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A Group Book Perspective, Part 4 (The End)

Here’s the fourth and final installment of our guest post from Molly Blaisdell about her 4-author collaborative book project. Don’t miss the first segment, the second segment, or the third segment, either!

Q: How did you get your book off the ground?

molly blaisdell

Molly

The first step was world building and character creation. This was lots of fun and exciting. We built the backstory to our world first, settling on our alternative history of a pre-industrial time on Earth — an untamed Europe where the Empire of Rome has fallen and the continent is now wild with barbarians and gangs. Also a burgeoning Brython Empire, with trade colonies instead of settlement colonies in America and Australia as the norm. The Egyptian Empire flourishes, rising into its golden age. The power center of civilization is the pseudo-Byzantine Empire with Constantinople as the seat of power that it is ruled by a Christian and a Muslim emperor together. This reinforces its position as a bastion of stability, humanity, and tolerance.

In this city is an international school for some royalty, some diplomats, and at times, bright scholarship students. This school is a crossroads and the place where our characters first met. We each settled on a character who had attended the school and then returned to our respective homes.  None of this backstory happens in the book except in a few brief flashbacks.

Chris Cheng

Chris Cheng

We shared lots of email to build this history, so our world would have an authentic feel. Several of us had worked on series for various publishers and knew that a bible of information that contained everything from maps to character synopses, plot synopses, history, science, and themes would help us as we moved forward. If we discussed it, it was archived. Whenever anyone got off track, we could go back and check what we agreed to do.

Next, in email and phone conversations, we began to throw out ideas about what would be the problem of our novel.  Soon we knew an evil magician Amosis had made a power grab in Egypt, and he was seeking more power.  We also knew a powerful weapon, the regalia, was kept in the Salt City, and that our characters were going to have to keep the weapon safe.

Chris Eboch

Chris Eboch

We outlined the first few letters and plunged forward. We never had any questions of character or setting after the initial phase of the work. Each of our characters had to accept the quest that was put before them. This only left work on the plot during the actual writing.  We shared many emails to work out the plot on the journey phase. We outlined. Each character had his or her own task and internal problem to overcome before they came together to the international school to face Amosis (the really bad guy). When all of our characters reached the school, we, the authors, had to regroup one more time and outline the darkest moment and the big bad battle. After that, it was a quick wrap to the end. All of this got us to our first draft.

We then went into revision, following the basic pattern of any novel revision. The only difference was that if one of us made a change that affected someone else’s journey, it had to be discussed first.  We didn’t have much of that because of careful work early on. There were a few ruffled feathers during our email discussions, but for most part it was just a dynamic, fun experience. I think what helped the most was our positive attitudes, our real friendship, and strong work ethics.

Louise Spiegler

Louise Spiegler

It took two solid years to complete the project, and it was odyssey full of unusual turns, but, in all, it was one of the most fulfilling things I’ve done as a writer. Currently, our book THE FOUR WINDS has just started to make the agent rounds. Wish us luck; we’ve done the hard part. That said, move forward with your own crazy ideas. I hope you’ve been inspired here, and I wish you luck, too.

Thanks x 4, Molly! (And to Chris C, Chris E, and Louise for allowing their story to be told, too.)

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A Group Book Perspective, Part 3

Here’s the third installment of our guest post from Molly Blaisdell about her 4-author collaborative book project with Chris Eboch, Christopher Cheng, and Louise Spiegler. Read the first segment here and the second segment here.)

Q: How did you keep the novel from dying or finding its way to the circular file?

molly blaisdellPlanning. We identified our strengths. It didn’t take long to figure out we were a bunch of history buffs. All of our published projects reflect a connection with history. We also hit our first snag with this connection. We don’t like the same parts of history. It took a stack of emails to land on an idea that we felt matched the innovation of our book – an alternative history of the world that brought all of our favorite stuff together. In this history what we really love totally converged. This synergistic thought process provided the engine that would drive us forward through our creation process.

Organization.  As a group we took on different responsibilities for the project. We took time to develop a clear outline of the story action and then each of us developed strong characters that would draw readers in. We assigned editors and I took on the “master of the draft” job. I made sure that we always had a current draft that anyone could reserve. To succeed with this kind of a project, organization is paramount.

This is a clipped bit from our actual project agreement to give you a taste of what we devised in the organization stage. This was put together by Chris Eboch:

“Group Book Agreement:

Whenever a question comes up about the Group, decisions will be based on a majority vote.

Each Group member who works on the project from beginning to end will have an equal share of the project, and any proceeds from it (unless the Group votes to award a bonus to one person for special work)…”

Look here for the complete agreement.

Goals. Our willingness to live by real-time deadlines helped make this book fly. It wasn’t a perfect experience. We didn’t always make our deadline goals, but in each instance, we reset the goal to a concrete date.  Thankfully, we are all writers and one thing we all know how to do is wait until someone gets back to us.

Q: What is the novel’s format?

lettersEarly on, we knew that to make this work, our novel needed to be interactive. We settled on an epistolary style to tell our tale. We wrote letters to each other, but also dropped in a few dispatches, historical documents, and journal entries. This turned out to be a great format. Each of us took on the persona of a character. We wrote letters that would reach the whole group and others that would only go to one character specifically; the other documents keep one character and the reader in the know. This format took on a very real feeling of four friends sharing with each other: pacts were made, arguments rose, friendships failed and were restored.

Next Sunday: Our final installment, with more about how the story and the writing itself.

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A Group Book Perspective, Part 2

More from guest blogger Molly Blaisdell about her 4-way collaborative writing project with Chris Cheng, Chris Eboch, and Louise Spiegler. (Read the first segment here.)

molly blaisdellQ: What does it take to make a collaborative manuscript work?

No divas. This is not a type-A personality endeavor, either. If you have to be in charge of everything, this kind of project won’t work for you. It’s best if you understand the idea of true democracy, where everyone has a voice and that voice has something important to say. If you’re a team player, you’re a candidate for a multiple author book.

Beginners are welcome to try this, but it takes some writing skill. Be sure you have “mad” skills before plunging off this cliff. We have over 70 published books all together. Some of us have national awards. All of us have written many book length manuscripts. The plus of this kind of depth of experience is that we know how to work through all kinds of problems – editorial, story, and motivation. And believe me, we needed every bit of our skill depth to pull off our multiple-author book.

Chris Eboch

Chris Eboch

Last, a sense humor is a requirement. You need to be able to laugh off some stuff. Conflict is inevitable with four opinionated writers, and if you are a gloomy Glen/Glenda everyday, this isn’t going to be much fun for anyone. Keeping an upbeat, can-do attitude will make this kind of project pop.

Q: How did you set the project in motion?

The first thing that will open up a project this way is open communication between the participants. For us, this was an energizing part of the project. As the emails rolled in about our ideas, a swell of excitement began to build. With four imaginations at work instead of one, the idea phase was especially rich.

Chris Cheng

Chris Cheng

Another thing we did that helped this project take off was commitment to specific deadlines. We made long term and short term goals. Last of all, from the beginning, our goal was to create something that was centric, a fully fleshed novel, not a string of episodes. This vision is what held the project together until completion.

Q: What kind of technology did you use to create this book?

Louise Spiegler

Louise Spiegler

We call it the ancient technology of email and even more ancient technology of getting together over tea when we could, and if that didn’t work out, we would reach out on prehistoric phones. Over a two year period, we shared around 1000 emails with lengthy discussions about the shape and structure of our novel. So be aware at times this kind of project will be a time suck.

On Sunday: The answer to a big question: “How did you keep the project from dying or finding its way into the circular file?”

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