Saturday, July 11, 2015

Working With A Partner

Working with a partner can be --to paraphrase Dickens--"the best of times and worse of times."  I know, I've been through them all!  There are actually three different types of partners: good, bad and indifferent.  And I think I've probably worked with all three, each in a different way.  Finding the perfect partner is like finding the perfect mate to marry.  You need someone who could have been your soul mate (perhaps in another life or in another sex).  That someone is hard to find and so you go through a process. 
There are pros and cons of working with partners and there are ways of dealing with partners to make sure the worse doesn't happen.  If I had but known....Even so, I probably would have rushed foolhardy into the "danger" because despite it's problems, working with partners can be a refreshing change. 
Why work with a partner?  Well, for one thing, writing can be lonely.  Some people find that they are more creative in the company of someone they like.  It's nice--when you get along--to have the repartee and to be able to bounce ideas off your co--worker.  For another, you don't sound so crazy when you are voicing your story outloud.  And in the best of times, it can be fun.  You also have a shoulder to cry on when the editor comes back with rewrites that you disagree with or don't thing need doing--or even if she rejects the project totally.
Of course, in the worst of times, it can be double ulcer producing!  Believe me, I know this from experience!
Always have everything in writing. 
After almost every partnership, I usually say "Quote the raven 'nevermore," but like the people addict I am, I usually do it again.  Passing the bakery and smelling the danish, I almost always go in.  Sometimes I buy, sometimes I don't, but it always tempts me, especially if I like the idea.  However, I have developed a check list of my own to see if the "danish" is fresh or stale. 
That's not to say I don't write on my own.  I do and usually have several of my own projects going--almost always at the same time I'm working with a partner.  Mostly, it's preserve my own sense of self that can sometimes get swallowed up in the partnership since with the team work the voice is neither uniquely yours nor hers but a mellow combination of the two. 
Before my collaboration on The Book of Poisons, I had attempted to work with partners before, but it never quite went anywhere.  Usually, it would be a co-worker from my real life nursing job, or another friend who had an intriguing idea.  More often than not, I've had people come up to me with "brilliant" ideas they wanted me to write with or for them.  Mostly these ideas were mundane and stereotypical and not worth my time or energy.  I would tell the seeker that it was a good idea but best that he/she did it on their own. 
Unfortunately, most of the time, the people who wanted to partner with me were novices who knew very little technique and even less of the work it took to produce a book or script.  One friend, who I met at work, had a great idea. I said "Let's do it together." Only I found out later, he had no idea about how to write a script, what work was involved, or how long it would take.  When I had finished the second draft, he gave me some notes…and felt that he had contributed 50% - even though I had done the majority of the story line myself as well as the writing.  (Though according to a copyright attorney, if you have nothing in writing, the law says that you do owe them 50%!)
One time, I attempted to work with someone who had a novel idea based on some real life experiences that I found intriguing. 
However, once she saw what work it was to actually produce a book--which she, and many like her, thought could be thrown together in a long weekend, she backed out.  Since she had helped to create the "child" plot, I decided in this case--and others similar--that joint custody was too much to fight for and let them keep the baby. 
With Anne, I made my standard offer.  Her idea had intrigued me.  We had been folding newsletters for Mystery Writers of America.  Because I'm a nurse, she asked me medical questions for a novel she was working on.  "There ought to be something about poisons that everyone can understand," she said.  I quickly agreed.  She stated she had checked out the books and there was nothing that was understandable for the lay person. 
Because I don't believe in stealing ideas, I feel I have two choices when I hear a good idea: to buy out the idea giving the author created-by credit, or suggest they join me in writing it.  The latter is what I did with Ann. 
The Book of Poisons was the first book I finished in collaboration and I learned quite a few things about working and not working with a partner.  I learned even more when doing Red Sea, Dead Sea with another partner, then with Dragon's Seeds, and later with my partner for Against Her Will..
In Book of Poisons, we had divided up chapters - and I ended up rewriting much of her work; in Red Sea, Dead Sea - The Fanny Zindel series, we worked side by side and bounced off ideas, and in Dragon's Seed and Against Her Will, I did outlines, and characters and then read and revised what my partner had done before doing my own chapters.
While it seems like it might be less work to write with a partner, it is actually sometimes more--especially if that partner doesn't do his/her share of the work.  Other times, it feels as if the partner is doing more work, at least initally.  But even so, depending on how you work, it can be more time consuming since you have to match schedules.  Not an easy thing to do with two busy people. 
You must be prepared to not only work hard, but to sublimate your ego.  The story is ALWAYS the bottom line.  If what you are suggesting works the best for who that character is, than fine.  In Red Sea, Dead Sea, I wanted Fanny to be more religious, but Rayanne had a good point about making her more like the majority of the Jewish population so that a greater readership could relate to her. 
It's also important that you are both passionate about the story you are doing, that you both like the character or the concept and both are convinced it will sell well. 
Often we start out with one concept but even working alone, the baby grows and decides on a different career than what we had planned for him--even more so with a team effort.  When two parents raise a "plot child", the baby often comes out totally different than either expected. 
When there were plot and other problems arising out of the partnership that we couldn't seem to resolve on our own, Rayanne and I (the Fanny Zindel series) decided to go to a marriage counselor.  Yes, you read right.  A marriage counselor.  In the height of our working together, we were seeing more of each other than we were of our respective live-in mates. We would discuss not what we wanted, but what was best for the character and what she wanted.  The fact is, when you spend a lot of time with someone issues are bound to arise and it helps to have a third party to listen and sort things out.  It worked to keep us both sane. 
How do you meet the perfect partner?  As I said, I've run into people that I've partnered in different ways.  Sometimes I've sought them out, sometimes they sought me out, sometimes it was just plain luck, and other times, I was paired up by my wonderful agent. 
With Rayanne, I was doing a private duty case and my patient, a quadriplegic, had to get her car fixed.  Rayanne, also crippled from a work accident many years ago, was getting a hand control on her car.  When I entered the waiting room with my patient, she was reading a Harlequin romance.  "Oh, I write those types of books," I said.  "So do I," she responded. 
I sat down next to her, we began talking.  I was editing my mushroom chapter for The Book of Poisons and handed it to her.  "Here, help me with proofreading this."  She agreed and during the course of the morning, we found we were both animal lovers and into metaphysics. 
Because of her accident and constant pain, Ray had essentially stopped writing.  We became friends and I dragged her screaming and kicking into a screenwriting class with me and then we did a screenplay together, Mujrder Me Twice, which has been optioned several times but so far not produced. 
When I came up with the idea for Fanny Zindel and Red Sea, Dead Sea, I ran it by her.  She came up with some wonderful plot twists that I hadn't thought about and she was able to ground and make logical some of the events that I had just hanging.  So we decided to try writing the book together. 
That brings me to this part.  Now that the nitty gritty of choosing a partner is done, how do you actually work together? 
There are a variety of ways and each couple have their own way of doing things. 
I know one couple living in L.A. and N.Y. who are a successful team.  Jo Schaffer who worked with me on Against Her Will lives in Utah.   Another partner now lives in South Carolina.
As I said with Jo, I had the basic outline for Against Her Will, having started the story many years before based on my experiences as a psychiatric nurse on a teen ward, and allowed her to take off on her own version from there.  I then read what she did, made corrections, added my own sections, and we went forward from there. It was a longer process than I anticipated, but it turned out well.
With Anne (The Book of Poisons), we did much the same only we didn't live quite so far--LA verus Orange County.  She did up her assigned chapters and I did up mine.  However, when it came time to merge the two very distinct voices into one, I had to do the rewriting as Anne declined believing in her very naive way that a good writer never rewrites.
With Rayanne (the Fanny Zindel series) who lived onlt twenty minutes from me, it worked quite different  We both had identical computers and word processing systems so we would switch back and forth from her place to mine, sitting side by side at the computer and composing as we went.  Sometimes she would talk and I would type, other times visa versa.  We would laugh at our typos and be outrageous with our character, we would also be close enough to scream and tear each other's hair out--practially.  But the good thing was--as I said above--we were friends first and foremost and almost always calmed down enough to see reason and what was best for the story. 
Even though she only had two books published prior to our writing together, she was nearly at my place in development since she had certain strengths that I lacked and I had others where she fell. 
When it comes time to publish, you have to make a decision--did you use separate names, or did you merge our names into one.  With most of the books, I prefer to use my own name and my partner use hers.  This is because I have a following already and want people to know I have written it. 
Most publishers prefer one name rather than two because it's harder to shelve and to catalog, but they will accept it, if that's what you want.  Usually the first name listed, when it's a duo, is how the book is found in book shelves and in libraries.  So whose name goes first? 
Usually the one who has done most of the work or the senior partner goes first.  In Red Sea, Dead Sea, Fanny Zindel was my original character and so my name went first.  In The Book of Poisons, it was my medical knowledge and I did a greater percent of the work so that we put Anne as a with rather than a by. 
What happens after publication?
Look at how you both operate and ask, if the worst happens with the book, will we still be talking to each other.  If the answer is yes, it will probably work out.  The trouble is, sometimes we don't know if the answer is yes or no because we don't know the other person well enough to know how they will operate under strain of deadlines and rewrites. 
Basically what it comes down to is that you need to trust and respect your partner.  Long term collaborators are special people.  You have to share not only the money, but the limelight.  However, you can also share the expenses and the fun.  It can be a fun and satisfying experience and one that you don't mind repeating occasionally. 
Here are some things to consider:

things to know before you work with a partner


1.  It's important that you both be professional and both know what is involved in writing a book--that may mean one rewrite, it may mean several.  Whatever the editor wants goes, even if it means putting your own projects on hold to redo what you thought was already done. 
2. Communication lines need to be kept open at all times and it's better if you and your partner to be are friends before hand and have common interests to keep the friendship going because it's going to help solve some of the disputes along the way.  Also friends care more about each other's feelings and are more likely to compromise than are two acquaintances. 
3. Comparable skill and competence is crucial.  Sometimes there can be exceptions to the rule, but in cases where I've worked with amateurs, I've often been reduced to screaming, hair-pulling matches where as with other professional writers we knew that the "Play's the thing" or in this case the story or the plot was foremost.  As with Rayanne, when we were doing the Fanny Zindel series, Red Sea, Dead Sea, Bagels For Tea, and our newest, A Jewish Byte, if we could show how our point helped the character or story better than our partner's, that person would win the argument. 
If you are both are the same level of development, chances are you will complement each other in the story.  From experience I can tell you that where the skills are unbalanced feelings of resentment, impatience and unequal contributions make for hard feelings. 
4. Have something of your own that you are dabbling with while doing the partnership so that you don't feel swallowed up.
5. Always have a detailed contract talking not only about shared work, but shared costs--usaully it's 50-50 for both--but what happens if you are offered a sequel and one doesn't want to work on it, what happens if one dies, what happens with public relations, who pays for what, what happens if one doesn't want to finish the book, do you cut your partner in on the profits if you decide to write a sequel and he doesn't, whose agent to use, and how final decisions are to be made if neither can agree.  The contract doesn't have to be in legalese.  It just has to make the points in plain English. 
The easiest thing to do about sequels, I found, is to say that anything arising out to the book will be negotiated separately and that this contract is no guarantee that we will be working together again in the future.
Be as detailed as you can.  I got stuck paying for all the promotion for The Book of Poisons since Anne stated that she hadn't previously agreed to that.  She had, according to our contract, and I could have taken her to small claims court but in the end, decided not to waste my time.
6. Choose a third party that you both respect to help you settle differences--be it your agent, a marriage counselor, or another writer. 
7. If you both have agents, consult with both so that neither feels left out.  Perhaps they can share the work on the project.  If you have a contract with them, they might expect their 10-15% anyway.

8.  Be professional.  Stay calm.  Nothing is forever--even the good ones.  

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