What do you get when you put two Top 30 in Horror authors together? A bestselling dystopian post-apocalyptic series, of course! This week we talk to Bobby Adair and T.W. Piperbrook about how they got together for their first collaboration, The Last Survivors, how they made it work, and how they made it successful.
Bobby Adair is the bestselling author of the Slow Burn series and Ebola K series. T.W. (Tyler) Piperbrook is the bestselling author of the Contamination series and the Outage series. Together, they write the popular The Last Survivors series. Their stats are impressive. In the last year, they’ve published the first 3 books out of the planned 10-book series, while still writing and publishing books under their own brands, and have so far amassed over 700 reviews with an average 4.5 star rating.
Incredibly, this collaborative partnership is a first for both authors, and they haven’t even yet met face-to-face.
Originally, Tyler contacted Bobby to see if he was interested in a short story collection Tyler was interested in putting together. Bobby said he preferred longer works. Before they knew it, they were kicking around an idea, both of them taking notes as they talked. They transitioned into writing with a let’s-try-it-and-see attitude.
It took some adjustment to develop a good process. At first, they were both writing along the same story lines, but each had different time frames or distances in mind. They figured out most things on the fly — not surprising given that both authors consider themselves to be “pantsers.” Now they’ve got a pretty good system down. “I think the quality of the work gets better as we get better at working with each other,” Bobby says.
Tyler and Bobby’s process is interesting. They conduct story meetings via phone, storyboard the book together on Trello, then go off on their own and pick out the characters they each want to write. Once they know where all the story/character threads go and the timeline, they both “pants” a first draft. First drafts go into a shared folder on Dropbox. Each of them will download the other’s first draft and edit it. The second draft goes back to the originating author who gets final call on wording.
The result is like having a third author, they joke. Tyler says, “Basically, I’ll take Bobby’s rough drafts, and I’ll say, yeah, I’m going to ‘Piperbrook’ your chapter, and then he’s going to ‘Adair’ my chapter. So what emerges is Bobby Piperbrook, this third writer guy who’s kind of like a blend of what we hope is both of our styles so that the book has a flow where it sounds like one voice. Or at least that’s the hope.”
“I think just the idea of kind of getting together and brainstorming with another author, it’s incredibly productive from an imaginative perspective,” Bobby says. “One of the really interesting fringe benefits of it all is that in examining another writer’s work so closely, it makes it easier for me to see the flaws in my own work and it makes me a better writer.”
Collaborative and Cooperative
Both authors approach the partnership in pragmatic terms. They write at different times and at different paces, and while they try to keep the word count balance even, it doesn’t always work that way and that’s fine with them. Their shared objective is to make it the best work they can.
When it comes to business decisions, they note it’s whatever’s best for the product and the relationship. Each of them are good at certain things, and they just go with it.
Bobby admits one of the misperceptions he had going into the project was that it would be half the book, so half the effort. As it turns out, he says, it was half the book and maybe 80 or 90 percent of the effort from both of them. But with each book, they find it’s growing easier. Now, it’s half the book, 60 to 70 percent the effort.
A Slow Burn: Evaluating a Project’s Success
Release day for Book 1, The Last Survivors, brought in a rash of 1-star reviews making them question by Day 2 whether they should pull the project. They found that their respective established audiences didn’t transition over to the new work as nicely as they had expected. Their fans were looking for more Piperbrook stories or more Adair stories…and this was something different. While it seemed a setback at first, it soon became apparent that the series simply had to go through the natural growing pains of building its own readership.
Bobby notes that at first he was disappointed by the numbers because he was comparing them to the current numbers of his established series. Once he compared the sales numbers of The Last Survivors to the early numbers of his popular Slow Burn series, he realized the numbers track similarly. He expects that it will just take time — and more books — to build up to the level of success of their existing serieses. Readers are more likely to take a chance on an established series, one that they can binge-read.
Their pricing strategy is pretty straightforward. They priced all three books at $2.99 when they released, making Book 1 permafree when Book 2 came out. Once they set Book 1 to permafree, they ran a BookBub, BookGorilla, Freebooksy, and Bknights promotion.
Making Book 1 permafree has worked well for them, both in The Last Survivors series, as well as in their own respective works. The free-book websites regularly scan Amazon for free books, pushing those titles out to their own readers. Book 1 remains free today, and moves 200-300 books a day. Their current read-through rate is around 10%, a number they expect to go up as the series becomes more established and there’s more titles for readers to binge on.
Their most heavy-hitting marketing strategy though? Putting out more books and fast: every three months! With seven more books to go, fans have a lot to look forward to.
Interested in Collaboration? Here are Some Action Steps to Get You Started:
- Keep your eyes and ears open for authors you’d like to work with. Pay attention to who shows up in your also-boughts. Listen to what fellow authors are talking about in social media. Has a respected colleague Tweeted that they just finished a manuscript and have the blues for a new project? Maybe a favorite author has just complained about a lack of good fiction that’s right up your alley, and boy, do you have an idea they will love!
- Make a pitch. Don’t be shy. The worst that can happen is they say no thanks. The best that can happen is a book (or series) that readers love. Make sure you’re bringing to the table just as much fire power as they’re packing. Chances are, Stephen King’s going to say no…unless your name is Neil Gaiman. (Wow! What would that look like? Dark Heaven!) Pick an author that’s on par or a little bit further along in their career than you and offer everything you’ve got. When Hollywood calls, then you can hit up King.
- Decide together the parameters of the relationship from the beginning. How long will you be working together? Is there an out for either of you if things don’t seem to be working out? How will the book be published? How will production tasks be divided up?
- Decide how you’re going to write the project. Will one of you write out the scene beats and the other draft? Or perhaps you’d both rather go off and write sections on your own, then edit each other’s work like Tyler and Bobby?
- Make sure your objectives are aligned. If you both share the objective of making the project the best you can, you’ll make decisions that are best for your readers.
Have you ever collaborated with another writer before? How was your experience, and would you do it again?
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