“We didn’t meet ‘in the flesh’ until the day we met our publisher,” says Maureen Vincent-Northam, co-author of The ABC Checklist for New Writers. Before this meeting, both Maureen and her writing partner Lorraine Mace, communicated entirely by email and Microsoft’s MSN Messenger whilst writing their practical guide for budding writers.
“We’ve known each other since 2003,” says Lorraine, “when we were both members of the online writing group Writelink (www.writelink.co.uk). We got to know each other’s work through articles published onsite and from forums, but we also became friends because we share the same sense of humour. This led to reading and proofreading one another’s work as well as sharing ideas and networking.”
This successful partnership proves that you don’t need to be in the same room as a co-writer, let alone the same country. Maureen lives in Hereford near the Welsh borders, whilst British born Lorraine is now based in south west France, although she was living in Spain when they started the book.
“Lorraine first suggested we write something together and as writing was something we had in common, a book on the subject was the obvious choice,” says Maureen. The ABC Checklist for New Writers is subtitled ‘How To Open Doors and Get Noticed the First Time Around’ and is aimed at writers of both fiction and non-fiction who are just starting out and want to act professionally, rather than look amateurish.
“I got the idea originally,” says Lorraine, “because I found it so difficult to find basic information on formatting for a submission when I was a beginner writer. So we brainstormed ideas until we came up with a list of topics that a beginner would need to know, or might not understand even if they’d heard the terms, and kept adding to it even after we’d started the book.”
“We chatted on MSN virtually every day about the book,” confirms Maureen, “and communicated via emails for longer discussions.”
Their book is an alphabetical list of terms, phrases and advice, starting with Abbreviations and ending with ZZZZ – Sleep On It. This alphabetical structure helped them to focus on the various sections of the book where they had most experience. Not only are they co-writers, but their writing skills and abilities complement each other too. Lorraine for example, tackled all the fiction areas, whilst Maureen concentrated on research topics.
As professional writers, both have plenty of experience to draw upon. Lorraine has been a columnist for ‘Living France’ and ‘Spanish’ magazines, as well as the writer of several non-fiction and fiction pieces that have appeared in monthly publications both here in the UK and in America, France, Australia and Ireland. Her next book, ‘The Greatest Moving Abroad Tips in the World’ is due for publication in 2008. Lorraine also won the comic verse category in the Petra Kenny 2006 International Poetry Award, has been placed in other competitions and judged writing competitions too.
Maureen’s work has been published in local newspapers, national magazines and online, and she is also the author of ‘The Greatest Genealogy Tips in the World’. She wrote ‘Write & Seek’, a research for writers’ e-book available from Writelink, loves local history and has undertaken research projects for a local authority.
Co-writing a book this way has many benefits. “The time lapse means France and Spain are one hour ahead of England,” chuckles Maureen, “so Lorraine may have begun work earlier but I could stay up later!”
“When completed,” Lorraine chips in, “each section was sent to the co-author for checking, which we then revised according to each other’s comments.”
Both writers agree that a writing partnership has many psychological benefits. “A big writing project is less daunting when it’s shared,” says Maureen, “and the editing even more so! And it’s helpful to be able to bounce ideas around.”
Lorraine agrees. “Having someone to share the task with is a great help, as is having a friend to laugh with, and having someone to blame if the book doesn’t sell!”
The ABC Checklist for New Writers is their first book as a partnership, and tackling something for the first time always makes it a learning experience. “We discovered during our research that an author agreement was essential,” says Lorraine. “We were lucky in that nothing went wrong, but things can go awry in some partnerships so it’s best to be prepared for all eventualities.”
Lorraine and Maureen’s book focuses on formatting, presentation, style and protocols. It is not a ‘how to write’ book because there are plenty of those already available. Instead, it’s like having a professional writer by your side who knows all the answers to those questions you have when you’re first starting out. What does an editor mean when they ask for clips? How do you hook your reader? How does a script layout differ between a stage play, and a radio play? What rights should you offer when submitting a manuscript? The answers are all in their book.
“It was important to both of us to write the sort of book that we wished had been available to us when we started out as writers,” says Maureen, “so we thought of all the things we’d struggled to understand and find answers to. We tried to remain focused as much as possible on the formatting and presentation of work as this is what usually lets most new writers down. It’s a one of a kind – there isn’t another book like this on the market which concentrates on giving the same kind of advice. The ABC Checklist for New Writers will help writers to present what they have written in a way that will give it the best possible chance of being read by the decision makers.”
It’s clear to see that partnership working can produce authoritative work. Would they do it again? “Most definitely,” says Maureen. “Lorraine and I work well together and we already have another book planned – something quite different from ABC.”
So next time you have an idea for a book, why not consider making it a joint effort? As Lorraine and Maureen have shown, co-writing can be as easy as … A…B…C!
Lorraine and Maureen’s Five Top Co-writing Tips:
1. Be supportive when the other is feeling down.
2. Work out time schedules and stick to them.
3. Listen to the other’s suggestions.
4. Accept criticism for the greater good of the book.
5. Prepare, and sign, an author agreement beforehand so that you are each aware of what’s expected of you and what will happen if the partnership breaks down.
(c) Simon Whaley