How to Co-Author a Novel

03/18/2010 05:12 am ET | Updated May 25, 2011

How do two people write a novel together? It's the first question everyone asks. Our response? "How do people write novels alone?" And we're not being facetious -- we're honestly in awe of anyone who can pull off such an astonishing feat on their own. If you're in awe as well and would like to try but wonder where to find the time and energy to read a novel let alone write one, then maybe coauthoring is the answer for you too.

First, find a coauthor whose vision you share. For us, it is simply the love of a good story with a strong plotline. It doesn't hurt to have a complementary combination of personality traits either. Two procrastinators, no matter how brilliant, will be doubly handicapped when meeting a deadline. Gina encapsulates our working relationship thus: Janice (the perfectionist) makes sure it's right, while Gina (organizer extraordinaire) makes sure it gets finished.

Everything two authors write together is the result of their combined imaginations, knowledge, experience, and energy. It was Gina's trip to Italy's Euganean Hills that launched us into "Ciao Bella", and it was Gina's Italian heritage that helped shape the rather unruly family that populates the book. Janice, in the missing resistance fighter, Ugo, drew on her university years standing in the snow selling "The Socialist Worker". Everything creeps out onto the page and gives what we write something uniquely ours. Not quite Gina's, not quite Janice's - a third voice, in literary speak.

Coauthoring also allows you to split the work (of course you have to split any earnings too) and accomplish something even when far away from your desk. Gina teaches online and freelance edits, while Janice answers phones on a help desk. In addition, we have families and homes, and on occasion we like to go on vacation. It's reassuring to know that when facing a work deadline, in bed with a cold, or sitting on a beach, we can open our email and discover a draft for the next chapter, a new bit of research, or at least some small problem, if only a case of pesky punctuation, magically resolved. And there isn't only writing to share: there are agents and editors, marketing, cover letters, and so on. Everything takes time, but it doesn't have to take all of one person's time.

Then there is the matter of moral support. "Coauthors in sickness and in health," Janice once signed an email after a bad day. Writing is often an onerous task, and either of us on our own would have announced defeat long ago. How many pep talks have we given each other? A rejection letter from a publisher, an uncharitable ("did they even read the bloody thing?!") review, or writer's block that seems as insurmountable as -- well -- as trying to complete this metaphor. Sometimes that day job doesn't seem so bad.

But what about the actual process of getting words on the page? We've heard of coauthoring teams that sit side-by-side at the computer, yet we can't write a letter together. We are good at talking though. Mostly it's over the phone or via email, but we've learned it's essential to meet as often as possible. Over cups of tea and the occasional medicinal bottle of wine, we hash out ideas, plots, and characters, and read every draft aloud over and over. We leave these sessions feeling encouraged and with small projects to work on. Janice might rework some hackneyed dialogue, while Gina might start a new chapter.

Coauthoring requires a few rules too. While writing our first novel, "The Sidewalk Artist", fearful of offending the other, we were diplomatic to a fault. If Janice wrote something Gina didn't like, it was up to Janice to gently convince Gina of its magnificence or out it went. Some of these discussions would last for days and dozens of emails, only to have the winner concede the point on the next read -- through with a sheepish "You were right." In the end, we realized it's not whether the idea or the sentence is one or the other's -- it's whether it's the right one. This epiphany led us to change our approach in "Ciao Bella". Confident in our process and each other, we threw our careful diplomacy to the wind. It was if our individual egos had been subsumed by our collective ego. "This sentence is shit! Who write that?" was much more in keeping with the tone. That we laughed it off shows we'll survive our next book together too.

So give coauthoring a thought at least, if not a try. You may be surprised at the results -- and the rewards.