On the Road Again + Collaboration Quessie

Or getting in a plane again. This time to Istanbul, which is a city I’ve never been before. Am I excited? Yes, I am. But it does mean that blogging may not be as every single day as I like it to be. Might be a couple of weeks before normal service resumes. On the other hand, there may be kickarse wireless in the hotel and I’ll blog like a demon. Just to keep you on your toes.

Have fun in my absence—I know it will be hard—and patient with my slow response to emails and questions etc. If you do have any quessies for me the best way to get a response is to go to the FAQs and ask there. I check them regularly. Whereas questions asked on regular posts often go unanswered. Sorry bout that.

I have a question for youse lot though: What do you feel about novels written in collaboration? I’ve heard some readers won’t touch them, which I find really odd. But I’m curious to know if it’s a widespread feeling. You don’t see that many bestselling collaborations, though there are a few. (I’m excluding ghostwritten books.) I’ve always wanted to do one but the opportunity has never arisen.

Thanks for your answers.


  1. Miriam on #

    Are you talking about two people co-writing a book, (which is not uncommon in some genres) about a collection of stories written in a shared world, or something else?

    I don’t have a problem with either of the first two and I’ve read shining examples of both.

    Also, thanks to you, I now have this song in my head…

    Istanbul was Constantinople
    Now it’s Istanbul, not Constantinople
    Been a long time gone, Constantinople
    Now it’s Turkish delight on a moonlit night

    Every gal in Constantinople
    Lives in Istanbul, not Constantinople
    So if you’ve a date in Constantinople
    She’ll be waiting in Istanbul

  2. Mike on #

    Collaborations can go either way. I’ve enjoyed books by Larry Niven/Jerry Pournelle, Dave Freer/Eric Flint, David Weber/Steve White, and Anne MacCaffrey/Elizabeth Moon. A few books by other collaborators, not so much, even though I might have enjoyed a book written solo by one of the collaborating authors.

    I wouldn’t turn away from a new book simply because it’s a collaboration.

  3. Dan Goodman on #

    My experience: the results can be very good or very bad. When it works well, it’s as if the collaboration is a third author, with the strengths of both collaborators and also strengths which neither has alone.

    When it works badly? It’s worse than either could manage alone.

  4. Christie on #

    I don’t avoid collaborations– I seek them out. When they’re good, they’re really awesome! Unfortunately, I find that they disappoint me more often than they thrill me. It doesn’t stop me from reading them, though, because I’m always hopeful. Plus, I’m intrigued by the different ways people find to collaborate.

    I think it would be great fun to write a collaboration!

  5. Zeborah on #

    I’m fine with it if the authors know each other and have a story that they want to tell together. But I’m innately sceptical of it when I see the publishing house pairing up authors regularly to churn out the collaborations; I can’t trust that it’s anything more than work for hire. And I’m sure that some work for hire is great, and I’m sure that some just-for-the-art collaborations suck. But the work-for-hire version of it just… squicks me.

    Kind of like Tuckerisations. There’s nothing morally wrong with them, I just hate them. I don’t want real life intruding in my leisure reading unless it’s to enhance suspension of disbelief, and for me Tuckerisations break it. Mileage varies; I know other readers who love the things.

  6. El on #

    Miriam: Shucks, you beat me to it! (Note: song is by They Might Be Giants.)

    As for collaborations: I’ll usually give them a shot if I like at least one of the authors. (I assume you’re talking about authors who are established individually–authors who write together from the start are pretty much the equivalent of a single author as far as how they got into the biz and into my field of view.)

    I might add that often the first collaboration falls short, but a second or third might be the duo/trio/whatever finding their feet. If they still come off as awkward after a couple of tries, I’ll likely pass.

  7. Joe Iriarte on #

    I’ve seen it go either way. All the best collaborations I can think of seem to be husband and wife ones. I love the books by Debra Doyle and James MacDonald. And I haven’t read it, but I know Steven Gould and Laura Mixon wrote one together–I haven’t found the thing in a store ever, and I haven’t quite cared enough to order it from an online retailer. Yet. I seem to recall that Spider Robinson and his wife have cowritten stuff and that it worked. However, there are a couple of authors I can think of who late in their careers started mostly cowriting books, and it seemed as if the cowritten books were really just written by the junior name on the cover. Honestly, I felt a little taken advantage of, being pitched the books as though they were at least partially by so-and-so when the apparent reality was that so-and-so provided mostly a name and maybe some plot consultation. I can also recall one genuine collaboration by an author I’ve usually enjoyed, where the collaboration is one of my least favorite of his books.

    So I don’t make any default assumptions when I see a collaboration (as long as it’s not the venerable author plus total unknown pairing).

  8. Allyx on #

    Collaborations can work amazingly well. One of my favourite reads is The Talisman by Stephen King and Peter Straub. I’m not sure what their writing process was, but it is a work of fantasy genius!

  9. Elle on #

    I really think it depends on the authors involved, for instance I’m really excited about reading Will Grayson, Will Grayson because it’s two of my favorite authors writing together. Although I think that even with that sometimes I just won’t like the book itself which can happen with a single author who’s books i have liked before too.

  10. Alex on #

    Humn. I’ve only encountered them in fanfic, and then I’ve only read them when it’s been two authors I already know and trust. In that (very, very narrow) field, I think they’re great. They can, as previously stated, really emphasis two authors strengths, especially when they complement each other.

    If its two authors I’ve never heard of in a situation where I actually have to pay money, I admit I have a reflex aversion, which doesn’t really make sense, but their you have it. I want to know what their relationship is first, weirdly, before I trust that they can write a good book together. I know that this is in no way logical, it’s a purely emotional response, but I can’t kick it. So yeah.

  11. Autumn on #

    I’m going to quibble: ‘Istanbul (Not Constantinople)’ isn’t by TMBG; they covered it. It was originally released in ’53 by The Four Lads. Although I do adore the TMBG version, especially the live one. (People make the same error with ‘Why Does The Sun Shine?’, which was released by Tom Glazer in ’59. I know, TMBG’s versions rock; there’s a reason why they’re better known than the originals.)

    Collaborations can succeed or fail, just as books by a single author can. They usually intrigue me, though, because I’m curious to see how the process, well, produces something. Pat Wrede and Caroline Stevermer, Gaiman and Pratchett: these, I think, succeed. Other times it’s a newer author writing in an established author’s world, though, with a co-authorial credit, and those usually don’t grab me.

  12. Ellen on #

    Some of my favorite books as a kid were collaborations (Elvenbane by Andre Norton and Mercedes Lackey, for example), so I guess it never bothered me? And when both authors bring their own flair to the table (ala Good Omens) it can create a whole new kind of (fantastic) book that I don’t know if either author could have produced working on his or her own.

  13. Justine on #

    Autumn: Thank you! I let out a little yell when El claimed They Might Be Giants penned “Istanbul (Not Constantinople)”. Please!

    By the way, every time I’ve mentioned I’m going to Istanbul the person has started singing that song. I now feel really sorry for anyone who’s from Istanbul and moves here. I bet within a week when asked where they’re from they say, “Des Moines. I’m from Des Moines.”

  14. Kristan on #

    You never had the opportunity? What about your hubby?

    Personally I can’t imagine not liking a book just because it was written via partnership, but I admit I haven’t read many… I guess I don’t seek them out for any special reason.

  15. Jennmonk on #

    Actually, some of the best books that I have read in the past year were collaborations. I love Let It Snow and How to be Bad, and Nick and Norah’s Infinite Playlist….So, as long as it is done well, I guess I am pro-collaborative novels. I’m really looking forward to reading Will Grayson, Will Grayson by John Green and David Levithan!

  16. Julia Rios on #

    My friend got attacked by wild dogs in Istanbul. Apparently there are lots of feral dog packs there. Be careful walking in parks!

    As for collaborations, I enjoy them a lot of the time. The Sorcery and Cecilia books by Patricia C. Wrede and Caroline Stevermer are some of the more lovely comfort reads I’ve encountered, for instance. I agree with Dan Goodman about good collaborations reading like a third author with even more strengths.

  17. Nicholas Waller on #

    Pohl and Kornbluth’s The Space Merchants is a classic of SF, and I remember enjoying other collabs, like Windhaven by Lisa Tuttle and George RR Martin. But although I like Arthur C Clarke a lot, I’ve actively avoided his many and various collaborated-with books (though I’ll probably try the one done with Pohl).

    There’s a curve, I suppose… you positively expect TV and films to be written in some sort of collaboration, and anyway the process of making the final item, with director, producers, actors oaring in, is pretty collaborative all the way through; and you get other co-creators like Powell & Pressburger or The Coen Brothers. Also comedy writing lends itself to teamwork, and popular music.

    In works of genre fiction you see occasional collaborations, and critically and commercially successful ones (though sometimes two people are subsumed in one joint name). For theatre plays and literary fiction, rarely – I expect there’ve been some but can’t think of any right now (apart from the input of an editor; I read Golding’s Lor of the Flies had a lot of editorial shaping). Classical music too.
    And in poetry, I imagine there are next to no collaborations* (visual art the same – Gilbert and George must be pretty unusual).

    At a guess, the more personal and from-the-soul-expresssion the type of work, the more the audience finds a collaboration somehow inauthentic… (so awareness of the contribution of the editor or partner or anyone else is suppressed, or anyway not much bruited)

    As for Istanbul, it’s a fabulous city. Looks great, with huge ancient mosques (some of them former ancient churches), big ships plying the waterways, hills and trams and markets. I arrived there once on business at about 6am after a three hour flight from Tehran (attending the Tehran Book Fair) and checked into my hotel and turned on the TV and, rather surreally, there was my uncle on the screen! He was an actor, and the single episode of Hadleigh (1976) he was in was showing.

    *Apparently TS Eliot took on board suggestions from his editor, from his first wife, and from Ezra Pound.

  18. Valerie on #

    I think collaborations are cool. But I also like books with multiple narrators, which is what they seem to tend to be. Beautiful Creatures was a good example of two authors telling one main character’s story. It always boggles my mind how authors can team up and do that. I find collaborations like the forthcoming Will Grayson, Will Grayson by John Green and David Levithan particulary exciting because I love to see two different styles and POVs coming together. I can’t wait to read that book!

  19. wandering-dreamer on #

    I really like The Enchanted Chocolate Pot which was a written as a series of letters between two authors that turned into a collab so I say go for it! Break new ground!

  20. naath on #

    Collaborations are great! I love them. One of my very favorite books of all time is a collaboration (Good Omens). In fact I don’t think I’ve read any bad collaborations (professionally published ones that is), maybe I’ve just been very lucky.

    I’m not usually such a fan of “the author died, lets get their $relative to write more like this” though, they often suck (most (not all, I <3 Sanderson) "author is dead, let us introduce new author to series" stuff sucks anyway, but picking a relative seems to suck worse IMLE)

  21. Diana Peterfreund on #

    Does “let is snow” really count though? Isn’t that more like a linked anthology?

  22. Alpha Lyra on #

    I’ve read a few books that were collaborations and I didn’t enjoy any of them. But I don’t know that my lack of enjoyment was because they were collaborations, so I haven’t written off such books. In fact, one book on my Christmas wish list is a collaboration.

  23. Becca on #

    I would never turn away a book due to collaboration. I haven’t read very many, but I’ve read a couple and loved all of them. The only one I’ve read for YA is the House of Night Series by PC and Kristen Cast. It is amazing, and it really doesn’t seem like two people. As long as the book flows well, and doesn’t seem like the two authors are very very different, I would be totally open to reading it 🙂

  24. Michelle on #

    I guess I’m one of the people who reject collaborations. If I’m familiar with one of the authors, the collaboration will seem off – not their usual style. Or the subject will be different than what I’m used to, or enjoy reading.

    If I’ve read neither or both of the authors, though, I will be more likely to pick up their book. I really like PJ Tracy’s mysteries, which are written by a woman and her daughter, and ‘Good Omens.’

  25. joey-la on #

    Hi Justine,
    In the past I generally didn’t buy collaborations. Why? I don’t really know, I just kind of assumed they wouldn’t be very good. But my opinion was changed recently. When I went to Readings (awesome book shop in Melbourne, AUS) to buy Liar (funny coincidence!) they had a promotion and were selling ‘Naomi and Ely’s No Kiss List’ by Rachel Cohn and David Levithan for 1 cent when you bought Liar, so of course I got it. Like 1 cent book?! Awesome! When I read Naomi and Ely’s No Kiss List, I really enjoyed it, so now I am open to collaborations. Since then I haven’t read any other collaorations, but that is just because none have interested me!

  26. Anna on #

    I’m divided on the collaborations front. On the one hand, having two individual styles, two eyes to pick out mistakes (not forgetting the omniscient editor, of course) and two minds working for plot twists can really improve a novel. Nick and Norah’s Infinite Playlist is a pretty kickarse example. On the other, collaborations seem to give an edge to the collaboratives in comparison to the lone writer. It’s not that the soloist can’t go around pleading for friends/family/hobos on the street for some critique; but the collaboratives seem to have a step up on the lone author because they automatically have two minds to split the difficult business of writing and to work out kinks with. So in summary, I guess I’m trying to say that I have nothing against reading a collaborative work – and indeed, often adore them – but I probably tend to be more impressed by a fantastic work written by one rather than a pair. 🙂

  27. Philip on #

    I’ve never had an opinion on collaborations one way or another. It’s not really about whether I like both authors or not, it’s usually other circumstances.

    In high school I read anything by Stephen King I could get my hands on, but I never got to The Talisman for one reason or another. The fact that I was unfamiliar with Peter Straub didn’t really dampen my enthusiasm, it’s just that I always found something else to read. But at the same time I read Good Omens after discovering Gaiman; I think perhaps because he didn’t have as large a body of his own work as King (and still doesn’t, but who does?). And I really liked Omens; since I wasn’t familiar with Pratchett until recently, I didn’t care about identifying which aspects were his or which were Gaiman’s. I just enjoyed the book as its own work.

    Then last year after discovering William Gibson I bought The Difference Engine, even though I’ve never read anything by Sterling. I haven’t read it yet, but I except like Omens I’ll just read it as its own work.

    But seeing two names on a cover, even if I’m unfamiliar with both, means nothing to me. Sometimes, like with comics, both creators are strengthened by working with someone else. Elfquest and Girl Genius are both done by husband/wife teams, and they’re both outstanding works.

  28. the other Q on #

    As long as the authors’ styles complement or match each others’ I think collaborative novels work. Go forth and conquer.

  29. Leahr on #

    I think readers just can’t imagine how the process works. Who actually holds the pen, so to speak. Or types the words, really.
    The Enchanted Chocolate Pot, or Sorcery and Cecelia, is by Patricia C. Wrede and Caroline Stevemeyer, and their process is obvious- as an epistolary novel, they took turns writing each section from two character’s POV.

    Other collaborations, though, seem more mysterious. Did they write chapter by chapter? on the phone? emailing back and forth and editing each other’s writing? That uncertainty can change the book for a reader, because you can’t fully imagine how the book came about the way you normally can. There’s something about collaborations that makes me confused. I know for myself that every time I’ve tried to write a story with a friend, it tends to flop miserably.

    Then again, sometimes it works. Good Omens, the Peter and the Starcatchers series, etc. Pure dead awesome!

  30. Kaedtiann on #

    Cool! Well, have fun.

    I can’t say much about collaboration novels because, honestly, I haven’t read many. I guess I’ll have to get working on that. But I do love Nick and Norah’s Infinite Playlist and How to Be Bad, and I think in both cases, the narratives from different authors made the novels kind of more fresh and, I dunno, just intriguing because the characters all see each other as so different from how they see themselves, which I think just make it kind of more real and cool. I dunno.

    Ooh, I feel like you’ve been asked this before, but I can’t remember the answer, so… Would you and Scott ever write a novel together? Because that, well, it’s hard to imagine, but I think it’d be awesome. 🙂

  31. Jim Henry on #

    There have been several collaborative teams whose work seems to me better than either author’s solo work — with Frederik Pohl and C.M. Kornbluth, Fletcher Pratt and L. Sprague de Camp, and especially Larry Niven and Jerry Pournelle, their best collaborations are as good as or better than either’s best solo work (that I’m aware of). Good Omens, too, is probably better than Pratchett or Gaiman’s average solo work though each has done some solo work that’s better. With Wrede and Stevermer I can’t compare their solo work because I haven’t read it, but their three epistolary novel collaborations are great fun; similarly, the epistolary form worked well for Steven Brust and Emma Bull with Freedom and Necessity. I haven’t read any of Emma Bull’s solo work yet, but it’s one of my two or three favorite novels by Brust.

    So I have no prejudice against collaborations when both authors are equally known to me, as with most of the above pairs, or equally unknown, as with Wrede and Stevermer; but somehow I feel cautious about collaborations with one very famous author and one unknown, as some previous commenters have said. I suspect, probably without evidence, that the famous author provided little more than a plot outline, or an opening they hadn’t been able to continue writing somehow, and the less experienced author did most of the work.

    I think L. Sprague de Camp said somewhere that he thought the best collaboration mode (he and Pratt had tried several) was for the two authors to talk together about the ideas, characters, plot outline etc., then for the less experienced author to write the first draft and the more experienced author to write the final draft. My impression is that the more common mode is for the authors to trade off writing scene by scene or chapter by chapter. Pratchett and Gaiman, if I recall correctly, took advantage of their different sleep-wake cycles and time zones to work on the book 24 hours a day, Pratchett writing during his normal waking hours and sending the draft of the new scenes to Gaiman just as he was waking up. Brust and Bull or Wrede and Stevermer’s method of having each author write the first-person narration for specific characters also seems to work well. (Brust said somewhere that they each wrote the characters most unlike themselves in philosophy or worldview, for the challenge of the thing.)

  32. Alpha Lyra on #

    I think what makes me suspicious of collaborations–not enough to make me refuse to buy a book, but enough to make me hesitate–is that I fear it may be a form of stunt writing. As if the authors said, “hey, let’s write a book together” just to see if they could do it, or because they’re friends and enjoy working together. But the books I tend to really love are the ones where someone was really passionate about something and just had to write about it. That passion comes through, and I really respond to it. The handful of collaborations I’ve read lacked that passion.

  33. Beth on #

    I like to feel like I have a personal connection with the author when reading a book and I find this hard to achieve with collaborations.

    I suppose I need to know exactly how the collaboration worked in order to become invested in the work – which sections were written by which writer etc.

    I have similar a problem with ghost-writing. I remember being crushed when I discovered Carolyn Keene wasn’t a real person.

  34. Amber on #

    I’ll read books that are collaborated. Sometimes I think they make some of the most interesting stories. I guess it just depends on if they writing of those involved connect. I really enjoyed the book Longer Letter Later (Ok a young teen book that I read back then, I haven’t read any lately) by Paula Danziger and Ann M. Martin. They seemed to really be inspired off of each other; of course, the book also lends itself to that. I had to read a book for one of my college courses last spring that was written by two people, each wrote different chapters, and I found that I really like some of the writing from one of the guys than the other. Of course, the book was on ethics and not a fun book (I actually didn’t like it overall, because of topic, though I enjoyed one’s style of writing much more than the other). I will try a book that’s collaborated on but I am rarely impressed by those books (of course, I also haven’t read them as much as ones by single authors).

  35. Amber on #

    *Okay, I haven’t read any of those books lately for fun. The one for my class was the exception. (I’m not counting text books.)

  36. Kailey on #

    Write one with Scott!

  37. El on #

    Ouch! Mea culpa!

    Why did it not occur to me TMBG might have covered the song?

    I shall try to do better in future.

  38. Suzi on #

    I think collaborations are a great way to find new authors to read… I loved Terry Pratchett and when I read “Good Omens”, I suddenly found out about Neil Gaiman. If it’s a well written book, I think you could expand your audience.

  39. MissAttitude on #

    I’ve never read a novel written as a collaboration (I will be starting one soon however, Girl v. Boy), but I think it could be a really good idea and really add to the story. I say, if the opportunity does arise, go for it!

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