How can one author write books faster, gain valuable insight into the craft, share the publishing grunt work, earn a built-in audience and simply create better stories while having more fun on the job than ever? Team up with another author, of course.
In a feature article in the January 2014 Writer’s Digest, we brought together four of today’s most successful co-authors to discover what goes on behind the scenes when writers collaborate—and how two heads really can be better than one. In these online-exclusive outtakes, they talk more about some of the other high-profile co-authoring gigs that came up in the course of their conversation.
MEET THE ROUNDTABLE:
• Blake Crouch (blakecrouch.com) has published 10 novels as well as multiple novellas, short stories and articles. His books Pines, Fully Loaded, Run and Stirred, which was co-written with J.A. Konrath, have earned spots on the Kindle bestseller list. Much of his work has been optioned for film.
• J.T. Ellison (jtellison.com) is the bestselling author of nine novels and co-author with Catherine Coulter of the recently launched Brit in the FBI series (The Final Cut). Ellison’s novel The Cold Room won the International Thriller Writers’ Thriller Award for Best Paperback Original in 2011.
• Kathleen O’Neal Gear (gear-gear.com) is an award-winning author who has co-written 40 novels (many of which have been New York Times bestsellers) and more than 200 nonfiction articles with her husband, W. Michael Gear, and published nine novels under her own name.
• Douglas Preston (prestonchild.com) is the co-author, with Lincoln Child, of the No. 1 bestselling Pendergast series of thrillers, including White Fire. Preston’s most recent nonfiction book, The Monster of Florence, is being made into a film starring George Clooney.
SINCE YOU MENTIONED PATTERSON: HOW DO YOU ALL FEEL ABOUT ARRANGEMENTS LIKE HIS CO-AUTHOR SET-UP, AS OPPOSED TO WRITING MORE COLLABORATIVELY, AS WE’VE BEEN DISCUSSING?
CROUCH: I think it’s good for [those co-authors] if that’s something that they want to do and if they see that as a springboard.
ELLISON: I’ve talked to several of them, and I think they’re in agreement with me—this is a Ph.D. in writing from an exceptionally experienced author who knows how this works, knows how to structure a story, has a huge fan base for a reason. And, you know, I have great respect for them, and I know everybody that’s doing it is just like, Wow. You’re learning so much, and that’s how I feel [in my own partnership] with Catherine [Coulter].
PRESTON: I do, too, and I think it’s people on the outside that maybe look down on that. Well, they also look down on [any] two people writing a book. How could two people write a real book? I mean, when we were first published in England, our British publisher thought there’s no way that the British public would buy a book written by two people because it couldn’t be any good, so our books were published as “Lincoln Preston.” [Laughter.] And now there’s a lot of confusion because now we’re published as Lincoln Child and Douglas Preston.
FOR THOSE OF YOU WHO WRITE REGULARLY WITH CO-AUTHORS, HOW DO YOU DETERMINE WHETHER SOMETHING IS A SOLO PROJECT OR A PROJECT THAT YOU’D LIKE TO COLLABORATE ON?
GEAR: My publisher decides whether only my name goes on it, or both of our names. [My husband, Mike, and I] co-author everything. So even if it only has my name on it, the book has really been co-authored, but for marketing reasons, the publisher said, “This is more of a woman’s book, and so only your name’s gonna go on it,” or, “This is more of a man’s book, and so only Mike’s name is gonna go on it.”
PRESTON: In our case it sometimes happens that one of us will come up with an idea, and the other one will say, “Oh, I never would write a book about that.” Like, Lincoln came to me and he said, “I want to write a book about terrorists attacking and holding a theme park hostage.” And I said, “I can’t stand theme parks [laughter], I have no interest in it, I will never write that book.” So he went and wrote his first solo novel, A Utopia, about a terrorist taking over a theme park. So that’s what happens: Usually the ideas are rejected—you know what, I shouldn’t say that. Sometimes I’ll think of an idea, like the book I’m writing now, a solo book, that I just wanted to keep myself. It just felt like something I wanted to write on my own.
ELLISON: There is that little plot twist, you’re like, oh, nah, that’s mine. [Laughter.] Nah, nah nah, nah. That one’s gonna stay in my book.
CROUCH: For me, co-writing is not the main prong of what I do. It’s about the solo stuff for me; the co-writing is more of the fun, the diversion. It’s a way of hanging out with my friends, and if there’s an idea that we all want to kick around, like, you know, something silly like a zombie or Dracula outbreak in a hospital, maybe we can all jump in there and spend a couple months and just have fun doing that.
To read the full fascinating roundtable discussion of coauthoring—including a fascinating behind-the-desk look at the different ways the writing process can take form with a partner in play—look for “The Power of Pairs” in the January 2014 Writer’s Digest.