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Conscious coupling

Recently, the term “Conscious Uncoupling” has become part of the zeitgeist.  It is meant to define the dissolving of a marriage.

Today, I’d like to discuss “Conscious Coupling” or collaborating on a book – in this case a work of fiction.

In Hollywood, collaborating on screenplays is done all the time and there are good reasons for that.  As I understand it, two people working together to write in that format can benefit from each other’s ideas, and the result can be that much stronger.

To some extent, the same can be said for two people collaborating on a fiction book.  There is no question that sharing ideas can add to the story and if the collaborators can blend their voices, the result can work.  But book collaborations of this kind can be fraught with problems for one or both of the participating authors.

If they are using their real names and then each wants to go off and write individually using his or her own name, could be limited by the option and non-compete clauses in their previous contracts.  If they use a pseudonym for the collaboration, they will not receive the credit they would want for writing the book and if the collaboration results in a successful book, it would not further their career when writing under their own names.

Many times in these collaborations, one of the authors is seen as the more important name, and then the other suffers both in the collaboration and when s/he wants to publish under his/her own name.

Finally, these collaborations can be used as a crutch.  They are comfortable and can be fun to do, but in the end, book writing—successful book writing – is a very difficult and individual task.  When the author completes a novel by him/herself and sells it, his/her future from a contractual point of view is clear and well defined.   S/he knows what s/he can and cannot do going forward as far as his/her option and non- complete responsibilities are concerned.  In the end, it seems to me this is the best path a novelist can take to grow his/her career.

I’d love to know what you think about these kinds of collaborations.  Do you like to read books written by more than one author?

6 Responses to Conscious coupling

  1. D. C. DaCosta says:

    Other than celebrity autobiographies (“as told to” or “with”) and a couple of humor books written by teams (e.g. Bob and Ray), I don’t think I’ve even consciously encountered a co-authored book.

    You say, “If they use a pseudonym for the collaboration, they will not receive the credit they would want for writing the book and if the collaboration results in a successful book, it would not further their career when writing under their own names.” Is this really important? It seems to me that the skills and experience gained by the collaboration would only serve to strengthen each of them for future projects.

    • Jane says:

      Sales can be important especially if a writer wants to earn royalties and have an easier time selling his/her next work. Using a pseudonym in a collaboration will not help the individual author in this case. Ideally though, working with someone else on a collaboration should help each participant improve their individual writing skills.

  2. Kellie says:

    I have read a couple of book that were co-authored, however, they may fall more into that happy grey area of the concerns you mentioned. One of the teams are husband and wife (Barb and J.C. Hendee, authors of the Noble Dead Series) and the other is Jefferson Bass (who have successful careers in and outside of writing).

    I was hesitant to read co-authored books before I picked up my first one. I was worried about the writing style and story line not flowing as well as it would in a book with a single author. I’m not saying that every collaboration may turn out this way, but I was pleasantly surprised with how seamlessly the ones I read seemed to flow.

    I can completely see the points of your concerns, but I also see why the thought of collaborating with another author would be appealing. I think if I were to be faced with that choice I would have to decide if the pros outweighed the cons.

  3. Katie Newingham says:

    I wouldn’t be offended. It’s about the writing getting better, and the stories getting out there. Plus, to be honest, I don’t remember authors names, I remember the story, if it’s gripping.

  4. Joelle says:

    I’m sure you know this since you’re an agent, but when a writer sells a screenplay to a studio, or whoever’s going to make it, they sell the copyright. The Writer’s Guild of America works to ensure they get the proper credit, but with the transfer of the copyright, their actual writing becomes “write for hire” and is covered by the WGA contract. My point is that you don’t have to write under a pseudonym if your collaborating (and sometimes you can’t)and there can be many writers (and usually is) on a project. It’s entirely different with books because you have to share the copyright, plus, as you said, there are all kinds of contractual issues to try and figure out so you’re not limited on your next work. And there are other things too, like when I asked my agent about writing with a friend he said one of the problems is that we have two different agents and two different publishers…who pitches/sells it? Who publishes it?

    So, from a writer’s point of view, I don’t think I’d want to try it because of the logistics, but I don’t think I’d be very good at it anyway (creatively). As far as reading collaborations goes, I’ve only read a few, but they appeared seamless and I wouldn’t have necessarily known if there hadn’t been two names on the book. I have two friends who write a mystery series together and even the guy’s wife can’t always tell who wrote what! I think you really have to be able to let go of your ego to write collaboratively.

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