Six Lessons I Learned Co-Writing A Novella With James Patterson
“Last year James Patterson announced a new publishing venture: BookShots. Shorter, novella-sized stories. The tag line was: Under 150 pages. Under $5. Impossible to put down.
I was very excited when BookShots got a splashy announcement in the New York Times—because it meant I could finally share some news I had been sitting on for months: I was writing one.
Scott Free is out today, as an eBook and an audiobook. It’s very different from my usual work, from the high-profile nature of the gig, to the sheer mechanics. I write in first-person present following one character, whereas this is third-person past following multiple POVs. It was a huge challenge. Bigger than I thought it would be, as you’ll soon find out…
To mark the release, I wanted to share some of the lessons I learned in the course of co-writing Scott Free.
1. Networking matters
I got this gig because of an editor who works at Patterson’s publishing house. We met at a conference years ago. We’d see each other at events or meet up for the occasional coffee. One day we were catching up and he said, ‘Hey, we’ve got this project coming up you might be a good fit for…’
Patterson nixed that—he said that analogies like that need to be familiar to the reader, and no one knows what it feels like to get hit with a cannonball.
And of course, like most things, I filed it away as something that sounded great but would probably never happen. But when I followed up, he asked me to send over some material.
This is not to say that my friendship with him was in the interest of getting a write-for-hire gig. He’s a nice guy. But a lot of publishing is networking—getting out in the world, shaking hands, introducing yourself. It’s a good thing to do. You never know where it could lead.
2. Learn to like writing outlines and synopses
I need an outline to write a novel. I can’t wing it. Hell, sometimes I outline my short stories. But my outlines tend to be messy, and I veer off them a good bit. With Scott Free, I needed to provide a much more precise set of material to get the gig.
My audition, after some initial spitballing about the overall arc of the story, was to put together a synopsis, and a chapter-by-chapter outline of the whole thing, to serve as a starting point. Which was equally difficult (and important) because I was swapping the point-of-view between multiple characters.
Point is: A lot of people complain that a synopsis is a pain in the ass to write. But once you get into the world of pitching, they’re a necessity.”