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Literary collaboration: three reasons why you should consider it


Two less successful collaborators

Collaborators usually get a bad rap. The term has generally negative connotations in everyday use, and no-one ever talks about Vichy France with misty-eyed nostalgia. Recently, however, I decided to put all that to one side to try working with Bernard Schaffer (check out his new website www.bernardschaffer.com) on Fool’s Gambit, a short story set within the Confederation Reborn universe.

It was an experiment for me, and I was concerned as I’d never collaborated with anyone before. Sure, I’ve had editors, but they’re only really tidying up the frayed bits; they’re not writing chunks of new text as Bernard was.

Luckily, though, he has a blend of talent and pragmatism that I think is essential for working with another writer – and he took my story in a different direction than I ever would have, and it’s all the better for it.

So here are three reasons why I think you should try working with another author on a fiction project at least once in your writing life:

Get a fresh perspective on your writing

The most obvious benefit to collaborating with another writer is having a second pair of eyes on what you’re writing, and a second brain to test your plot.

When I showed Bernard my original draft of the story he came back to me and said that he saw the piece as a “space Western”, that he interpreted my characters in a different way than I had, and that he thought it needed a few new scenes and a rewrite of a couple of others.

My original reaction was uh, space Western, uh, no, I like don’t think so but when he sent back his version and I read it through I had to admit that it worked. I liked it more than I like the original, and I never would have made those changes myself.

Share the workload

Another clear benefit is that when collaborating you have two pairs of hands at your disposal. And while it didn’t reduce the overall time it took to complete the piece – we wrote linearly, rather than in parallel – it did mean that, when I’d finished the first draft, instead of sitting down and reworking it myself I simply handed it over to Bernard and he took it to the next level…leaving me to get on with writing other things (like this).

We both edited the book, and we both sanity-checked each other’s plot and characterisation elements; Bernard is taking care of a cover, as well as the formatting and upload to the various online stores.

For those of you who aren’t writers, the writing part is only a very small part of the picture, so having a partner to take on elements of things such as rewrites, edits, cover design etc has been extremely refreshing.

Multiply the marketing

If the publishing process begins with the first draft and ends with someone reading your words, the writing itself is arguably the easiest part of the entire process. In an age in which the barriers to entry to publishing are essentially non-existent, there is a lot of fiction out there, and helping your readers to find your work is no easy feat.

Now Fool’s Gambit is released I know straight away that not only will it go out to everyone in my network, but it will also go out to everyone in Bernard’s network. He’ll blog about it and so will I. It’ll be linked to on my Amazon Author page and on his.

That multiplication of marketing effort is not impossible to achieve as a lone author…but it certainly takes more time.

In summary: the fear vs the reality

My biggest fear beforehand was that working with someone else would dilute my voice or force me to change my writing in a way that wouldn’t represent me; in reality, it opened up greater plot and characterisation, and took the story further than it would have gone had I kept it to myself.

As a result I’d say that if the opportunity arises – and you know and respect the person you’ll be working with – then you should give it a try at least once.

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