Their debut novel Sugar & Spice was a smash hit in the UK, with the controversial crime thriller racking up 100,000 sales. They haven’t broken out yet in the US to the same extent, but the release of their second novel Snow White – the first in the Rose Red series – could change all that.
Here’s what Mark had to say about urban writing myths, working in a partnership, and his ambitious plans for the future.
They say being a writer is the loneliest job in the world. But in truth that’s just one of those many urban myths we writers have created about our craft to keep outsiders at bay.
You know the ones – we writers have no social life, no friends, and our own families are strangers. We sit alone in a garden shed staring at a screen or sheet of paper hopelessly waiting for inspiration to strike. We are grumpy, miserable, unsociable beings who prefer the company of fictional characters to real people. We even invent our own pseudo-ailments like “writers’ block” to make ourselves even more unapproachable. And not forgetting how writing is such hard work!
Of course it’s all bull. Every last bit of it. But there’s enough competition out there already without letting every Tom, Dick and Harriet know it’s actually the best job in the world, bar none.
So we have created this fantasy about being a writer. Okay, some of us might actually write in a garden shed, sure. And some of us might still use a quill pen. There are still a few surviving eccentrics. I know – I’m one of them! (Substitute a mud hut in West Africa for a garden shed in my case.)
But waiting for inspiration to strike? Be serious. It’s a struggle to find time to get everything written.
Unsociable? Surely the problem is getting away from our social life long enough to actually write. Try being a train driver, or a night watchman, or an accountant. That’s unsociable.
Writers’ block? Just turn off the TV and get on with it! I worry about the day pilots decide they’ve got pilots’ block and planes start dropping out of the sky. Try telling your boss you’ve got “day-job block” and see where that gets you…
Hard work? Sitting at a keyboard writing words is somehow harder than sitting at a till scanning a barcode on a can of beans? Try digging coal. Hard work is work you do because you have to. No-one is forced to write.
As for lonely… Even before the advent of social media we writers fought a constant battle to pry ourselves away from the characters in our heads as they clamour to be unleashed on an unsuspecting public. Now, with social media, we can turn up for work in a vast e-office full of fellow writers, to share problems, offer advice, steal ideas and generally have a great time. And unlike in a real office we can shut them all out with the click of a button when we’ve had enough.
Writing, a lonely profession? Be serious.
And that’s before we even give a thought to collaboration. No, not Vichy France. I mean co-writing.
Not for you? Unless you’ve tried it, how do you know? Fact is, everyone’s doing it. Okay, I exaggerate, but collabs are the new black, and in the new digital world it can pay off big time.
Is it coincidence that the three biggest selling indie novels on Kindle UK are co-authored? I refer to our very own Sugar & Spice and the two books (Killing Cupid and Catch Your Death) from fellow indie team Mark Edwards and Louise Voss.
One-offs? Take a closer look at indie sensation Joe Konrath and you’ll find many of his books are co-authored, and you’ll find many more writing teams out there. Some, like us, write under one joint pen-name, while for writers with an established name it pays dividends to have both names on the cover, doubling exposure at a stroke
But that’s just one of the many advantages of collaborative writing.
In practical terms you can have two heads coming up with double the ideas, the plot twists, the characters, etc. Two sets of eyes weeding out typos and plot holes. Two people motivating one another to progress the story. And both writers can work their own strengths and work each other’s weaknesses.
In commercial terms two people can write twice as fast as one. A 60,000 word novel suddenly becomes just 30,000 words each. Plus twice as much promotion.
Nor need a collaboration be limited to just two people. In television most successful series have teams of writers – up to twenty – working on a series, each contributing to maximise their strengths and downplay their weaknesses.
My prediction is this is the future for books in the digital world. Multi-authored books, especially genre series, with a half dozen writers sharing the workload and the royalties. When a paper book gave a 15% return that was never an option. But with 70% royalties available through epublishing this is just one more area where writers can innovate and succeed.
Take this example: Four writers work on one book of 60,000 words. That’s just 15,000 words each. But there are four writers’ minds and eyes bringing ideas, solving problems, making it work.
Of course, it also means sharing the royalty four ways. But hold on. A 70% royalty shared between four writers is 17.5% – More than the 15% a Big Six publisher will give you on your own for doing all the work!
And instead of taking a year to finish the first of the series and another year to get the next one out, you can suddenly be getting four books out in a year for the same amount of effort. Eight books in two years instead of two. And as we all know, what readers want most of all from a series is the next book as soon as possible. A win-win for writer and reader alike.
For our part we’ve just released Snow White, the first of the new Rose Red crime thriller series, and are now working on the next three in the series, with the second due out in November and the third in the new year.
In between these, we are busy on a jointly written chicklit mystery series, China Town, and a jointly written dark fantasy trilogy, Equilibrium. But that’s just the two of us. So the four writers working together idea is just talk, right?
On the contrary, we’ve also teamed up with two exciting new teen writers to write as a quartet to bring our readers a contemporary YA boarding-school series, St. Mallory’s.
And in case you hadn’t noticed that’s at least five different genres we’re crossing. Genre boundaries? That is just so 2010!
As I’ve said many times over on MWi, the digital revolution heralds a New Renaissance in literature and publishing, where the old rules, along with the old myths, no longer apply. Joe Konrath and Blake Crouch recently explored some great ideas for the innovative delivery of their books to readers, but the digital revolution is more than just about how we reach our readers, important though that is. It’s also about what new things we offer them to read.
Far from a tsunami of crap, the future holds a tsunami of excellence as writers experiment and innovate, unfettered by the shackles of the old corporate publishing box.
How far do you dare step outside the box?
Mark shares his thoughts on writing and the book business regularly on his blog (as well as having a constant stream of guest posters, showcasing many different indie authors).
You can check out the bestselling Sugar & Spice on Amazon US and Amazon UK. The latest release Snow White has only been out two weeks, and is already knocking on the door of the UK Top 100. It’s also available on Amazon US and Amazon UK.
Thank you to Mark for that fascinating post. I must say I’m looking at writing partnerships in a whole new light.
Note: This post was scheduled to run while I am on vacation. I will be too busy building sandcastles to join in the comment fun, but please be my guest.