Writing with a partner: What I learned

If you and a writer friend are out for drinks one night and get to talking about how much fun it would be to write a book together, my advice to you…don’t.  Run the other way as fast as you can.  It will never work.

However, if that person you’re having drinks with is your sister, who is also a writer and a great one who has just as much desire to see her work in print…and it’s after midnight, and you’re writing all of these great ideas down…well, you’re already in over your head.

And that is how I started writing with a partner.

One late night, drinking hot tea and chatting (yes, we live those kinds of exciting lives, don’t be jealous) we fleshed out the idea for a three book series.  It was July 2012, and we had been studying and talking about the writing market over the past couple of months and decided out of all the genres that we were interested in, the one we thought was the most viable at that time was the witch/magic genre.

We picked out names for our characters for the three books.  We knew where we wanted the series to go and how we wanted it to end.  Before I went home, we had a rough outline of where book one was going to go.  We split up the scenes and chapters and with high hopes and higher expectations, I drove home from her house, dreaming of all the millions we were certain to make.

I will spare you the horror of the next few six months.  Suffice it to say we each wrote our assigned chapters.  We cut and pasted here and there into the same document.  We talked on the phone a lot.  I worked in Word 2003 and she worked in Word 2007.  Finally, we finished our chapters and got together to combine them into our best seller.

coffee computer

For the love of all that is holy, learn from our mistakes.  Here’s the advice I would give those who want to write with a partner.

  • DON’T divide your work into chapters each person will write separately.  This leads to having a lot of wonderful chapters that you will spend more time knitting together at the end  than you actually spent writing.  Save yourself the aggravation.
  • DO have an idea who’s going to write what chapters, then write successive chapters, using the same document, sending it back and forth that way.  Do not cut and paste.  It leads to a nightmare for whoever formats it, which was me.  And it was a nightmare. I’m still drinking.
  • DON’T work in two different versions of Word.  Really.  You will be sorry.  Take my WORD for it.  Pick one, then remember to save your document in the compatibility setting.
  • DO have a comprehensive outline of your entire book.  Spend time crafting this together so there aren’t any surprises.  You both want to know how the book is going to go from beginning to end.  For instance, one person can’t say “I decided he DOESN’T really have magic powers after all.” when the outline clearly says he does.
  • DO have full character sketches for each person in your story before you start writing.  Supplement with pictures so you both have a good feeling for your character’s looks, likes and dislikes, quirks and hobbies, profession and desires.  This helps immensely when you’re both writing different chapters about the same person.  In that vein, make sure you know your setting (s) and have specific descriptions so you’re working with the same ideas in mind.
  • DO decide in advance how you’re going to handle the financial aspect.  How will you split the money?  In our situation we publish only ebooks, and one person has to provide a social security number to provide in order to receive compensation.  We had to decide ahead of time who would “claim” the money.  In our situation, I do, and then pay my sister half as an “employee”.
  • DO keep good records of what you spend on ebook covers, formatting, editing, etc.  If you know who has paid what, and how much, it makes it much easier at tax time, not to mention when it’s time to split the millions of dollars your masterpiece will make.
  • DON’T write with someone who has a much different writing style.  You want to find someone with similar writing style to yours, so in the end, it looks like one person wrote the book, not two.  In our situation I really lucked out, because sometimes I think my sister and I actually share the one brain between us.
  • DO set deadlines and stick to them.  Doing so shows respect of the other person’s time.  Granted, there will be interruptions.  Life gets in the way sometimes.  Between us we have six children, two dogs, two husbands, and a grandchild.  However, try really hard to stick to getting your edit done by, say, Sunday night, at 9pm, if that’s what you promised your writing partner.
  • DON’T get your undies (or boxers) in a bunch if the other person edits your work a little more harshly than you would like.  If it’s truly important to you to have such a phrase or paragraph in the chapter, talk it out.  Remember, though, sometimes others see your work with a little more clarity than you do.  It’s possible they’re right, even if they ARE your sister.
  • DO remember you’re not just writing a book, you’re also selling a product.  Have some parameters set so that you know out of the two of you who will be doing the marketing/networking.
  • DO make it a good experience.  Enjoy the writing.  If you ever get down about how the process is going, refer back to your initial notes and remember some of the excitement from those early planning days with your partner.  It helps you to remember why you’re doing this.

I can tell you honestly that when my sister and I wrote our first book, there were some slight hurt feelings now and then.  Deadlines not met, fierce editing, minor squabbles over the cover.  Oh, and that little time-suck thing about my granddaughter being born last year.  We started writing our first in late July of 2012, planning on having it done by Halloween of 2012.  It was done in May of 2013.  (Ooops.)  Even though we started writing the second book almost immediately, planning again on a Halloween release in 2013, we didn’t finish it until March of 2014.  We didn’t worry about it this time, though, because the quality of the book was much more important than the date it was released.

Writing our second book together went much smoother.  We found that dialogue is my strength while prose is hers.  I could write the nitty gritty of a chapter and she would pretty it up while editing.   We learned much not only about each others’ writing but also about our own.

We found that the feedback we got was sometimes hilarious, as friends of ours said, “I could just HEAR you saying this.” Or, “I know Chris (Jen) wrote this part.”   For the record, most of the time they were wrong.  Even our own mother couldn’t tell who wrote what.  And by the time we were done editing, our separate touches were on every chapter, anyway.

Currently, although we’re not sending the third book back and forth at this moment, I’m writing the majority of it and Jenny will be editing.  I would say we know what we’re doing now, but the fact is that we’re just both having fun, doing what we really enjoy doing…putting words on paper to make readers laugh, cry, or sigh over a happily ever after ending.

Chris Cacciatore

3 comments on “Writing with a partner: What I learned

  1. Great advice, but if I ever thought about collaborating with a partner on a book (and I wasn’t) I won’t do it now. It sounds like you eventually worked it out well together but based on your Do’s and Don’t’s it sounds like a recipe for disaster and ended relationships. haha Thanks, Chris!

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