Friday, 5 June 2015

Toolkit for Author Collaboration: Part 1


There is no doubt that there is power in authors working together – whether it is through big organisations like the Alliance of Independent Authors, or small collectives like Triskele Books. Working together can reap huge benefits but – a bit like a marriage - it not something that can be undertaken ‘unadvisedly, lightly, or wantonly’.

Every collaboration is unique, dependent on the personalities involved and what they want to achieve, but each one must ask itself similar questions and overcome many of the same challenges.

Our new series of short articles aims to provide some of the tools you need to plan your own cooperative ventures, be they long-term collaborations or one-off projects.

Series 1: Setting up a Collective

  1. Deciding on your objectives / Choosing your travelling companions
  2. Sharing the work / Making a plan / Making it watertight
  3. Spreading the word / Building communities / Keeping it fresh

Series 2: Harnessing the Power of the Group

Maybe you have now set up your author collective, or perhaps you are still thinking about what kind of collaborative project you could undertake. In part two of our short series of articles we will explore ideas for harnessing the power of the group – and provide some case studies of those who have tried it already.


Deciding your objectives

Author collaborations come in many sizes and shapes.

If you are not to run into difficulties and misunderstandings further down the line, it’s important to decide and agree on clear objectives right from the start. Of course, deciding your objectives will to some extent go hand in hand with choosing your travelling companions – which is the subject of the second part of this post.

We’ll get into questions of workload, finance and legalities later, but for now, here are some questions you should ask yourselves up front:

1. Why are you getting together? What do you want to achieve?

2. Is this to be long-term, wide ranging collaboration, like the Triskele Books author collective, or a single, one-off project, e.g. working together on a box-set?

3. What is it that is bringing you together? How would you define your common identity? Do you share a genre (like Notting Hill Press), a location (like Running Fox) or something more nebulous (like Triskele’s A Time and A Place? The clearer you are about this, the easier it will be to market yourselves.

4. If it is to be a long-term collaboration, you still need to set clear, achievable early goals. What do you want to achieve in the first six months? The first year?

5. If it’s a one-off project, is it open ended, or time-limited? Have you set a clear end-point/ break-point?

6. What is the optimal size for the group? (Points to consider here are having enough effort and energy between you for the work you are taking on; being small enough to still know each other well, and having a decision-making process that does not become overly cumbersome.)

7. How will you know if you have achieved your goals? What is your measure of success?

8. How and when will you review what you have achieved?

A view from Five Directions Press:

As often happens, our best and worst decisions are intertwined. The best was our decision to publish together in 2012. We’ve learned a lot in the last three years—about book production, of course, but also about cooperation and our own strengths and limitations. Above all, we recognize that we need to think much more about the business aspects of publishing, especially marketing, than we did at first. That was our worst decision: to put our books out into the world before we knew how to promote them.

But realizing our mistake led to other good decisions: to extend our reach by connecting with coops like Triskele, to raise our profile on social media and the Web, and to team up with a friend who has extensive business experience. Since January, we have defined our mission statement, updated our website, held discussions with local libraries and bookstores, expanded our list of authors, and developed a basic business plan. We still have much to learn, but we’re excited about moving forward as a group.

Choosing your travelling companions

When you a working together with other authors, everything you do and say reflects to some extent on everyone in the group. And whether you stand or fall depends on everyone playing their part. So whether you are getting together for a one-off project or a long-term collaboration, it’s important to choose your travelling companions with care.

Here are some questions you should ask yourselves when deciding who you want to work with:

1. Do you know and enjoy one another’s work? Would you be proud to see your work on the shelf next to theirs?

2. Can you describe, clearly and succinctly, what brings you together – your common identity?

3. Do you all understand and share the objectives for your project, be-it long-term or a one-off?

4. Do you understand what each of you brings to the table in terms of skills, available workload etc? Does it match expectations?

5. Do you share common standards when it comes to design, editing etc?*

There are inevitably going to be tough times ahead. So here are some really tough questions:

6. Do you trust one another?

7. Do you know that you can each accept criticism without taking it personally?

8. Do you have confidence that each person can deliver what is expected of them on-time and to a good standard, and that they will give timely warnings of any unavoidable problems?

The worst decision we made was not to put in place a vetting process to check standards at the beginning. We weren't going to throw anyone out who hyphenated a compound adjective when it should not have been but we did want to ensure that the CHINDI brand as it developed had some level of quality. We now ask all new members to submit three copies of their book for a basic review of punctuation, layout and cover design. Most of us use different fonts and I controversially left-justify my text as I write kid's books and wanted to copy other authors' books I admired. So there is no one CHINDI way of doing things. One potential member presented a book with 27 errors in the first chapter and said, 'the book would live or die on its merits'. She did not join the group, and her book is now buried near a Siamese cat in Chichester Cemetery.

Look out for the next post in this series: Sharing the work / Making a plan / Making it watertight

1 comment:

  1. Thank you, Triskelites, for sharing the secrets of your success here with these very practical guidelines drawing on your own experience, and on that of CHINDI and Five Directions Press. Although I'm not in a collective myself, the benefits are very alluring, and I do think that even informal, one-off collaborations such as combining to produce an anthology or a box set with a like-minded group of authors can only ever increase the group's overall success, compared to them each operating alone. It's definitely something I will continue to consider, and I look forward to reading the rest of your series.