When I try to explain my collaborative ghost-writing work, people are often very surprised. They have a fixed idea of what the author’s name on a book cover represents. It’s a single person who crafted this story.
The idea of several people collaborating, and the book then going out in the name of someone who doesn’t exist, is weird. But it happens often, probably far more often than is reported. And with the success of The Expanse, which just hit Netflix in the UK, it’s likely to become less surprising.
You see, James S. A. Corey, the author of the Expanse books, doesn’t exist. The name represents two authors, Daniel Abraham and Ty Franck, working together. James S. A. Corey is a convenient marketing label, a fact they’re open about.
This stuff is getting more normal. Most casual readers are most comfortable with a single author, and that makes marketing easier. But the perceived need to hide collaborations is receding.
So next time someone looks bewildered and asks about my ghostwriting “how does that work?”, I’ll say “just like The Expanse“.
In response to my post yesterday on my current collaborative writing experience, Brittany Zelkovich, who blogs under the fantastic title of I Emerged In London Rain, asked about whether I’ll be able to tell you guys about the book when it comes out. The short answer is no, but the long answer opens up some issues that interest me.
I’ve written before about the joys of working collaboratively and why I consider all writing to be collaborative. But the way that we view books, especially fiction, is that we expect them to be the work of a single author. Even in cases where this is demonstrably not true – there are several prominent fiction writers who work with collaborators but publish under only one name – it’s the way the book is usually marketed.
This obviously ties into the myth of the lone artist, creating from the magical art-space of their brain through magic and inspiration and pixie dust, but it’s also a matter of expectations. People expect to be reading a book by a particular, singular author, not a team, company or brand.
Like any books, the ones I’m writing with this great team are a business project as well as an artistic act. You can’t publish a book and not have business come into it. So to ensure the smooth running of the business side, the guy running the show has decided to just stick a single name down as the author and not to let people know that these books were actually created by a team in a fairly unusual process. I’m fine with that – at the end of the day I’m getting paid to write science fiction and that’s cool. But it’s interesting to think that how readers will react, or at least perceptions of how readers will react, are shaping this.
So I’m really curious to know, those of you reading this, do you read books by collaborative story writing teams? Has it ever made a difference to whether you bought or read a book? Do think it would be likely to? Do you have any other thoughts on the subject? Please share your opinions in the comments – they could be really useful for me and the people I’m working with.
I mentioned a couple of weeks ago that I’m currently working pretty much full time on a work-for-hire fiction project, ghost writing science fiction. The process involved is an interesting one, and having got permission from the guy running the show I’m going to share a little about it here, and about why I think it’s so good.
How it works
There are five people working on this project – there’s me as the writer and the last addition to the team. B is the mastermind behind the process, the guy who brought us all together, he manages the virtual team, works out schedules and marketing and all that business side of things. C seems to mostly do developmental editing work, helping work out story, setting, etc. D wrote the plot for the books, and as part of that did a lot of work developing the characters and setting, together with B, C and E. E mostly does line editing.
From my point of view, I’ve been given a plot and extensive briefings on characters and setting. I’m the one turning this into prose, adding my own ideas and flourishes to fill gaps and flesh things out. For example I took some characters from book two and brought them into book one, to save me inventing extras and set them up for later.
C’s provided a few editorial comments on my work, but most of that comes from E. Once she’s read through my work I go back and accept or respond to her changes. I have the most contact with B, who’s doing a good job of dealing with any practical issues I stumble across and keeping me in the loop.
What I like so far
I love working with a team in this way, especially because they seem like a nice, lively, creative bunch. While I like writing my own stories, collaborating with others makes creativity even more fun, and I’m enjoying taking D’s plot and fleshing it out. Getting to work with editors is also good.
What I particularly like about the process, which B has developed and is continuing to adapt, is that it seems less wasteful than the traditional publishing approach. Instead of a writer providing a completed story, only to have to re-write large chunks when a developmental editor points out problems with character and plot, those problems have mostly been smoothed out beforehand. To put it in terms of my old process improvement job, we are avoiding the waste of re-work.
The end-to-end story production process is also being speeded up by working together via Google docs. So even before I finished writing book one, E was reading and making editorial comments on the early chapters. It’s a good thing I naturally write in chronological order, or this could get messy.
Having other people literally leaning over my shoulder as I write freaks me out and stops me working – Laura can attest to this. But having collaborators perusing my work in a virtual environment, providing both critique and enthusiastic positive feedback as we go along, is really helpful. It’s sharpening the writing and keeping my spirits up, if occasionally stressing me out too – let’s face it, being edited always has its stresses, whether from disagreeing with the editor or agreeing and seeing what was wrong with your own beautiful words. Of course the reality is that I’m facing both.
This kind of collaboration is akin to what I imagine modern TV writers’ rooms to be like, allowing people to share and refine ideas, then go away and specialise in what they do best.
And because of this efficient, collaborative process, together with the joys of digital publishing, the first book will have been through editors, beta readers, refinement and publication, all within maybe four months of them developing the plot, and maybe two months after I started writing book one. That is staggeringly efficient. I approve.
Letting go of the artistic ego
I know that there are people who will view this as somehow detracting from the art of writing, from the purity of the author working away at their own ideas and craft. But I don’t agree with that view. Writing is already a collaborative process, involving editors and publishers. This is making that collaboration more effective and enjoyable. It’s not what we expect, and that will create a negative reaction in some people, but I like it.
I’d be interested to hear any thoughts you guys have on this, or similar experiences you’ve been through. You know where the comments go, please feel free to leave one.
I’m only writing this a few hours after yesterday’s post, and I’ve been busy with the freelance work so nothing’s changed. I think I’ll get around to NaNo this evening. Fingers crossed. Just blogging a day ahead now will relieve some pressure and make it easier to juggle tasks tomorrow.
I notice that JH Mae and Everwalker are tearing ahead at 21k and 15k respectively, while I haven’t quite reached 12k. And I also have to mention Russell Phillips, who’s normally a non-fiction writer and went into this knowing he didn’t have time to manage 50k, but is still getting plenty of words down.