Progressive Novel #2101

I had this idea years ago when I was editor of LAX Magazine:  What if a bunch of really talented writers wrote a novel sequentially, each one contributing a chapter?
The idea didn’t take off back then because we didn’t have the tools to manage the process very well (code for “the editor was an idiot”), but now that we’re all isolating and bored and connected by the internet, maybe we can pull it off.
You in?

How it Works

Want to participate? Sign up here!

  1. Let's write a book. A novel. Each one of us will contribute a chapter and when we're done, we'll end up with a publishable book, an interesting story told by a sequence of authors. I'll go first.
  2. Because multiple authors will invariably have multiple approaches, styles, etc., let’s keep the narrative relatively straightforward:
      1. A single protagonist.
      2. A single storyline.
      3. Limited use of flash back and flash forward.
      4. A single point of view –– if second person limited omniscient is established, we stick with second person limited omniscient throughout.
  3. This is not a plotted-out story. The idea is for each author to read what's been written up to the end of the last bit contributed and imagine where it goes from there. 
  4. When your turn comes up, send me the next chapter. Just one. If you send me more than one, I’ll either lop it off after one or figure out if any elements of those extra chapters can be folded into the one.

  1. When your turn comes up, you receive a copy of the manuscript so far.
    1. You read through what’s been written (and make notes if you like, because I’d love to hear what you think).
    2. Then you write the next chapter, the one immediately following the last one.
  2. Try to keep chapters to a reasonable chapter length, meaning between 2,500 and 5,000 words. This isn’t a hard-and-fast rule, but the idea is that each chapter will move the story forward a single… um, chapter length.
  3. You have two weeks to write the next chapter and to send it back. If you don’t meet the deadline, you’ll miss your turn and I’ll send what we have to the next person on the list.
  4. The goal is to write a novel. Don’t end everything unless we’re over 80,000 words.
  5. That having been said, we want the ending to be satisfying. If you find yourself writing the ending, wrap up the loose ends. That doesn’t mean we can’t have an ambiguous ending. It just means a that if the protagonist has spent the entire book trying to come up with a good name for his new puppy, you either need to name the puppy by the end or acknowledge that the puppy remains unnamed.
  6. Once the manuscript is complete, each contributor will get a copy to make notes. Please please please send those back to me as quickly as you can.
  7. The goal is not just to write a book, but to write a really good book and to get it published. Any assistance you can provide will be welcome –– agents, publishers, press, etc. 
  8. If you have a platform (a base of people who will support your artistic endeavors),please enlist them to buy, read, share, recommend the finished book. 
  9. If you know anybody who would like to participate, please send them to me.

  1. I’m the organizer. I send you what we have so far, you write the next chapter, you send it back.
  2. I’ll build the website, manage the assets, keep things moving, and put together the final manuscript. 
  3. I'm also the editor. The idea is to create a coherent, compelling story. To that end, I’ll be editing for consistency
      1. of character. If a character is blind in Chapter three, he or she can’t read a billboard in Chapter seven.
      2. of narrative approach. We won’t have character-colon-dialogue in one chapter and then character-says-comma-quote dialogue in another.
      3. of setting. If the action takes place in a public library for seven chapters, there needs to be a damn good reason for the next chapter to take place on a desolate planet.
  4. But I will not be modifying your own approach. Your voice, your cadence, your imagery… those are all yours. 
  5. I will also reach out to agents and publishers. If you have resources, please share them.
  6. If the manuscript gets interest from agents and/or publishers, I will be solely responsible for entering into agreements and negotiating terms. 
    1. I will also be solely responsible for making, approving, or disregarding editorial changes suggested by the agents and/or publishers.
  7. I reserve the right to make sweeping changes if I feel they improve the narrative. Changing a character’s gender, for example. 

  1. Every contributor who has a chapter in the book will be listed as a co-author. Authors will be listed in the order that their chapters appear in the book.
  2. Each chapter will include an indication of who its author is.
  3. If the book makes money, each contributor who writes a chapter that is ultimately included in the final version will receive an equal share of profit. As editor and organizer and guy who’s trying to pull this thing off, I get two shares. 
  4. If we pull this thing off, we should all benefit. Any and all of us should have equal opportunity to do readings, signings, press junkets, interviews with Oprah, etc. 
  5. By agreeing to participate, you grant a license to me, giving me permission to do the things I say I plan to do (see What I Do). Or something. We’ll figure it out. But I promise not to steal your writing. And you promise not to steal anybody else's.

  1. It will be tempting to imagine where the story might go, drop elements that foreshadow, or develop themes that can play out. Go ahead and include notes about those if you like, but don’t let your feelings get hurt if subsequent authors disregard your ideas.
  2. You may be tempted to back-fill. Maybe a previous chapter hasn’t been fleshed out. Or a character trait established earlier would help make the story stronger. If that’s the case, please go ahead. And provide detailed notes. If it makes sense to me, I’ll fold in the suggestions so that the future writers will have your modifications to work from.
  3. If a chapter you wrote is eliminated, sorry. Let’s assume it’s because the chapter didn’t contribute significantly to the narrative thrust and not because you’re a crappy writer.