More thoughts on collaboration

After sharing my last post on Twitter, I got a message from a friend that made me think I may not have communicated myself properly.

So in an effort to make more sense, here's another longish essay on collaboration.

The doughnut hole collaboration

When I think about current collaboration, I think it tends to have someone at the center of the work. Either we are submtting stories to someone )a publisher or individual) or we are the ones at the center, compiling, editing, and arranging the collection.

I think this is awesome and get your work seen by others. However, as someone who once put together a collection, I think there can be some dangers to this. First of all, it's a lot of work and unless you''re an editor and want to do this, then you aren't focusing on the writing. Also, the responsibly of properly paying your writers (requires effort and time). Secondly, if someone else is doing it, there is the required bottleneck of selection for a limited space, and depending on that individual, you may not get chosen.

What I'm suggesting is that we get rid of that centralized person/organization and moving a more decentralized collaboration.

There is not one person or organization choosing the work, individuals are in charge of their own earnings and who they wish to work together with.

Centralized vs. decentralized

How it works

Perhaps you want to do a collaboration with others, but you care only about the writing and not about the organizing and the responsibilities that come with it. You're a writer dammit, so you want to focus on the writing. So, how do you make it happen?

The beginnings of a project can start with as few as two, or shared with as many people that you want. (It can also generate fans of the project who may set do their own versions of it, which is totally fine.) But you agree upon some general parameters and then set forth in the work.

If each writer has their own individual channel (like Ghost, Substack, Memberful, Patreon, or Amazon), they can create their individual content. It can be as big or small or weird as they like, because it is connected to their own channel.

But then, you start linking and sharing each others projects (and with it, extending the exposure of that project). Each individual writer brings in their own audience, but by linking to other collaborators in the project, you can spread and increase the surface area of that exposure.

These links could simply be at the bottom of the page, or they could be integrated within the actual story. For example, you could have your character walk into a bar that just happens to be the bar in someone else's story. Adding a link within the story can tie those two pieces together. Or perhaps, an incident occurs in a story and you and a half dozen other writers write your own perspectives on it, which then you share.

I'm only scratching the surface, but I think there are a heck of a lot more ways to do this, some of which could really help smaller authors get better exposure to other audiences. My hope is that if authors started collaborating this way, they could really expand on what is possible.

Good collaborators get rewarded

What's more, and this is hinted in the article from Packy McCormick I shared, you as an individual channel can decide how much—or how little—you want to share of the project with your audience and readers can explore that perspective as much as they want.

Now this can work against people, because they may be excluded. Let me be clear, for the most part, this isn't a good thing and it's not right. I'm not interested in discrimination and it's a garbage way to go through this world.

But... it also gives you a right to choose who you associate with. If you don't agree with an author, you don't have to link their content. A reader can go down the link hole and still find them, but that's their choice.

But... these choices to share or not share also have consequences. If there is a future project and you weren't a team player, don't be expected to be invited back.

As Packy says:

being part of a loose alliance doesn’t guarantee participation. Individuals constantly need to earn their place in new projects and transactions. Without contracts and employment, social norms dictate participation.

What's in it for you?

There are a few fundamental rewards in being a good collaborator, most of which I've already hinted at.

Exposure

Working with others on a project may help you be introduced to more readers. Not only will they see your writing on this project, but it will lead them back to your website, your social accounts, and your other published work.

I think this is actually a game changer, because it's less about about buying ads and fighting your way up the bestseller list, but about trust and social capital. If another writer links to your writing, they are saying "Hey, I like this person, you should check them out." And since you have contributed your own story, this let's readers discover you and your voice.

Also, because no single person is in charge, smaller scale creators can contribute to a collaboration and have the potential to be noticed.

Money

Although writers want and need exposure for people to find out who they are, I'm a strong believer that they should get paid.

In the past few years, the way we can publish has truly shifted. Paid newsletters, membership sites, and Patreon have really changed the game. We no longer need to go with just a traditional publisher or a service like Amazon, but we can now sell our work directly from our website or newsletter.

(How much you charge and whether you charge for people to read your work is up to you. If someone doesn't know who you are or how you write, then they very well may not want to pay money to read your writing.)

This ability and opportunity to monetize your work (large or small) in a tangible way can't be ignored.

Feedback and Support

Although I haven't really mentioned this one previously, working with others gives you access to a community that you can turn to for help.

Perhaps you just finished your story and need some thoughts, feedback, or writing advice on it. If you are collaborating with others that want you to succeed, they might help you.

Or maybe another writer with more experience collaborates on the project. They may offer advice to smaller creators, which is the sort of help that can be invaluable.

All in all, working with others can take you in unexpected directions, and open up new paths to opportunities.

Wrap-up

This isn't a new idea. Anyone who's participated in #VSS365 on Twitter have contributed to a collaborative collection that anyone can participate in.  What I'm thinking about is taking this idea and ramping it up to a larger scale form.

As Ben Thompson pointed out, the three challenges for authors is content creation, content delivery, and content exposure. For the longest time, content delivery was handled by traditional publishing, and then Amazon and self-publishing came along. Now it's even easier with memberships and newsletters—and as an added bonus, we can show readers our voice and style by offering any sample or size of our writing.

Yet, this still left authors struggling for exposure.

For a long time now, I've believed that the only way for authors to solve that problem is by working together. Decentralizing the collaboration process, sharing each other's easily accessible, bite-sized writing seems a great way to do this.