by Susan Dennard (and Sarah J. Maas!)
As Sarah said Monday, the casual idea of coauthoring a book didn’t become a REAL idea for months. And then the actual world-building and novel-writing happened in a matter of weeks.
We were pushing out two to three scenes a day and letting go of our egos (because how else can you let someone read your first draft? It’s scary!). And as we wrote, a new thought weaseled in: What if this is actually good enough to publish? What if…what if…we could show this to our agents?
It was like tossing a grenade into the fray. Suddenly, we weren’t on fire for our own enjoyment—we were infernos of writing madness. There’s something about imagining your book as a REAL, published novel that motivates like no other.
But, all the excitement and dreaming big aside, here’s where you have to remember the fourth rule of coauthoring: writing is a business. Never forget that deciding to SELL a book adds a new dimension to your project—and it also puts more emphasis on being 100% transparent with each other. Why? Because now Sarah and I were talking money. We were talking about the path of our careers. Now we were looking at our writing schedule as a business plan.
And now, we had to bring in our agents.
So we notified our knights-in-shining-armor, Sara Kendall and Joanna Volpe of Nancy Coffey Literary and Tamar Rydzinski of the Laura Dail Literary Agency. We told them we were coauthoring a book, we were really excited about it, and gave them the rough pitch.
Insert Awesome Agents Stage Left.
Without even waiting to see if we could produce something good, our agents were SUPER enthusiastic about the project, and moved right on to the next step: meeting each other. For an actual coauthored novel to sell, both sets of agents need to be involved constantly. Everyone is CC’ed on emails, phone calls go out at the same time, and the entire process is completely open and honest.
(Also, it is super exciting. I get to work with a new agent (albeit temporarily). Now there are three possible names in my inbox that make my heart go KAPOW.)
Sarah Chimes In: Getting our agents on board was one of the most harrowing and exciting moments for us. Sooz and I were absolutely honored—and thrilled!—that they trusted us (and our work) enough to move ahead so quickly! And, as Sooz said, it’s SO awesome to closely work with another agent! I’ve admired Sara and Jo for so long that working with them still feels a bit surreal.
We wrote up a detailed synopsis of the entire book and we sent it to our agents before their first lunch date. Funnily enough, the agents instantly recognized—from the synopsis alone—which author (me or Sarah) wrote which character. Even in the synopsis, our voices and unique approaches to storytelling were obvious!
So now that we had our agents in the loop and doing their thing, Sarah and I set to revise our shiny new novel. But I was nervous. Now I was telling Sarah something was wrong with her scenes. Gone were the days of gushing praise—we had to sharpen our claws and get honest.
And so what is the fifth rule of coauthoring? Don’t take it personally. This is one of those obvious lessons we all KNOW we should feel with our novels. We all say our skins are thick from years of criticism, but if anyone out there can say they honestly don’t feel the slightest sting the when someone points out their mistakes, then raise your hand (I want to meet you because you’re clearly not human).
Sarah Chimes In: This is definitely a moment where trust comes into play, too. We had to trust each other to see the things we couldn’t, trust that the other person wouldn’t get upset if we pointed out something that needed fixing, and trust that our friendship could survive through it all. You’re not on opposing sides—you are a TEAM. What happens to one person affects the other. And whatever gets thrown your way, you face it together.
So I had to not fret over hurting Sarah’s feelings, and I had to not wince when she let me know if something I’d written just wasn’t working. I read the entire MS, wrote up a master list of all the problems we had—plot holes, character inconsistencies, etc., and sent it to Sarah. We talked in depth about the issues, and then…
BAM. The hurricane was back. No feelings were hurt at ALL—in fact, seeing the problems somehow drove us to want to fix them. We were determined to reach the book we’d initially set out to write. We’d revise two, three, or more scenes a day and swap. And within a week, we had a new book to show for it.
Now Sarah took charge. With the big problems fixed, there were still all the little issues to fret over. Line edits, pacing, infodumps, etc. She read the whole novel and with track-changes pointed out everything that needed fixing…
And then we were done. Well, scratch that. We were done enough for a critique partner. Sarah and I both firmly believe that sending your agent an un-critiqued manuscript is unprofessional. We had read the book so many times by then, it was all blurring together—we couldn’t see the mistakes any more. An external set of eyes was the only way to spot the remaining problems (and to verify that this book we thought was the Greatest Novel Ever Written was actually any good at all).
Once we got the feedback from our CP, we incorporated her ideas, sent the book through one more strenuous wringer of line edits, and then…we held our breaths, crossed our fingers, and sent the darn thing to our agents.
Insert montage of Susan banging her head against the desk and groaning, Sarah frantically picking all the polish off her fingernails, and both girls writing panicked emails saying “WHAT IF THEY HATE IT?”
Sarah Chimes In: Way to expose my nervous habit, Sooz!!! 😉 Seriously, though—while we waited to hear what our agents thought about the ms, we were pretty pathetic. It felt kinda like the moment of truth—what if all our hard work was for nothing? What if we had to go back to Square 1?
The sixth rule of coauthoring is to be available when your buddy is freaking out because you will certainly have your own fair share of freaking out.
Fortunately, our agents didn’t hate the book—they actually loved it! And fortunately, they were all in agreement on what needed changing and twisting and fixing.
Flash forward a month and a half (oh my gosh, it’s only been a month and a half?), and Sarah and I are just finishing what we hope will be our last big picture revisions before the Submissions Fairy deems us okay for editorial eyes. Every new round of revisions is like that initial grenade, and we work furiously for a few days, send the newest draft to our agents, and then conk out for a week of recovery (just kidding. Sort of.).
Sarah Chimes In: Not gonna lie: It’s like a writing hangover.
Every time there’s some new excuse to work on this book, my heart does a little dance because this means I get to skype with Sarah for 3+ hours and babble about our fantasy world (much to the chagrin of our husbands). I love to talk about my writing—like LOVE it—and being able to talk about my writing with a writer…and with a writer who is writing the same thing?? BLISS!
So, hopefully one day in the not too distant future, this novel will make its way to some publishing inboxes and pique some acquisitions editors’ eyes, and you can promise that when that Big Deal Day comes, we will let everyone know—because the third rule of coauthoring is to have fun, and the seventh rule is to share that fun with the world!
Susan Dennard is a writer, reader, lover of animals, and eater of cookies. She is repped by Sara Kendall of NCLit, and her debut, SOMETHING STRANGE AND DEADLY, will be available from Harper Children’s in 2012. You can learn more about her on her blog or twitter.
Sarah J. Maas has written several novels, including QUEEN OF GLASS, a YA fantasy retelling of Cinderella that will be published by Bloomsbury in Fall 2012. She is repped by Tamar Rydzinski of the Laura Dail Literary Agency, and resides with her husband in Southern California. You can visit her blog here, and follow her on twitter.