Friday, November 16, 2007

Co-writing projects--how they work


Since Deanna's and Mandisa's books have come out, I've been regularly receiving letters from lovely  folks who have a story to tell and who want me to tell it. Since I've had to write them back and explain that I'm unable to do so, I thought I might take a moment here to explain how a co-writing gig comes to be. 

When a non-writing celebrity (celebrity is not necessary, but it certainly helps to get the book sold) has a winning idea, they or their agent take it to a publisher and get the book contracted--while it's still an idea or a premise.  Sometimes an editor contacts a celebrity because his or her instincts can sense a good story. 

By the way, what makes a "winning idea?" As I said, celebrity certainly helps, because people want to know more about people they already know a little something about.  But ordinary people can get their stories told if those stories are exceptional, if the storyteller has  been thrust into the public spotlight by an unusual circumstance, and if the book has a meaningful "take-away" for the reader. 

After the idea is contracted, the publisher decides on a publication date and a manuscript due date.  And at some point in this process, the editors look at the writers they have worked with over the years and decide to call one or two to see if they are available to do the writing. 

That's where writers like me step in.  I am not involved before the project is sold, nor am I much involved after the book is published.  Sure, I help the celebrity put their words, thoughts, and experiences down on paper, but the story is theirs, not mine.  So when the book comes out, they go off on a publicity junket and I am happy to stay home and work on my WIP--usually a novel that won't sell nearly as well, but writing novels is what I like to do. :-) 

Don't get me wrong, I enjoy the co-writing projects, too.  I love hearing about people's stories and thinking about what aspects of those stories will move readers--and how to write those stories so they ring with authenticity and snap with drama.  I've written nonfiction for years, so it's nice to flex those muscles every now and again.  

But my heart, my passion, is rooted in my novels.  

So when people ask me about writing their stories, they're putting the cart before the horse. I usually advise them to write their story up as a magazine article or pitch it to a newspaper features editor. If they can sell that, they've made a good beginning.

BTW--I don't know if I've mentioned it, but all the royalties from Deanna's book are going to her charity that helps women with breast cancer. I was paid for my work up front, so everything coming in now is going straight to charity--and that's pretty cool, I think.  

Have a great weekend!  I'm going to enjoy this beautiful fall weather!

~~Angie

2 comments:

jan said...

some of the concepts for a person's story may be great ideas for a novel, if the person doesn't have a problem with you using their story in the form of fiction...just a thought...

Rachelle said...

Thanks for talking about this, Angie. As one who has made a lot of my living as a collaborative writer, I appreciate you explaining how it works! Many people have asked me to help them write their life story or their family's history, and I feel bad because I usually have to say no, too.