Lately, I’ve gotten a lot of people asking me how in the hell Dee (D.D. Miers) and I can manage co-writing together, let alone co-writing so many books together. The simple fact from what I’ve seen from other attempts at co-writing with others, as well as what I’ve heard from other successful and not-so-successful partnerships is simple. We are NOT the norm.
Now, I don’t say that to discourage anyone. In fact, I do it to encourage you to not settle for co-writing with someone who isn’t your perfect, or as close to perfect as you can get, match. I’ve heard of a lot of different “types” of co-writing, but two really stand out so I’ll explain them below to show you the differences.
The 50/50. You split EVERYTHING right down the middle. Costs of the cover, editing, advertising, formatting etc. And you split writing the book and any royalties 50/50.
The Benefactor. You write the whole book in exchange for the other person covering all the expenses up front and you split all royalties 50/50 after that person makes up their investment.
I know there are a ton of pros and cons to co-writing. Good example, Dee and I are 50/50. So we’re able to write books faster (we both write fast as it is), and so we are able to publish more often. Our individual brands complement each other, and it helps that we quite literally read each other's minds. I can’t tell you how many times someone has asked us a question in a group chat and we both respond with the same exact thing, at the same exact time. Now, you don’t have to be quite “our level” of in-sync...but it helps.
Some perceived cons would be not getting full royalties on a book you put time and energy into. Not owning the series or world completely, or even the question of what if something happens and we no longer want to co-write. As New York Times Bestseller, and successful co-writer on multiple projects, Shayla Black, says, “Co-writing makes you financially married for the life of the book, which is basically forever these days.” She gave me some great pointers, which can be seen below.
Don't co-write with:
a) someone you don't know well.
b) someone you don't trust with money.
c) someone who values different things than you in a book.
“Be willing to draw up minimum paperwork and sign it so that everyone knows what happens in the event of a) the dissolution of the partnership and b) your untimely death. Be clear who, if anyone, owns the rights and what they can/can't do with the ideas in the event one partner is unable/unwilling to follow through on their commitments. Include language about what constitutes minimum participation and non-performance.”
And she’s 100% right. You need to prepare for all of these things. Because you just never know what’s going to happen, but the same can be said for walking across the road, so don’t go borrowing worries that your co-writer is going to disappear to Narnia one day.
So what exactly makes a good co-writing partnership work? Some guidelines or rules which you think would be common sense, but seeing as that isn’t so common these days, I’ll list out a few Dee and I came up with below. (These are not meant to be an end all, they are just what work for us, and hopefully others).
1. RESPECT. Say it with me. R-E-S-P-E-C-T. This means don’t be a dick. If your co-writer says I don’t like this, or I’d like to change this, your reaction shouldn’t be a rude freakout. Co-writing is COLLABORATION. That means listening and respecting the other person's ideas for changes. AKA Be open, movable, receptive. You guys CHOSE to write together for a reason, so remember that every time you hit a hurdle. Respect and honesty go hand in hand, so that brings us to...
2. Be Brutally Honest. No really, say it now or forever hold your peace because publishing a book is ‘forever and ever’ amen now a days as Shayla Black said, and you don’t want to regret or resent your co-writer when a simple, “Hey, I think this could be better this way.” would have changed the way you look at the book.
3. Express Yo Self. If you think said idea is horrid, say so. But with kindness. Dee and I have had this happen multiple times. Mind you, both of us are incredibly sarcastic, so typically one of us starts with a … text and then from there we talk it out. Usually we end up on the phone, cracking jokes at the others expense, but in the end, we resolve it.
4. Compromise is your Bestie. Seriously. If you aren’t willing to bend on ideas or how a scene should be written, whose POV it should be written in, or the ending of the story, you shouldn’t be writing that book with someone else. I can’t tell you how many times, we’ve had an outline, and one of us has gone off the rails, and because of that, the story turned out better. A good example is our Kresova Vampire Harems. Dee took an idea I’d played around with and said, hey, listen, I think it would be better if we did it this way. At first, I was like well I didn’t want it that way, which is anyone's first reaction, and you are entitled to that reaction, but then I paused, and said, tell me how you think it will play out, and she did and we ran with it. Because her idea was better than mine for the long term series and story arc of the books.
5. NO SECRETS. Mind you, this one might not apply to everyone, but Dee and I are sticklers for it. Do I have ideas for solo books pop up all the time? Yes. Does she? Absolutely. And we tell each other. And quite honestly, she’s helped me though more writers block on my solo books because I talk to her about it, than any other voodoo I’ve tried to bring on the creative. THIS IS PARAMOUNT to your success as both solo and co-writers. You CAN NOT collaborate successfully if the ugly green monster is hiding out in the corners of your mind. Tell each other your plans. Be honest about solo projects. Lying is the END ALL of co-writing. Say it with me, “Your individual success is a major part of your collaborative success.”
6. Know Each Other. I’m not saying you have to tell your co-writer the exact coordinates of when you were born, but I’m pretty sure Dee could tell you my daily routine, the way I take my coffee, and the quirks of my cats. Just like I know she drinks creamer soup, is a badass cook, and one hell of a mom. Quite literally, it’s almost like we’re married. Which technically, we are through our books. I’m tied to her for life, and she’s stuck with my crazy ramblings as well. Any successful relationship is built on mutual respect and friendship. You can’t build these without getting to actually know each other. If your co-writer is someone you don’t really want to get to know, you may want to reconsider writing with them.
7. Communication is Key. I can’t say this enough or stress it enough. I’ve basically said it above, but it warrants its own section. Deadlines, title ideas, cover direction, who’s doing edits, who’s writing this chapter, who’s outlining this book, what day are you sending your newsletters, what’s our ad spend, it’s all something that needs to be discussed. For each and every book. Now, I can’t outline to save my life. But Dee is like the outlining master behind the curtain. I can pull titles and cover edits, and plan out our social media posts, handle our review team, and figure out ad spend vs. expected return. We know each other's strengths and weaknesses and we balance it out. It’s all about give and take. Not take take take.
8. Don’t Be Afraid to Argue. Just make sure you aren’t being an asshole about it. Dee and I argue all the time. And we laugh and joke just as much. She could say, I love this cover, and I’ll say, I think it’s horrid. And from there, we discuss pros and cons and why she likes it, why I dislike it, and we compromise. Like, I like the imagery, but hate the font. That’s changeable and easy to fix. Me saying, you’re stupid for liking this and you have horrible taste and aren’t as cool as me or something as equally asinine, is not so easy to fix. Don’t walk on eggshells, but think before you speak, because once words are spoken, they can only be forgiven not forgotten. And don’t forget DISAGREEMENTS ARE HEALTHY. You are not one person, but two individuals. If you agreed on everything, you might be an alien from a far off planet or maybe a clone...
9. Share the success. Share the failure. This is pretty common sense for most authors, but it’s important to celebrate your successes and failures as a team. You BOTH wrote the book, you BOTH published it, you BOTH put your blood, sweat, and tears into it. If it flops, that’s okay! Every success comes from a previous failure. Playing the blame game on each other for a book not doing as well as others leads to your ETERNAL DOOM. Don’t do it.
10. Continuously Hone Your Craft. You can REALLY do that by writing with another writer. Co-writing allows you to see your weaknesses and learn from the strengths of others. Don’t get upset if your co-author mentions a habit she notices and vice versa. Take the advice, process it, and move on.
11. Fast-write or slow-write? I mention this because it’s important to know not only what you plan to write but how you write. Do you fast-write draft zero and then fine tune in rounds two/three/four, etc? Let your co-writer know this! Do you typically only do one slower draft and that’s usually close to the final before edits? Let your co-writer know! Your method should be discussed before you begin writing, this way expectations can be clear. You may see your co-writers draft one and think “whoa, this is rough”, but that’s just them getting ideas down. (You can’t perfect a book without a first draft) Or you may think, “wow they are moving really slow”, and that may be because that draft/scene coming your way is EPIC AF.
Some tips we have found that keep a manuscript clean:
1. Have one person do the final round edits. This keeps it concise and clean.
2. OUTLINE. Both of you. I find that writing an outline kills my creative. So we talk ideas on the phone, Dee typically writes it out, then we go in TOGETHER and tweak it until we’re both happy with the direction of the story.
3. Set a schedule. Be honest if it’s feasible for you both.
4. Keep in touch while writing. I don’t know how many times I’ve said, “Dee, write me a pretty description of a dress.” And she’s said, “Go fix that sex scene I wrote, I think it’s missing something.” This allows us to keep our writing tight, and our story from having holes like different color eyes, random plot holes etc.
5. If your plans change, aka you want to adjust the schedule, plot, idea, etc. TELL YOUR CO-AUTHOR. Don’t harbor anger or resentment because you didn’t speak up.
Now, let’s talk about money…. This is the awkward part. But it needs to be discussed.
Okay, this is a WHOLE other level of trust, but we have access to each other's publishing platforms. OMG??!!!! Why???!!!! ARE YOU INSANE? No. We’re not. Because T-R-U-S-T and transparency are key for both of us. Again, our relationship is not the norm from what we’ve seen, but this is really how open and close we are. We discussed what worked for each of us, and what didn’t and we came up with, if you publish this book, and I publish this book, do we really want to be requesting sales numbers every few days from the other (because I, Graceley, love to keep track of things like that), and Dee, would rather not. So instead of sending files back and forth I said hey, here’s my login, and she said hey, here’s mine.
When it comes down to payment, we use Paypal as that’s just how we do it. And honestly, we could hire accountants, and say, hey, send so and so their half, but why pay someone else to do it when it takes two seconds? Mind you, at the end of the year, we do 1099 each other, because you know, the IRS and things… so make sure that you’re staying all kosher with the laws. Specially when you live in different states etc. This part is completely up to you and your co-writer, but this is what we came up with, and it works for us. Just be honest about what you’re comfortable with and what you’re not, and go from there. In the beginning we sat down with accountants and worked it out, and it’s saved us a lot of headaches.
The good. The bad. The ugly. - AKA When partnerships don’t work out.
So...you tried a co-author and it didn’t go so well. That’s okay! Take the lessons and move on.
We’ve both tried co-writing with others. And we’ve learned valuable lessons from it. We even said hey, I liked how they did this, what do you think? Or thank god you don’t do that to me. But through it, we were both open, honest, and supportive of the other person writing with someone other than the other. Remember, a bad co-writing experience doesn’t mean you should never co-write again. If you really want to do it, you can, and you can do it successfully. Just be sure to be honest with yourself first and foremost.
All in all, like we said above, this isn’t a bible. Our word and experiences aren’t gospel. This isn’t what will necessarily work for you, and it might take you years to find someone you want to co-write with, or hey, you don’t have to co-write at all. Dee and I got lucky and met each other and now we’ve got books planned until 2100 and beyond and we can’t wait to be dirty old ladies giggling while we write in the nursing home together. If anyone reading this ever has a question, or wants to ask for our advice, feel free to drop us a line on social media, email, skywriter, whatever works for you.
Graceley & Dee
Two Crazies, Writing Together