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Two Writers, One Voice, Ten Tips

WritersEveryone wants to know: How do two writers write one story? We described our journey as collaborating authors in So, How Do Two Writers Write As One? However, there must be a lot of writing partners out there for we still get many requests for more information on how to pull off the two authors/one voice trick.

It is difficult to analyze all the nuances of how we work together. A great deal of our success is personality. We, simply put, are a good fit. We also have been at this for a very long time, so each knows the way the other one thinks and what our strengths and weaknesses are. But for those who wish to have a go at writing a book with another, here are ten tips on how to go about it.

1. Be nice to each other.
The Golden Rule of writing together. If you can’t follow this rule, don’t bother because you will never get anywhere. This doesn’t mean that you must agree all the time. Some of our best story ideas came out of disagreements. Just keep the disagreements respectful. No name calling. And no yelling.

2. Be honest.
About yourself. About whether you can work with  partner. About whether you even like the way they write. About everything. If you do not like something, say so. If you like something, also say so. (It’s amazing how often that simple but wonderful piece of feedback is overlooked!)  So be honest. But don’t be mean.

3. Have weekly meetings.
Even if you are living in the same house, if you have a writing partner, you need to have at least one meeting a week to discuss your work-in-progress, read drafts, ask questions. This helps to keep both writers (if you’ll pardon the pun) on the same page.

4. Know how your book will end.
This is good advice even if you are not writing with a partner. The overall tone of the story should reflect just where the tale is heading. Also, how your characters behave and develop has a direct effect on where they end up. Both writers must be aiming at the same target.

5. Write an outline of the story.
Not every writer works with an outline, but for two writers working on one project an outline is very useful. This doesn’t mean you must rigidly adhere to the script, but having a structure will keep both writers moving in the same general direction.

6. Divide the work...
Discuss beforehand who will write what. Get out the outline (see how useful it is?) and negotiate which sections each writer will tackle. Here it is important to be nice (see tip #1) and to be honest (see tip #2). Know your writing strengths and weaknesses. In our writing, Mary is good at dialogue, Joe at description. We both love action scenes. We keep these things in mind when deciding how to divide the labor.

7.  …but don’t be rigid about it.
Dividing the labor does not necessarily mean one writer per chapter. It may mean one scene in a chapter. It may mean you BOTH write the same chapter. This usually results in a blend, taking a piece of each writer’s version of the chapter and melding it into one piece. Remember that mention above about dialogue and description? We often will take a dialogue-dominated scene by Mary and blend it with a description-rich scene by Joe. Presto! A complete chapter.

8Write separately.
Perhaps there are those who can write comfortably with another writer in the room, but it doesn’t work for us. Invariably, one writer will interrupt the other with a question, idea, or to read a passage from a draft. This can be really annoying. Also, there is nothing more damping to the flow of words than to see someone either typing furiously while you can’t even put together one sentence or to be the one typing furiously while the other is staring our the window not writing at all. (By the way, the old adage is true. A writer IS working when he is staring out the window.) Need to discuss something? See tip #3.

9. Edit each other’s work.
Painful but necessary. A great deal of the merging of two writers into one takes place during the editing process. Remember, positive feedback is just as important as pointing out errors. If your writing partner is particularly good at something or really nailed a scene let him know. And when your partner criticizes your work, try to remain objective. Discuss the critiques, don’t sulk. Use your partner’s suggestions when rewriting. What you rewrite is not set in stone. If it doesn’t work, it doesn’t, but give suggestions a fair try.

10. Have fun.
If you are not enjoying the process, then it simply is not for you. We have a lot of fun collaborating on our books, so the inevitable differences of opinion and stumbling blocks are bearable. Most writers we talk with claim they could never write a story with another person. They dislike sharing creative control, they don’t want another writer editing their work, they feel inhibited about plotting aloud with someone else. So perhaps we should add an eleventh tip…


Announcing Time’s Rebels

Rebels Cover  SmallMichael Blayne thought his worries were over. He had resigned from the Galactic Armed Forces, fulfilled the prophecy of the Golden Dragon, and unraveled the secret of the Origin Stone. Now all he wanted was to live quietly with his wife, Kate Weston, in the newly-freed complex called Cilcourt.

Then a messenger appeared at his door.

Within hours, Michael was an outlaw and on the run from the Ratherian army, the Tavon Knights, and agents of the mysterious realm known as Time’s Edge. He quickly learned there was no place in the galaxy where they could not find him and knew from experience that when you cannot run or hide you only have one choice left…


Time’s Rebels, the fourth book in the Time’s Edge scifi/fantasy series is now available!

Don’t Annoy the Writer

Anne Lamott quote


From the Facebook page of author Sue Fitzmaurice.

Too Much Book Promotion, Not Enough Writing

BalanceOh, the time suck of promoting a book. Facebook. Pinterest. Twitter. Amazon. Etc., etc. etc… Everyone knows the players.

The amount of information on the Internet is infinite. The craving for new information is insatiable. The chances of readers finding a particular author’s information is infinitesimal.  (Like all those “I” words?)

Trying to keep up with the changes in Amazon’s algorithms, the constantly shifting rules of all the social media platforms, the newest must-be-there-or-be-square sites is overwhelming. (Bet you thought we were going to say impossible.) All the social media management sites on the Internet do not seem to reduce the time drain of maintaining a social media presence.

The sad truth is we now spend more time promoting than writing.

We’ve read many articles on how to reduce the amount of time spent on social media. We’ve tried management tools such as hootsuite and pingraphy. And they help. A little. However, there is no getting around the fact that even management sites require data input. An entire day can be spent setting up one month’s worth of scheduled tweets, posts and blogs, and no management software can take the place of the genuine interaction that is necessary when responding to comments and messages. Also, different platforms require different input. It would be counter-productive to simply post identical information across all sites. We have followed authors who do that and the constant repetition made us decide to unfollow  pretty quickly.

The really worrisome thing is that we have a sneaking feeling that all this time is wasted time. We have not seen a significant correlation between all our social media efforts and sales. Repins, retweets, and shares by the dozens do not seem to turn followers into readers. There are so many authors out there doing the same thing that our additions to the clamor seem like peeing in the ocean. Who is going to notice?

We could have blogged about “How to Successfully Promote Your Book in 10 Easy Steps”.  A quick Google search would have provided us with plenty of material.  But like the self-help books that try to show the path to enlightenment or the you-can-be-a-millionaire-too titles, the method that works for one person does not work for everyone, or even most folks. After all, how many blogs do we all need saying: Have a Facebook/Pinterest/Twitter/Tumblr page? Post regularly! Interact! Connect! Use a call for action! Be visual! We all know how the game is played by now.

We’re going to keep plugging away at it. We are also going to try to write more and promote less. Just as soon as we get this blog posted.

The Trouble with Free eBooks

man-free-signEveryone loves to get something for nothing, right? And what is more tempting than going online and cruising through thousands of free ebooks? It’s like a smorgasbord that you don’t have to pay for, a literary heaven.

Well, not exactly. Here’s why:

1. Quantity. There are too many free ebooks. Thousands of titles are available, which means a free ebook no longer stands out in the crowd. A few years ago, this was a great way for a new author to get noticed. But now? “FREE! isn’t special when everyone is doing it” author Kristen Lamb wrote in her blog The Problem with Free.  As a tool for authors, it is losing its advantage. As a source for readers, it is overwhelming, and that leads to the second issue:

2. Excess. Many readers do not read the free ebooks they download. The books go into the modern day slush pile called To Be Read. The problem is that most TBR lists contain hundreds of books and why not? They are all free. It doesn’t cost anything to download a book and leave it sitting in electronic limbo.  The reader doesn’t lose anything if he never gets to the book. And that brings up:

3. Value. It turns out that most folks do not value something unless they pay for it. Author Dean Fetzer makes this point in his blog Value for Money: “One of the lessons I learned early on about the internet in my previous job – and the world, for that matter – is: users don’t value free stuff as much as things they pay for.” Readers have no investment in a free book and no expectations. Just the opposite, in fact:

4. Perception. A free product is perceived to be a lesser product. Even positive reviews of free books reflect this attitude. When scanning any reviews of free books you invariably find comments such as  “Not bad, for free”, “I was surprised that something free was actually readable”,  “Enjoyed it but glad I didn’t have to pay for it”.  And let’s take a look at the “glad I didn’t have to pay for it” crowd:

5. Addiction. Yes, ebook readers are now hooked on freebies. They have been trained to NOT pay for books. They expect free ebooks, in quantity,  in perpetuum. Check out The Digital Reader: Are Free eBooks Killing the Market?  for a take on this phenomenon.

Of course, there are authors who have benefited from using the free ebook strategy just as there are readers who devour their electronic books and hunger for more. These authors will argue that giving away free ebooks boosted the sales of their non-free titles. They are the exception now, not the norm. Free promos, if done correctly, can temporarily boost a book’s ranking. Does that translate into sales and reviews? There is heated debate over that but it seems clear that most authors receive only a momentary lift, a blip, so to speak, in the book publishing cosmos.

We have never offered our books for free and have no plans to do so. We want readers who are invested in the story, who want to read our tales so much much they actually pay for them. Authors should set a value on their work. In a race to the bottom, no one wins.


An Ode to Bestsellers

(Sung to the tune of “The Monster Mash” written by Bobby Pickett, Leonard L. Capizzi)

I was looking at my stats late one night
When my eyes beheld an eerie sight
For my book from its slough began to rise
And suddenly to my surprise

It hit the list
It hit the bestseller list
The bestseller list
It was an Amazon hit
It hit the list
I pumped my fist
It hit the list
It hit the bestseller list

From their computers in their happy homes
To the Amazon boards where the critics roam
The readers all came and their Kindles shook
They wanted a download of my book

It hit the list
It hit the bestseller list
The bestseller list
It was an Amazon hit
It hit the list
I pumped my fist
It hit the list
It hit the bestseller list

The downloaders were having fun
The series had just begun
Readers could download a three-pack
Or buy paperbacks, one by one.

The scenes were rockin’, all were digging the plot
Word spread quickly, they liked it a lot
Everyone predicted the book would thrive
If only some characters came out alive

It hit the list
It hit the bestseller list
The bestseller list
It was an Amazon hit
It hit the list
I pumped my fist
It hit the list
It hit the bestseller list

Out from his lair, a critic’s voice did ring
Seems he was troubled by just one thing
He opened the book and shook his fist
And said, “Whatever happened to a final plot twist?”

It hit the list
It hit the bestseller list
The bestseller list
It was an Amazon hit
It hit the list
I pumped my fist
It hit the list
It hit the bestseller list

Now everything’s cool, the critics have calmed down
And my new book is the hit of the town
For you, the reader, this book was meant to
Hook you on the series; I’ve planned twenty-two!

It hit the list
It hit the bestseller list
The bestseller list
It was an Amazon hit
It hit the list
I pumped my fist
It hit the list
It hit the bestseller list

The Writer’s Clock

Yeah, this pretty much sums it up.

When to End a Book Series

Wow. A tough question if ever there was one. Just how long should a book series last? Some authors love trilogies. Others subscribe to the seven-book saga made popular by J.K. Rowling. Some authors have no preset number in mind; if another idea for a tale manifests, they write it. Others are working toward a specific goal, such as Sue Grafton, the author of the popular Kinsey Malone mysteries, who is working her way through the alphabet. In fact in a review of Grafton’s T is for Trespass, USA today praised her work and wondered,  “What does it take to write twenty novels about the same character and manage to create a fresh, genre-bending novel every time?”

And that is the heart of the debate. Is an author cranking out the same story over and over or creating an original tale for each new book? Some authors get around the fresh/stale problem by constantly creating new characters. Piers Anthony and his wonderful Xanth series is a good example. His characters age and new ones emerge. His 36th Xanth novel will be published this December.

The dilemma that authors face is readers often love the characters in the series they read. They want to read more stories, find out how the next adventure will unfold. They want to see how the lives of the characters progress, learn their ultimate destinies. (Have you seen the meme that made its way around Facebook this past summer? It showed a kneeling man and the caption said, “I pray for world peace, the safety of kittens, and that J.K. Rowling’s new book is really about Harry Potter, the Grown-up Years.”)

Some readers love formula tales, books that follow a well-known, well-loved pattern that gives them the assurance of knowing how the the story will unfold and even what the ending will bring. It’s safe and comfortable, like a good friend. Others want the thrill of not knowing, the adventure of discovering something new, the excitement of wondering, “what is going to happen this time?” Does a long-lived series need to provide endless twists and surprises or does it survive by keeping to the formula? A little of both, we suspect.

Some authors are under contract to write one or more titles in their series per year. Is it hard to be creative under such deadlines? We don’t know the answer to that one since we are not under such constraints, but we have seen once wonderful series deteriorate into obvious have-to-crank-out-another-book tales. This is sad, both for the authors and the readers. Yet the money factor that drives this kind of book production is a hard fact of life.

When will the Time’s Edge series end? We honestly don’t know. We have several adventures in mind for Michael and Kate, and we do know their ultimate destinies. We even know what the final book in the series will be; the last chapter of that tale is written. We keep it in mind when we write and sometimes will hint at their final story. We have already written three books in this series and have three more planned. After that, who knows? If we have more stories to tell, we will. If we feel it is time to bring it to a close, we will do that, too.

That is the true dilemma of writing a book series: knowing when to make a graceful bow and exit.

Why Writers Need Toys

A yo-yo. A snow globe. A rubber ball filled with glitter that flashes blue light when you bounce it. A magic wand filled with sparkly confetti suspended in a pink gel.  Kaleidoscopes. These are some of the toys we keep in our offices.  Why?

1. They aid in creativity. There is something about toys that sparks ideas and loosens up that elusive, hard to define thing called creativity. One of the reasons kids have such great imaginations is that they play. Pacing around the office, bouncing that rubber ball, watching the blue lights flashing and the glitter spinning, is a great assistance when plotting a book.

2. They help your concentration. What? Aren’t toys a distraction? In a way, yes, but a good distraction. They occupy the conscious mind so the ol’ subconscious can have a chance to be heard. We have a plastic box with a clear cover that is about the size of a deck of cards. It is a tiny maze with several silver balls. The object is to get all the silver balls into the center of the maze. Just spend twenty minutes trying to do that! Your conscious mind will be so swept up in the challenge that your subconscious will soar.

3. They break your focus. New ideas come from thinking in new ways. Staring at a page of writing, thinking the same old thoughts about the characters, can feel like being on a treadmill.  A few minutes playing with a kaleidoscope can be enlightening.

4. They are calming. Slinkys®  are especially good for this. The motion and the sound are soothing. Get a nice rhythm going and you will discover their therapeutic powers.

5. They make you feel good. Simple, effective, non-addictive, toys are the perfect pick-me-up. So if you are feeling discouraged over a stuck story line, grab that yo-yo. You simply cannot feel bad while using a yo-yo.

6. They are fun. Toys are pure enjoyment. They exist to entertain. So why not have a little fun?

We know we’re not the only ones to have stumbled on this secret, and it certainly applies everyone, not just writers.  Do you keep a toy or two in your office?

The Fiction Writer’s Alphabet

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