In March 2017, I got on a train in Chicago with J. Thorn, Lindsay Buroker, and Zach Bohannon. We headed south to New Orleans and within a week, we had the first draft of a novel, published a month later as American Demon Hunters: Sacrifice.
It was an amazing creative experience as well as an adventure, and I was only able to do it because I co-wrote Risen Gods with J. back in 2015 and I trust him.
I've learned so much from collaborating with other authors, and I am now incorporating co-writing with different people into my author business.
In today's article, J. Thorn goes through some of the mistakes of author collaborations and how to avoid them.
Although collaboration has been a creative mode in other arts, such as music and film, it is relatively new for novelists.
The process can be confusing and difficult, but also rewarding and fulfilling. After completing many collaborations (and failing at many as well), I’ve identified five critical mistakes that can kill a project…and ways you can avoid those traps.
1. Moving too fast
Beginning a collaboration is much like a marriage. Getting engaged on the first date is probably not a good idea. It makes sense to get to know somebody, especially in a professional environment. Beginning a project without knowing the other person is one of the most common mistakes collaborators make.
Most of my failed collaborations ended because I did not take the time to get to know the other person. We did not discuss our work styles, our preferences, or the things that we had in common or didn’t have in common. Often, the initial excitement of the collaboration will push things along too quickly. Ideas fly, and the excitement soars, but when the real work begins, people fall into their old habits. Knowing what those habits are and how they affect each writer can make a tremendous impact on whether or not the project is successful.
2. Lack of proper planning
One of the main lessons we learned from the American Demon Hunters collaboration in New Orleans was that we should have had a plan. Whether you’re are a pantser or a plotter, planning can be the difference between languishing in an unfinished project and publishing a book. Whether you call it an outline, story beats, or just rough ideas, having a plan will be instrumental in making sure all collaborators are on the same page.
When Joanna and I wrote Risen Gods, we wrote most of that story without a firm outline because there were only two of us and because I was reading what she wrote before I started my writing session on that day. With Joanna in Great Britain and me in the United States, I was always able to see where she was taking the story.
However, for most collaborations, that would be difficult to accomplish without proper planning. In New Orleans, the four of us had to stop mid-week and come up with a plan. It was simply too difficult for us to know what we were doing with the characters at any given time in the story. Ideally, spending time world building and outlining is going to clarify what everyone needs to write, and what each person's responsibilities will be.
Also, the same type of planning and preparation should be done on the marketing side so when the book is finished all collaborators are clear on what their role is in both the publishing phase and the marketing phase.
The collaboration will always take longer than you think it will. If you do not set firm deadlines for the project, you will almost certainly fall behind. Incremental deadlines, as well as a final publication deadline, will help hold everyone accountable. It is human nature to procrastinate. Therefore, not having a deadline will almost certainly stretch the project out further than it has to be.
Also, things will happen in a collaboration. There could be a technical problem, somebody could get sick, or the collaboration itself can just simply take longer than you have anticipated. Again, it is important to recognize that there will be a tremendous surge of energy at the beginning of the collaboration, but that will most certainly tail off as the hard work begins. Even solo writers call the second act of a novel the “soggy middle” because it's hard to maintain the energy and momentum you have both at the beginning of the writing process and at the end of it. And while it's hard to estimate how long it takes to publish something, if you set the deadlines further out then they need to be, and you hit them early, no one will ever complain.
4. Lack of communication
We all have egos. We are all human, and we have tendencies to want to control our environment. While this is natural, and certainly comes up in many collaborations, there is a way to get around this issue. Keeping a direct and open line of communication with your collaborators will almost certainly guarantee that you'll be able to handle roadblocks. This trust is usually born out of a prior relationship, and it is not something that just naturally happens with everyone.
Therefore, if you are friends with your collaborator or you have a professional relationship before starting the collaboration, you are much better suited to address any disagreements that may arise. It is also important to note that we cannot be inside the heads of our collaborators. It is your responsibility to let your collaborators know when something is troubling you or even when you're not feeling well. Having two or more people writing a single story is not an easy feat, and if you're not communicating during the process, you will end up with a lot of wasted time and wasted words.
5. No defined genre or outcome
Although you may think your collaborators agree about the genre of your project, you should not make that assumption. If you plan on marketing or selling your collaboration, you must address the issue of genre. It could be tempting to do a “mash up” of genres to appease all of the collaborators on the project. However, it will make it difficult for consumers to identify the product you want to sell them.
That is not to say that you cannot do genre crossovers or passion projects. However, you must realize that the way the marketplace is structured in 2017, especially on Amazon, it is difficult to sell a book that does not adhere to genre guidelines without a prior readership or fan base. And even fans of one author will not always buy the book. For example, Lindsay Buroker does not typically write in the horror or dark fantasy genre, and that made it an additional challenge selling the American Demon Hunters book to her core readership because it was not a genre her most rabid fans expected.
Collaboration is a risky venture even under the best circumstances. But creating great art is always a risk, and that should not stop you from making it. We learned a lot about ourselves and each other while in New Orleans working on American Demon Hunters: Sacrifice and I would do it again because the joint effort is always better than what could be accomplished alone.
For writers: If you’re interested in a collaborative writers retreat, visit http://theauthorcopilot.com/retreat/ for more information.
You can also find our tips in Co-writing a Book: Collaboration and Co-creation for Writers
For readers: If you want more information about the product of our New Orleans collaboration, visit http://americandemonhunters.com/ for more information.
Have you ever collaborated with another author on a book project? Please leave your thoughts and experiences below and join the conversation.
J. Thorn is a bestselling horror writer and creator of Dark Arts Theater and the Horror Writers Podcast. J is also my co-author of Risen Gods, a dark fantasy/supernatural thriller.