The joys of collaboration (Guest Post)

Meet The Carter Seagrove Project, four authors who have come together to collaborate and find a larger audience. I met them through Twitter and at first was taken aback by how many followers they had. Then I looked at their webpage and found that they also dip their collective toe in film projects.

To me, this is a testament to how social media can work to help us reach out and build a creative community, as this collective of Alp Mortal, Chambers Mars, Shannon M. Kirkland and Morgan Starr don’t just promote themselves. They work hard at sharing the spotlight shine with those that need a step up.

Image by Edar, courtesy of Pixelbay

Image by Edar, courtesy of Pixelbay


Kevin very generously asked us to contribute a blog post, one centred on how the Project came together and something about the collaborative working that dominates the Project’s culture. But first, a little history.

I am Alp Mortal and one of the founders of The Carter Seagrove Project LLC, but the project – as an entity – existed before the partnership was formally incorporated on 4th February 2015.

I began writing in February 2009, and self-publishing in December 2012. Shortly thereafter, my good buddy – Chambers Mars – also began writing and self-publishing. He lives about 14kms from my house in the Vosges Mountains for part of the year, and I spend as much time at his place in Saint Tropez as the boundaries of friendship will allow. In 2014, we spent the summer together and, having already written Dust Jacket as a joint project, seeing as we both love crime thrillers, we decided to embark on our next project The Inspector Fenchurch Mysteries – of which there is now one complete series, with a second underway.

I think that project really exemplifies for me the collaborative approach – not least because Chambers does not write in English as his first language.

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The Dust Jacket project started the ball rolling. I don’t think we would have been ready for the experience if we had tried to do it any earlier than we did – collaboration takes a degree of confidence that working solo doesn’t require. In working solo, I open myself up to a potential reader only after the product is ready (as far as it ever is); working collaboratively requires – demands – an openness right from the start in the sharing of ideas.

Our actual writing process was – and still is – relatively simple. We decide who is taking responsibility for each of the main characters – that confers a right of veto – then we start. I will write something and send it over to Chambers, who will usually develop it, and add something more – basically, we play ping-pong until we have a story that sort of works – then we both take time to finesse the characters, plot, etc. Working side-by-side for an entire summer was definitely the key to the success of the process as it applied to the first series of Inspector Fenchurch. It helps enormously that I am intimately acquainted with Chambers’ style because I translate and edit his Zac Tremble Investigates series, and latterly, his Johnny Santé series.

One of us will take ultimate editorial responsibility for the story – it’s imperative because otherwise we could get bogged down in a ton of minutiae and never deliver anything. I tend to be the one who takes on that role because I write in English as my first language – Chambers writes in both French and Shimaore, and he cannot easily edit my work.

For me, the keys to collaborative writing are (not in any particular order of priority):

  1. Trust
  2. Compromise
  3. Mutual respect for ideas and plot decisions
  4. Communication protocols
  5. A right of veto when it comes to the crunch
  6. An awareness of each other’s strengths and weaknesses
  7. An (intimate) familiarity with each other’s style and working practices
  8. Honesty
  9. Shared vision
  10. Having fun (this is probably number 1!)
A book from Morgan Starr, one of the members of The Carter Seagrove Project

A book from Morgan Starr, one of the members of The Carter Seagrove Project

I’m planning a collaborative writing project with the author Phetra K. Novak, whose style I know less well. The approach is going to be a little different in that we plan to write whole sections autonomously, and then knit the thing together at the end – more of a patchwork approach rather than the seamless integration that Chambers and I strive to achieve.

I’ve edited for Phetra and I don’t think I could entertain a collaborative writing project with someone with whom I had no prior working relationship – largely because there has to be trust on both sides.

Collaboration usually delivers a richer result – two heads are better than one, as they say. Chambers and I argue – of course; he’s French – but we tend to know where our respective strengths and weakness lie and, therefore, what we may need to do to compensate – one way or the other – to deliver a readable story. It would be true to say that, working collaboratively, it will usually take about 3 times as long to produce the same number of words as it would for either of us to deliver them solo.

After Dust Jacket was delivered, we made the decision to write the Fenchurch series – and we created a new author to carry that project. That initiative needed a ‘brand’. One night, while drunk and high, we created The Carter Seagrove Project – the fact that we were listening to The Alan Parsons Project at the time probably had a lot to do with it. Actually, prior to that, we had, during the course of writing Dust Jacket, needed to create a fictitious author and the name of a fictitious book for the plot – we came up with Carter Seagrove and The Blakely Affair. Then we decided to write the fictitious book as the fictitious author – a series was spawned. It had to be a crime series because it is the genre that we share – I write The Twelve Crimes of Hannah Smith and The ‘Pin & Inspector Tom stories. Chambers writes Zac Tremble Investigates.

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In 2014, Amazon introduced Kindle Unlimited and that decimated our respective businesses so we opted out of Select/KOLL and removed our titles from the Amazon shelf, making the decision to never go exclusive with Amazon ever again even if we decided to publish with them again in the future. We re-published everything we had at that time on Smashwords – and opened our own eStore to sell direct. That tended to have the effect of cementing our partnership – we were no longer autonomous, self-publishing authors – we actually had a business together – albeit embryonic. During the same timeframe, we met Shannon M. Kirkland. I met Shannon first because she contacted me through my website, asking a question about the Odyssée story. That led to an invitation being extended to Shannon to join our circle of beta readers – she accepted. A beta reader who became our editor-in-chief.

During her three week trip to Europe at the end of 2014, when we met Shannon in person again (I had met her in the UK in May of 2014), we began the discussions around setting up a formal type of partnership – the only question was – where did it get incorporated?

We agreed on the USA because Shannon has a big office, and it’s the perfect excuse to go to Indiana on holiday.

I visited Shannon in February 2015 to get the partnership stuff done and dusted – we also decided to re-publish everything on Amazon but not exclusively. I also needed a huge amount of re-editing to be done, seeing as we had agreed that nothing would be re-published on Amazon until it had been re-edited – I handed it all over to Shannon. Another example of collaborative working, which has proved to be immensely rewarding for all of us – not least because Shannon insists on a very high quality end product. That also includes for the most part designing all our covers too. That can sometimes be very challenging, especially when I, for example, cannot readily or easily explain the image for the cover that is inside my head – it perforces a kind of specialised dialogue – rather like, I always think, poetry.

Shannon and I also collaborated on the Goodreads’ anthology stories that we submitted in 2015 as part of the Love is an Open Road event. I had previously edited her story The Golf Widow, so I knew a little of her style – it would be true to say, in respect of the Goodreads’ stories that we both took on the role of plot development editor because neither of us had had the experience before of working to a prompt or to a deadline.

Another of the characteristics of collaboration is the need, from time to time, for one of the team to carry the project for a while – I think that is true of all the creative projects that I have ever been involved in.

One of the guiding principles of The Carter Seagrove Project LLC is to support other indie artists. As a kind of celebration of the formation of the company, we decided to do something different. Funding a film is just about as different as it gets.

ASPD films, Dominic Haxton [the director] and Jake Robbins, had made a film – Tonight It’s Me – in 2014. An LGBT-themed short. I first saw it in January 2015. I fell in love with Jake. In looking for other films in which he had acted, I came across the crowdfunding campaign that he and ASPD Films had going at the time to raise the funds for the sequel.

It was an opportunity not to be missed.

I plan to do a blog post – perhaps something even bigger – to chronicle our involvement, along the lines of ‘so you want to make an indie film …’ Suffice it to say, that it was a collaboration of a very different kind, and one in which none of us in The Project had any experience whatsoever.

Somewhere towards the end of January 2015, when we got involved, and the 26th June 2016, we made the film. It is nothing like the original script in which we invested a reasonable amount of money. We suffered delays, issues and considerable anxiety at times – it was all worth it. That collaboration was different for the sole reason that we never actually met the team in person – thank goodness for Skype. We invested our money but also our trust and faith. Our faith in the project was the real currency being spent – sometimes you have to just go for it. We did get involved in the development of the script and we did get involved in the editing process – but largely we did a lot of marketing, and still do.

It taught us a few lessons.

Investing in something like an indie film is fraught with issues – good communication was, and still is, vital.

Filmmaking is not for the faint-hearted – we needed to be quite courageous at times.

When logic said pull out! we didn’t. I think that possibly typifies the Project to a degree – we are prepared to take risks.

Having set ourselves up as indie film patrons to one degree or another, we felt we had to walk the walk – and we have, investing in three other projects – a film called Demi that is doing the rounds of the film festivals as we speak, an episode of The Coffee House Chronicles which aired in 2015, and a film called The Arrangement which we hope will be screened in September 2016.

We have also gotten involved in three further types of collaboration since we started the company.

  1. We have made four audiobooks with a voice artist by the name of Stewart Campbell.
  2. We were joined by a creative partner – Morgan Starr.
  3. We invested in a photographic exhibition – a solo show by Jonathon Goodfellow, who is based in Melbourne, Australia.

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We used ACX to produce our audiobooks – being our first foray, we decided to play safe and use a trusted platform. We were incredibly lucky to find a voice artist who was just starting out and keen to do some audiobooks for the purposes of showcasing his talent. The key aspect of that collaboration was the task of trying to convey to someone whom I had never met just how I wanted the story to be told. Sure; I wrote a script for the narration but until I heard my words in the voice of a complete stranger, I had no idea as to how to guide this person to deliver exactly what I wanted. Stewart didn’t just narrate the story – he acted it. And that is another aspect of collaboration – expect the unexpected result. Needless to say, we are immensely happy and proud of the four audiobooks that we have completed thus far. The experience is also probably worthy of its own chronicle.

Morgan joined the project initially to work with me on the screenplay for a film project called Labels which has not yet come to fruition. Meantime, we’ve been busy publishing some of Morgan’s stories (in fact, 7 so far). The project Labels will combine the lessons learned while working with Jake, Dominic and ASPD films, together with the experience of both working with Stewart and making two book trailers for Youtube. Collaboration has a habit of not only transferring skills but also of opening one’s eyes to all manner of possibilities. What once seemed out of reach, suddenly feels very doable.

I suspect that those lessons learned and skills will come into their own when we try to get a graphic novel produced – possibly based on Chambers’ first series of Zac Tremble Investigates. And the same will be true when we try to get a short animated film made (no story yet identified as the probable candidate).

Having made two book trailers – and having invested in some serious software – we want to expand our vision of what a book trailer could be – this is where Jonathon Goodfellow hopefully comes into the picture. We discovered Jonathon through Twitter, who was, at that time, in the early planning stages for his first solo show. We invested to help make it a reality – opening night was on 21st April. However, beyond giving Jonathon some money, we want to develop the book trailer idea and push the envelope to the extent that the lines between the book trailer and a piece of visual art get somewhat blurred. We are hoping that Jonathon can provide a montage of his images, which will be set to music; in those two elements, together with the words and the voiceover (the words in this case are a kind of poem in prose), we hope to have something very original.

One of our guest blogger's own books

One of our guest blogger’s own books

Where next?

As far as the Project is concerned, it is always a matter of looking for or creating the opportunity. Within the next twelve months, we hope to get underway with the Labels project – a series of very short films based around the theme of stereotyping. As mentioned, a graphic novel and/or an animated film. More book trailers. More visual art. Another film with Jake, Dominic and ASPD Films. Translation of some of my work into French, German and/or Spanish. More guest contributors to the Envelope Collection of free vignettes.

I have absolutely no doubt that, whatever happens, collaboration will be an important part of what we do. Even while I have been drafting this post, Phetra K. Novak and I have created a new Twitter account that we jointly curate, which is solely devoted to all things vegan [@vegetalienne].

Golden Rules of Collaboration

  1. Ensure the vision is clear and genuinely a shared vision
  2. Understand precisely who is involved, exactly what they are responsible for, and decide up front who is responsible for the end to end process and the final delivery – who decides or what defines ‘we’re done’?
  3. Agree on communication protocols
  4. Agree on the sharing arrangements for any payback before you begin the work
  5. Agree on who owns what, and that permission from the owner has been given, and those two things are recorded – particularly relevant where copyright is concerned.
  6. Decide in advance what happens if a party needs to pull out
  7. Coordinate the advertising and marketing
  8. Introduce a simple reporting mechanism that ensures that everyone knows what is going on, the status of key deliveries and anything that needs to change
  9. Decide upfront who pays for what and keep track of expenditure
  10. Have lots of fun!

 


Thanks very much to Alp Mortal from The Carter Seagrove Project for joining us to talk about how they came together. And as we can see, they’ll keep going from strength to strength.

Check out their stuff through the links below, and keep an eye out for more guest posts from its members as part of an upcoming series where we ask authors to share three writing tips.

 

Carter Seagrove Project on Facebook, Twitter, Soundcloud, YouTube and through their own website.

 


 

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