Writing Collaborations

The other day I received an email from a reader who expressed dissatisfaction with the collaborative efforts of several well-known writers and who wanted to know how I had resisted the trend of established writers entering into collaborations that produced weak or less satisfying collaborative efforts.  While it’s an interesting inquiry, upon reflection, I feel, it bears a resemblance to a question along the lines of “How did you possibly escape beating your dog when all the other writers do once they get established?”

That’s not to say that collaborative efforts are always weaker or that they should be avoided. I’ve said on more than one occasion that collaboration ideally should only be attempted when the work is something that neither author could produce alone.  And sometimes, frankly, the collaboration is far better than either could accomplish alone, as in the case of the musical works of Gilbert and Sullivan.  [I’m not about to offer a public comparison in F&SF].

I’ve only done one collaboration, the ill-fated if well-reviewed Green Progression, with Bruce Scott Levinson, and that was a book which would have been difficult for me to do without his expertise in various areas, and it was a relatively easy collaboration because we were also working at the same Washington, D.C., consulting firm at the time. The book is far, far better than its dismal sales would indicate, but it’s also an indication that, even if one of the authors is moderately well-known, the name recognition of an author doesn’t necessarily carry over to a collaboration in terms of sales.

Some “collaborations” also result from necessity.  The final books of The Wheel of Time necessitated what was essentially a collaboration between Robert Jordan, posthumously, and Brandon Sanderson.  Although Sanderson technically wrote more than 90% [if the numbers I’ve heard are correct] of the last three books, the ground work had been laid by Jordan and there was an outline, as well as some 40,000 words or more of Jordan’s prose for Brandon to work with, which, in my mind, at least, makes it a collaboration rather than a ghost-written conclusion. Years ago, Piers Anthony did something similar with a book entitled Through the Ice, in completing a book largely finished by a young author named Robert Kornwise, who suffered an untimely and early death.

In thinking about collaborations I’ve read and the books that I’ve kept, I surveyed my shelves and the volumes on my e-reader and realized that I’ve only kept one collaboration, besides my own, at least ones that I know of, since I do know a number of authors doing collaborations under a single pen name, and there well may be others of which I’m unaware.  While that can’t be mere chance, it does suggest that, for me, collaborations don’t have the feel or flavor of a single-author book.

In my own instance, part of the answer to why I don’t do collaborations any more is simple.  I don’t feel either the desire or need to, and I really enjoy working on my own ideas at my own pace, which might well be just because I’m a type A control freak so far as my writing is concerned.

3 thoughts on “Writing Collaborations”

  1. Sam says:

    This actually ties into something I’ve been wondering about on and off for a while now.

    A while back I started musing about how so many movies and TV shows I watch tend to be – in my view – mediocre yet still entertaining enough that I continue to watch them. I wondered if perhaps the fact that they are collaborative efforts plays a part in that. After all you have multiple writers, producers, executives, directors and actors all inlfuencing the outcome of the final product.

    It also occurred to me that in instances where there is a single dominant vision behind the scenes bending others to their will this can lead to superior outcomes. On the flip side if the vision is flawed the outcomes can be disastrous. From what I’ve heard George Lucas had a great degree of creative control over both his Star Wars trilogies yet seemed to have lost his mojo second time around with his second trilogy being vastly inferior to the first.

    On a completely unrelated topic it uspets me how much influence movies and television over the decades have had on the general public’s perception of what constitutes science fiction. Just recently I put my aunt onto a new science fiction television series called Orphan Black set in the present about a woman who finds out she is a clone. My aunt didn’t think that was science fiction. I had to educate her and let her know that just because there were no robots, laser pistols or spaceships didn’t preclude something from being science fiction.

  2. Corwin says:

    Interesting I too have often wondered why you didn’t do collaborations. Unfortunately, The Green Progression isn’t even available from my local library which has multiple copies of most of your books. From what I’ve observed, the majority of collaborations appear to be between an established author and an unknown. I’ve sometimes wondered just how much input the established writer has actually had. While I see it as a valid way to assist new writers, I rarely find the standard at the level I expect from the senior writer. Still, I’d be delighted to collaborate with you on a novel anytime. 🙂

  3. R. Hamilton says:

    I’ve noticed one case where collaborations seem to make sense: well-known authors that have established series (and prior experience with collaborations) and still have ideas, but are enough affected by age (whether physically or a bit mentally as well) to benefit from a partner’s assistance in maintaining focus and clarity.

    Some of the elder ones that aren’t yet in that category (but perhaps realize they might be soon enough) seem to either pick promising young partners to pass on skills and opportunity to, or help out those preceding them in decline by assuming the supporting function for them.

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