Selling your collaborative novel

Even death is no barrier for a great collaboration

To be a writer is to be a salesperson. Writing is a respected profession but no one is going to fall at your feet, begging to publish or even read your work, just because you’ve written something. Once your novel is complete, you will have to sell it yourself. That might initially be to an agent. If and when you’ve gained an agent, you still need to be constantly selling. Your agent will need your help to sell your book to a publisher. Your publisher will need your help to sell your book to the public. Your skills as a salesperson will be required at book launches, readings, book signings, Q&A sessions, workshops, conventions. Don’t be surprised if you end up taking your wares to sell directly to your readership at local libraries and schools.
You are selling your book but you are also selling yourself. Even though I find it nauseating to have to think and speak in such terms, you will need to sell yourself as a brand. People want their horror writers to be cool and darkly funny. People want their romance writers to be insightful and personable. People want their science fiction writers to be very, very intelligent. I’m not, for one moment, suggest you pretend to be someone you’re not because that’s just going to end in disaster. I’m suggesting that you accentuate and make more of those aspects of your personality and personal history that relate to your work. If you are an ex-SAS soldier and write thrillers, it would be daft to not mention your past profession in your dealings with others. If you are an ex-SAS soldier and write children’s picture books, it’s probably best to keep quiet about it. Just say you like the great outdoors and travel a lot. Something like that.
The issue of branding is very important for collaborative writers. You are a gestalt entity. You are not the sum of your parts. The similarities you share are interesting, the differences between you even more so. If one of you is a Tokyo housewife and the other is a Caribbean pearl diver then that difference will probably have informed your writing and be of great interest to your readership. A poet and a screenwriter. A lawyer and a social worker. French and English. Young and old. Man and woman. To be more than one person is to be interesting.
To put it another way, in fiction writing there are thousands of writers out there but only dozens of collaborative writing teams. Collaboration is going to be your Unique Selling Point that separates you from the herd. At conventions, launches and other events the question you are guaranteed to be asked is, “how do you write a book when there’s two (or three) of you?” It will sell books, if only so people can try to see the joins in the writing where one writer stops and the other takes over.
However, in terms of branding, you should also consider whether your writing identity is your true names or a single collaborative pseudonym. The successful British thriller writer, Nicci French, is actually husband and wife team Nicci Gerard and Sean French. Grant Naylor, the writer-creator of SF sitcom, Red Dwarf, is Doug Naylor and Rob Grant.
There are numerous reasons for taking this approach and one is perhaps that readers are more comfortable with the notion of one author. A collaboration is not an easy thing and a collaborative work has more scope for being of a poor quality. Multiple authors can make readers suspicious. Did one writer replace the other when the project went wrong? Did one lose interest and the other take over? When was the last time you saw an excellent film with four or more credited scriptwriters? Exactly.
But also a writer’s collaborative work is going to be different to their solo work. Authors may want to consider a collaborative pseudonym in order to help readers distinguish between the writer’s different styles.
There are other reasons as well. Virginia Andrews, author of Flowers in the Attic, has pulled off the amazing feat of writing new novels long after her own death. In recent years, there have been further novels written by posthumous collaborator, Andrew Neiderman. The name ‘Virginia Andrews’ is such a powerful selling tool that it serves the publisher’s needs to keep the name going.
Indeed, one advantage of a shared pseudonym is that it can survive the departure of any one of the collaborators. Perhaps you’ve written a novel together under a shared name. If one collaborator vanishes (death, abduction, getting a proper job, etc), at least the other can continue to write further works without the reading public wondering what has happened to the other guy. In fact, new blood can be injected into the collaboration without a change of name. This can continue ad infinitum. Do you know how many people have written under the name of ‘Ellery Queen’? If you do, please tell Ellery Queen magazine because even they don’t know. It’s a lot.
Handled well, a collaborative pseudonym can create a popular and enduring writing force with a greater output and breadth of writing talent than any individual.
A problem of course arises with the question of who the pseudonym belongs to. As a collaborative pair, can you each use it whenever you like or should it only be used when you are working together? Does it belong to you or the publisher? Can it even be sold on? Could it be possible that, twenty years on, different authors will be writing under the same name, claiming to be the ‘true’ or ‘original’ author? It has happened with pop bands on numerous occasions. There’s no reason why it can’t happen with writing.
Whatever the case, collaboration is an interesting selling point and one you ought to mention in the promotion of your book. Appearing together as a writing pair (or trio or whatever) will draw interest at conventions and festivals.
Being a collaborative team can also be of benefit in other forms of self-promotion. On social media, such as Facebook and Twitter, you have the benefit of having a greater number of friends/followers than individuals. Your social circle is wider. You can reach out to a wider audience. You can retweet/like/whatever each other in a way that seems less boastful and self-serving than promoting yourself does.
Furthermore, if you have solo works available, you can use this wider network to introduce new readers to your work (and each other’s work). If one of you comes from a romance writing background and the other from a fantasy writing background then there may be a chance for some cross pollination, introducing romance readers to fantasy novels and vice versa.
Whether you use a pseudonym or not, whether your collaboration is an exciting mash-up of genres or styles, whether you take advantage of your separate identities to promote your work through social media, you need to make the best use of your collaboration in selling your novel. Your novel won’t sell itself but, as collaborators, you do have advantages (if only superiority of numbers) over the poor solo writer.

Posted in 2012, Reflections, Writing Tagged with: , , ,