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INstruction
On Co-AuthorINg
By Helen Dunn Frame
November, 2006, 15:00

"I've always believed in writing without a collaborator, because where two people are writing the same book, each believes he gets all the worry and only half the royalties." - Agatha Christie
 
Writing a book is a big undertaking. Now factor in ego, different writing and work styles, and perhaps varying levels of experience, and it is easy to fathom why agreeing to co-author a manuscript could be akin to walking a tightrope without a safety net. Never mind worry, what about the division of labour? Whose name will be listed first? How do you divide up expenses?
 
Author Daniel J. Hale spoke to the Southwest Chapter of the Mystery Writer's of America in the Spring of 2004 after Red Card: A Zeke Armstrong Mystery (2002) received an Agatha Award for the Best Children's Young Adult book. Green Streak: A Zeke Armstrong Mystery (2004) had just been published and would be nominated for the same award.
 
Daniel related how he and co-author nephew Matthew LaBrot started writing the series. Having a close personal relationship, it all began when Matthew had a problem with his soccer team and they met to talk it out. As part of the therapy, Daniel wrote one line; then Matthew the next. They subsequently developed Zeke Armstrong -- each one chose one of the hero's names based on characteristics they liked about each other. Naturally, the first book centered on soccer!
 
Both authors worked on Macs; yet they worked at different times of the day and in different Texas towns, Dallas and Greenville. Daniel, in his early forties, scribed a chapter and emailed it to Matthew, a high school student, who would make changes and ship it back. When it came to differences of opinion, they hashed it out verbally. As a result of their modus operandi, Apple ran a story on its website (no longer posted).
 
Before writing this article, I checked the apparently non-updated website ZekeArmstrong.com but found no reference to the next two books that were planned for the series. Only the first two books are listed on Amazon.com at $7.95 and $8.95, with used books offered beginning at $1.01.
 
Fast forward to my "retiring" to Costa Rica where I met a man a few years older than I who has written many incomplete stories. He admitted he has problems developing characters, and will begin another tale rather than toil to finish one. I found his imagination fantastic. His sense of humour shines through. One of the stories based on a young Bribri Indian girl becoming an Awa (Shaman) was complete and interesting enough that I felt I could contribute by developing characters, expanding the story, adding hooks, and giving it a believable conclusion.
 
Having spent years working in Public Relations, and being widely published (mostly nonfiction), I immediately recognized the many ways we could publicize this book based on offering it in three languages (English, Spanish, and Bribri), involving the readers, and including an ecological twist. If all the factors that enabled me to become enthusiastic had not been present, I probably would not have agreed to form this team.

Before coming to written terms, we talked about egos, how we would discuss differences about editing, and how we would pay for illustrations and translations. With the book nearly finished my friend is proofreading it we were able to work quite amicably over several months. I haven't felt overworked because he had written so much of the basic story. Now marketing begins to attract a publisher, agent, or both.
 
Like Agatha, no one wants all the worry, work, and headaches for half the royalties. However, if two writers are lucky enough to find each other, bond, and complement each other's skills so they can create an outstanding book, they will be able to share everything especially the joy of seeing the manuscript in print. 

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Helen Dunn Frame. A Syracuse University journalism school graduate, published in major newspapers, magazines and trade publications in the United States, England, and Germany. Her writing skills and love of travel led her to write her mystery novel Greek Ghosts. Email: helen@helendunnframe.com Web site: http://www.helendunnframe.com


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