Meet cute, commit and then start churning out the beautiful fruits of close collaboration. Such is the relationship trajectory for many co-writers, who choose to navigate the publishing world with a partner. Here’s how three writing duos make it work, and why they traded in the often-solitary writing life for some company.
Christina Hobbs and Lauren Billings, the duo known as Christina Lauren, have published more than 20 books since 2013, including 2018’s “Josh and Hazel’s Guide to Not Dating.”
How they met: A decade ago, Hobbs was a junior high counselor and Billings, who has a PhD in neuroscience, was spending her days in a research lab. Each wrote Twilight fan fiction in her free time, and they met in online forums. When Billings organized a panel at the 2009 San Diego Comic-Con, she invited Hobbs to participate , and after hitting it off, they decided to collaborate on a short story. That was fun, so — why not a book?
The logistics: Hobbs lives in Salt Lake City; Billings in Orange County, Calif. On a recent January morning, Billings was preparing to fly to Utah so the duo could outline another book, an exercise they prefer to do in person. They then split the work, often by point of view or chapter, and edit each other once the first draft is complete. Pacing can be a challenge, they point out: Billings is a faster writer than Hobbs. But when they squabble, it’s usually about something minor, and as Billings puts it, she wouldn’t want to be in a relationship with somebody she couldn’t fight with.
Why it works: The duo have complementary personalities and skills: Billings likes writing dialogue and says Hobbs excels at “bringing more of the world” into the story. They talk dozens of times per day and often have more contact with each other than with their husbands, they joke. Their publishing careers have always been intertwined, which they credit with a lack of individual ego, and their philosophy is best friends first, co-writers second.
Becky Albertalli and Adam Silvera
YA authors Albertalli (“Simon vs. the Homo Sapiens Agenda”) and Silvera (“They Both Die at the End”) co-wrote 2018’s “What If It’s Us.”
How they met: In fall 2013, Silvera and Albertalli swapped congratulatory emails after selling their debut novels the same week. From there, Albertalli likens it to the platonic version of the “insta-love trope ” you might roll your eyes at in fiction; they got close, fast, bonding over stories of past relationships. Or in Albertalli’s case: “My not-so-dating life — my pining life.” She told Silvera a “somewhat inappropriate story about an ill-fated Craigslist missed connection” she had posted, and he, naturally, suggested they use it as the basis for a book. At that point, he jokes, he had yet to meet Albertalli in person or even get her phone number.
The logistics: The duo wrote “What If It’s Us” over three years, splitting the writing by point of view. Though they never worked side by side — Albertalli is based in Atlanta, Silvera in Los Angeles — they texted and emailed constantly, especially after sending each other a new chapter to review. Both have reputations for a certain type of ending — a “making-out ending” in Albertalli’s case, and decidedly grimmer in Silvera’s — but say they were always on the same page about their book’s conclusion.
Why it works: They like each other, they quickly established honesty and neither thought of it as his or her book; it was always theirs. Silvera chides himself for writing three solo books before collaborating with Albertalli: “We just didn’t know any better,” he says, bemoaning “how miserable it’s been to have to do this” by himself again, referring to his forthcoming January offering. Albertalli maintains that she isn’t writing half his new book because she has to stay fresh for all the fan fiction she’ll be penning about it.
Greer Hendricks and Sarah Pekkanen
Former editor-author duo Hendricks and Pekkanen co-wrote 2018’s “The Wife Between Us” and 2019’s “An Anonymous Girl.” They’re also writing the screenplay adaptation of “Wife” for Steven Spielberg’s Amblin Entertainment and executive producing a series adaptation of “Girl” for Entertainment One.
How they met: During her tenure at Simon & Schuster, Hendricks edited seven of Pekkanen’s books, and the pair developed a close friendship, meeting for long dinners whenever the Chevy Chase, Md.-based Pekkanen visited New York. When Hendricks left the publishing company in 2014, Pekkanen was one of the few people in whom she confided that she wanted to write a novel. Pekkanen, unwilling to part creative ways with Hendricks, suggested they become co-authors.
The logistics: It started with a not-unfamiliar “manic honeymoon stage,” as Hendricks puts it. The duo wrote their first 20 joint pages in a New York hotel room, then went home and had to figure out how to work together from afar. They now write from 9 a.m. to 4 p.m. every day, connected on a Google Hangouts phone call while looking at a shared document. “It’s a crazy twin language — we’re each saying sentence fragments or pieces of a plot, and the other is running with it,” Pekkanen says. “It’s a really intense creative process, and we write every single line together in real time.”
Why it works: Mutual respect and appreciation, mostly. They have matching T-shirts stamped with “better together” from Pekkanen; after “Wife” was published, Hendricks had necklaces made: a gold chain with a gold circle to represent forever friendship, and a blue stone that matches the cover of the book. They added a red stone for “Anonymous.” “I joke that Sarah proposed by asking me to write with her,” Hendricks says. “And then I said yes, but I’m the one who put a ring on it.”
Angela Haupt is a writer and editor based in the District.