Hazel Edwards talks co-writing


by - December 14th, 2010


I’ve always been fascinated by two authors co-writing a book, and I’ve seriously considered it from time to time, sharing the workload with another author. But it isn’t as simple as just dividing the work and completing it, and Hazel Edwards, author of over 200 books for children, young adults and adults, has swung by the blog today to take us through the benefits of co-writing and everything else she’s ever been asked on the subject. So, budding co-writers, this is your manual!

HAZEL EDWARDS
On the benefits of co-writing

Co-Writing can be a bonus. It’s fun.  Twice the work in half the time. With a few laughs too. So what are the benefits?

1. Overcomes procrastination.
Knowing you have a date with a partner gives a personal deadline.You feel obliged to write your share before you next meet.

2. Varied workplaces.
Can be more sociable. Try the cappucinno approach of working in cafes, midway between. Or you can alternate home offices. Of course if you work in another state or country, the coffees have to be virtual.

3. Learning from each other.
From my Duckstar co-writer, I learnt how to pace scenes in a book because as a director, Christine knows how humour works on stage. From my f2m:the boy within co-author Ryan, I’ve learnt about transitioning gender, punk music and technology such as creating book trailers, novel plotting on Skype, web-cam book launches linking countries and how to put funny emoticons on e-messages.

4. Ghosting.
Often non- fiction is commissioned and co-authors may be put together for their expertise, or for one to ‘ghost’. Factual or educational writing is easier to co-author, as long as you have a logical mind. Or one of you does. Structure matters. So does writing for the particular audience.

5. Emotional collaboration.
Long fiction or series require a different kind of emotional collaboration. In the Duckstar series of 4 easy-to-read books, we adopted characters, so the grumpy male bellydancing pig became one of mine. We also acted out scenes to get the dialogue right. We used mood music such as the Grand March from ‘Aida’, but with a budget duck strutting instead of an elephant.We co-wrote detailed synopses, since these stories are animal satires of the various arts such as community opera, touring and advertising. The final language was simple but our concepts were more complex.

6. Editing.
In f2m:the boy within, Ryan wrote the first draft chapters based on our joint synopsis for the YA novel. We rewrote over 4o times, but this was a benefit of a second mind, when the other was tired. We also lived in different time zones.

7. Partners may have totally different skills. 
Working with an illustrator such as John Petropolous on Plato the Platypus Plumber (part-time) who is a graphic designer in his other life, was brilliant because he was used to working to a brief. And he had a quirky sense of humour which enabled him to design the underwater plumber’s tool kit, with tools for fixing grumpy people.In other author-illustrator relationships, many never meet and rely on a written brief. We met several times in coffee shops, where John P kept sketching concepts on the table as we spoke. Fun.

8. Contracts.
Apart from any agreement with a publisher it’s wise to have a 50/50 split with your co-author on any expenses and income relating to the project. The Australian Society of Authors has guidelines (click here).

9. Who thought of what?
Sometimes it’s genuinely difficult to remember later who thought of what. Especially if the project becomes very financially successful. So a signed agreement about co-rights solves later problems. Especially with e-rights and multimedia.

10. Publicity.
Both of you can publicise the project or substitute for each other.

11.  Anthologies
Being part of an anthology differs from co-writing because usually the editor commissions a specific article or story. Unless you are the editor-contributor, which means making thematic decisions about what goes in or needs rewriting.

12. Joke.
Joke about what goes wrong. We lost the ‘Anxiety’ chapter from Difficult Personalities in cyberspace between our computers. Apt.

13. Cope.
Coping with criticism. You need a united front and with a co-writer it’s wonderful to feel another is on your side, and you can celebrate  together too.

14. Finding a Co-Writer
Your co-writer could be someone you already know! I wrote Cycling Solo with my son, Trevelyan Quest Edwards. :-)

If Co-Writing is Like Marriage, When do You Need to Divorce?

• When one is doing an unfair share of the work.
• If one takes all the public credit.
• External market changes or the project’s aims change.
• When you disagree more than you agree.
• It’s not financially viable.

To read more from Hazel, you can check out her website here, or read a fantastic article she wrote about gender and pronouns to launch Perpetually Adolescent here.

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4 Responses to “Hazel Edwards talks co-writing”

  1. Susanne Gervay Says:

    I think co-writing would be very hard!!!!!

    Congratulations on co writing with Ryan for F2M

  2. Paul Collins Says:

    It’s a collaboration that worked exceedingly well. Brilliant job, Hazel and Ryan!

  3. June Alexander Says:

    Co-writing definitely can be fun, and very rewarding. ‘It takes two’ can succeed where one cannot — for instance when co-writers share their different life experiences and expertise. Medically co-writing — the collaboration of professional knowledge and life experience — is helping to close the huge gap that exists between evidence-based research outcomes and treatment. Knowledge has value only when it is put to use.

  4. Jo Burnell Says:

    Great summary of co-writing ups and downs. It’s also useful to have someone who keeps you ‘honest’. It’s hard to wander off topic when your have a partner watching over your shoulder – unless you both have that tendency! Great to chose a partner whose strengths cover your weaknesses and vice versa – a bit like Laurel and Hardy on the page : )