The Joy of Collaboration: A Ten-Point I-Told-You-So Guide

Steve Almond
From the May/June 2006 issue of
Poets & Writers Magazine

6. You are now business partners. This aspect of our collaboration dawned on me at the precise moment Julianna mentioned how excited her agent was to send out the book. My response was to say something charmingly unprovocative. I can't recall the exact words, but it was along the lines of, "Why should I pay some Park Avenue sharpie 15 percent for stuffing an envelope?"

After all, I had sold my previous two books on my own. We both had editors waiting to see the novel. And I had (confession alert!) issues with agents. But Julianna didn't particularly care about my issues. She adored her agent. She wasn't sending the book out without him. Period. So now I had an agent.

I wasn't crazy about how all this had played out. Meaning: My coauthor basically kicked my ass. But to some extent, I'd brought it upon myself. Early on, I had told Julianna that I wasn't interested in the business stuff. I said this because it was mostly true, and it made me sound very noble, very focused on the artistic mission. And because I am a shortsighted idiot.

7. There is no I in "coauthor." I'm going to skip over the part of our saga in which nineteen out of twenty editors rejected our manuscript, because, hell, the important thing is that one actually said yes: Kathy Pories, the editor of my last two titles, at Algonquin Books. And while it is true that my nickname for Kathy is "Mistress of Pain," it is equally true that she refers to me as "her little full-time nightmare."

My point being: This was a good thing. The book was officially "in press." What does "in press" mean, exactly? It means that your days are suddenly filled with a thousand new concerns: When will the edits be done? Do you have a final title? What about the publication date? The cover image? The jacket copy?

It was all a bit dizzying. But the publishing process did give us something that every collaborative team yearns for: a common enemy. I am joking, of course. Julianna and I love Algonquin to death. We'd be nothing without them. We're both going to name all our future children Algonquin. And so on.

All the same, dealing with a publisher has forced us to present a united front. We don't always agree, but—and this is the crucial thing—we always do agree on an approach to take with our publisher. So, for instance, when Julianna told Algonquin that she wanted a line item in our author budget for strip-club signings, you can bet that I had her back. (Full disclosure: I can't remember, exactly, which one of us asked for this. I think it was a mutual idea.)

8. You are also promotional partners. Now that our novel is moving out into the world, Julianna and I have had to deal with one of the most terrifying issues to face any author. I speak, of course, of the book tour. In an ideal world, we'd both be able to take a couple months off to travel the country together in a Learjet and field interview requests from Terry Gross and Katie Couric. But, obviously, we are not living in an ideal world. (Algonquin doesn't even own a Learjet.)

So the book tour will be exactly one week long. This suits Julianna just fine. She is, after all, a wife, the mother of three children, a professor, and—oh, right—she has two other books coming out this year. I have often pondered when she has the time to breathe. And, actually, during one particularly rocky patch back in 2003, I actually prayed for her to stop breathing.

My friends are quite happy as well. They are taking wagers on how long it will be until we have our first meltdown. The over/under is currently 3.5 days. I'm taking the under.

9. Critics happen. We come now to the late-inning bugaboo of the collaborative process: the nasty review. These are hard enough to absorb as an individual author. Now imagine the dynamic when there are two of you. The hope is that Julianna and I will be able to commiserate with one another. But what if a reviewer loves her chapters, and can't stand mine? Welcome to my nightmare.

Fortunately, unless Julianna is actually around to dispute the matter, I plan to claim that I wrote her chapters. After all, sharing the credit is the essence of a good collaboration. If this doesn't work, I will simply remind myself that reviews are a dodgy business. As a part-time critic, I'm well aware that most of us are underpaid and ill-tempered. We can also be extremely lazy.

10. You're in this for life. The final thing to remember is that a literary collaboration doesn't end with the release of the book. You still have the paperback to deal with, along with (hopefully) foreign rights, film rights, royalties, and so on.

In this sense, your collaboration will never actually end. One of you will simply die before the other—presumably of natural causes. Julianna and I are well aware of this. As she recently said to me, with a wistful sigh, "Remember when we used to be friends?"


What she actually said was, "What were we thinking, again?"

Steve Almond is the author of the story collections The Evil B.B. Chow and Other Stories, which was just released in paperback by Algonquin Books, and My Life in Heavy Metal (Grove, 2002), as well as the nonfiction book Candyfreak (Algonquin, 2004). Complaints may be lodged at