Saturday, March 7, 2015

Co-Founders and Co-Authors - Figuring It All Out
Saturday, March 07, 2015

Co-Founders and Co-Authors - Figuring It All Out

Writer Aki Liao at work on The Cheongsam Bombshell
Coming March 2015
Two common questions that I get are: 1. How do you write with a co-author? 2. Do I need a co-founder? I thought I'd take a moment and address both of these questions in a single blog. At first glance, the two questions would seemingly have no relation, but on closer inspection there are a lot of commonalities.

SOME BACKGROUND: Or an indicator of where I stand on the subject of partnering.

Frank Keegan Myteries
I have had the good fortune of working with my co-author, Al McDermid, on our pulp noir mystery series, Frank Keegan mysteries, of which our next book in the series is The Cheongsam Bombshell. Our partnership began some time ago in which both of us got together and began conceiving the "Red Betsy" world of Frank Keegan set in 1949/1950s Hawaii, which is as much of a character of the book as the people. It is a darker, grittier and hard-boiled historical version than the popular images of today's Hawaii. 

Frank Keegan pulp noir mystery series co-author Al McDermid
Archaia Studios Press (ASP)
In addition to having had a terrific co-authorship, I've also had the good fortune of partnering with the Founder of Archaia Studios Press (aka Archaia Entertainment)Mark Smylie. We co-founded one of the top indie comic book publishing presses in the US. in 2005. Home of such hits as MouseGuardRobotika and The Killer, which was optioned by Brad Pitt's Plan B for director David Fincher. Archaia was literally a business that two guys built in a garage (Mark's garage that is).
Archaia Studios Press Founder, Mark Smylie

Acting co-Founder
I've also had the good fortune of working with several top Taiwan startup teams, where I often serve as the acting co-Founder of a given startup, especially when the Founder hasn't yet identified and enrolled a co-Founder. This is never more apparent than in the case of edtech startup Jibao. Founder Kimble Wang is always kind and refers to me as his mentor.

So one can tell, I believe in co-founders and co-authorships. Basically, as a consultant, I look for the signs that the Founder has "followers". When I say followers, I mean as defined by Derek Sivers in his famous Ted Talk on "How to Start a Movement?" My interpretation of Mr. Sivers' talk is that sometimes we overlook the importance of the first follower as another type of leadership; for without the first follower, the leader is but the "lone nut." It is the first follower that shows the others how to follow the leader. Thus, I actively encourage all of the startup folks I get involved with to have a co-founder. AND when we say, co-founder, we don't necessarily mean the technical co-founder or vice versa. I'm talking about having people that you can collaborate, share ideas and journey forth with.

In the startup space, founders need to be able to discuss things that they normally can't share with their investors, potential investors, staffers and other teammates. Probably things they couldn't share with their spouses and extended friends. Many of these things are about their fears, challenges, and obstacles, that if shared with outsiders could affect the mood of staffers or decrease the trust that an investor has in them. Who wants to know the Founders have no idea what they're doing?! 

The Fellowship of the Ring?
Often in the sharing of the task at hand comes the support needed to achieve a venture's goals - like The Fellowship of the Ring from the Lord of the Rings, where Frodo, our "founder" goes on a journey with his first follower "Sam" and the rest of the Fellowship (other hobbits, humans, elves and dwarves) as they strive to throw the one ring of power back into Mordor and banish Sauron forever.

Draft cover of the upcoming The Cheongsam Bombshell
(March 2015)


Back to co-authoring a mystery, how do we do it? First of all Al and I both write, we both plot, we both come up with characters and motivations. In general, of the two, Al is the stronger technical writer, in that Al is an editor by profession and has advised other writers. With Al as the "safety net," this allows me the ability to "swing for the fences" in that I can go for it, take bigger risks in plot, ideas and passages that I write, knowing that Al is there as my "belayer" to keep me from falling into the "corny and cliche" abyss. From this method of working, we tend to generate good ideas, and if we may say so, some great ideas!

As a writing duo, we have an implicit trust in each other and believe that the goal of the whole is more important than any specific wording, passage, character or idea. As a result, there are many, many pages of our stories that are left on the proverbial "cutting room floor" or would make a terrific deleted scenes sequence in story writing's equivalent of DVD extras, whatever that may be.

For the partnership to work, we both need to be able to "go there" in the creative process. Some may call it a heated debate. I've often apologized to my co-author for the plain old yelling I do during our process. We acknowledge our commitment to the common goal.

To this end, you need to have a shared goal - a North Star. You also need to have common like/dislikes - not totally the same, as you need the variation to come up with stronger characters, better plots, etc. For instance, Al's favorite writer is John Sandford, while I'm partial to Erle Stanley Gardner's Perry Mason mysteries, which Al can't stand to read. But we both read Mickey Spillane's classic, I, the Jury; and both love Ross MacDonald.

So go out and find yourself a co-founder. At a minimum, it's like in Lord of the Rings where it's Samwise Gamgee who ultimately carries both the ring and Frodo to the finale of LotR (Oops should I have said spoiler alert?). There are going to be moments when on the journey that is startup or mystery writing, where you'll need that external support to keep you on the path. For sure, Al's kept me on the path, and I daresay, there are moment's where I've been there for him as well.