When Janean, a friend and fellow writer, asked me to collaborate on a story I was hesitant. For 30 years, I have written solo: articles, books, poems, stories.
Yes, I have critique partners. I know that picture books are a marriage of two great minds – the writer and illustrator –further refined by the editor. That’s part of their unique magic!
Still, I found it difficult to grasp why two writers would work together on a story. Research revealed that collaboration between authors is not uncommon, so I asked a few authors to describe how they worked together.
The prolific author of 376 children’s books Jane Yolen has worked with other writers often, including her son and daughter. She partnered with others because she admired their work, needed their expertise, or ’to give a foot up’ into publication. “Two authors share their talents, their research, and provide a critical eye,” she said. “It’s important to set ego aside, decide whose name goes first, and share the royalties and advance equally.”
Amy Gugliemo, a member of my northern NY Society of Children’s Book Writers and Illustrators, has had several partnerships. She was first approached by a parent to work jointly on a book about her art-based curriculum which taught all subjects, including math and science. She enthusiastically agreed. The result was the Touch the Art series of books with Julie Appel. Later, Amy partnered with Jacqueline Tourville, another critique group friend. ”Jacqueline and I have similar sense of humor and we spent a lot of time swapping work, so we just started writing together,” she said.
While Julie and Amy would meet in person or chat on the phone, Jacqueline and Amy work through email, sending drafts to one another for edits. “We will go back and forth until we’re both happy,” says Amy. “I’ve been very lucky with my collaborations and I would be open to working with other authors in the future. Publishing is a difficult sport and the best thing about collaboration is having someone to share the ups and downs of the business. It’s always great to celebrate with a friend!”
Matt Forrest Esenwine teamed up with Deb Bruss on the story Don’t Ask a Dinosaur. Matt and Deb are in the same SCBWI writers group. According to Matt, Deb gave Matt a general concept and a few lines, but no plot or ending. This sat by his computer for a few months, until he figured out where to go with it. They revised it about 20 times, sharing the versions with one another using Google docs and receiving feedback from their critique group. “One good thing about working together is the back-and-forth of ideas. You have to be able to compromise, and let go of the idea that this is your baby. Co-authored projects are a joy to complete, knowing two people have put so much time, talent, and effort into one little book,” said Matt.
David Harrison and Sandy Asher co-authored the play, Jesse and Grace: A Best Friend’s Story. Sandy would write a poem from Grace’s point of view, send it to David, and he would respond from Jesse’s POV. Since neither knew in advance what the other would say, “the telling was spontaneous and personal and related to the interior thinking of each character,” said David.
Trisha Speed Shaskan and Stephen Shaskan teamed up on their graphic novel series Q & RAY and picture book PUNK SKUNKS. They like to formulate ideas together, then brainstorm the conflict. “You need to allow ample space for everyone’s ideas and keep things positive,” they wrote in a Storystorm blog post. They believe finding someone you fully trust and maintaining mutual respect is essential.
I began to see that working together is synergistic – the effect is greater than the sum of its parts, resulting in a better story than when each writer works alone. I have high hopes for the story Janean and I are creating together.