Writing Solo after Being Collaborative

By Elizabeth S. Craig, @elizabethscraigquilt trip

For the first time, I’m writing one of the Southern Quilting mysteries on my own.  I got the rights to my characters back from Penguin Random House last year.

Although I was excited to keep writing the characters and their adventures, it’s been a bit unsettling. I wasn’t expecting to feel unsettled since this is the second series that I’ve gotten my rights back for.

But the first series had only one book traditionally published before I started self-publishing the rest.  This series had a good five books in it.

What’s more, I had written the Southern Quilting series as a collaborative effort with my editor.  We’d bounce around a few ideas, I’d send her an outline, she’d give her (always very thoughtful) opinion on it, and I’d usually make changes—small and large—before writing the manuscript.

The more I think about it, the more I recognize what a huge part she played in the series.

I’m far more used to being a lone wolf writer than a collaborative one. I’ve written something like fourteen books with minimal editorial input. With the exception of this one series.

Unfortunately, my editor was laid off from Penguin-Random House last summer, one of many victims of the merger.

The series, despite the fact that Penguin was pushing a digital-only contract on me last year, was successful. I get emails regularly from readers who enjoyed the books and are asking when the next one is coming out.

What I wonder is—what parts of the books were the readers resonating most with? Because my editor and I had very different areas that we focused on.

For instance, my editor was especially keen on adding lots of textural detail to the books. They are the Southern Quilting books.  If I didn’t include enough quilting scenes, she’d ask me to include more.  She promised me my readers would especially enjoy them.

I was always pretty restless with these requests. I’d honor them, but I also slipped in a hefty amount of plot or character development at the same time.  Perhaps Beatrice was working on a batik fabric in an arrowhead variation block.  But she was casting arrows at a potential suspect at the same time.

My editor also cared a lot about the settings and wanted more detail than I usually give. I did provide a lot more at her request. She also added a Yankee sensibility to my Southern books. She stopped me when there was something she didn’t understand or when she needed more information on a throwaway word that I thought everyone knew.

Clogging? What’s that?  she asked.

A type of  folk dance that’s popular in the mountain towns of the South, I wrote back with a mental shrug.

Can you describe it? she asked.

Describe clogging??

There were also recipes and quilting tips at the backs of the books, which my editor had expressly asked me to include.

As I’ve been working, solo, on this new book, I’ve been writing it as I usually would.  Without all the extra detail. I’d always add the detail in later, in a separate layer of writing. I’m wondering, now, how faithful I’ll be to the way I wrote the previous books.  Will I focus as much on the quilting subplots? Should I? Can I leave out the recipes and quilting tips or will I be dinged in the reviews for that—I do see readers mentioning them in customer reviews.  Clearly I should be more careful with my Southernisms, too.

Has your relationship with an editor ever bordered on collaborative?  Or have you co-written with another author?

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14 thoughts on “Writing Solo after Being Collaborative

  1. Everything has been mostly solo, although I’ve bounced outlines off a critique buddy and he’s helped mold them. Not sure who will help me with that if he can’t – and I write another book.
    I bet you absorbed enough from her that you’ll know what to do.

  2. Really interesting insights, Elizabeth, for which thanks. I collaborated on a non-fiction book (and an article) with a colleague; I’ve also done a few presentations as one of a duo. Collaborating can really add a richness to the work, since each person brings a different skill set to the task. But at the same time, working solo is very, very freeing. It allows one to try new things, learn new skills and grow.

  3. I think it’s awesome you got your rights back and are continuing. My instincts on quilting detail mirror yours–I think the mystery and character stuff is a lot more interesting than the crafty stuff, but you may have other sorts of readers that love that stuff. Do you get fan letters praising that piece? While I know reviews can be hard to stomach, it may be a good time to read through and see where the praise falls.

  4. That’s great you can now continue the series on your own. I’d say look back at reviews and see what aspects the fans enjoyed most.

    That’s funny about clogging. I remember one author saying she’d sent her manuscript to her agent and one of the comments was “A double-wide what?” LOL

  5. That’s tough–seeing where you had to be pushed, and wondering if you can push yourself. I write solo, but I usually have writing friends who I bounce plot ideas and character arcs off of. The books that I haven’t done that … well, they feel like they didn’t quite live up to their potential. Iron sharpens iron, and I find that’s necessary for me if I’m going to write “big” enough.

  6. Hi Elizabeth – it does sound a pity your editor has gone out of your life – she’d be a good compatriot to have around: you don’t need her .. but she added that extra.

    I’d have to say add in the recipes and the quilting details … sounds like those are ‘essentials’ to each murder in the book series …

    You do this sort of thing for your blog – give us what your commenters are looking for and adjust to new suggestions … hence you have a wide and loyal readership, with references across the authorship sphere.

    Cheers Hilary

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