“Hey, Brendan, you’ve been chosen to collaborate with the world’s most popular author! What are you going to do now?”
“Um, go to Disneyworld?”
Not for a moment.
Nearly five years ago, I was invited to try out for a new publishing venture from James Patterson, called BookShots. The plan was to publish novellas of about 40,000 words for readers who didn’t have the time or bandwidth to read full-length novels.
After a writing audition (honest!) I was invited to take part, and worked through an editor at Little Brown, which was publishing the BookShots. Monthly, scores of BookShots were published, all co-authored with James Patterson with a host of collaborators. After successfully completing three BookShots, I worked with James Patterson via the Little Brown editor to come up with an outline — based on his synopsis — for a fourth work.
My editor told me that James Patterson — or as we like to call him at our house, James Patterson — wanted to talk to me.
I was assured that I wasn’t in trouble, and the day came when our phone rang and the caller ID said J. PATTERSON. (Now I wish I had taken a photo of that special moment.)
James — okay, Jim — was polite and direct. He liked my work for the BookShots, thought I did a good job on the synopsis for the fourth BookShots, and might I be interested in working with him to turn this proposed novella into a full-length novel?
“I’ll give you a few days to think about it,” he said.
Me, trying not to let this opportunity slip through my nervous fingers, said, “Nope, I’m good, I’d love to work with you on a novel.”
Now, nearly five years later, we’ve completed three novels — THE FIRST LADY, THE CORNWALLS ARE GONE, and THE SUMMER HOUSE — and we have one in the proverbial publishing hopper, and are wrapping up a fifth new work.
What’s it like to collaborate with one of the most popular authors in the world?
Well, you wouldn’t believe that [[[redacted]]].
Or that I learned to [[[redacted]].
But I can say it’s been a wonderful, exhilarating, and exciting time, and I feel so fortunate to be working with Jim. Not only is he a talented writer, he has a keen eye for details and for improving one’s writing.
As an example, in one of our works, he asked me to go back and review the first three chapters. “I think we can condense it into one chapter.”
Feeling grumpy at first — hey, I’m a published writer, too, you know — I took a fresh look and you know what?
He was exactly right.
Over the years I’ve learned many important lessons in writing from working with Jim. One was to think that you’re telling a story to someone sitting across from you, and your goal was not to bore him or her.
The other was to think of your novel unwinding like a movie, each scene blending into the other, each scene serving a purpose.
In both cases, keeping the reader’s attention is vital.
It was an intensely collaborative process, with synopses, outlines, and pages flying back and forth. As you know, there were two kinds of writers: plotters and pantsers.
Jim was a plotter. A serious plotter. A plotter among plotters.
I’d never done extremely detailed outlines before working with Jim, but I’ve learned to do it, and I’m glad I can do it now. It’s tough at first, but now, it’s an important tool. It’s especially helpful when you’re four months into a book and start to lose track of who did what to whom.
But what about [[redacted]]?
And who does [[redacted]]?
And aren’t you [[redacted]]?
To repeat, there was a learning curve to collaborating with another author, but I quickly found that what I learned along the way heavily outweighed any challenges that may come up. You’re part of a team, working towards one goal: making a vibrant and exciting thriller that has both of your names on it.
And honest, there really haven’t been many challenges.
Jim was an utter joy to work with, and I hoped to continue working with him for years to come.
And then maybe I’ll take that trip to Disneyland.
Note from Career Authors: Let’s talk collaboration! Join us on Facebook.
Brendan DuBois is the New York Times bestselling author of twenty-five novels, including THE SUMMER HOUSE, co-authored with James Patterson. He’s also written for Playboy, The Saturday Evening Post, Ellery Queen’s Mystery Magazine, Alfred Hitchcock’s Mystery Magazine, and numerous anthologies including “The Best American Mystery Stories of the Century,” and the “The Best American Noir of the Century.”
His stories have thrice won him the Shamus Award from the PWA, two Barry Awards, two Derringer Awards, the Ellery Queen Readers Award, and three Edgar Allan Poe Award nominations from the MWA. He is also a “Jeopardy!” game show champion.