It’s All About Collaboration

I was completely impressed with how many of you chimed in on Friday’s post on You: The Marketing Machine. You eloquently expressed your enthusiasm, your dread, and/or your ambivalence about the need to market your own book.

One of the themes that cropped up frequently was the romantic fantasy of the writer as a loner, holed up in his/her writing cave, emerging to deliver a masterpiece to the publisher, then retreating once again to remain forever invisible while the book took care of selling itself. (I completely relate to this, by the way.)

It got me to thinking about one of the truths of publishing that doesn’t seem to be addressed or acknowledged often enough:

Publishing is a collaborative art.

It’s like the whole world conspires to persist in the fantasy of a book as the product of a single brilliant individual. I think we all love this fantasy, the readers most of all. Even those of us involved in the business of creating books can succumb to it once in awhile.

It’s true that the book is primarily the product of you, the author. But in general, I’d say that most books end up to be roughly 75% the author, 25% everyone else involved in bringing the book to market.

For some authors, the percentages may be different. For self-published authors, the percentages don’t apply because you’re making the intentional decision to decline collaboration and instead, do it mostly yourself. But for most, this is probably about right.

Yes, you may spend months or years of your life digging that book up from deep down inside you, and wrestling it to the page. You may have birthed it in pain and agony. You’ve given it your all.

But when you’re done with it:

→ An editor will edit it.
→ A copyeditor will copyedit.
→ A proofreader will proofread.
→ A designer will design and typeset the interior.
→ Another designer will create a cover.
→ A marketing team will consider your title and perhaps give you a new one.
→ A sales team will pitch it to buyers.
→ A printing company will print your book.
→ Bookstores will sell your book.

You get the picture. By the time your book arrives in the hands of a consumer, dozens of people have played an important role in getting it there.

You’re the one who gets the ball rolling. You’re the most important part of this collaborative team. Without you, no one else on the team has a job.

Just remember the collaborative nature of this art, this business. Don’t get too used to the fantasy of the solo artist in a cave, toiling alone. If that’s the life you want, self-publishing is a terrific option for you. (But you’ll still have to emerge from your cave to market and sell.)

→ Have you thought about the collaborative nature of publishing a book? Are you okay with it?
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  • Sulci Collective

    >Tee hee Rachel, I didn't see the agent on the list of collaborators!

    Of course you are right. Though self-publishing probably demands an even greater number of collaborators through social networking in order to promote and also get tips about promoting your book. Just few of those collaborators have formal job titles.

  • Ellen B

    >I love the idea of a collaborative process. All those experienced people helping to make my poor little book better? Bring it on!

  • Jill

    >I've heard many authors praising their editors and agents for helping them make their book the best it can be. I think the collaborative process helps to take the book further than I can take it on my own. Okay with it? Absolutely!

  • Kristi Faith

    >As much as I love writing, I love people. I have always thought about the collaboration aspect of writing. Even before we hit the world of publishing-we have critique groups, or maybe one person that continually provides feedback and I thrive on it. I can't wait to make my first novel a team effort!!

  • ginny martyn

    >hummm…I didn’t see name dropping, shameless plugs or cyber-stalking on that list. Oh, right-those things are obnoxious.

  • Timothy Fish

    >I don't think it's the collaboration that scares many of us, but the lack thereof. The trend with many publishers seems to be "send us your manuscript and we'll do our best to turn it into a book filled with errors for you to try to sell." We read books. We know what the publishers are putting out there. Colleen Coble, a few weeks ago, wrote about an editor who went out of her way to insert errors into her manuscript. To their credit, Thomas Nelson was quick to resolve the problem, but considering Thomas Nelson seems to have a pretty good handle on quality control, some of these other publishers are scary business. As an author, I know I make mistakes. I would love to have someone else help make the my writing better. I studied Computer Science. The closest I got to a Marketing classroom was that the Computer Science department was in same building. I would love to have someone help me with marketing. No, it isn't that we want less collaboration; we want more of it. It isn't that we don't want to be part of a team; we want to be part of a team that functions like a team should, in which each team member does what he does best and no one person has to do it all. Yeah, we want collaboration, but we want our collaborators to do their part.

  • Buffy Andrews

    >I can't imagine it being anything but collaborative. I want my book to be the best it can be, from the writing to the cover design. And every member of the team plays an important part to help make that happen. In fact, I expect each member of the team to do their best, just as I expect the best from myself. I must be a little unusual because I definitely don't get the being-alone-in-the-cave stuff. I'm much too social for that. I know my reporters expect that I am going to edit them hard, challenging them and pushing them to turn out the best piece possible. That's part of my commitment to them. It would be great to work with a team on a book who all felt that way. So, yeah, go Team!

  • Katie Ganshert

    >Oh my goodness, I couldn't agree more!

    Although I've written my stories, they would be nowhere near as polished and engaging as they are without collaborating with my crit partner(s) and my mentor. Plus the feedback from contest judges.

    One thing that excites me about working with an agent is being able to bounce my ideas off a professional in the industry before jumping into my book. Sometimes, as I write, I find myself wishing I could just talk to somebody who knows more than I do and see if I'm on the right track.

    Thankfully, God's blessed me with a mentor, which has really helped.

  • David F. Weisman

    >With all the online writers workshops I've been through, you could add a few percent for 'others' to my manuscript. Apart from anything else, its hard to write for a whole year without any encouraging feedback at all.

  • Lisa Jordan

    >Right now, I have a fantasy of one uninterrupted day to write. Holing myself in my she cave to write for days on end seems like forbidden utopia…sigh, maybe someday. For now I use stolen moments to write.

    When my novel is completed, I know I won't be able to handle the rest of the publishing process on my own. It's great to know there are others more experienced to take my book and create it into a salable product. After all, they have a vested interest in making it a success. Collaboration is key in the writing world. And, I'm totally okay with it.

  • Krista Phillips

    >I agree… totally all about the collaboration in writing my book. I am completely aware of my imperfectness and lack of ability to "do it all."

    I also agree with Lisa… I dream of ONE day of uninterrupted writing…. ahhhh, someday!

  • CKHB

    >The only collaboration that would ever give me pause is one where the editorial suggestions might somehow conflict with the author's vision of the book. But that's why we all want the PERFECT agent and editor for our books, right? Because that way we're more likely to get someone who loves our books like we do, and more likely to get suggestions that enhance the book, not detract from it.

    I do wonder how extensive some changes are, though… Rachelle, can you tell us some more about what is done with a book that needs "heavy" editing? (but is still good enough to be worth representing and publishing, of course)

  • GhostFolk.com

    >Great post, great comments!

    Here's the collaborator I think about the most: the reader. I've always thought of writing as a collaboration with the reader. How they participate is important to me.

    For your list, this might be the "book buyer." But it's really the reader I think most about when I design a story.

    Do "book reviewers" perhaps belong on the list?

  • Sharon A. Lavy

    >Rachelle your blog is the only one I read on a daily basis. Even now that I know you do not represent what I write. Why? Because you are constantly prodding us to do better, learn more and be realistic.

  • Lydia Sharp

    >You're the one who gets the ball rolling. You're the most important part of this collaborative team. Without you, no one else on the team has a job.

    Even with all the teamwork and collaboration involved, I still want to frame the above comment.

    To answer your question, yes, I've thought about it quite a bit, and yes, I'm definitely okay with it. The thought of trying to do all that stuff on my own is downright terrifying. My "day job" also involves working as a team, and recognizing the important role of everyone from top to bottom, so I understand this concept very well.

    And I'd like to say ditto to Sharon's comment. You don't represent what I write either, but I read your blog every day and have you linked in the sidebar of my blog as well.

  • Janna Qualman

    >Since I can think about how the most influential moments of my life have been collaborative, this actually comforts me. What a good thing not to have to go it alone!

    Also, to think about self-publishing as a sort of refusal to collaborate, to get help, well, that's the most concise definition I've heard. And it makes sense.

  • Dee Yoder

    >I'm more than Ok with collaboration–polish away!

  • Anonymous

    >Sure, collaboration is great if the people involved put out their best efforts. But I've heard horror stories about difficult or sloppy editors, apathetic agents and publishers, non-existent marketing/PR people, revolving editors, etc.
    Bottom line: No one cares more about the book than the author.

  • Carol Benedict

    >I'm happy to be part of a team instead of solely responsible for getting my work published. That leaves more time for me to do the things I enjoy and am good at rather than having to learn how to do the jobs the "collaborators" have already mastered.

  • Rachel Starr Thomson

    >Collaboration is still an excellent idea for independently published authors — even if it's not entirely necessary — because it will always improve a book. The biggest difference is that a self-published author has more ultimate control over that process. I send nearly all of my writing, including short pieces but especially novels and other books, to beta readers for critique so I can revise with some understanding of how a reader will take what I've written. And even if I didn't freelance edit, I would recommend that self-publishing authors hire a freelance editor if they possibly can. An editor's expertise and fresh eyes are invaluable.

    And as others have commented, once you've independently published, you've got to do a TON of networking if you hope to sell anything.

    Evidently collaboration is something we can't get away from, so it's a good things its results are generally positive!

  • Marla Taviano

    >Two of my books required very little editing. The editors thanked me for my "clean copy" and published them very much "as is."

    For one, my editor called me to chat about "softening my words" and I went back through the whole thing and talked nicer.

    For my latest book, my editor and I worked together on the whole project. She had ideas. I loved them. I wrote as we went along.

    All that to say that I've experience several different levels of collaboration. Enjoyed them all.

  • Reggie

    >Looks like to get a book marketed I'll need to tap into both my introvert and extrovert tendencies.

  • yarnbuck

    >I think the definition of a fool is someone who's wise in his own eyes. In marriage we call that selfish. In sports, uncoachable. In business, limited.

    Give me the team any day. I've served too many Boards and had too many B'days to think I have a lock on quality or Truth.

  • Thaddeus Glapp

    >"For self-published authors, the percentages don't apply because you're making the intentional decision to decline collaboration and instead, do it mostly yourself."

    I'm going to take this to task.

    Self-Publishing is often just as collaborative as the traditional route. The reason I'm independently publishing is not because I've opted out of collaboration but because I prefer to opt out of sacrificing my work to the whim of a system that I think is fundamentally flawed.

    In fact, the process is more collaborative than working with a publisher. I decide who edits my MS, I hire them, I negotiate the price. I hire the designer and develop a relationship and work with her every step of the way. I take in the advice and perspectives of the many people working on the project and take very seriously my job of determining the direction that it ought to go based on that collaboration.

    By contrast, others I know who have traditionally published are comparatively uninvolved with their work's journey, often to the point of frustration.

    "Self"-publishing is anything but. That's why I prefer the term independent publishing.

  • David Fields

    >To answer the question posed in the blog, I have to say, "Yes, I have." On the other hand, this makes the process that much more difficult for a new writer because he (or she) still has to convince *someone* to even consider the work. Cryptic rejection letters saying something like, "Have you considered submitting your manuscript to a graphic novel publisher," is almost more depressing when the author has no skill with any craft but wordsmithing and doesn''t know an artist to make it possible. In my own case, it took me 25 years to realize I was writing far too visually, trying to make the action and scenes carry the story rather than the characters themselves. (I expect even my latest efforts will get the same kind of rejection if it's not a form letter.)

    My point is: I'm aware of everyone that can get involved, but how can you really improve if someone doesn't come right out and tell you what's wrong with it? As a writer, I'm not willing to pay for an independent editor to tell me, "It's a piece of ****," when what I'm wanting is to know what's working and what isn't. Friends are really no good, and what writing groups I've attended have ended up bloating a 100,000-word manuscript to over 220,000 without ever really improving the work itself.

    This is where an agent is likely to be helpful, but even they do little more than saying, "I can't market this." Where does the writer get that even momentary one-on-one guidance?

  • Lynnda – Passionate for the Glory of God

    >Good morning, Rachelle,

    Yes, I am OK with the collaborative nature of publishing a book, whether traditionally published or independently published.

    I would like to take your percentages one level deeper. I think that for traditional publishing, the author is 85% responsible for the MANUSCRIPT with collaborators responsible for the other 15%. For the BOOK on the other hand, I think the publishing team is responsible for 75% of the work and the author responsible for the other 25%.

    For independent publishing, the leadership responsibilities never shift. In that case, the percentage is probably closer to 70% responsibility for the author for the whole process.

    I have a question. You stated "But when you're done with it:" Is an author ever "done" with their book?

    Be blessed,

    Lynnda

  • Connie Brzowski

    >My reason for exiting the cave in the first place is twofold—the current WIP doesn't need a match (inferring those that came before could use a good torching) and an awareness of reaching the Churn Stage. Ready or not, this puppy needs professional input to improve.

    After endless workshop-induced revisions and countless peer critiques, one day you find yourself staring at the screen, wringing the life out of your manuscript. Revisions become an exercise in finding yet one more way to rearrange the words on screen without actual improvement.

    I love my story. I’m not married to the words. Anyone who can help peel away the layers and find the gooey center will be my hero forevermore.

  • J. R. McLemore

    >I used to believe in the fantasy of the author toiling in seclusion to produce his/her work, but now that I'm nearly finished with my first novel, my eyes have been opened. I read this blog and countless others by agents, editors, and other authors to dip my toe into the publishing waters in order to prepare myself for the plunge when it's time. I can't praise the authors of these blogs enough for their insight about the industry and the knowledge new authors like me need to arm themselves before entering the publishing world. I just hope I can make it to the book deal milestone. I'm trying to prepare myself for marketing my work even now and the first book isn't even finished.

  • Elizabeth

    >Thank you so much for this post! I'm actually totally relieved (and excited!) to know that so many people are involved in the process of bringing a book to market.

    And thank you for writing such a helpful and informative blog. It has been such an inspiration for me!

    Elizabeth Esther

  • CMOM Productions

    >I love feedback and the thought of people working together to produce a product that hopefully reaches a wider range. One person can't do it all alone. It would be nice to have the address to a quiet weekend cave though, one with a soundproof (yet entertaining) children's area.

  • Bex and the Bookends

    >I don't believe any book can go to market at its best without collaboration with at least a quality editor. No matter how good the author is at editing, he will never do as good a job as a third party with fresh eyes.

    The good thing with online writing workshops is that you get used to collaborating with others while you still have full control. Once you learn to take feedback well from peers, it will be easier to deal with a professional editor.

  • Arabella

    >I would love collaboration; what a relief it would be. I'm w/ Timothy Fish, though. I could only wish that collaboration meant that a marketing team worked at marketing my book. I loved reading about the author Rachelle highlighted in her marketing article–I thought, anybody could do that, and it might be fun. Sure, anybody could do it, but not everybody is going to have her success. Unfortunately, some of us are invisible plain-Janes who lack dynamic personalities. Life has taught me that lesson in many cruel ways. Those who don't know what it's like (my husband, for example) tell me to learn to be a different person. Ha, ha–that's easier said than done. That's why I'd love collaboration.

  • Rebecca Knight

    >I first started thinking about this when I started reading the acknowledgement sections in books :).

    In fact, even though I'm still polishing my MS, I already have a list at least 10 deep of people who were crucial parts of shaping my novel.

    Seclusion isn't for me :). I am extremely grateful for all the folks who've already made a difference in my writing for the better!

  • Kathy Rockel

    >What a great post and so true. I published a book in 2005 and while the original "dream" was mine, it had to become the dream of the editor, publisher and the entire team for it to work. Without the collaboration, that book would still be a dream in my head. Thanks for reminding us of that.

  • Kate

    >Another really interesting post. I actually think it is really important to listen to harsh criticism occasionally – either you passionately disagree which promotes you to prove them wrong or you can use it to get better.

    Kate xx

  • Tee

    >I know this about myself from writing long editorial features — by the time I've spent all those hundreds of hours with my book, I'll be glad for the stage when I hand it off to the next relay team. Having many talented hands in a project almost always raises the work to a higher level.

    That said, it did remind me of one question I had: do publishing houses typically use freelancers or staffers for book design? Are they open to recommendations/referrals from authors for talented book designers?

  • ChrisB

    >I'm all for collaboration. With marketing, the issue is whether my part of the collaboration should include functions for which I have talent, training, or interest.

    The reality is what it is, but I wish publishers weren't expecting authors to be marketers.

  • Dara

    >I'm definitely OK with it! I couldn't do any of that…which is why I don't think I could ever consider self publishing.

    Not looking forward to the marketing aspect but there are aspects to every job that one doesn't like. Besides, I'm generally a people person, although I always get tongue tied when talking one on one or in groups, despite the fact I genuinely like socializing. I suppose the part of marketing myself that terrifies me the most is talking in front of dozens of people…eek!

  • T. Anne

    >I'd so welcome the collaboration! If anything, the querying process has taught me to appreciate publication when it comes.

  • arlee bird

    >As GhostFolk.com touched upon, I think one of the most important collaborations is with your fanbase or "your customers". Especially for the writer starting out to may writing a income generation profession, there has to be some shameless self-promotion and the more folks you have on board helping you the better the journey. I think of a dear friend of mine who is in the music business. He has put out numerous CD's and DVD's on his own and plays various venues continuously. He keeps active profiles on Facebook, MySpace, his own website, and wherever else he can promote himself– in other words he's is not timid in his persistence. Over the years he has developed such a strong following through the acquistion, care, and maintenance of his fans that now most are loyal followers who help promote his agenda. And even if he doesn't become a "star", he works steady and makes a living off of what he loves to do. Friends, family, and fans can be some of the strongest contributors to your success.

  • Anne L.B.

    >I'll chime in with the comments that wondered where, on the list of collaborators, was the place for AGENT.

    In my mind, I see that list of collaborators with Author and Agent as bookends. I've been surprised to discover how much an agent (at least mine) has to do with the writing process itself, by provoking authors to simply keep on keeping on through the whole process, from writing to royalties.

  • Ann Victor

    >Talk about synchronicity! I've just discussed this topic in today's part of a series of blogposts I wrote called "Writing Tips: In Pursuit of Excellence" (which was going to be my entry into your guest post blog challenge, but grew too long to be entered!) Only I called it "Team Spirit".

    It's taken a long time for me to get to the point of abandoning the delicious fantasy of being a lone writer suffering in an attic to produce a work of art. And in some ways it's quite a relief to know that when I'm published I can concentrate on writing the stories and let others worry about the other bits and bobs! :)

  • robertsloan2art

    >I used to dread that collaborative aspect — especially with warnings from pro authors about proofreaders putting typos IN that weren't there in the manuscript or editors savaging a book's theme or meaning. Till I actually sold pro stories and found out how good the editors are at making what you sent shine even better.

    They liked your theme and idea or wouldn't bother buying it or taking that close a look at it. Their advice is a lot like what you get standing back from a painting — they can see a few changes that make the whole even more intensely what you intended.

    They're good at what they do and are the only actual teachers fiction writers ever really get, so it's good to submit anything and everything early and often. Any comment or critique from an editor is real help to be appreciated. And of course getting paid is the best compliment.

    Robert A. Sloan

  • elizabethfais

    >Amen. It takes a village!

  • Kimberlee Conway Ireton

    >I think readers are among the biggest collaborators, especially those who read early drafts and tell us what's working and what's not.

    Before I sent my book manuscript to my publisher in 2007, I asked five reading friends to critique it. Then I incorporated their changes into my manuscript–even re-writing an entire chapter because readers thought it didn't work.

    Then, when I turned the manuscript in to my publisher, they sent it out to four more readers–people they hire to read manuscripts and make comments and suggestions. These readers were immensely helpful as well, and between their comments and my editor's I ended up rewriting two more chapters and making significant changes to a third.

    Because of all this reader feedback my book was much stronger. It wasn't always easy to hear that my writing wasn't resonating with readers or that they vehemently disagreed with me. But I'm so grateful for their critiques: I shudder to think how I would feel about my book if that first draft that I gave to my reader friends was the one that got published. Eek!

    So here's to collaboration–especially when it makes us stronger and our writing better!

  • Jessica

    >I've thought about it and am fine with it.
    It's almost like the writer is the painter, but the agents, editors and marketers are the paints and the brushes, each one changing the work somehow but the work remains intrinsically the painter's.
    If that makes any sense. I don't know because watching kids exhausts me. (yes, they're my own, LOL)

  • Andrew

    >Wherever two or more of you are gathered…

    If Christianity has collaboration as its heart, yeah, I'm okay with collaborating on books.

  • Roxane B. Salonen

    >Actually, realizing that the birth of a book is a collaboration was very freeing to me when it came to my undeniable attention several years ago. I discovered this through the process of writing and publishing (traditional) my children's books. Even the writing part was collaborative. I had trusted readers look over my work and make suggestions. From that point on, once I accepted that I needed that input, that it was extremely valuable, I was cued in to how NOT solitary the book-writing venture is after all. Once I understood that, a lot changed. It isn't all about us, and that's a good thing. We need one another for success to come fully. So, I am really okay with it. "It takes a village…" :)

  • Tamika:

    >Rachelle before reading your blog and dreaming of publication, I was lost on the process of bringing a book to fruitation. So for your knowledge, thank you.

    I am open to the entire process. The part that makes me stomach flutter above all is the querying process, the beginning to finding people other than myself who believe in my work.

    Another great post!

  • Holly

    >I'm with Anne. My first thought was, 'she didn't include AGENT!' That made me smile. I find it a relief that there's a team effort to finish the product. Someone's gotta catch the crazy stuff that comes out of our heads before it gets out to the public!

  • Skipperhammond@gmail.com

    >My critique group borders on being a writing team. Frequently members go home from a meeting to puzzle over how to strengthen something in another member's writing.
    And what joy we share when something works or someone's book is bought.

  • Stephanie

    >Hi Rachelle-
    I love team work and collaboration. For me, I love the idea of others being a part of the team that makes my work, well, work.
    I look forward to that day, right now I am in the cave mostly on my own, with an occasional break for sun and food and to talk on the phone with my editor.
    Queries…here I come soon!
    Stephanie

  • Anonymous

    >Yay collaboration – until the selling part comes up. Wah wah, do I really have to start a blog, make a web page, keep up with people on Twitter and Facebook, and do all the social things that make hermits wake up gasping and choking and clawing for air? Is this why it's taking me so long to finish my book?
    (What a whiner I am! There are scarier and more painful things than trying to share your book with the world — aren't there?)

  • Rowenna

    >Most of the collaborative process excites and interests me. A book that's only as good as I can make it isn't as good as it could be, period. There are very, very few changes or ideas that someone could suggest that I would disagree completely with, and, honestly, if that happened, I hope that I could judge if continuing with that team towards publication was a good choice. (Plot changes to include sex before marriage would be one, for example–I'm just ethically not ok with that happening with these characters.)

    The only part that makes me nervous is that I worry that some editors or designers might think that they're expert enough in the topic–I write historical fiction–to suggest changes or create covers that I'll know are inaccurate. I worry because I've seen soooo many HF book covers that are just plain wrong, and find errors in historical detail in the text all the time. I'm, er, anal like that.

  • Anonymous

    >I disagree with what you said about self-published authors not being collaborative. I am getting my book self-published for the simple fact that I don't want to lose the rights to what I have pain stakingly put out. I collaborate extensively within my circle of friends and professionals that I have had the pleasure to meet. They help me point out flaws or ways to improve my writing – essential to any good writer! I also have a working staff to help with cover style and design as well as editors that look over every detail.

    I think too often literary agents and the like sell people like me short. There is this misperception that if you are self-published you are somehow unworthy of publication at all. I'm assuming those people don't appreciate the success of "The Shack" or other successfully self-published ventures?

    I'm just saying…God calls people to do all sorts of things, and going the self-published route was exactly the path that He set before me. I am a full time mom, I work two part time jobs and cavorting at conferences and going to seminars, though not the preferred option, is not an option for me. I'm just saying…I appreciate what you do, but give us little guys a break.

    His, lambb@bellsouth.net

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