In April 2021, a book made its way to my desk for review. I was unprepared for Guns & Smoke, in the best way possible. With an epic romance, adrenaline-pumping adventure, and a genre combination I didn’t know I was missing—I was hooked.
Guns & Smoke was written by coauthors, Lauren Sevier and Abbie Smith. In this post, I’m delighted to interview them about their journey to publication and ask them your burning questions about all things coauthoring.
Lauren Sevier (left) and Abbie Smith (right)
How did you two meet? Readers would love to hear about your individual writing journeys, then your literary “meet cute”.
Lauren: I love this question! Abbie and I met at the tender age of four, in pre-school actually. We even have photos! We’ve been friends practically our whole lives and it’s something I cherish, not many people can say they’ve had a best friend for that long. Our literary journey, however, didn’t start until the summer before senior year of high school. While we both had interest in books, plays, and other creative aspects, it wasn’t until I was chatting with her on AIM one summer night (I just aged myself, didn’t I? LOL!) and asked her what she was up to that our literary journey began. She told me, reluctantly, that she was writing on a Harry Potter fanfiction forum focused on the Marauder’s stories.
Immediately I was super interested and she was beyond embarrassed to share this part of her life because she thought it was ‘uncool’. I signed up that night and we realized that we both had a real talent for original story development, character development, and engaging plot twists that ranged from cringey to epic. We were hooked on writing together after that.
Abbie: While we did meet originally when we were very young, I attribute our friendship now to when we re-met in high school. I’d moved away for several years. While gone, I went through some pretty intense trauma. So when I moved back, I wasn’t exactly in an open place. Lauren took one look at me and decided we were going to be best friends. We had last period drama together freshman year and this girl literally chased me down from halfway across campus, hollering my name. Not knowing how to handle that sort of attention (hi trauma!), I didn’t really think much of her. Sophomore year, I swear she must have bribed administration to see my schedule because we had five classes together, were in the same homeroom, and because our names are so close alphabetically, lab partners in biology.
Because I struggled so much socially in high school, I retreated online and learned all about the wonderful worlds of role play and fan fiction. When I admitted my darkest secret to Lauren (fully expecting her to think I was the lamest person in the world) and she immediately validated my passion, we started writing together. I’d never thought much of writing my own stories until Lauren and I started writing a ton of original characters and it was so much fun.
Why did you decide to co-author?
L: Well, you see, it all happened after a bottle of wine on girl’s night… Yes, I’m serious. LOL! At the time, I was engaged to my now husband, working two jobs to pay for a wedding and honeymoon and we had little in the way of time or money. But Abbie and I made sure to prioritize time together, and we had a standing girl’s night where we drank wine, caught up, watched movies, and generally spent quality time together. It was near Christmas-time and I was so broke that I couldn’t afford a good present for her that year. So I went on etsy and found these cute ‘character dice’, like a game where you roll them and it gives you prompts for stories. They were $8 and after some wine, I told her we should roll them and write a short story together for fun. After all, it’d been a long time since we’d written together. That’s how our first novel together was born. When we finished the first draft of a fully original, full-length book I think it became real to us. Or me, at least. That not only could we do this, but that we were good at it, and had a real passion for it.
A: To add to what Lauren said, the main reason I decided to co-author with her was because it was the first time I felt like my writing was actually good. It’s so easy to get into your own head when it’s just you on the page. I’m lucky that I have someone that I can go to when I’m doubting myself, someone who understands my love language (words of affirmation for the win), someone who I know I can trust implicitly. I haven’t always cherished our relationship as much as I should, but as I’ve gotten older, I know my life is far better when I’m collaborating with Lauren than without.
Tell us a bit about the books you’ve co-authored (pitch time)
L: Ah! Yes! Guns & Smoke is our debut co-authored novel and the first in a series. (the second book is coming out this year! EEP!) It’s a Dystopian/Western Romance novel, which sounds like a mouthful but surprisingly works! Basically, it’s like Hunger Games meets John Wayne… with spice. I absolutely love the characters and the world we’ve built, there’s so much to explore. And the readers have been so amazingly receptive!
A: While Guns & Smoke is our only publication so far, what I can tell you is we have a ton of books planned to write together. In addition to Leather & Lace (sequel to G&S), we’ve written the first rough (rough) draft of a villains’ romance set in a matriarchal fantasy world. I cannot wait to share more because I’ve been really passionate about this story for well over a decade!
How do you develop ideas?
L: Wine, on girls’ night. LOL! Just kidding. Our ideas come from a ton of different sources. Some are based on character archetypes we’ve built, others from ideas we want to express, and some have a more cathartic origin (this is especially true for me).
A: When it comes to the technical side of actually developing ideas, we try to block out work days for different things. Some are drafting, some editing, some marketing. Then we do world and plot building. I’ll be honest though, there are times I have ideas for projects way in the future that aren’t even on our radar so I’ll stick it in a doc to send to Lauren later.
What is your drafting process like? Who writes what?
L: So, we definitely have what I would call a drafting ‘season’. There are certain times during the year that we have big chunks of time dedicated to creation and drafting based on family life, work life, availability, etc. Typically, we make sure to block time to work until the completion of a draft. Then, we get an outline together. We’ve usually already done a lot of development work up to this point: worldbuilding, brainstorming sessions, character development sessions, timelines, budgets for the book, overall plot arcs, individual chapter arcs, and more. So, by the time we’re ready to draft, it’s all laid out for us.
As for who writes what… this is going to be different depending on the novel. For Guns & Smoke, it was written in first person perspective from two main character’s points of view. Obviously, it’s a romance at its heart, and we really wanted to write both characters as fully and completely as possible. With their own individual wants, needs, wounds, fears, traumas, etc. so that as they came together, it was really satisfying for readers. We also really wanted them to have very distinctly different ‘voices’. So that when you switched perspectives there was a clear delineation between the two of them, while the read of the book was still somewhat seamless. Because of that, we chose to take ‘ownership’ of a character, so they both had a different author with a different writing style to achieve this. However, that may not be the case for all of our novels in the future *wink, wink*.
A: For Guns & Smoke, Lauren wrote Bonnie and I wrote Jesse. While the majority of drafting is done according to who takes ownership, we edit everything together. Drafting is actually one of my strongest suits because I am great at producing a lot in a little time. Whether it’s a quality product is debatable, but that’s what editing is for.
How do you blend writing styles into a cohesive narrative?
L: *Le sigh* The wondrous, mysterious, magic of editing. Seriously. Editing is what takes a draft all the way into a published, polished, novel. Making sure you know how you want the readers to experience the story is also paramount. We always kept our readers in mind while editing, and it guided us a lot of the time.
A: Typically if we are doing a first draft, we each take our character and draft it. If we need help, we reach out to the other. So while drafting is done separately for the most part, we typically do our editing together to smooth out the tone of the story overall.
How do you approach editing? Do you edit each other’s work?
L: Yes, and no? One really great thing about co-authoring is being able to lean on your partner’s strengths and also lending a hand in areas they might be weak in. Abbie and I are very different authors, with different skill sets, and it comes in insanely handy. Abbie is really good at the technical stuff, graphic design, proofreading, anything that requires a ton of nitpicky detail, she’s amazing at! Meanwhile, I’m really good at overall story structure, dialogue, creative solutions to plot holes, etc. So typically I handle the developmental edits, because I have a really good handle on where we’re missing something, or where we can cut, making sure the narrative voice is cohesive, things like that. But Abbie can find every grammar mistake, incorrectly formatted dialogue tags, misused commas, etc. So she typically proofs our manuscripts. We also hire out for line edits, as we acknowledge that we need an outside perspective and it’s impossible for us to find all of our bad habits! We’re too close to it!
A: I approach editing with a scowl and coffee. Seriously, it’s one of my least favorite things. It feels like a never ending process. BUT I fully acknowledge that you can’t get the work where it needs to be without the editing process. As Lauren said, she’s a star with the overall big picture stuff, while my strength is noticing the minute details. Even if our skill grew to do our own copy/line edits, I’m not sure that we would want to because I feel like it’s really important to have a third party look over the work since we are so close to it.
What do you do if you disagree?
L: We talk it out. Period. Mental health is paramount to both Abbie and I, part of that is making sure we have open and honest communication. Co-authoring is a lot like being married, we won’t agree on everything, but communication is key. Also, making your partner feel safe to communicate by being kind, receptive, and respectful. It’s not always been easy for us, we’ve had a few bumps and bruises along the way, but I know without a doubt if I disagree about something I’ll be heard and my concerns will have weight. Even if I end up conceding my point, that gives me comfort.
A: Trial by combat. No, but seriously, if there is a disagreement, we talk it out. Communication is super important. As difficult and uncomfortable as it can be, it’s really important to have that open line of communication with your partner in any sort of situation (personal, professional, etc.). It’s taken us a long time (and lots of therapy) to be able to figure out that if we are having issues or concerns, it’s not a personal attack on the other. I’m really proud of the two of us, knowing that we haven’t always been the greatest at it, but also knowing that our relationship is super important to both of us, and we want to be sure that we are being open and honest and not holding anything back while still being respectful.
What’s been the best thing about co-authoring?
L: Getting to do what I love the most with one of the people I love the most. There’s nothing better than to share your passion with someone else, for them to be just as passionate.
A: Creating characters and worlds together. It’s almost like we birthed this thing and now we’re parents raising it. Knowing that I have someone beside me who feels just as deeply about the work as I do.
The most challenging?
L: Not having enough time. I want to do this exclusively, all the time, ad nauseum, until I’m old and gray. However, I have a family, and work, and a home to manage… which means I can’t just sit at my computer with Abbie 8 hours a day every day. I’d like more time, so that we can create more, faster.
A: I have to agree with Lauren, time. I work a day job, have family obligations, and my two dogs. I have always said that I wish there were four more hours in the day. For me, it can get really overwhelming when I have so much to do and not enough time. Not only is there work and household stuff, but we also want to eat healthy and work out, and make sure we’re taking time for ourselves. There never seems to be enough time in the day to do everything!
What programs/systems do you use to collaborate on a book?
L: GOOGLE DOCS! Actually, the whole google suite is AMAZING! We can write together from two separate locations in real time, chat in real time, make comments that are notified by email in the document, we can link our calendar for timelines, video chat if we need to discuss a scene or plot point that isn’t quite working out. It’s literally a co-author’s dream. Especially because of COVID-19, there were several times we couldn’t get together to write or edit in person and if two co-authors are geographically very distant, this is a KEY tool to use. Not to mention… It’s free.
A: Funny story. We went on a writer’s retreat last year and our AirBnb’s internet was down. Given that Google suite is all online, we were a little panicked. I just so happened to have a thumb drive, so we were able to go back and forth, but it was so inconvenient and frustrating, especially when during one transfer, we lost an amazingly written scene by Lauren. I was so upset. Google suite is great, but it’s important to have a backup plan because sometimes technology fails.
What are the financial ramifications of co-authoring? (Costs, royalties, etc)
L: I actually think this answer to this might surprise you, but there are no financial ramifications to co-authoring. Let me try to explain, if someone decides to write and self-publish a novel completely on their own they would pay 100% of the costs and receive 100% of the royalties. If they decide to query and traditionally publish they incur 100% of the costs and then receive 100% of the advance/then royalties.
Co-authoring just means splitting everything in half. Costs and Royalties. So you pay less to put out a book, but you get less in royalties. Essentially the cost v. profit is equitable. What this does mean is that our financial growth as individuals is slower, so we have to put out twice the work as solo authors to keep up with an individual author’s growth. However, since the division of our labor is split up as well, it means we have the potential to work twice as fast (if we so choose) which is also equitable. You share everything. Risk and reward. Cost and Profit. When you succeed, they succeed.
A: As a single person with a single income, co-authoring and splitting the costs really appealed to me. I wouldn’t be able to do nearly the amount of promotion, design work, marketing, etc. that we do if I was trying to pay for all of the publishing expenses on my own. While the “downside” is only receiving half the royalties, the risk is definitely worth the reward for me.
Who’s responsible for all the formatting and uploading to publishing programs?
L: Currently we’re using an aggregate site for formatting, though, Abbie is as I said an AMAZING graphic designer and she’s going to be doing all the file formatting for us starting soon. She’s so talented! I upload all the files to the publishing programs, but we hope to be able to have a more centralized system soon where we will both have equal access to do that. Abbie already knows all my passwords anyway! LOL! So if she ever needs to adjust anything or edit anything she has full access. Trust and communication, people. I’m telling you.
A: I just got Atticus, so I’ve been exploring it and getting familiar with the program. I love doing visual/graphic art like this, and Atticus is certainly a cost-effective tool that I’m excited to use to its fullest extent.
How can other writers find a coauthor?
L: Not everyone is as lucky as we are to have found their co-author on the playground. We fully acknowledge this isn’t the usual case. However, I’ve actually got another co-author for a future project who I found by networking in different spaces. Youtube, social media, writing groups, connecting with local authors, the world is really small now that we can develop relationships with people all over the world completely online.
My advice, however, is no matter how long you’ve known someone, before starting ANY project (literally do NOT write one word) please get a co-authorship agreement. You can find templates for these online. This protects your work. Even the best of friends can have a falling out, and like I said co-authoring is a lot like being in a relationship, sometimes things just don’t work out. But all that sweat equity you’ve invested in your story should be protected. Period. Abbie and I protect our friendship and our books by having a contract signed before drafting anything. One for each book. If ever we disagree, we can refer back to it and get back on track. And ANY good co-author will be FULLY on board with this.
A: And if they’re not, they aren’t the right co-author
Thank you Lauren and Abbie for sharing your writing and coauthoring experiences!
Already read (and loved) Guns & Smoke? Click here to pre-order the sequel, Leather & Lace. At the moment Leather & Lace preorders are available for e-book only. Add Leather & Lace on Goodreads to not miss out on any upcoming news!
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