Monday, March 2, 2015

How Collaborative Writing Can Be Pure Awesome (or not)

Today I (Alycia) am thrilled to introduce my friend, Mary DeMuth and her new book, written with Frank Viola, The Day I Met Jesus. The book releases tomorrow, March 3rd. Leave a comment to be entered to win a copy of this wonderful look into the lives of five women who Jesus touched with His love.

by Mary DeMuth
I’ve had two collaborative writing experiences, one bordering on awful, and the other one awesome. The non-awesome one came about randomly, and we did not do a good job of hammering out our separate responsibilities. This led to a lot of miscommunication, hurt feelings, and, ultimately, a stalled out project. So when Frank Viola approached me about co-writing The Day I Met Jesus, you can imagine I was highly cautious, and I really didn’t want to do it.

But after several conversations with him, my agent, and his agent, we decided to proceed. I’m so glad I did.

What worked:
  • We both embraced the vision of the book. The premise was Frank’s idea, but I clearly understood it (biblical narrative + teaching). So when I wrote, I stayed within the vision of the book.
  • We clearly defined our separate responsibilities. I wrote the fiction portion of the book (five true stories of women in the New Testament encountering Jesus), and he extrapolated wisdom from each, writing the nonfiction portion. This meant I wrote the first half of the chapter in narrative form, and he wrote the latter half as a teacher.
  • We both respected each other’s strengths. Frank gave me the freedom I needed to craft a compelling story, complete with story arc, tension, dialogue, etc. It meant that when I read through his nonfiction portion, I asked questions for clarity, but I didn’t revamp his points.
  • Each of us edited each other’s works, asking good questions, catching mistakes. When we had a deeper question, we picked up the phone. Much better to talk it out than to walk through a lengthy e-mail exchange where misunderstanding can flourish.
  • We split everything—including advances, editing, and the marketing burden. (Ah, I shouldn’t call it a burden. But this is where having a co-author can be amazing. One of Frank’s strengths is marketing, and I do not have that strength. I’m learning a lot from him.)
  • We both are fast, deadline-meeting authors, so we ended up turning the book in early. Our work paced back and forth. I'd write a section, he'd edit, then I'd finalize. Same with his sections. We methodically worked through the entire book this way.
  • We each reach different audiences, so sharing each other’s platforms has so far proven to be mutually beneficial. We are both sensitive to the needs of each other’s tribes.
Of course we ran into snags, but on the whole, we worked very well together. We both believe the project would have been less powerful if only one of us authored it. Both our strengths combined made a more compelling read, thankfully.
If you’re considering partnering with another author, be sure you:
  • Hammer out (in writing) what each person’s responsibilities are. 
  • Pen in deadlines.
  • Communicate how you like to be edited (Track changes? Hard copy?).
  • Let the publisher know what to expect, how you will work together. 
  • Know yourself and your own writing pace so you can communicate that with your writing partner. If you are slow, let them know so you can budget in the appropriate amount of time to do your sections of the book. If you’re fast, try not to force the same expectation on the other writer.
  • Be edit-able. Embrace feedback.
  • But also know your own voice well enough to know when to gently push back if the co-author wants to alter your voice or change your storytelling.
I’m grateful Frank approached me to co-write The Day I Met Jesus. The book is rich in storytelling and teaching because of our strengths combined. And we had the opportunity to write something truly unique. I hope you have the opportunity to have this kind of writing synergy with a coauthor someday.

To learn more about Mary, Frank, and The Day I Met Jesus, click their links below:


  1. Great wisdom! Can't wait to read your work!

  2. This is such an interesting post. Mary DeMuth is one of my favorite authors. I can imagine how much her storytelling gift offered to a non-fiction piece. I would love the opportunity to read this book.

  3. What an informative article! I hadn't considered many of the tips. Thanks for opening my eyes to the ins and outs of collaborative writing. This collaborative effort sounds like a great book.


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