Writing is, of course, a solo activity, or at least a mostly solo activity. A writer sits in front of a blank page or a blank screen with either a pen or pencil in hand or their fingers gently resting atop of a keyboard and they set about composing their words. No matter if they are writing in a quiet personal space or sitting in the middle of a bustling coffee shop, the main activity is taking place between the writer’s mind and that blank document in front of them that they are filling up. Even in co-authored works, which are the most obvious form of partnership, each writer still usually performs their task in solitude.
But collaborations among authors have become more and more common, and perhaps this is something that writers might think is more applicable in today’s world than it used to be. But when you reflect upon it, you’ll perhaps see that partnership was always an important element of a writer’s success.
Let’s start by looking at how successful writers use partnerships in today’s digital environment and then work our way back.
In the past several years, one of the ways that authors have been using partnerships is in their marketing efforts to grow their reader base, to increase their unit sales, to rank high on the retail webstores and to reach the prestigious lists such as the New York Times or USA Today bestseller lists.
Partnerships, or collaborations in this area involve the bundling of multiple eBooks into multi-author box sets that are usually within a particular theme or genre. These can be done with the authors working together to create a single ePub file that contains all the books from the authors involved, with an agreed-upon method of distribution, price and royalty-splitting structure and with each author marketing that digital box set to their audiences via their newsletters, social media and other out-reach. But they can also be done through third party companies that curate these types of bundles such as StoryBundle or Humble Bundle or perhaps using a more DIY and self-driven tools offered by BundleRabbit and payment splitting via Draft2Digital.
Collaboration and partnership don’t have to be as structured nor involve longer-term commitments. Virtual communities are places where an author can dip in and out, where they can ask questions or offer advice, suggestions or share their own experiences. They have become a popular way that authors collaborate today.
One of the first most prominent virtual communities that authors have been able to turn to are the KBoards. Initially branded as Kindle Boards, a community for Kindle Users and Authors, the name and intent later evolved to discussion of digital reading regardless of device or platform, and a more extensive discussion in the “Writers’ Café” section, where authors regularly read and post information.
There are hundreds of other public groups, many of them appearing on social media sites like Facebook. Some of them are generic and some of them focus in on a specific theme or approach to publishing.
The 20Booksto50K group, for example, was born out of a concept Michael Anderle derived from his initial self-published eBook income; he calculated, based on an average annual income of $2,500 for his existing eBooks, that if he could publish 20 books, he would be able to earn $50,000 in a year. He didn’t just prove that model: he exceeded it, earning well into the six-figure mark before he reached 20 books.
The Author Support Network is a more generic group that isn’t tied to a specific methodology of publishing and was created by Marie Force as a place for indie, traditional and hybrid authors to share information and ideas in a supportive, nurturing environment. Similar to the 20Books group, it is meant to be a supportive community where authors can learn, share and grow as well as support one another.
The International Indie Author was created by and is overseen by Mark Williams, who is regularly acknowledged as one of the foremost authorities on global publishing as it relates to indie authors. It is a unique group in that, unlike so many others, it isn’t centered on Amazon and sales in the US and the UK. Instead, the focus is on markets well outside the “Western” markets and the information shared here and via The New Publishing Standard e-magazine/website (a collaboration between Mark Williams and Antonio Tombolini) reminds authors that publishing does not happen in isolation and takes a very global and holistic approach to information and perspective sharing.
Other, longer term and more formalized partnerships would include the creation of branded groups, such as The Jewels of Historical Romance. These twelve internationally best-selling authors have been banded together for years to combine their marketing efforts to their very similar target audiences to offer great monthly prizes and a Facebook Salon where their readers can mix and mingle and talk about their favorite subject, and where they can combine their marketing dollars into the creation of branded materials for both their fan base as well as the retailers that they work with.
When I was at Kobo, the Jewels sent me and a few other folks at Kobo a beautiful glass treasure box with an engraved plaque on it filled with candy and a note to hang onto it because there would be more candy coming. Every quarter or so, they would send a printed newsletter update that featured information about forthcoming titles from their dozen members, usually along with a treat package: a wonderfully brilliant bag of Hershey’s kisses that were branded as “kisses from the Jewels.” The newsletter content was similar to the info packages that really good sales reps from publishing or distribution companies would send to retailers as reminders about some of the titles that bookstores should be ordering in, or, in the case of a digital retailer like Kobo, of the titles they might want to consider in their new and forthcoming release merchandising campaigns.
Partnerships don’t need to be formalized by collaborative publishing activities or branded groups. One of the most amazing things about the rise of self-publishing and indie-publishing communities in the past half-dozen years is just how willing most authors are to engage with other authors, ask questions of one another and to openly share things that are working, or not-working for them. This underlying sense of community can be a real life-preserver to an author who can, in today’s world of choices and the fire-hose of information, feel like they are getting into water that is well over their head.
Of course, while the digital world has made it easier to connect with other writers, there are still similar groups through local libraries, bookstores and community centers. In the mid 1980s, for example, long before the internet, and back when I was hammering out stories on an old Underwood typewriter, I remember struggling to find other writers to connect with in a remote mid-Northern community of under 2,000 people. But, even in that small population, I was able to find a writing group that met on a semi-regular basis.
But, even back then, and well prior to that, writers found success via other types of collaborations.
These are the types of partnerships related to both the craft and business of writing. They involve working with an editor or a teacher to learn and hone the craft of writing. They involve working with an agent to help sell the work into the publishing market. They involve working collaboratively with a publisher’s editorial and promotions staff. They involve interacting and engaging professionally with libraries, bookstores and representatives from the various digital publishing platforms.
All of these require elements of partnerships, of people working together collaboratively towards common goals that usually are about making your work better and then getting it into the hands of as many target readers as possible.
Of course, the final element of partnership blends so naturally in with the next P on our list (Patronage); it is the fundamental partnership that happens between the writer and the reader.
This is a slightly modified version of the chapter “Partnership” from the book The 7 P’s of Publishing Success.