Monday, 3 December 2018

Exploring Genre - Collaborative Writing

by Jeanette O'Hagan

We often imagine writing as a solitary pursuit - the writer huddles alone in his or her attic, putting words on paper (or computer file) with a big do-not-disturb sign on the door.

In fact, while there are long stretches when writing requires peace or at least lack of interruptions, producing a book most often calls for a team of people from critique partners, beta-readers, editors, proof-readers, graphic artists, formatters, publishers, booksellers, and publicists. 

But there is another way, that writers can collaborate and that is in the actual writing itself in collaborative works. There are in fact quite a range of opportunities.

Types of Collaborative Writing

Ghost Writing

In ghost writing, an experienced and capable writer is employed or invited to write a story on behalf of someone else, often a celebrity or someone with a unique and fascinating story or both. This is most often done with memoirs, but can happen with fiction. In many cases the ghost writer is paid and his or her name does not appear on the cover or may appear but in a secondary fashion (eg Deva Star with Jane Smith).

Jeanette Grant-Thomson has done some ghost-writing, in addition to her own fiction and non-fiction.  For instance, Healing Song was co-written in connection with Merrilyn Billing and tells Merrilyn's story.


In picture books particularly, the illustrator contributes as much to the story as the writer. There are many wonderful examples of this synergy between image and word such as Wombat Books' Same by Katrina Roe and Jemima Trappel, Can God See Me by Penny Reeve and Shannon Melville, Do You Remember? co-written by Kelly O'Gara and Anna McNeil, and illustrated by Kelly O'Gara.

Though I do confess a particular affection for Colourful Memories, written by Catherine Bauer and illustrated by my daughter, Kathleen O'Hagan.


In some cases, a more established well known writer might partner with a newer writer with fresh ideas.

In other cases, two or more writers may combine together to write the one book or series of books.  In fiction, each writer may be the primary writer for one of the main characters.  Of course, the writers need to agree on a range of things like settings, the plot, the subject, the themes, characters etc and may need to write the other writer/s character in their own character's scenes.

Meredith Resce, Rose Dee, Paula Vince and Amanda Deed worked together to write The Greenfield Legacy together, each one writing one of the characters to produce a great story about the legacy of past decisions.


In anthologies, authors can contribute short stories and/or poems that may centre of a theme or subject matter, or genre, or setting.

Glimpses of Light (published in 2015, the International Year of Light and edited by myself and Nola Passmore), includes a range of short stories, non-fiction pieces, flash fiction and poems on the theme of light. Contributions were from both new and more established writers, including Jo-Anne Berthelsen, Jo Wanmer, Adele Jones, Lynne Stringer, Nola Passmore, Adam Collings, Paula Vince, Anusha Atukorala, Ellen Carr, Jeanette Grant-Thomson and others.

The science fiction and fantasy anthology, Medieval Mars, has stories set in a futuristic Mars conceived by Travis Perry, that is a Mars that has been terraformed, settled and then regressed to a medieval level of technology. Each story is set in different spots in the world and written by different authors, including Adam Colling's Lynessa's Curse. The stories were published both as the collection Medieval Mars and individually as short stories by the authors.

Book Bundles

In book bundles, multiple authors contribute their books (either full length novels or novellas) usually of similar genre, theme, or setting.

Narelle mentioned some romance book bundles in the November genre post

I've participated in two - On the Horizon - which involved 22 authors writing sci-fi & fantasy set in low technology worlds. Akrad's Children was included in this and the aim was for volume of sales over a short period. Over 900 copies were sold over the three month period the bundle was available.  The boxed set continued in an altered form in Limited Horizon - with 12 Fantasy and Science Fiction Novels, Novellas, and Short Stories from 12 authors, including my Heart of the Mountain. Many of the authors in this series are secular, but write in the same or similar genres to me.

Book Series

This year, I was part of a group planning on writing a series of full length novels set in the same world. Initially we had maybe 10-12 people involved. Three or four of the authors got together and formed a premise, setting and timeline of the world. I wasn't initially that keen on some of the elements, but after much thought, come up with a premise for a storyline that fitted into the world & which I liked.

We set up a calendar of publication for 2019 on a monthly basis (I had May), with the idea that each author would bring out a novel set in the world (and consistent with each other's works). We started with a lot of enthusiasm and I was quite excited about the idea though I had other writing projects to finish before I could get started. 

Then over time, one by one, people began dropping out for various reasons. Much to my disappointment, the main organisers decided to pull the plug on the project. I have still got my plot synopsis, which maybe one day I will write.

I think multi-author book series a great concept and would love have another attempt at something like this (novel or novella) again, hopefully with better success.

It has been done. Again, Narelle mentioned the Tuscan Legacy book series, romance novels with a common setting and plot thread.  There's also the Jane Austen project - in which various well established authors were invited to write modern adaptations of the different Jane Austen novels in a contemporary setting.

Pros and Cons


Writing in partnership with other writers may spark imagination and creative energy. It may draw on the strengths of each writer and add depth to characterisation or setting. Plus it builds in feedback and editing on each other's writing.

Sometimes the more established writer/s brings visibility and connection with a larger fan base while the newer, up and coming author can bring new ideas and inspiration and a freshness to the stories or a particular insight (if, say from a particular demographic or culture).

In much collaborative writing, authors can be introduced to the fans of the other authors. While readers, attracted by an author they know and love, may discover new authors with similar writing styles, themes or genres.

Different forms of collaborative writing often enables authors to pool or share marketing efforts, thus allowing a bigger splash or more impact per buck.


With partnerships, the partners may have different understandings of what needs to happen or want the story to go in different directions. So there is a potential for disagreement which may derail the project.

Logistics may be a problem; for instance, finding the time to plan, to share segments for feedback or  different writers may write at different paces etc. Finances, copyright, royalties, costs must all be worked through and agreed upon and then held to.

The bigger the group, perhaps the more likelihood that either the project may take a long time or fall apart altogether.

There are pitfalls to consider in collaborative writing, but such projects can be both fun and worthwhile.

Have you ever been involved in such a project or considered doing so? What advantages and disadvantages did you find? Would you do it again?


Jeanette started spinning tales in the world of Nardva at the age of eight or nine. She enjoys writing secondary world fiction, poetry, blogging and editing.

Her Nardvan stories span continents, time and cultures. They involve a mixture of courtly intrigue, adventure, romance and/or shapeshifters and magic users.

She has published numerous short stories, poems, two novellas and her debut novel, Akrad's Children and Ruhanna's Flight and other stories.

Her latest release, Stone of the Sea (the third novella) is now available. .

Subscribe (here) to Jeanette's monthly email newsletter for the latest on cover reveals, new releases, giveways, and receive the short story Ruhanna's Flight for free.

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  1. Thanks for a great post Jenny. I was sorry to hear what happened to the project you were involved in. Hope it gets resurrected in some way in the new year. I was very impressed to hear of 'On the Horizon' selling 900 copies in the 3 month period if was available. Wow! That's fabulous. Lovely to see our own Glimpses of Light included in your discussion too. Thanks Jenny for an informative and helpful post as always.

    1. Thanks Anusha. Yes, I thought the connected book series was a great idea. Never know, maybe it will. The main organiser of 'On the Horizon' worked very hard & it was a fantastic bargain. 'Limited Horizon' is too, even in a scaled back form. Glimpses of Light was a wonderful experience and definitely a great anthology.

  2. Very interesting, Jenny. Thanks for the mention. Yes, I've done quite a lot of ghost writing or similar. I love interviewing people! Thanks for an informative article.

    1. That's great, Jeanette. I can imagine it would be interesting. Maybe we should get you to write a genre post on ghostwriting next year :)

  3. Great post, Jenny. There seem to be more collaborative works around these days. Maybe people are more used to engaging with other authors through social media. I've had poems and short stories published in many anthologies, but I haven't had direct involvement in how those anthologies were put together except for Glimpses of Light.

    I recently started reading a sci-fi novel called 'These Broken Stars' which is Book 1 of a trilogy written by Amy Kaufmann and Meaghan Spooner. I'd love to know their process, because it fits together seemlessly. I certainly couldn't tell where one of them starts and the other stops.

    Best-selling author James Patterson has worked with many authors collaboratively, which explains why he can put out 15 or so bestsellers a year. But I've read interviews about that process. Apparently he comes up with a detailed plot and mentors the other author to write the book, giving lots of feedback along the way. He seems very hands-on and it has helped many lesser-known authors to also reach the bestseller lists.

    Christian husband and wife team Bodie and Brock Thoene have an interesting collaborative approach. From what I gather, the husband does most of the research for their historical novels and then the wife does the writing. Not sure if it's the same for all of their books.

    I wouldn't be so keen on ghostwriting if my name didn't appear anywhere (with Nola Passmore would be okay :) ) I know there are sometimes good reasons for doing it, but it can also sometimes be deceptive if people think someone else wrote the book. Sometimes ghostwriters also have to sign confidentiality clauses, so you can't put it on your CV either.

    I think it would be great to part of a collaborative series. However, I think it would be important to be with others of like-mind in terms of values. May not be as essential in short story collections. But if you're writing a book together or writing different parts in a series, you wouldn't want the other author to write erotica in their scenes :)

    Thanks for your post Jenny. Great food for thought. We should collaborate again :)

    1. Hi Nola - some interesting insights on the different ways novel writing partnerships work. There are obviously a lot of different approaches. And that's a good point about sharing values in collaborative work.It makes it bit harder when writing crossover fiction that can fit in the general market and may not be 'Christian' enough for dedicated CF readers.

      I'd love to collaborate again. I have some ideas ...

  4. Hi Jenny, thanks for such a thorough overview on the many different forms collaboration may take. The results produced by picture book writers and illustrators are adorable. And when we four authors worked on The Greenfield Legacy, it was such fun, with perfect synergy, as we all got to know all the characters so thoroughly. I have very good memories. So sorry to hear that the plug was pulled on your collaborative project, which sounds like it would have been an amazing achievement if it came to fruition. But hopefully it's true that nothing's ever wasted, and you'll find the perfect outlet for that story some other time.

    1. I loved hearing you four talk about the experience with the Greenfield Legacy. And yes, nothing is every wasted. I might do something with the story synopsis someday, and I would love to have another shot at a connected book series, if ever the conditions are right. Who, but God, knows what the future holds.