Thanks to the digital age, collaborations between authors are easier than ever. Collaborating on a book is not only a great way to network and add to your skill set, but it can also be fun and lucrative.
I co-authored The Last Survivors six-book series with Bobby Adair, and the experience proved to be worthwhile. In this post, I’ll walk you through how we launched our partnership, collaborated on writing and publishing, and coordinated promotional efforts to successfully sell 140K+ copies to date.
Stumbling upon a collaboration opportunity
My first full collaboration happened (sort of) by accident. As an indie-published author, I was looking to expand the reach of my current series. I had an idea: I would reach out to several authors in my genre of Science Fiction/Horror and see if they would contribute an original story from one of their existing story “universes.” We would then publish the works as an anthology and cross-promote to our readers, expanding our audiences.
The first person I reached out to was a fellow indie author Bobby Adair. We had never met in person, but we had participated in several box sets together — collections of books released and promoted by a group of authors.
We quickly learned we had similar backgrounds. We were both full-time (or soon-to-be) writers who came from the corporate world. We had both spent significant time in the Top 100 Amazon Horror and Science Fiction charts. And we both enjoyed stories with strong, likable characters. We had also read — and respected — each other’s work. Instead of publishing an anthology, we decided to co-write a novel — perhaps even a series.
Finding a creative business partner
Bobby and I were cautiously excited about collaborating, but we were also realistic. As indie writers, we knew that a collaborative project was a business partnership. If we were to move forward, we would need to consider the marketing, publishing, and accounting aspects, as well as consult an accountant or attorney. We also needed to decide if the benefits of working together outweighed the time spent away from our own works.
After several productive brainstorming sessions, the plot and characters intrigued us enough to take the risk.
Like many indie authors, we decided a series was the best way to go. We would start with an initial book, set up the world and characters, and see how things went. If the reception was good, we would publish a multi-book series. The caveat was that we could pull the plug at any time if things weren’t working out.
Discovering our writing process
During our initial discussions, Bobby and I decided the series would be called The Last Survivors. We determined we were both pantsers — writers who preferred finding the story while drafting versus plotting it out. However, we spent time world-building — creating the setting, the characters, and the rules of our fictional world. We kept all our notes in Dropbox.
We started by writing first drafts in Microsoft Word, dividing draft-writing duties 50-50, and each wrote from different characters’ perspectives. We edited each other’s work and reconciled each other’s edits through Microsoft’s track changes. If we hit a snag, we would discuss it later in our story meetings. Both of us agreed on a cardinal rule — we each got final say on our own chapters.
For the most part, the process worked. But there were a few challenges.
Learning to put aside our egos
Writing the first book together was fun, but stressful. From the beginning, Bobby and I agreed to put aside our feelings to make sure the story was the best it could be. That was harder than it sounded.
I still remember opening my first edited chapter from Bobby and cringing at the endless slew of corrections. After swallowing my wounded pride, I reviewed each change objectively, realizing that most of Bobby’s corrections were improvements. Even when I rejected a change, I found myself analyzing why I defended it. Was there a valid reason behind my argument? Or was I adhering to old, bad habits?
Throughout the process, I forced myself to keep something top of mind: We were in this book together. It was in both our best interests to make it good.
Completing the first novel
After a lot of hard work and months of effort, the first draft of the book was done. The resulting novel was a hybrid of both of our styles — a third “author” we jokingly referred to as Bobby Piperbrook. That “voice” became the style of the series.
After sending the draft to a professional line editor and proofreader, we figured out the logistics for publication. We opened a new dashboard on Amazon and created a new company name. We split responsibilities — one of us handled the royalty disbursements, tax obligations, and payments, while the other partner handled formatting and other administrative tasks. We also shared the promotional and advertising duties.
Like the writing, the business aspect was a give and take. If one person did a little more of a certain thing, neither of us sweated it. The agreement worked for us, but you will need to find what works for you.
Launching the first book
When we launched our first book, The Last Survivors, we didn’t know what to expect. We were nervous. When promoting the release, we hoped to reach our current readership, and ideally expand our audiences. First, we sent out emails to our respective mailing lists.
We also advertised on Facebook through boosted posts:
We announced the book on our websites:
And then we waited.
Over the first full month, we sold about 1,700 copies and received 700 borrows through Amazon’s Kindle Unlimited program. However, the reaction was… mixed. Some of our older readers enjoyed the new book, while others were hesitant. The style was slightly different from what they were used to. They weren’t sure if they liked it. But we had faith. We kept writing.
About six months later we released The Last Escape, book two in the series. We also updated the cover of book one to include our full names, since readers were mistaking “Piperbrook Adair” for a different person or pen name. Along with the new release and cover update, we developed a more aggressive marketing plan. That’s when things turned around.
Marketing the series
Following a strategy popular among indie authors, we made the first book in the series permanently free to coincide with the release of book two, published the book wide across all vendors, and applied for a BookBub Featured Deal for the free book. To our surprise, we were accepted under Action and Adventure rather than Science Fiction. Regardless, we knew this was a great opportunity.
Hoping to capitalize on the exposure, we scheduled a handful of smaller ads to ramp up to the day of the BookBub promotion:
- Book Bassett
Our hope was to give away as many copies as possible.
In a few days, we gave away 40,000 copies of the first book. That promotion led to a nice spike in paid sales for book two, by including a sample chapter and a live link in the back matter of book one.
Slowly, we built a new audience — a hybrid of our current fan bases, as well as readers in unexpected genres. Sensing new target markets, we pivoted, advertising across Action and Adventure, Science Fiction, and Fantasy, instead of just our core readers in Post-Apocalyptic. The series kept selling. In fact, it sold well enough that we decided to pursue our original plan and make The Last Survivors a six-book series.
Coordinating ongoing promotions
Using what we learned from the original BookBub Featured Deal, we spread our advertising budget across new genres, targeting ads through Facebook, BookBub, and AMS (Amazon Marketing Services), sometimes targeting ads to specific vendors.
Here’s an example BookBub Ads campaign we ran to readers who use Apple iBooks.
We talked often, splitting the duties of writing ad copy, tracking ad performance, and making budgeting decisions. As the “numbers guy,” Bobby took on ad setup and tracking, while I wrote copy, booked ads on websites, and scheduled Kindle Countdown Deals. Depending on our schedules, we rotated duties.
Measuring the results
Two years, 400,000 words, and six books later, Bobby and I finally completed the series.
Putting the finishing touches on that final release, The Last Conquest, was bittersweet. Together we had created a series that neither of us would’ve created on our own.
To date, The Last Survivors series has sold almost 125,000 paid ebook copies and 15,000 audiobooks. We have received thousands of five-star reviews across Amazon, Goodreads, and other retailers, and gained millions of page reads in Kindle Unlimited. We have reached readers from all over the world — people who enjoy reading the series as much as we enjoyed writing it.
One of the bonuses of co-writing the series was that we helped each other find new readers through cross-promotion. But we also have found readers in new genres who’ve devoured our individual works, and have expressed the desire to read more in the world we created for The Last Survivors.
To keep those readers engaged, I completed a four-book spin-off series in this world called The Ruins, and Bobby wrote a prequel series called Dusty’s Diary. Thanks to each of our mailing lists, which we link to in the back matter of our individual books, as well as a mailing list we created just for The Last Survivors fans, we are keeping in contact with those readers for future releases.
Perhaps even more rewarding, though, are the intangible benefits. Bobby and I now have someone else with whom to discuss the business side of publishing, and bounce ideas off of for our own works.
We never proceeded with the original anthology idea, but I think this end result was better. The Last Survivors series has improved both of our writing, and created a friendship that carries through today.
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