How to Collaborate When Writing a Book by Ronovan Hester
As some of you know by now, if not you will shortly, I co-authored a book with the Award Winning Author PS Bartlett of the Razor’s Adventures Pirate Tales. This being my debut novel, it was an interesting experience to go through and one from which I’m taking take a lot away. As with any experience, there was plenty of good and some bad. I’ll explain the bad in the following in the How To parts of the article. This was a first for both of us, the collaborating part.
First I want to put down what you should consider when the idea of collaboration comes your way. In no way does any of this mean to say anything bad about my experience. I am taking good and not as good things I’ve learned and putting them him for you.
Things to do Before Collaborating
- Read the work of the other author. You want to see if the two of you have the same ideas, general style, and taste in writing and word usage. I personally loved PS Bartlett’s The Blue Diamond: The Razor’s Edge and that is what led to our becoming friends and co-author.
- Establish a rapport with the co-author. You want to be able to communicate with each other. You want to understand the language of the other person. By this, I mean you want to know when they are serious or joking, or when they are having a bad day and you can read emails and know it’s not you but just a bad day.
- Exchange writing samples for critique of work unrelated to any project you might work on together. See if you can handle criticism and a give and take process. See if the other person understands what you mean and if you understand them when talking about writing aspects of Character and Plot.
If you don’t do the above three things, your writing experience will likely be a disaster. I’m not saying it will definitely be one, but it could be.
Now you’ve agreed to begin the process of coming up with ideas. What do you do now?
Things to do Before Beginning to Write
- Agree on the type of writing process.
- There are different ways of writing a book with a partner.
- Each person may write alternating chapters.
- One person takes the lead on writing the first draft.
- The lead writer writes a chapter, the co-author reads it, and a discussion takes place before moving to the next chapter. (Although the lead writer in the process may keep writing as the ideas flow.)
- Agree on roles in the process.
- Depending on a book there may be;
- Who is responsible for what kind of research?
- Subject matter
- Or Voice, that may lend itself to one writer being the first draft writer, if that is the route you are taking.
- Who will be responsible for parts of editing and proofing?
- Is there one best at catching continuity?
- Point of view check
- Tightening up the writing
This is a sticky one as editing will step on toes and possibly hurt feelings. This is why there needs to be a lot of agreements and thought before even beginning a collaboration.
- Agree on the final approval process.
- How do you determine when it is ready for the editor?
- Who is to say when the final draft is complete?
- What happens if one of you does not approve in the end?
- Agree on what happens if one drops out of the project.
- Do you scrap the entire project if only a certain percentage of the manuscript is completed?
- Does the remaining author continue with full credit and rights?
- Does the remaining author continue writing, with credit given to the co-author, but the continuing writer retaining all rights?
- Does the remaining author continue and both authors share credit and rights?
- When I refer to rights above I mean rights to the characters, the intellectual property, all rights related to the ownership of the book and characters, and the profits.
The above looks like a lot to consider and go through, but you need to do it. You don’t want to get to the middle of the process and discover this is not where you want to be, or maybe, just maybe, you discover your co-author is not into the project as much as you are.
Maybe you were expecting something about how to do a collaboration as in how to share documents in Google Docs through Google Drive. People jump into a writing partnership with a friend and end up discovering the friendship isn’t as strong as they thought. When sharing creations and giving some control of your ideas over to another there can be some problems arise. Feelings may be hurt, prides may wound, and friendships may end.
One final thing I would suggest; put it all in writing. Why should you do this? I’m not saying for legal reasons, I’m saying for reference reasons. A writing project can take a long time, and memories can vary. A document agreed on by both authors can be a great thing to have on hand. Document and note everything. It is important when ideas come up and each author agrees to changes. This can be a fun part of your life and a rewarding one, but don’t let it be a regrettable one.
I again want to stress, this article has nothing to do with how my own personal collaboration process went as far as the negatives go. I know what went great and I know what could have gone better.
PS Bartlett allowed me to run rampant with the book. I wrote the first draft, creating the story, and the characters with only one thing she wanted done for the most part, get a man with red hair and blue eyes that could be the captain of a ship to a certain place in the Caribbean by a certain time.
You would think she would have more concerns about a character who ends up being so important to her series of books. She wasn’t. I loved The Blue Diamond: The Razor’s Edge and that world created. I understood it. I discussed with her what this world could be and encouraged her to go for it. She went into her prequel trilogy and I into the book that became Amber Wake: Gabriel Falling. She trusted I would create characters with depth and character to match what she needed in her future books. While writing her trilogy she would ask me if the man I wrote as Captain Gabriel Wallace had certain things she could use in her books or if there were certain characters he had with him she could use. It worked out very well.
After I finished nitpicking my drafts to death, which took me about 4-5 weeks to write, I passed it over to Bartlett, as I call her or Blonde Bartlett the Sea Siren, her Pirate Name. Once some of her trilogy work was done, she then went to work on our book, added her flavor to it, her needed touches to match what all she did in the future with the man known as Wallace in the book, tightened up some of the sections, and added some proper ship and pirate jargon.
The final product was a story about 95-98% what I started with, and a read of language that blends nicely once you get past that initial set up and get on with it stage of unrest conflict causes. With four reviews in so far we have Three 5 Star reviews and One 4.5 Star review.
Here is part of the 4.5 Review.
This prequel is written to explain an enigmatic pirate, Captain Rasmus Bergman, found in a series written by P.S. Bartlett. Author Ronovan Hester was selected by P.S. Bartlett to go back in time to develop the character of this fierce, yet protective man. Set in the early 1700’s, Hester uses a very formal Old English dialogue and non-dialogue language style. The historical descriptions are done smoothly, and flow nicely without being to “teachy”.
A word of advice is to settle into the language as quickly as possible. It was a bit of a stumbling block for me, as I tried to mentally get the long slow phraseology to catch up with the fast scenes. Hester seems to settle into a great story-telling groove after the third chapter. After that I was along for the ride…
As stated above, the language is Old English and a bit stiff at the start. I don’t know if I warmed up or if Ronovan Hester warmed up, but it flowed through my mind smoother after a couple of chapters.
In Amber Wake, Gabriel Falling, Hester takes on the challenge of writing first person and steers clear of some of the pit-falls of that style. He doesn’t describe what is happening behind him or on another boat. As a reader, you only know what Captain Rasmus Bergman knows, which is critical in first-person writing.
Another challenge is developing a character from someone else’s series. Hester takes this in stride and creates a back-story to explain the famous pirate. He includes history of what could explain Rasmus’ high moral standards (for a pirate) and his upper class education. At times the internal and external dialogue, and the actions seemed at odds, but it didn’t stop me from reading.
This is the first I’ve read of The Razor Adventures Pirate Tales. It would be entertaining to get readers together, who read these books in different order, and see if we each have a favorite character based on which book we read first.
So in conclusion; Ivory Dawn, Amber Wake, Demons and Pearls, and Jaded Tides are all prequels to The Blue Diamond. Unlike Ivory Dawn, Amber Wake is a stand-alone novel, but barely.
Why include the review here, and why the 4.5 and not one of the 5’s? This one shows some of those things that can happen with co-authors. However, you can see how overall it worked out nicely. Eventually you have to put the book out and into the hands of the public. We could have spent another month or more . . . maybe . . . and found some of those things mentioned above, but that’s one reason a professional editor was paid. Obviously, the points were not problems to keep from publishing or keeping his reader and others from enjoying the book. With any review, it’s an opinion and a matter of taste, this coming from a man who created and runs a book review and interview site. In reality, the book could be a two. I like it. I am proud of what I’ve done. That’s what matters at the end of the day.
Thank you, Jo, for allowing me to take up some of your space today. You are one of the most highly respected people in the author support world I know and the fact you volunteered for this is truly an honor.
Choose your poison