Tuesday, February 11, 2014

Author Tips: Collaboration

Gail Giles and I at the Matanuska River in Alaska

Tomorrow, our book officially meets the world.

Our book. No Returns.

It happened because my co-author, Gail Giles, is a very cool person. Her debut novel, Shattering Glass, was an ALA Best of the Best Book, a Book Sense 76 selection, and a Booklist Top 10 Mystery for Youth selection. Her second, Dead Girls Don’t Write Letters, was an ALA Top 10 Quick pick and a Book Sense 76 selection. She’s got over 12,000 ratings on Goodreads; this week, it happens that she’s in the top fifty followed people there.

Gail and I got acquainted through writing, and we’d known each other for a number of years before we began playing around with co-written titles. After a couple of false starts, we ran with an idea Gail came up with, for a middle grade/YA novel about three boys in a band who accidentally call up the devil.

While vacationing in Cabo, we wrote the first few chapters of No Returns, then finished the book through a series of phone calls and emails. We fell in love with the boys in the band, and we even developed an affection for a certain little demon named Fred. I’m glad we decided to make this a series, because writing the sequel is proving every bit as fun as writing the first book.

If you’re thinking of co-writing a book, here’s some advice based on our experience: 
  • Make sure you’re comfortable and secure in your friendship before you tackle a project together. Collaboration works best when you share mutual trust and respect. If one (or both) of you has control issues, you’re likely bound for an unpleasant ride. 

  • No one’s the diva. Be honest with one another. Without feelings getting hurt, you have to be able to tell your co-author if you feel things are going in the wrong direction. Writing is hard work, but collaborating should be fun. 

  • Have a system, but don’t be rigid about it. Play off one another’s strengths. While both authors need to be open to alternatives and critiques, they should avoid micromanaging the project. Now that Gail and I have collaborated successfully on one book, we’ve found a sort of rhythm, with each of us writing where we feel inspired and punting to the other where we get stuck. Much like a marriage, the contributions of each person will never be entirely equal. 

  • Agree on the terms. Before you get in too deep, decide what will happen if one of you feels it’s not working. Who’ll have rights to the draft if the book never makes it to completion? How it will be placed and marketed if it does? 

  • At some point, bring other perspectives to the project—agents, editors, and/or beta readers. Books can be a little too much like babies: as their proud “parents,” you risk overlooking flaws. 

If you’d like to ask Gail about what it’s like to co-author a book (or anything else), she’s hosting an “Ask Gail Giles” Q & A at Goodreads on Thursday, Feb. 13

It’s a little early for use to tell how our book will be received, but so far, we like what we’re hearing:

"Turn this book up to eleven! It puts the buzz in Beelzebub and the power in power chords. A musical, lyrical tale that must be read.”
Arthur Slade, author of The Hunchback Assignments

“A powerful story told in an equally powerful voice, with characters you love and root for from the very first pages. A novel of friendship, love and guts about three kids who refuse to surrender—brilliant and strikingly new!”
Terry Trueman, Printz Honor Author of Stuck in Neutral 

“The first movement in an ambitious song cycle of a tale”
Kirkus Reviews

To celebrate the official launch of No Returns, we’re offering the Kindle version at $2.99 from Feb. 12 through Feb. 14.