Co-writing a novel

Today, I present Canadian authors Melodie Campbell and Cynthia St-Pierre. Their new mystery, A Purse to Die For, was released by Imajin Books this summer. I asked them how two writers go about writing an entire book together. That’s something I cannot imagine doing! Here’s what they say:

C: Melodie, we get asked that a lot don’t we?

M: Yes, and it’s really so simple: we set out to have some fun writing. I think the trick to co-writing is to make it enjoyable for each other. In the end, of course, you have to compromise on some things. But, if the writing has been fun, it’s worth it.

So….we set out to surprise each other. I’d write a scene and then Cindy would take over and write the next scene. I wouldn’t necessarily know where she was going with it, so it was always a delight to get the next chapter.

C: I tell people it was like reading and writing at the same time. Very pleasurable. Many authors claim they wouldn’t be able to write a mystery with another writer. Real murder might ensue. I admit I wasn’t a fan of group projects in school. Back then, it always seemed hard to reach a meeting of the minds, let alone divide the task evenly between an arbitrary group of students. But Melodie and I became friends before attempting a collaboration. Plus we’re much older and wiser now. Ahem.

We met at Canada’s national mystery conference, Bloody Words, which took place in Toronto that year. How many years ago was that now?

M: I think it was 2006. Six years ago? But we didn’t start this project until 2009. I think we had both tried writing mystery novels on our own and had stalled.

Novel writing is a huge project. Many full-time writers take six months to a year to complete a book. If you are doing it part-time, it can take years. So having a writing partner to push you and applaud you is great motivation.

What would you suggest other writers look for in a novel-writing partner?

M: We had read each other’s short stories and liked each other’s writing styles before we tried to work together. We’re both minimalists with words, and we look for humour. I think our styles blend well.

This is something I would advise anyone before trying a collaboration: look for someone whose fiction you love to read yourself.

C: Mel and I lucked out to the point that readers insist they can’t tell where one of us left off writing and the other began. Even my sister, who’s an author herself, says she can’t tell.

For example, Mel and I wrote this guest post using the very same back-and-forth style we enjoyed when writing A Purse to Die For. Then we handled any required editing. If we hadn’t specified a change of voice in this blog posting, would you have been able to say for sure who wrote what?

Besides, we’re mystery writers. Maybe “C” doesn’t stand for “Cynthia” but for “Co-author”. And maybe “M” doesn’t stand for “Melodie” but for “Me.”

A Purse to Die For is available online from Amazon and Barnes & Noble.

Melodie Campbell’s first novel, Rowena Through the Wall (Imajin Books) went to No.2 on the bestseller list (fantasy, futuristic) in August 2011. A Purse to Die For, co-written with Cynthia St-Pierre, is her second novel. Her third novel, The Goddaughter, has been released by Orca Books. Melodie is the general manager of Crime Writers of Canada.

Cynthia St-Pierre has a York Regional Police Citizens’ Awareness Program certificate, presented and signed by Julian Fantino, former Commissioner of the Ontario Provincial Police. In her career as a marketing professional, she’s written promotional, packaging and communications material, and articles for business periodicals.

Find out more about Melodie and Cynthia, and their joint writing adventures at

About rosemarymccracken

Rosemary McCracken is a Toronto-based fiction writer.
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9 Responses to Co-writing a novel

  1. Melodie, it’s good to see you again – aren’t you over at my blog this week? 🙂 and Cynthia, nice to meet you. I think what the two of you have accomplished is terrific and I also think it takes two very special people to accomplish what you have. Best of luck with “A Purse To Die For.”

    • Hi Patricia, nice to meet you as well! We’ve linked to Mel’s interview on your blog, Patricia Gligor’s Writers Forum, on our joint website, Fashionation with Mystery. That’s another thing Melodie and I share: a love of mystery. You too I see!

  2. I’m currently co-writing a screenplay with someone I have never met face to face. At first, we had some rocky sessions, each of us refusing to give any ground. And looking back, we fussed about some pretty minor stuff. But now, six months into the project, we work together fairly seamlessly. We check each other immediately, and the output is stronger for it.

  3. jack everett says:

    It was interesting to read how other authors are working as a pair. I am one half of the Everett & Coles patnership and we started over thirty years ago doing exactly the same as Melodie and Cynthia; one writing one chapter then handing it over to the other. We started writing two books and swapping them over each week and with one we tried to leave the hero in an impossible situation. I don’t fully recall how that one worked out but I do remember the hours of laughter it caused. Since then we have tried many other methods but one writing, both talking, and then the other re-writing has proved the most popular.
    I think for any partnership to succeed one must forget pride and not allow any resentment to fester
    but I would never have had it any other way. – latest suspense thriller “The Diamond Seekers”

  4. Co-writing doesn’t seem so daunting to me. If the goal is to have fun and relax, then it sounds like a great way to go. And it sounds as though you’re really having fun!

  5. David Coles says:

    This is like a blast from the past. Jack Everett and I (David Coles) have been co-writing for 30+ years and the we started in exactly the same way – alternately writing a chapter or so without letting the other know what was going on until we handed it over. Techniques have changed over the years though, the “cliffhanger” approach prevents joint ideas and discussion.
    Our latest book “The Diamond Seekers” published by Barking Rain Press, is almost divided up geographically. Thus Jack wrote the Yorkshire, UK and the Austrian action, I wrote the Cambridge, UK and the Italian action – both of us bringing local knowledge to the writing.
    However, at the end, we edit it separately and alternately at least twice and more likely four times each – that’s what merges the two voices into one.

  6. So interesting to read all your comments! A geographical division of writing is another creative approach. I do agree that discussion between co-writers over and above the back-and-forth writing sessions is important. I wonder how many chapters’ worth of e-mails bounced between Mel and me? There’s no doubt about it, co-writing is fun. I’m betting more people would co-write if they knew the rewards. Thanks to Rosemary for suggesting and hosting the topic!

  7. Marja McGraw says:

    I have to give you a lot of credit. I don’t think I could write with someone else because I’m too selfish about what I want in a story. That doesn’t say much for me, but it’s honest.

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