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.