Thursday, March 21, 2013

Brett Battles Robert Gregory Browne

Joe sez: Here's a guest post from two writer friends of mine, Brett Battles and Robert Gregory Browne, about their new thriller POE, now available for $4.99 on Amazon. Buy it. I did. Also available on Kindle UK, and Nook. My comments to follow.

Brett Battles: Last time we were here it was to talk about your dive into the ebook world, and my first full year as an independent author. Your first indie novel TRIAL JUNKIES had just been released. So let's start with a catch up. You go first.

Rob Gregory Browne: Well, you probably remember I was pretty nervous about the whole thing. I think the term I used was scared shitless. Turns out, I didn't really have anything to be nervous about. I did the KDP Select giveaway for three days, gave away 42,000 copies of the book, and the bounce was pretty incredible.

Brett: How many did you end up selling that first month?

Rob: I sold about 20,000 copies in the first two weeks after the giveaway. After that, I stopped counting. The book hit the Top 100 and became #1 in Legal Thrillers.

Brett: That's fantastic.

Rob: It was a very good year. But you had a pretty good year, too, didn't you?

Brett: 2012 turned out even better than I could have hoped. I put out four new titles, and sold just over 85,000 ebooks—that's 11 novels and 3 short stories. Even with experiments in price changes, sales/giveaway, and the fact that I (still) charge only .99 for shorts, I averaged over $2 a sale. Not only was it one of my most satisfying years writing, but it was also my most successful from a financial standpoint. Which was a nice change from 2011 when there was a month or two when I wasn't even sure if I was going to make my rent.

Rob: I remember. I had to talk you off the ledge a few times. But I know you don't regret the move anymore than I do.

Brett: Not at all. The key has been to not sit still…keep putting out new books, and try new things, such as the giveaways, playing with price, etc.

Rob: And, of course, for you and me to write a book together.

Brett:  That, too.

Rob: We’ve been talking about writing a series together for years, and it was nice not having to get permission from a publisher to do it. We just said, hey, let's do this, and our new thriller POE was born.

Brett: Exactly. Another great benefit of being independent.

Rob: But I have to admit I felt some trepidation. Although I was optimistic, I had no idea how well we'd work together. Turns out, my fears were once again baseless. I seem to do that a lot.

Brett: I never doubted it would turn out fine. I saw it both as an opportunity to do something fun and new, and for both of us to expand not only our virtual shelves but our fan bases.

Rob: My main stipulation, which I expressed to you from the very beginning, was that we both check our egos at the door. We had to be able to rewrite each other with impunity.

Brett: Right. That was key. That, and the fact that you had this great concept you’d been kicking around for years that we used and built on.

Rob: Thanks. And, of course, the next trick was figuring out the logistics of working together. Since we live ninety miles apart, sitting down next to each other was out of the question. So the question was how would we proceed?

Brett:  Especially since we both always have other projects going. Finding a coordinated hole in our schedules was becoming very difficult. I’m not quite sure how we came to this solution, but one of us floated the idea of alternating first drafts. Since we wanted this to be a series, we’d work together on the outlines to make sure we were both on the same page plot wise, then for the first book, I’d take a crack at a draft and you’d come in and do the rewrite.

Rob:  Right. And when it’s time to do POE #2, I do the first draft and you do the rewrite.

Brett: And, of course, we’d discuss any problems on the phone through every phase, something we did constantly throughout POE.

Rob: I think it worked out pretty well. I’m pretty happy with the result.

Brett: So am I. For those interested, here’s the cover blurb for the first book:

After losing her mother to a terrorist attack, Alexandra Poe was devastated when her father—disgraced and accused of treason—disappeared from the face of the earth. Now, ten years and a stint in Iraq later, Alex is approached by a man who has information about her father and wants to help her find him.

But there's a catch. The man works for Stonewell International, a security firm that specializes in fugitive acquisition. And in return for their help, Alex must agree to run point on an extremely dicey mission. One that will take her behind the walls of a brutal and dangerous women's prison near the coast of the Black Sea.

When Alex finally agrees, she has no idea what she's gotten herself into. She may find her father, but she could very well lose her life.

As I mentioned, one of our biggest hopes is that though we do share a partially common fan base, this would also give us an opportunity to expand our readership to those who are unique to each of us. And having fun while we were at it.

Rob: We’ve seen what Joe and Blake, and then Joe and Ann have done with their collaborations. These seemed to help them a lot.

Brett: Yeah. A no brainer. The only problem was finding the time. Took us over a year from when we first started talking about it to actually putting words on the screen.

Rob:  But we did.

Brett:  Yep. Like I said before, it’s all about experimentation, and, not only am I curious and excited to see how this goes, I’m just as excited to get started on the next Poe.

Rob:  As soon as we have time.

Brett:  Right. There is that.

Joe sez: I really enjoy collaborating, and have done it over a dozen times. Besides writing a story in half the time it would take to do it yourself, it also expands your virtual shelf space, potentially doubles your fanbase, and is a great opportunity to learn from a fellow author. Or, in my case, teach my fellow authors how to write  better. Which they'd never say about me. Because they don't have blogs. But I digress...

Two (or more) writers working on a single project is fun. I was interested in learning how Battles and Browne did it because my method is different. After brainstorming, my co-writer and I will divvy up scenes, and then put them in a shared DropBox. For scenes or outlines we write together, we do them at the same time using either Google Docs or Join.me.

Each scene is numbered, and rewrites are saved under new numbers. For example: Chapter Seven 1.3 after the rewrite would be saved as Chapter Seven 1.4. That way, if one writer changes something the other needed (or liked) the previous draft still exists. It's also a signal to the co-writer that a new draft has been uploaded.

Google Docs has a chat box. I also use text chat in Skype if I need a quick answer to some story question from my co-author. The only thing better is actually being in the room with the collaborator, but that isn't always better, because there is usually beer around, and we usually drink it instead of write.

I get a lot of emails from people who ask how getting paid works with co-writing.

For the majority of my collaborative efforts, it's a 50/50 split. And, unfortunately, there is no easy way to do it. One person gets paid (I like direct deposit into my bank account) and then has to give the other person money (I like PayPal as a "Payment Owed" so there are no fees.)

This can quickly become a colossal pain in the ass, especially when the book is on multiple platforms. I'm in the process of having an assistant do this for me. She's the same one who put all of my spreadsheets into a single Excel database, which is how I know how many ebooks I've sold. Now that she's caught up, I'll just send her monthly spreadsheets, and she incorporates them and figures out who owes whom.

If you need help on this front, email me with the subject heading ASSISTANT and I'll put you in touch with her. She's a joy to work with, and her hourly rate is reasonable.

In some cases, I have a 75/25 royalty split. If two people create a character together, and one person wants to do a story with that character without the other, the other gets 25%. Part of that is simply a courtesy payment for using the IP. But it also includes a rewrite and polish, usually adding a few thousand words. So it breaks down to one person doing 75% of the work, one doing 25%.

Ann and I did this with the Chandler short novel EXPOSED (we brainstormed, she wrote the whole thing, I added and edited and polished), with her keeping 75%. She's also getting 75% for the Chandler short novel HIT (coming soon), and I'm getting 75% for the Chandler short novel NAUGHTY. For the Createspace paperback version, we're splitting costs and royalties 58% to 42% (do the math).

The savvy among you might notice I said "short novel" instead of "novella." Let me sidetrack for a moment.

In my experience, novels sell best. Short stories don't sell nearly as well. For whatever reason, people think a novella is a short story. Or maybe they don't know what it is. But when I put "short novel" in the description is sells better than "novella." Dunno why. But now I call anything over 15k words a short novel. I've also been known to simply call it a thriller, and then reveal the length in the description (both word count and approximate page count.)

Back on track, how do you find a co-writer?

I only write with my friends. That makes things easier, more fun, and helps limit the head-butting. We have the "no egos" rule that Rob and Brett have. We also allow each other carte blanche on edits and rewrites. I trust my co-writers to make my prose better, and they trust me the same way.

As for proofing, I hate it and suck at it, so somehow my collaborator usually gets stuck with that. In return, I do the promo, arrange for cover art and formatting, and do the jacket copy.

There is no quick and easy formula for successful collaboration, but one way to signal success is the seamlessness of the story. If the reader can't tell who wrote what, you've done a great job melding your styles.

A good example of this is DRACULAS, which I wrote with Blake, F. Paul Wilson, and Jeff somebody. At the end of it, we have an extra 80,000 words describing everything we did to write the book. If you're keen to know how collaboration works, that's a peek behind the curtain.

That's all I've got, unless any of my co-writers want to chime in...

Addendum: In the comments, several people wanted to know how this works on your taxes.

Blake formed an LLC, and he 1099s me every year. Blake is also a lot more responsible and efficient than I am. I deduct payments to others on my taxes, list them as independent contractors, and include their social security number when I file. My accountant is trying to make me to the 1099 thing, which I suppose I will.