How to Write a Novel as a Collaborative Team

Writing Novels That Sell with Adrienne deWolfe

How to Write a Novel as a Collaborative Team

Put one or two fiction writers in the same room, and ultimately, somebody poses the question:  "Wouldn’t it be great if we could collaborate as a writing team?"

But how exactly does a “team” of authors write a book? 

Ghostwriting for a Publisher

Books are often written anonymously for a celebrity or public figure.  A ghostwriter typically opts for anonymity in order to be associated with a project that is likely to pay good money – like a celebrity biography or cookbook.

At other times, a publisher will assign various ghostwriters to contribute to a series of fiction.  A perfect example is the Nancy Drew mysteries.  (I know, ladies. This news shocked me, too.)  As it turns out, “Carol Keene” is a fictitious person. 

In cases where ghostwriters are assigned to an ongoing series, the publisher sends the writers a so-called "Bible." This document evolves along with the series. The "Bible" keeps the author up-to-date regarding developments in the story plot and characterization. 

Independent Writing Teams 

Other writing teams come together independently. In this case, the writers will either develop a pseudonym, or they will list both authors' names on the book cover. There are several ways to proceed as an independent team:

  • One author does the research, while the other author does the writing and/or editing. 
  • Each author picks up the story threads that most interest him or her and keeps in close communication with his/her collaborator as the story unfolds.
  • Other collaborators will each choose a character and write the story threads independently.  To compile a book, the writers will alternate chapters, so that Character A's story starts in Chapter 1, and Character B's story starts in Chapter 2. In the end, a tightly woven, complex novel is produced, where all the subplots eventually tie together and make sense to the reader.

Challenges of Team Writing

If you think that team-writing will “lighten your load,” you may be in for a rude awakening.  I’ve observed several long-time friendships blow up because two writers thought that collaborating would be “fun.” 

Struggles over creative vision often erupt. Imagine yourself on deadline for a publisher, and your partner isn't sticking to the writing schedule. If the project is delayed, your good name could be tarnished!

Here's another sticky situation:  your "friend" goes off on a writing tangent, producing a project that isn't remotely like the outline that you've faithfully followed week after week. At this point, combining your work would make the story plot incoherent.  You have just wasted a great deal of time and creative energy on a book that is not likely to see the light of day.

Writing is an intensely personal – and lonely – experience.  Sometimes, a writer is eager for camaraderie, and he thinks that team-collaboration is the solution.  (What works with tennis players doesn't necessarily work with writers, folks!) 

At other times, a writer may be so smitten by the idea of writing shorter and faster, that he fails to see the forest through the trees.  First and foremost, you must remember that book writing is a business. Co-producing a creative work involves legal ramifications, not the least of which involve copyright ownership and compensation.  Know your rights, and enter into any collaborative project with your eyes wide open.

If you are planning to collaborate with another author – or if you are thinking about ghostwriting memoirs, a cookbook, or some other non-fiction project –  check out these ghostwriting and collaboration resources.  Among the writing tips you'll find at that URL are associations for ghostwriters and information about contractual agreements.

10+ Examples of Successful Writing Teams

So now I bet you’re dying to know:  who in the publishing world has successfully collaborated on a popular book or series?

I’m glad you asked!  Here is a sample of some famous fiction teams:

  • V.C. Andrews (family sagas) and Andrew Neiderman – after Andrews' death.
  • H.P. Lovecraft (horror) and Harry Houdini (illusionist) – several collaborations about Houdini’s “magic”  can be found in The Horror in the Museum.
  • Francine Pascal (Sweet Valley High series) – Pascal is the pseudonym for many authors who contributed to Sweet Valley High.
  • Robert Jordan (fantasy) and Brandon Sanderson – Sanderson penned the last book in the perennially popular, Wheel of Time series, after Jordan's death.
  • R.L. Stine (Goosebumps series) – After Goosebumps became wildly popular with young readers, Stine couldn’t write the children’s horror series fast enough, so he supervised a team of ghostwriters.
  • George Lucas (Star Wars novelization:  A New Hope) and Alan Dean Foster – Foster has contributed several books to the Star Wars series.
  • William Shatner (TekWar and other series) – Shatner’s ghostwriters included Ron Goulart and cyberpunk author, William T. Quick
  • Ian Fleming (James Bond books) and Kingsley Amis – after Fleming's death
  • Margaret Hickman and Tracy Weis (Dragonlance Chronicles) – Weis was the original creator of the roleplaying game that lead to the 20+ year series of books in the “Dragonlance" story-telling empire.   Hickman nearly always collaborates with another author, including her former husband (Don Perrin) and her daughter, Lizz.
  • Mercedes Lackey (fantasy) has collaborated with (and credited) such authors as her husband, Larry Dixon, and popular fantasy and/or romance authors, including Andre Norton, Marion Zimmer Bradley, Anne McCaffrey, Piers Anthony, and Roberta Gellis.
  • Robert E. Howard (Conan the Barbarian series) – After Howard’s death, the Conan series was continued by many authors, many of whom have since become household names in the fantasy genre: Robert Jordan, Poul Anderson, Leonard Carpenter, Lin Carter, L. Sprague de Camp, Roland J. Green, John C. Hocking, Sean A. Moore, Björn Nyberg, Andrew J. Offutt, Steve Perry, John Maddox Roberts, Harry Turtledove, and Karl Edward Wagner.

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