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The Art of Collaboration

By Colleen Coble

Collaboration. It can strike terror into the hearts of writers everywhere. We writers tend to be an independent lot, but collaboration is at the heart of everything I do, and it will help you if you accept how beneficial it can be.

The first time I got an editorial letter from Ami McConnell, I nearly fainted. It was fifteen single-spaced pages! After I reread it, I realized how much better the book would be if I took those suggestions to heart. It’s been ten years since that first letter came, and I’ve only learned to love the collaborative effort more and more. Now I wouldn’t even dream of writing until I’ve brainstormed the story idea with my buds. And I wouldn’t want readers to see a book until it’s been through the editorial process.

Here is my collaborative process.

1. I check my email obsessively because I’m so eager for the input. When it arrives, I jump in with both feet, all the while exclaiming of the letter’s brilliance to my husband. :)

2. I print it out and highlight the easy areas so I can make those changes first.

3. I sleep on anything I’m unsure of. Ami always tells me it’s my story and I don’t have to take her suggestions. There have been a few times when a suggestion didn’t feel right for the character or story, but not many. I make sure I’m not being defensive before I talk to her about any disagreement.

4. Now it’s time to get out the 3 X 5 cards. I jot down character enhancements suggestions so I can be aware of things I want to bring out as I go through the novel again.

5. Plot suggestions are put on another card so I can look for places to drop those things into the story.

6. Making changes: I do the easy things first like fixing where my blue-eyed heroine has brown eyes. :)

7. Next I make plot and character changes. This sometimes entails moving scenes around and adding in new scenes.

8. Final read through where I make sure all the time line issues are correct, and I look for anything else I missed.

The collaborative effort with editors made a full-scale collaboration with my friends more fun when we got the opportunity to do the Smitten collection. I think we all worried if collaborating would affect our friendship, but it was fun. Focusing on what we laugh about in our personalities made us appreciate our friendship even more. Secretly Smitten ships soon, and it was even more tightly integrated than Smitten.

Learning to collaborate helps you take your hands off and look at the word critically. How about you? What is your collaborative process with your editor? Do you love it or resist it?


Best-selling author Colleen Coble’s novels have won or finaled in awards ranging from the Best Books of Indiana, the ACFW Carol Award, the Romance Writers of America RITA, the Holt Medallion, the Daphne du Maurier, National Readers’ Choice, and the Booksellers Best. She has over 2 million books in print and writes romantic mysteries because she loves to see justice prevail. Colleen is CEO of American Christian Fiction Writers. She lives with her husband Dave in Indiana. Visit her website at www.colleencoble.com.

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5 Responses to The Art of Collaboration

  1. Iola says:

    I’m currently reading a review copy of Secretly Smitten, and I’m already seeing the integration of the characters and plot in the different storylines.

    But I’ve also recently read another fascinating collaboration: The Greenfield Legacy, by four Australian Christian authors. They go one step further than the four integrated novellas in the Smitten collection, in that each author has taken a character, and writes all the chapters for that one character, with chapters flipping between the characters. Really interesting!

  2. It sounds interesting, Lola!

  3. Colleen, Great post. I have to confess that while you’re eager, I’m ambivalent–hoping for that never-yet-experienced message of “this is great, don’t change a thing,” yet dreading the rewrites I know are coming.

    After I’m over my allotted time of pouting, I print off the editorial letter and read through all the suggestions. Like you, I do the easy fixes first, all the while grumbling about the big ones and thinking how best to do it. But after I’ve finished, I take pride in the product. It may not take a village to write a novel, but it certainly takes an author together with an editorial team.

    Thanks for sharing.

  4. Not everyone is as enthusiastic as me, Richard, but it’s great your recognize how valuable your team is! Some authors never really see it.

  5. Colleen, since you’re my FB friend I see all your posts and think, I don’t know how this woman gets all these things done! You’re my heroine. I have read several of your books. I even got your first one, Belinda, recently and read it. I still have a lot on my Kindle to read…in my sparse spare time. I’m an author, too — a novice compared to you. I’m looking to get into a critique group next. I enjoyed your encouraging blog.