Quite a while back, our own K.S. Brooks wrote about collaborating with the Evil Mastermind, Stephen Hise, on a book. I found the process to be really interesting, especially since the whole idea of collaboration is so completely foreign to me. For good or ill, my own process is totally internal; the only thing I might ask for help on would be physical details of the action (how a gun fires blanks, how to sail a sailboat), but nothing about the plot or the characters. I can’t even conceive of working with another person on a book; I have no idea what that would even look like. So I got to thinking about a friend of mine, David Wood, who collaborates with several other co-authors and does very well with it. Wanting to delve deeper into this mysterious process, I asked David if he would be willing to share his secrets of collaboration with us, and he graciously agreed.
MJB: David, I was going to count all your books and figure out how many are yours alone and how many are co-authored, and by whom, but I got overwhelmed by the numbers. Can you give us a quick breakdown of that? How many co-authors do you have, and how many books have you published with them? How many are your own?
DW: Sure, including my pen name, I have written seventeen “solo” novels and novellas, and have collaborated on another twenty-five books. Those range from full-length novels all the way down to a few short novelettes.
I regularly work with three co-authors: Sean Ellis, Rick Chesler, and Alan Baxter, but have also done multiple titles with Edward G. Talbot, and have other collaborative projects in the works. As far as which books are “my own,” that depends on what you mean. Almost all of the co-authored books are part of the Dane Maddock universe, either origins novels, spinoff series, or Kindle Worlds stories. The big exception is my work with Alan Baxter, which is all work that we’ve co-created.
MJB: What’s your process for collaborating? Is it different with each co-author, or is there a formula you all stick to?
DW: The process has evolved, and there are some differences with certain co-authors. For the most part, it goes like this:
-We exchange ideas, and when we have something I like, I run with it.
-I create a detailed outline, complete with story beats, bits of dialog, character descriptions, research, hyperlinks for references, you name it. I refer to this outline as “draft 0.5” because it typically ends up being 15,000-25,000 words, depending on the project.
-The co-author writes the first full draft, checking in with me as-needed. I then write the next draft, and make a couple more passes over it.
-If it’s a Maddock book, it goes to beta readers. If it’s a book written with Alan, he gives it a quick look and responds with comments before it goes to beta readers.
-Finally, it goes off for editing and proofing.
With a couple of authors, I don’t do draft 0.5, but otherwise the process is fairly similar.
MJB: How — and why — did you start working with co-authors? What’s the driving impetus behind it? Is it because you have too many story ideas crowding your brain and not enough time to write them down?
DW: Having lots of story ideas and angles of the Maddock universe I wanted to explore was a big reason. Also, it was the opportunity to work with other authors and grow from the collaborative process. Finally, it allows me to put out more material.
MJB: When collaborating with a given co-author, are you aware of strengths and weaknesses? And do you take those into account when writing? If a co-author is better with dialog than with action scenes, do you divvy up the chores accordingly?
DW: Depends on the project and co-author. “Draft 0.5” allows me to control plot structure, particularly with action-adventure. There are certain characters whose dialog I always pay close attention to because no one else does it “quite right” in my opinion. In my work with Alan, I defer to him in respect to British and Australian character dialog. Co-authors like Ryan Span and Sean Ellis write better prose than I do, so I’m a more hands-off on sentence-level writing when working with them.
MJB: How do you choose your co-authors? Where do you find them, and what do you look for?
DW: All are connections I’ve made in the writing and publishing community. I haven’t “looked for” anything in particular. Mostly it depends on what projects I have in the works and what our mutual schedules look like. I have had instances where the work an author produced was perfectly competent, but our styles were so different that I had to put far too much time into rewrites in order to make the book fit the genre.
MJB: If writers wanted to explore being a co-author, what advice could you give them? How might they go about looking for a partner to work with?
DW: Kindle Worlds is a great place to start writing in someone else’s universe. In terms of true collaboration, I recommend cultivating genuine relationships in the author community, particularly within your subgenre. I think partnerships that develop organically are the best. Finally, be the kind of person who delivers on promises and meets deadlines. If you’re someone with a dozen half-finished books on your hard drive, you might not be ready for a working relationship in which someone is counting on you to deliver.
MJB: Does it ever bother you to turn over an idea to someone else? Do you ever worry that they won’t portray the characters or the story the way you see it in your mind?
DW: Yes, which is why I’ve developed “Draft 0.5” and why I always have to be the one to “touch it last!”
MJB: What kind of a contract do you have with your co-writers about protecting your stories? Do you retain the rights to the books, or do you split it?
DW: In most cases, I’m bringing in a writer to co-author with me in my universe. The writer is hired on a work-for-hire basis and is compensated for her or his work, but I retain ownership of the characters and universe and I control all publishing rights. With one particular work, my co-author and I co-created everything, so all decisions are made together and proceeds are split 50/50, but that’s the exception to the way I normally work.
One minor oddity is the Dane Maddock Kindle World. While I still own the characters and universe, a co-author is permitted to insert her or his original character(s) into the story without surrendering rights. Sean Ellis and I have taken advantage of this by writing “team-ups” between some of his most popular characters and characters from the Dane Maddock universe.
MJB: And finally, any other tidbits of knowledge that help you create the non-stop stream of great books that you do?
DW: I could write volumes, but here are a few high points-
-Write down all your amazing ideas, in as much detail as you can, but don’t abandon your work in progress in favor of “new and shiny.” Make a habit of finishing what you start.
-Save all the interesting articles and tidbits you come across that might serve for inspiration later.
-Consider short novels, novellas, and even novelettes as ways of telling more stories. Not every idea needs to be a novel, and many contemporary readers enjoy tightly-plotted books that don’t require a huge investment of time to finish.
MJB: Thanks so much, David, for letting me pick your brain. If our readers want to find out more about you, where should they look?
DW: Indie authors will probably enjoy my Wood on Words website, which offers advice and strategies for success as an indie publisher, as well as links to my podcast, book reviews, and free audiobooks. Readers can also visit me on Amazon at my Author Central Page.
7 thoughts on “Writing with Collaborators: Interview with Author David Wood”
Fascinating, but being the control freak that I am I think I’ll stick to writing solo.
lol – I found the process fascinating too, but I’m with you on the control freak bit. I don’t even like talking about my stories until they’re finished. Horses for courses. 🙂
This is a fascinating read! I love interview format blog posts, they rock my world.
I tried, once, to co-author with someone and it fell apart pretty quickly.
I think our mistake was after creating an outline, we just opened a google doc and started typing both at once. It got messy fast! Eventually we decided it would probably be better to stop.
Ben, I think you found out this was one area where a solid outline of process is necessary. Obviously David’s refined this to a very successful level. Between he and his co-authors, I’m sure they publish at least one book a month. Remarkable!
I did indeed find that out! I want to attempt it again one day, but with some lessons from the pros about the process. Very informative post 🙂
There is a great advantage in co-authoring books set in a specific, well-known world where much of the setting and style is already decided upon. It helps keep you on track. I also note that David’s is not usually an equal co-authorship, but a contributing-author situation with one hand at the helm. Again, I suspect that makes it easier.
I know from my work writing in musical theatre that when the roles of various writers are clearly defined (librettist, composer) it greases the rollers of production as well.
Writing a completely new novel with two equal authors would be a different story (so to speak).
The experience of writing as equal co-authors on a new project is definitely different. Alan Baxter and I have written a couple of books that way (Dark Rite and Primordial.) With Dark Rite, we alternated chapters and worked without an outline. We frequently got stuck and had to put our heads together to get moving again.
With Primordial, we hammered out an outline ahead of time. One of us would write a chapter, the other would revise that chapter and write a new one, and so on. When the first draft was finished, we each made a pass over it. We decided we’d been over one another’s words so many times that we’d written the voice out of the story. With subsequent works, we’ve abandoned the alternating between chapters approach. We create a detailed outline, one of us writes the first draft, the other does the second draft and the polish.
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