It was February when the idea came to me for a novel about twin sisters. I scribbled it down and put it in my idea folder where I intended to leave it along with several others until I had time to get back to it.
My ideas usually go through the notebook test. I put them in my idea notebook and carry on with the current project. If the idea jumps out at me when I’m ready to move onto something new, then I consider it more seriously.
But, that was not the case this time. My good friend and writing buddy for the past seven years and I had been talking about working on something together—a collaboration. I mentioned my idea, sending it to her along with a few others and we decided to work on this story together. She’d write one twin’s viewpoint and I’d write the other. What could be simpler? Right?
But I knew better than to think that. I’d done a collaboration before which had pretty much fizzled out. There were a number of problems in the earlier collaboration I did, the biggest one being that he brought the idea to the table and I was never able to really put my stamp on the story, despite the fact that I was doing the writing. I always felt like I was trying to read his mind and transcribe what he was thinking to the page. It got to be too much pressure and I wasn’t able to write it anymore. We’ve come to a better agreement now, one that will work for both of us and benefit the story. It was a great learning experience.
I certainly learned some of the pitfalls to avoid when setting up a collaborative venture with someone else.
Choosing the Right Person
My first criteria would be choosing the right partner. I’ve known Pat for 7 or 8 years. We met in a critique group and stayed in touch from then on. She’s critiqued most of my writing as I’ve done for her. We know each others' style and other quirks about how we work. We are friends first. We can be open and completely blunt with each other when needed. If something doesn’t work, we say so; we find a solution and move on. In short, I knew if I were going to ever collaborate again, it should be with Pat. That was never an issue.
So when I realized that we could probably make this work if anyone were going to, I took a look at the things that didn’t work in my last collaborative effort.
Giving up Ownership
The first thing on my list was the idea. When you bring the idea to the table, you feel possessive of it. You believe the idea is yours. And it’s true in a sense. You did come up with it. It is yours.
BUT the thing that’s important about doing a collaboration is this: once you bring that idea to the table and offer it up to work on, it’s no longer yours.
Yes you still came up with the idea. But as soon as you bring it out for offer to the collaborative effort, it becomes common property. You have to let it go and let the creative process take over. Then every decision over character or direction or plot has to be mutually agreed upon. So you can no longer think in terms of ownership.
Story is king. And that’s what you have to keep your eye on. Everything that you do, from here on out, only serves the story—not the individual writers.
Credits and Money and Other Nasty Topics
No one wants to talk about this stuff. It’s almost a waste of time. Writers don’t make any money anyway—unless they are extremely talented or extremely lucky or both. If you are in this for the money, I suggest you find another occupation—one that is less obsessive and requires fewer hours. But this discussion will eventually come up if the venture is successful and it’s best to decide these things early on.
So what do we do? Who gets top billing? I suggested the use of a pseudonym. It gives the appearance of a single author and keeps the writing separate from our other stories which are mainly stories for kids and teens. Also, the use of a pseudonym would allow us to publish titles separately under the name of the pseudonym, making this author appear even more prolific. Yes, this sounds a little crazy, but it’s good to consider all options, even the ones that seem far-fetched.
As far as splitting money goes, if we are ever lucky enough to get that far, it’s my feeling that everything should be 50/50. Otherwise it’s really one person’s project more than another. Perhaps if it’s an extremely high concept book, you might consider giving the person who had the original idea a percentage or lump sum before splitting the rest. But as I mentioned before it’s best to just give up ownership of those ideas to begin with. Then it feels more like a joint project.
The other thing to decide is what happens if one person is unable to continue with the project or loses interest and the other wants to continue on. We made some suggestions about this and continued on.
It’s important to consider every possibility before you begin. It’s much easier to discuss these things before they happen.
Other Issues of Importance
Having gotten all that nastiness out of the way, we can concentrate on the story again. We decided who would play which twin and discusses some of the pitfalls of this type of book. It’s a very clichéd idea. Two twins switch places for some reason or other (because one needs to be somewhere else or because they need escape from their lives). It’s a common theme and something that leaps to mind as soon as you say twin book. So we had a lot of work to do. We had to find a new twist, something to make our story different…
And with our collaboration established we moved into the next stage—which I’ll discuss next time—Ideas, Discussions and Leaps of Faith.