|Mary Lee and Anita aka Sparkle Abbey|
2013 is shaping up to be a busy year for Sparkle Abbey! Kitty Kitty Bang Bang, our third book, came out the end of December and we just turned in Yip/Tuck which will be the fourth book in the Pampered Pets mystery series. We’re busy promoting the first three books and last weekend we plotted out books five and six. Our writing friends ask all the time, “How do you do it?”
Well, the trick is there are two of us. Collaboration has been such a blessing for us, we’re having so much fun with the series and these projects have done well. However, we like to tell other writers who are considering collaboration, the good news is there are two of us and the bad news is there are two of us.
Here’s how we ended up writing together
We had belonged to the same RWA chapter and the same critique group for several years and had been writing and submitting fiction separately. We’d both received very “good” rejections from publishers and agents and then had a conversation with a NY agent at a RWA conference. Her advice on high-concept hooks was brilliant and we brainstormed some ideas. Because the idea of setting a mystery in the world of people and their pets was something we came up with together, we decided to team up on the series.
We could have done this a number of different ways
There are many different ways of working together on a book. Here are a few.
• Division of Talents – One writer outlines and plots the story. The other does all the writing. One or both may polish the completed story.
• Chapter by Chapter – The two plot the story together and then each writer takes a chapter.
• Sentence by Sentence, Word by Word – Everything is written together.
We’ve taken a somewhat unique approach to co-writing in that we take turns writing the individual books. The odd-numbered books star Caro, a psychologist turned pet therapist, and are written by Mary Lee. The even-numbered books star Mel, a pet boutique owner, and are written by Anita. We share the stories’ Laguna Beach setting and some quirky secondary characters. Also, the two main characters, who are cousins, have cameos in one another’s books. We work closely together on the outline for the series and the individual books and we frequently work across the table from one another either at ML’s dining room table or at Starbucks. But each of us writes a full book. It works for us.
Others use different methods. Lynn Kerstan and Alicia Rasley worked together completely via email. The result was Gwen’s Ghost, the first collaboration to win a Rita award. When asked her advice to those considering a joint project, Lynn says, “For me, mutual respect between collaborators is the prime value. A sense of humor is a close second.”
On the other hand, some do the co-writing in person. Donald and Renee Bain who write the “Murder She Wrote” books share office space. Don has an office and Renee has an office and they each work separately but between their offices is a conference room. They meet there to hash out details. Don says, “We're both good at putting aside our egos in the interest in coming up with the best book possible. We have a rule that if something in the manuscript causes one of us to pause and ponder, it probably needs fixing.”
Ellery Adams and Sylvia May, who write the NY Times bestselling “Novel Idea” mystery series as Lucy Arlington, also co-write via technology. They brainstorm over the phone and set-up a writing schedule. Once the schedule is established, one writes the first half of a chapter and then the other critiques it and writes the second half.
There are other variations of writing together such as Joyce and Jim Lavene, who have written over 60 books together and have published in almost every genre. Their computers are networked together and they tell the story back and forth until they have a first draft. Once they have a first draft, they read the manuscript aloud. Joyce says, “You have to really trust another person to share the first inklings of ideas you might have, those delicate, fragile things that can be easily destroyed by the wrong words from another person”.
You’ll remember we said the good news is there are two of us and the bad news is there are two of us.
First the good news
Two heads really are better than one. We plot together. We work out story problems together. There is a wonderful synergy and a creative boost in working with another writer. It’s the best!
The responsibility is split. We work on promotions together. When one of us is on deadline, the other can continue work on other things.
You have company on the crazy train. Truly publishing is a crazy business and being in it together provides incredible moral support.
You have someone to share the ups and downs of the journey and someone to celebrate with when the book is done or when it hits that bestseller list. (Desperate Housedogs hit #1 in Amazon’s Bestselling Mysteries last year. Whoo hoo!)
And now the bad news
It’s not all about you. Every step of the way there will be compromise.
You’ll need to spend time finding just the right creative process. What worked for you individually may not work when writing with someone else.
You make half the money. While the responsibilities are split, so are the advances. So is the royalty check.
Oh, and did we mention it’s not all about you…
The legal aspects of collaboration
There’s more than just the creative part of going down the path of co-writing a book. You’ll need to decide if you want to incorporate or not. Additionally, we recommend (and our publisher required) a collaboration agreement. We laughingly tell folks this is the most depressing document we’ve ever worked on – and we’re only partly kidding. The agreement will spell out who is responsible for what, what happens if one of you is incapacitated, or dies. What happens if one author wants to continue and the other does not. It’s pretty much a pre-nuptial agreement for authors.
Other important things
Much like a marriage, it’s important that you share the same values. That you agree on priorities. We can’t stress this point enough. Family is important to both of us and trumps everything else. We both believe in hard work and getting things right. Also, as is true in any relationship, communication is key. Keep the communication channels open. We were friends before we were co-writers and we remain friends today.
If you’re considering working with another writer on a project, you need to have an open discussion about what that means. We started down this path for a number of reasons and have been truly blessed by the opportunity to work together on a really fun series. That said, what works for us so well may not work for others at all, but we’re always happy to answer questions about our experience and what we’ve learned along the way, so feel free to post your questions or email us if you think of them later.
A huge thanks to Tina Radcliffe and Seekerville for inviting us!
Mary Lee and Anita aka Sparkle Abbey
Sparkle Abbey is the pseudonym of mystery authors Mary Lee Woods and Anita Carter who co-write the Pampered Pets Mystery Series.
Book One: Desperate Housedogs
Book Two: Get Fluffy
Book Three: Kitty Kitty Bang Bang
Book Four: Yip/Tuck (coming summer 2013)
Sparkle Abbey has generously donated Books 1, 2 and 3 in the Pampered Pets series that will be given to one commenter. But you must leave a comment tell us you'd like to win! Winner announced in the Weekend Edition!