I’m like, “Oh, am I being too controlling? Am I forcing my point of view or my story onto you? Just basically am I being too in control for a collaboration?”
So those are my things: fear of judgment, comparisonitis, and egomania or control-freakery. Do you recognize any of those?
J: I think I have my own set of issues. I think a lot of my issues center around self-worth and something I’ve dealt with my whole life. I guess it’s comparisonitis, in a way. It’s feeling like you don’t measure up or you’re not good enough. And I think that’s an easy place to go, especially in this industry, where you’re evaluated so publicly and so often. Can you imagine if you worked in an office and there was a website where people could go and leave reviews about how you did that day?
Joanna: And then your money was based on it.
J: Like people could one-star you for your job at the bank or whatever. That’s kind of silly, but I think that gets down to this idea of comparisonitis and thinking like, “Okay, do I measure up? Do I have the chops? Do I have the ability to do this?” And I think it’s more about perseverance than anything else.
I think perseverance really trumps talent in many cases.
I think if you stay at something long enough and you’re willing to, not work hard, but work smart. I think if you’re really deliberate about what you do, you can really improve and you can really become better.
And so I would be lying if I said I didn’t have any of those issues. I mean, you’re Joanna Penn. And you giggle. Yeah, you giggle, but there’s…you’re a very prolific and well-respected author. Not only in the indie community, but in general. So yeah, there is…I had issues around, “Can I do this?” I did. But I think having those issues and then moving through them is different than being paralyzed by them and stopping. And neither of us did that, so that’s why we’re here today.
Joanna: And I’m really happy with that.
What are some of the other things that you might like to share with other people about co-writing?
J: I think for me, and especially in this project with you, it was fun. And I think we often lose sight of that as writers, whether it’s ourself or…why are we doing this in the first place? Because we enjoy it.
There was something really fun about I couldn’t wait to get up and see what you wrote, and then I couldn’t wait to see what you thought of what I wrote. And I was so excited by seeing the word count grow. We don’t need a spreadsheet with word count, it’s more of a psychological thing. And as that number started going up, I was getting excited.
And I’m excited now as we’re finalizing our decisions on the map and I’m excited about the cover. And all of this is just a lot of fun. And I think it’s a different kind of fun than doing it by yourself.
Joanna: I totally agree. And that addiction of that first draft phase, I’ve never felt that before because I normally really struggle with the first draft. There were days I came home…I also think the book is fun. The reason we’re moving fast on it, it’s very fast-paced. It’s a journey, it’s kind of the end of the world. Almost apocalyptic, almost. Pre-apocalyptic almost.
And the book is fun itself and I was enjoying writing the scenes, the monsters and…and it’s a book I’ve wanted to do, but it felt appropriate to do it with you. So it was more fun in that way.
I do think that it’s important…we didn’t mention this earlier, but it’s important to not co-write in the world that you own as an individual because the copyright extends to the world, as well. So basically we’ve agreed that we both own that world now. Individually, we could both write in that world. But for example, you can’t co-write with somebody else with those characters, unless I get a cut and vice versa. And so I think that’s really important, is that you didn’t write in the ARKANE world, I didn’t write in your thingy realm. Preta’s Realm, whatever. The portal ARKANE stuff. Although mine is “ARKANE” and yours is “Arcane.”
Maybe we’ll do a round-up once we’re out. And we’ll be doing all the marketing stuff that you usually do, and sharing it all. But if it hadn’t been fun, I think it would have been really difficult. You have enough to deal with when you’re writing a book on your own. And if there’s trouble with the other person, that would be a problem, I think.
J: And really I have to hand it to you, it is a great story. I think readers are really going to love it. It’s something, it’s unique and it’s fun and it’s fast-paced and it’s exciting. I think, for me, that was a big part of it. I wanted to get to the end, too, because I was really excited about it. And all the layers that are added to it and…it’s got all the stuff in a story that I love, both the good and the bad. It’s got the strong characters, but it’s also got this massive destructive element that you have to deal with. It was a really fun story and I think that…so it was fun doing it with you in creating this, and the story itself was fun. And so I think I couldn’t wait to get up every morning and get into the Google Drive.
Joanna: I wouldn’t do it with a literary, emotional novel.
J: That would be kind of weird, yeah.
Joanna: Neither of us do that anyway.
I think probably we can sum it all up as co-writing with the appropriate person is a good thing.
J: Yes. Absolutely.
Joanna: There you go, that can be the title of the podcast. Okay, so just wrapping up. Where can people find you and your books and…oh, tell us about your podcast and your YouTube and all that good stuff.
J: Yeah, I’ll make it easy, Jthorn.net is the portal that gets you into everything that I do, everything funnels through that. Have a show called Dark Arts Theater, which is designed for fans of horror and heavy metal, and it’s everything from music videos to interviews to all kinds of short stories, audible short stories.
And then Zach Bohannon and I just re-launched The Horror Writer’s Podcast. And that’s been dormant for about ten months and Zach came to me and said he thought we should revive it. And so we’ve kind of taken a little different spin and we’re really targeting fans of horror as opposed to doing writing stuff. So that just came back up two weeks ago, I think. We’ve got a bunch of episodes stacked for that. So that’s what I’ve got going on.
Joanna: That is fantastic. Well, thanks so much for your time, J. And not just for today, but for the last couple of months, as well.
J: It’s been great. Thank you.