One of our newest contributors, author and book coach Jennie Nash, has a book out this month! It’s the perfect opportunity not only to learn about that offering, but to learn more about Jennie herself. And so without further ado, a Take Five interview with Jennie on her new book, Read Books All Day and Get Paid For It: The Business of Book Coaching.
What is book coaching, you may ask? That was our first question, too. Enjoy!
WU: Jennie, what IS book coaching?
JN: We all know what an editor is – a professional who works on a finished manuscript and edits it to help the writer make it as clear and as polished as it can be. A book coach is an editor who comes into the creative process much earlier in the process to help the writer while she is writing. That’s the key differentiator, and it’s a big one.
A book coach is part of the book development process at a stage when the writer can still make significant structural or stylistic changes to their book. Because we work so closely with the writer at a much earlier stage and over a longer period of time, we also help with project management (goal setting, accountability); marketplace awareness (genre questions, decisions about the publishing path, clarity on comp titles); skill-building (pointing out repeated patterns of weakness in the work or areas that need to be shored up); confidence-building (helping the writer find their voice, trust their voice, and raise their voice); emotional support (talking with the writer about the inevitable doubts and concerns that arise in every creator’s mind); and for writers seeking traditional publishing deals, we help with pitch support (agent research, pitch strategy, development of pitch materials.)
In other words, a book coach is an editorial professional who works with a writer over a long period of time to nurture them as they write their book and build their career.
Book coaching used to be provided by in-house editors at traditional publishers – although it wasn’t called that. It was just the service that publishers provided. There are still some editors who work in this intensive way, but most are too squeezed for time to provide this kind of support to their writers. One editor I know at a tradition publishing house says she works on 30 books a month.
Book coaching isn’t just for writers seeking traditional deals. Writers who publish independently must build a team of professionals to help them do their best work, and many of these writers recognize the importance of having a book coach on their side.
WU: What inspired you to write this book?
JN: I taught for ten years in UCLA’s Writer’s Program and was always frustrated by the process. There was never enough time in a 10-week course or an intensive workshop to give writers the kind of help that would move their writing forward in meaningful ways. What book writers really need is someone to be immersed in their idea with them over the long haul – to be down in the heat of the creative process where ideas spring to life, structure is hammered out, and voice and confidence are forged – but a classroom does not allow for that kind of intensive attention.
When my colleague Lisa Cron asked me to guide her in writing a book about writing and brain science, I had the opportunity to develop a framework that would give book writers exactly what they needed. Lisa sold the book that launched her writing and speaking career — Wired for Story – and I pivoted away from writing and teaching to book coaching. I loved it because it was so effective. It is enormously satisfying to work in a process that truly helps writers.
After several additional client successes, I wanted to teach other people how to do this work. I launched Author Accelerator and began to hire talented writers and editors to train them in how to be book coaches. I honed the training process and in 2019, launched it as a course and certification program.
But I quickly learned that knowing how to coach writers is only part of what a book coach needs to run a sustainable business. They also need to know how to decide what kinds of writers they would serve with which kinds of services, how to price those services, how to manage their time and their technology. The people who are drawn to book coaching aren’t usually what I would call “natural entrepreneurs.” Most of us have been focused on stories and words and ideas all our lives, not strategy, money, and business processes. I have now been doing this work for more than ten years, and I make multiple six figures at it, so I realized I could share what I have learned works, and what doesn’t. Read Books All Day and Get Paid For It: The Business of Book Coaching, is my effort to do that.
WU: How might a writer come to believe they might have it in them to become a coach?
JN: Many writers, writing teachers, and publishing professionals are already providing ad hoc book coaching services to their writer friends – a concept I wrote about in a recent Writer Unboxed post. They are naturally attuned to making stories better, to helping writers, and to teaching.
But even if they’re not already doing this work, if they feel drawn to the idea of running their own book coaching business – having independence and control, doing meaningful work from home, spending all day immersed in stories and ideas – that is a good enough place start. In Author Accelerator’s training and certification program, we have everyone from ex-lawyers, to university professors, to HR and communications professionals, to writers, to MFA grads. Many people come to this work as a second career, so they are often itching to do something they truly love – and that they can do from home in their pajamas.
There are five core skills a book coach needs to be effective:
- An understanding of mechanical edits – how the English language works
- An understanding of narrative design – how stories and arguments are shaped and structured, and how they engage the reader at every step, including the emotional payoff at the end. Knowing the principles of narrative design allows a book coach to give evidence when something isn’t working, rather than just giving an opinion.
- A sense of the way books are bought and sold in the marketplace – what the publishing options are, what the odds are, how money flows, how marketing works, who is responsible for which pieces of a book launch, and how a writer can build a sustainable career.
- The ability to manage a project – a sense of how much time certain tasks tend to take, what might derail a writer, what might keep them on track, and what resources are needed to complete the job.
- Compassion for writers. This is a big requirement. I am very, very tough on my writers because I know what it takes to make an impact with a book, but my toughness is always delivered with compassion for how personal their work feels to them, for how hard they have worked, for how vulnerable the process of publishing can be. In order to help someone raise their voice, you have to have compassion.
If you don’t have some of these skills, you can learn them.
One place to begin is by attending Author Accelerator’s online summit – The Business of Book Coaching. It’s free the week of January 20, 2020 and available for a small fee after that. You can also take our free 6-part Introduction to Book Coaching course.
WU: How would a writer begin down this road?
JN: The way to turn this ad hoc volunteer work into a side gig or a full time to career is to first shift your mindset. You must acknowledge that if you have talents and skills writers need and want, you have the core elements to start a business. Creative people tend to undervalue their talents and skills because the culture at large tends to undervalue them. I’m an evangelist for change in this realm. There is a time and place for writers and those who serve them to work for free, but it needs to be part of a strategic plan for running a sustainable business, and a sustainable business should pay you for your time, talent, and expertise.
The way to begin down this road is to make sure you have something of value to offer. Author Accelerator’s book coach training and certification program is designed to teach people how to do the work of book coaching. I don’t actually know any other program that does what we are doing. You can get a degree in journalism or copyediting, but I believe ours is the first complete book coach training program out there.
I also recommend that writers seeking to become book coaches learn everything they can about being an entrepreneur. I have found the challenges of being an entrepreneur very similar to the challenges of writing a book. There are so many excellent resources out there. Some of my favorite books include Be the Gateway by Dan Blank; This is Marketing by Seth Godin; Marketing: A Love Story by Bernadette Jiwa; and Company of One by Paul Jarvis, which I just read. It’s fantastic!
WU: Would you like to share an excerpt?
I would love that! I chose a passage from a section on defining your mission as a book coach. I think it gets at the kind of strategic thinking I was speaking about, above.
An Excerpt from Jennie Nash’s Read Books All Day and Get Paid For It: The Business of Book Coaching
Defining Your Mission
Once you know the category of writer you wish to serve and the type of writer you will and won’t serve, you need to do some work to figure out how you will serve them. This means first thinking about the ways writers tend to experience pain.
Please note that the list I am sharing here only encompasses the pain writers may experience while writing. The moment a book goes into production, either through self-publishing or traditional publishing or something in between, is the moment when a thousand other points of pain come into the process, such as designing the cover, setting the price, planning the launch, dealing with reviews, facing fans and critics, and managing sales—but I am concerned here only with the writing phase of the process.
And just to be clear, I do not believe that the process of writing and publishing a book is all about pain. I also believe it is infused with deep satisfaction and soaring joy. But pain is what tends to get people to act and when you are selling a service for writers, you want them to act.
Here are the four most common kinds of writerly pain I see and some thoughts for how a book coach can help a writer through them.
1. The writer doesn’t know how to start their book. I see a lot of writers who have a great idea and talk with great enthusiasm about bringing it to life, but they get stuck before they even start. They often write the same opening chapter over and over and over again. They never really commit; they never move forward. They may spend a great deal of time going to conferences and workshops, but they never actually move out of the starting gate.
This problem of paralysis at the beginning of a project is often a fear of creative commitment. After all, if a writer decides to write one book idea, it means they’re not writing another. They are choosing THIS book, with all its flaws and imperfections.
And as soon as the writer chooses, they are taking a risk that the thing they make won’t be as shiny and perfect as the thing in their head. They are moving out of the realm of imagined perfection and into the realm of—well, everything less than imagined perfection. It’s an uncomfortable place to be. So rather than suffer the discomfort of action, they choose the discomfort of inaction.
A book coach can:
- Help a writer take action simply by committing to the project
- Help a writer build their confidence by providing a safe back-and-forth
- Help a writer define their book through the Blueprint for a Book process that I teach in the Advanced Book Coach Training course, or another process for laying a strong foundation
- Help a writer decide they don’t actually want to write the book they think they want to write
2. The writer doesn’t know how to finish their draft. They get ten or twenty chapters in, and then they lose interest. Or they get close to the end and decide what they have written is garbage. Or they decide they don’t actually have the time it will take to bring their book to life. Or they give their fragile pages to the one person who is guaranteed to say the worst possible judgmental and horrible things, which gives the writer permission to put the work away and never finish. They spend a lot of time on their writing, but they never actually finish.
The reason for this inertia is usually straight-up fear. The writer is afraid of failing or afraid of succeeding, which is to say they are afraid of something that might happen in the future.
A book coach can:
- Help a writer stop giving work to people who are punishing them
- Help a writer stop focusing on an imagined future and focus on the work instead
- Help a writer define their fear so they can better understand it
- Help a writer form the habits necessary to work regardless of how they feel
- Help a writer build their muscle for discerning when the story is working or not
3, The writer doesn’t know how to revise their book. They get to the end of a draft and have a party to celebrate the milestone. It is, after all, a massively big milestone, and a party is certainly warranted. But then they get paralyzed about what to do next. All they feel is overwhelm (What do I do now?) and doubt (Is this even any good?), and their response is to go back to the pages and endlessly fiddle with the sentences. Or they seek out beta-readers and endlessly fuss about the feedback they get.
A book coach can:
- Help a writer discern what is working in the manuscript
- Help a writer with a project plan for revision
- Help a writer prioritize the elements to work on
- Help a writer by bringing an expert’s outside perspective to the work
4. The writer doesn’t know when to enter the marketplace. They do something obviously harmful such as send out their still-rough draft to agents just to “test the waters” and rack up folders full of rejections. Or they rush to self-publish and end up with a total readership of 20 friends.
Or they do the opposite: They spend years and years polishing their pages, making every sentence shine, but it’s all really just a cleverly disguised way to procrastinate and ensure that they will never actually send it out into the world.
The goal at this stage of the process is to focus on producing what I call a good enough draft. A good enough draft is a draft that helps the writer reach their publishing goal, which means they have to know their publishing goal.
- Are they self-publishing a series where the most important thing their readers want is the next book? Their good enough draft is a draft that is done when they promised their readers it would be done.
- Are they working with a hybrid publisher who will only offer proofreading of their pages and no other editing? Their good enough draft should be almost camera-ready—ready to go to press—as perfect as they can make it (without using perfection as an excuse for procrastination).
- Are they writing a nonfiction book to help them become a thought leader in their industry? Their good enough draft is a draft their beta-readers are begging to share with their friends.
- Are they trying to land an agent and a traditional publishing deal? Their good enough draft is the one that will get an agent’s attention, which is to say they have an idea that is commercially viable, and they have proven they can execute it well enough for a national audience. It might still need a bit of work—maybe a new introduction, some work to refine the middle, a better title—but it is solid, whole, vibrant, and marketable. The goal in this situation, in other words, is not to be ready to go to press. The goal is to impress the agents and editors.
A book coach can:
- Help a writer define their publishing goals
- Help a writer choose a publishing path
- Help a writer discern when their draft is good enough
- Help a writer polish their pages
- Help a writer manage beta-reader feedback
- Help a writer strategize how to pitch
- Help a writer develop a pitch
- Help a writer navigate the pitch process
- I wrote The Writer’s Guide to Agony and Defeat: The 47 Worst Moments in the Writing Life and How to Get Over Them to help writers through the toughest parts of the work of writing a book worth reading. It discusses all the pain points, and how to move past them.
- To learn more about writerly pain, I also recommend Bird by Bird by Anne Lamott, because, of course. And The War of Art by Stephen Pressfield and Art and Fear by David Bayles and Ted Orland, two other classics.
Answer the following questions:
- At which pain point do you believe you can have the most impact as a book coach?
- How can you have an impact? In other words, what can you do to help writers get over their problem or their pain?
- What qualities or characteristics do you bring to the work that could add value for these kinds of writers? In order to answer this question, review the Characteristics of an Effective Book Coach, below. These are the characteristics I see in people who tend to become good book coaches. Which of these can you leverage to help the kinds of writers you wish to help? Write about any of the characteristics you possess and how you believe they will help you:
Characteristics of an Effective Book Coach
- They love books. They love to read. They are the kinds of people who stayed up late reading under the covers with a flashlight as a kid. They think a great day includes curling up with a great book. They love to talk about books, to read reviews, to haunt bookstores.
- They love writers. They admire the work writers do and appreciate what it takes to sit alone in a room long enough to produce a book-length work. They understand that people who yearn to write often feel emotions very deeply. They understand that when a writer shares their work, they are sharing a piece of their soul.
- They feel comfortable with the creative process. They understand the iterative nature of creativity and the fact that getting to a finished project is never a straightforward path. They know that beauty can arise from chaos.
- They feel confident managing a complex project. They have the ability to think logically and strategically about both the story and the creative process. They can give clear direction about how to proceed with a project so that it stays on point and on track to meeting the writer’s goals.
- They have the ability to focus on details and on the big picture—often at the same time. Great book coaches see the small things on the page and the big things about the way the book will live in the world. They are excellent at making connections between ideas and concepts and can even see things that aren’t there.
- They understand the marketplace. They understand books are products that get bought and sold, that publishers—either traditional publishers or individual self-published writers—want to make money on the books they sell. They understand readers are very discerning and have a choice whether or not they will read any given book.
- They like to work 1:1. Book coaching is not the kind of work you can do at a distance. You have to lean into the writer’s mind and their world, which means you also have to figure out how to establish boundaries so you don’t get sucked into places where you are not trained to work, and where a therapist would be better suited.
- They like to work alone. Editing is done alone in a room. Even if you are in a coffee shop or a library with other people who are working, you are alone in your head. You need to enjoy that.
- They have the ability to step back from the emotion to protect themselves from getting too drawn in. It’s hard to run a solid business if you get caught up in a writer’s drama. You need to be able to be part of their creative process, but stand apart from it, as well.
- They are self-motivated. They can meet deadlines, prioritize their work, and keep projects moving along without anyone telling them they need to do it.
Jennie, thanks for an EPIC interview! Readers, you can learn more about Jennie’s new book, Read Books All Day & Get Paid for It, via the (even more) preview below, or directly on Amazon. Read on!