Monday, May 9, 2016

On Making a Good Team

(Quick note from Rachel -- I had no idea he was writing this until he asked me to look it over for grammar and what not and it is the sweetest thing I have ever read! I AM KEEPING THIS FOREVER!!!)


Hi Folks, Travis here again,

The relaunching post is taking too long, so I have something else for you this week!

@Jeffnine on Twitter asked me about what I've learned about working as a team with Rachel. There's no way I can fit that response into twitter, so I thought that maybe ya'll would find a bit of our backstory interesting today since we don't really work like your normal team.

How Rachel and I Got Started

I can't talk about our team work without talking about the origins of this writing endeavor. Rachel and I met more than 14 years ago at the UGAnime club. Back in those crazy days of the fandom where we were just so happy to be in the presence of other anime fans that we'd all sing all the opening and closing songs together. (Alas, our dignity got in the way of that fun tradition eventually hahaha). I still know most of the words to Berserk's horrible "Tell Me Why" ending song though...

*Coughs* Anyway, once we were out of college and living just the two of us, Rachel one day told me about her Great Dream (TM) to become a published author. She promptly went and started writing shortly after that, getting up 2 hours before work every day to cram in writing time on her first novel. Also finding time to write at work as well. She was driven.

For me though, the key words here were "Great Dream". It's hard for me to explain without sounding cheesy, the authenticity of Rachel's driving lifelong ambition to be a successful author. She doesn't call it her great dream idly. I, however, found this to be immensely attractive. On top of, well, my existing attraction to her as the love of my life.

(Rachel note: *DIES*)

See, I'm just a guy who went to college 'cause that was what I was supposed to do as a white dude from a middle class family. No tears please haha, I'm aware my privilege is showing. I went into computer science because, well, I liked computers and what else was I going to do? To say I struggled in school is an understatement. Laziness and immaturity are only part of the reason why I took 7 years to get a bachelors. 

So, having no real life ambitions of my own, but having grown up watching loads of anime full of nothing but people willing to die for their dreams, you might guess where this is going. Rachel, the woman I love, telling me about her great dream, and how high the walls on the way there were, was something I could absolutely throw myself into. It was the best...thing...ever.

applying to agents in the early 2000's be like...
I got to make her Great Dream, my Great Dream! ^___^ Honestly, this was the best way it could be for me. I'm basically a natural born follower. Taking the lead in anything other than running PnP RPGs is not my bag. If that makes you cringe a little, like I'm settling for less in life, please don't. I love it. Backing someone else's great dream is really, IMO, better than having one that's all my own. I won't do crap for "me", but I'll bust my butt for "us" all day every day.

I see myself more as Zoro helping Rachel become the Author King... or something like that

It's a little tough to explain, then, when people ask me for tips on how to work with my wife as a team. My answer is too broad in that, 
I do everything I can possibly think of to help. 
What does Rachel's writing need? That's where it starts. I will do research, master new skills, invest my own resources, go outside all the boxes, and give her the best of what I've got every day to help her make progress in her career.

This has, perhaps, led me to some unwise levels of support. I had to learn (thanks Buddha!) about the fallacy of sacrificing myself to help another. This is especially true of the years where I nearly worked myself to death at a job that was, I'll be honest, over my head. All in order to get us the cash and health care we needed to stay afloat while Rachel's career was still growing.

For those of you looking to help your S/O in their writing career, it's perhaps impractical and unfair of you to expect the same level of fanatical-devotion-to-the-writer out of yourself. What is important is keeping an open mind as to how you can help because, lemme tell you from experience, the most unlikely stuff can help.

Your Experiences are Your Most Valuable Asset

Writers need broad life experiences to make good stories out of. The number 1 thing you bring to any writer's table is the fact that you have an entire lifetime of experiences that they only likely share a tiny portion of. If the writer is your significant other, then you can also share a depth of those experiences that you would, perhaps, not be willing to share with a normal co-worker. As such, you are inherently a resource that cannot be easily matched by another.

For me, the first time this really happened was something neither Rachel nor I expected. During her first book, we learned that I was actually the better storyteller of the two of us. (Ack, that's hard to say! Even though Rachel has said so on many occasions this is hard for me to talk about! *blushing while typing*) (Rachel note: It's true. He was super good, y'all)

Ok, this isn't hubris talking. See, I've been making my own worlds, adventures, and full fledged campaigns for pen-and-paper RPGs since 6th grade. I've only used one pre-made adventure in my life and that's cause it came with something else. Even back as far as Rachel Aaron novel #0 days, I had something like 14 years of story crafting experience and had already crossed the 10,000 hours mark on game session time (not prep but live GMing) as well. So, when Rachel started asking me for story help, we were both surprised to find out that I actually knew a lot about putting this stuff together. Like a lot a lot.

I cannot pass on a chance to use an ALOT

So, while Rachel's English degree had provided her with a great deal of technical knowledge at the start, it had not provided a lot of practical story-assembly experience. Particularly of the long-form type that novels and series requires. I was the opposite: all experience, all self taught, and zero technical knowledge. I mean, I learned what 3 act structure was...last year. Anyway, this was a very happy mismatch as I couldn't have been better positioned to help her.

Now, of course, Rachel has written over a dozen novels. She's more than caught up with me experience-wise and is most definitely the undisputed master of the of the story around here. Still, I can always bring my live story telling experience to the table. GMing has provided me with a strange and highly useful skillset - like a nose for anything that doesn't make sense or anything that can be abused for power - that is imminently applicable to novel-length story construction.

The point here is, you'd be amazed what can help. All your reading, watching, playing, and living in general can provide for a novel. You've met lots of weird people I'm sure, we all have. You've probably been to some weird or interesting places too. There's so much there to contribute once you start digging.

Learning How to Tap Your Life

That said, this full life of experiences you've led might still be difficult to leverage. Honestly, learning what and how to contribute is not intuitive. It's a skill you'll have to practice and learn how to use. I do have a tip here for how to do this.

Be Interested in Your Author's Stories

It makes me SO SAD that there are husbands and wives out there who don't even read their spouse's finished works. A good book takes hundreds and hundreds of hours of intense mental labor to create. It's painful, wonderful, and engrossing. SO, unless you married for money, power, or *cough* under the shotgun, then why on Earth would a anyone avoid reading their love's creation? It is incomprehensible to me.

If you want to help, listening is the first, and arguably most useful service anyone can provide to an author. The act of talking about their novel is hugely helpful for any author, even if you aren't an expert on story. Being a sounding board requires mostly just listening. Though that is a skill in an of itself haha.

Anyway, if you want to help with the actual story parts of things, you have to listen first. Everything else comes second. If you want to contribute, but don't know how, then learning more about story construction is a good start. I've picked up a lot of what I know simply from helping Rachel work through the endless problems and kinks that novel-writing generates. Chew on enough problems and you'll get better even without directed study. 

Being involved in the story making may not be your bag though, particularly if your author writes something you don't like. (You should still read it when it's done, though!!). That's okay. There's lots of other skills authors need and don't have enough time for. Before that though, let's talk about time.

Bringing Other Skills to the Table

that's a, uh, complicated table you've got there...
These days, and those days too, authors need to have a pretty dang wide skillset. Aside from just writing, they need a website, mailing list, and social media presence. If they want to write professionally, then they also need money management skills, accounting skills, and tax help. They need art skills and marketing savvy. They also have to network, hustle, and make connections. It's ridiculous.

Really, no one person can do it all. Heck, we try and really no two people can do it all. Realistically, some of the above has to be hired out to professionals, which is annoyingly expensive. If you can do, or learn to do, any of the above areas, then you can easily provide thousands if not tens of thousands of dollars in equivalent help.

Let's look at what I do:
  1. General IT
  2. Website development and support
  3. Financial Planning/Management
  4. Tax Prep, W-9s, and 1099s
  5. General Business Admin crap (cashing checks, filling out GADoL forms, moving money, paying people, etc..)
  6. Royalty tracking and analysis
  7. Marketing research and development
  8. Marketing campaign planning and deployment
  9. Data analyst
  10. Subcontractor coordination
  11. Interview scheduling
  12. Review wrangling (asking for them, following up, linking etc..)
  13. Contacts management (just recording all the people we run into)
  14. Story construction assistant
  15. Content Editing
  16. Series planning assistant
  17. Copy Editing (sort of...)
  18. Co-Blogger
Am I totally awesome at all of these? Nope. I'm a newbie in so many ways. Just a guy with some spreadsheets. 

What's important though is that I tackle whatever I can, hire what must be done that we can't do, and learn to do better. Many of these activities are not worth hiring someone to do. They aren't essential enough and in most cases you couldn't hire someone (with positive ROI) for the value that they add to the business. That doesn't make them worthless. All of these are vital to a writer's business, just not all the time every day.

Despite all of this, though, writing books is still the most important activity that happens in the writing business. Honestly, as long as that's happening well, everything else is optional to a certain extent. We take the financials and the book production (covers, editing) the second most seriously. Those things cannot be skimped on as they can and will ruin our day if messed up. It's very hard to sell even a great book if you've got a bad cover or an error riddled manuscript.

But if you had to pick the one most important task an author does, it would definitely be the actual writing, which leads us to one of the most important things you can do for your author:

Fight for Your Author's Writing Time

Writing takes time. Specifically, it needs large blocks of uninterrupted time that are every day or at least regularly available. A lot of what I do can be summed up as:
Get Rachel as much writing time as possible
That's why I wear so many hats. The extreme form of this philosophy is to take as many non-writing activities off her plate as is possible. The lesser form of this is just helping provide safe writing windows for your author. Its a simple yet powerful strategy that can help produce a lot of books.

Inspired Yet?

I hope that hearing about how Rachel and I work has inspired you, or your other half who has been forced to read this, with a view of how it can work. There's lots more skills and talents out there that can help an author, I just listed what I do. That list grew out of what I can do combined with what Rachel needed me to do. 

Don't worry about doing everything at once by the way. I'm showing the results of more than 10 years of devoted effort and evolution. Your path will be different. Just keep your eyes on the prize - making good books!


PS: If you liked this post, I'm trying to have one up every Monday! If you need more to read, the blog has years of back posts about both the craft and business of writing. You can also follow Rachel on Social Media (Twitter/Facebook/Tumblr/Google+) to never miss a new post. And if you haven't read Rachel's fiction yet, you can find samples of all of her books at They're awesome ^__^



BG12sofia said...

Relationship goals!!! 😊😊

Unknown said...

so when will you write a novel of your own...with your wife's help!?!? or one totally different, Iona Andrews...husband and wife team...
love your blog today...super great.

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