Writing with a Collaborator

When I attended the RT Booklovers Convention last month, I got a lot of questions about writing with a collaborator.  I didn’t really expect that, so I thought I’d share some thoughts now that I’ve had time to think up a better answer than, “Um…”

One way to organize our thoughts is to use the traditional “reportorial questions”:

1.  What – What is collaboration?  How is it different from a beta/CP relationship?

2.  Why – Why collaborate?

3.  Who – Who can collaborate?

4.  Where – Where can you meet others who might work with you?

5.  How – How to get the most out of the experience?  5 Tips.

What Is Collaboration? 

I suspect that if one were to ask several authors who work together, one would get several different definitions of what it means to do it.  My answer is that collaboration is when two authors work together on all aspects of a story, from inception to completion, including plotting, writing, and editing.  It is a shared project and a synergistic one (where the whole is greater than the sum of its parts).  One of the greatest teams writing today is Preston and Childs, and while they both have robust solo careers they collaboratively create some of the most imaginative stories around.

How Is Collaboration Different From a Beta Reader?

A beta reader (someone who offers a “second pair of eyes” for a manuscript) is simply a good reader – and not always a writer.  Some have argued that the beta reader should not be a writer, since their job is to be a surrogate reader and point out points in the manuscript where the plot lags or becomes confusing.  The ownership of the project, however, rests solely with the author.

A CP, or Critique Partner, is another writer or editor (sometimes both) who offers a critical eye for the manuscript.  They may or may not make suggestions on the story itself, but usually their job is to help make the story as it exists as strong as possible.  Their job is not to write the story and they don’t necessarily take a larger role in the creation of the piece.  Some CP’s do brainstorm together and I would argue that tips the scales in favor of the relationship being a collaborative one and not merely a critiquing one.  Sometimes the definition depends on the people involved.

Why Collaborate?

The short answer is, “Because you want to.”  A better question would be, what benefit does collaboration have for the author?  Collaborating can be fun, a way to create a safe environment for learning and creation, and a way to generate ideas together.  The latter point can help authors who are strong in one area and weak in another – a writer good at characterization might learn a lot and get a lot out of a partnership with a writer strong at plotting.

I find working with someone who knows me, knows my process, and understands my challenges can help me create a lot more than I would on my own.  I do write on my own and have for many years, but the simple fact is that I enjoy working with my coauthor and wouldn’t trade that for anything.

I will say, though, that one should consider carefully before one decides to work with someone that closely.  You will be in each others’ heads and the relationship is, in some ways, more intimate than a spouse.  While this affords an opportunity for tremendous things, it can also lead to painful miscommunications and sometimes interpersonal strife.  If you aren’t willing to give your all, and to work hard at communicating, then reconsider whether now is the right time to collaborate.

Who Can Collaborate?

The best collaborators are the best communicators.  If you can function well on a team and know how to play well with others, then you are halfway there.  If those are challenges for you, then reconsider why you want to open yourself up to dealing with another person.

Unlike CP relationships, I believe that good collaborators are equally, if differently, skilled.  I don’t see a healthy relationship as one where one author has tremendous experience and skill and the other author is a novice.  In the best case, the author with the experience will spend all their time and energy teaching the novice; in the worst case, the novice will spend their time hero-worshiping the experienced author and not really growing.  This is one case where equality in relationship is key.

Where can you meet others who might work with you?

The internet can help people meet each other and work together.  This is a positive force for good.  Places like Romance Divas are excellent places to meet and get to know other authors.  You’ll be able to get acquainted with a hole host of behaviors and see how folks handle themselves in crises.  This is important information.  How do they handle conflict?  How do they communicate during a sensitive time?

Other venues are local, in-person writing groups. has literally thousands of groups across the globe that meet on a host of topics (not just writing).  Local universities, colleges, and adult education programs that offer writing classes are another good way to meet people who are at your level that you might want to work with.

Be prepared to be patient.  Finding the right collaborator is a long process.  Put the same care and time into it as you would a job search or in selecting a marriage partner.  If all goes well, you will be business partners with this person when you sell your material and you want to make sure that you can work well with them, and they with you.  Money has ruined many a relationship, so use caution.

How to get the most out of the experience?  5 Tips.

Tip the First:  Have fun.  As you’re looking for the right person, don’t overlook the friendships you will build along the way.  Don’t turn away from someone because they’re not your ultimate collaborator; they might turn out to be a good friend.

Tip the Second:  Support each other.  As you build your writing skills and start submitting to publishers, be prepared for rejection and criticism.  It’s sometimes easier to deal with these things with someone who understands and who has a vested interest in your success.

Tip the Third:  Use each others’ strengths.  Just because you’re not good managing the business side of writing doesn’t mean your collaborator isn’t.  Don’t waste time spinning your wheels.  Figure out who’s good at what and use that to your mutual advantage.

Tip the Fourth:  Be partners in learning the ropes.  Just because you’re not good managing the business side of writing doesn’t mean you can’t learn.  I know one writer who has said for the last two or three years that I’ve known them, “I’m no good at promo.”  That was cute the first few times, but by now, my reaction is, well, then learn!  There’s a LOT of good information available – here at Romance Divas no less – so there’s really no excuse for not getting better.  If you can’t find what you need, then ask.  Writers are, by nature, communicators.  You might be surprised at the amount of information you’re given in response to “simple questions.”

Tip the Fifth:  Become an excellent brainstormer.  A classic on the subject is a book by By Roger von Oech ( A Whack On The Side Of The Head: How You Can Be More Creative.  Techniques like Listing and Mindmapping can help you come up with ideas you never thought possible.  The better you are at understanding how brainstorming works, the better collaborator you will be.  For example, the word “No” has been found in studies to halt brain activity and thought processes.  It stops brainstorming in its tracks.  A better way to frame your ideas in response to another’s is “Yes, and…” because it keeps the creative brain coming up with ideas.

If you decide to collaborate, I wish you all the best.  And even if you don’t, I still wish you all the best!  There’s plenty of pie at the table and we can all have a slice.  So dig in!

Write on!

Come explore the worlds of A. Catherine Noon. Based in Chicago, Illinois, USA, Catherine combines science fiction, fantasy, humor and erotica to synthesize unique environments.

A. Catherine Noon and Rachel Wilder
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