I started this article ages ago but only recently decided to finish it: in the past I’ve been skeptical of writing coaches in general, and even made an hour long rant in Bali against publishing packages charging high rates. So let me start with that: most books won’t earn money, because most books aren’t written to be enjoyable. I focus on teaching people to write enjoyable books by focusing on the reader first; something that is NOT popular with literary purists.
A lot of writing coaches are simply people with great organizational and time management skills: they are there to keep you focused and optimistic, by encouraging you and keeping you on task. This is, a noble pursuit, all things considered… even if they don’t have much actual expertise in the book writing process, their time and their enthusiasm is valuable.
I used to discredit this kind of stuff because I’m a loner and I prefer to suffer in silence, but hard deadlines and external support are very effective, so it all comes down to what you need and how much you’re willing to pay. Since most people want to write a book but few actually do… a book coach or writing coach can earn a lot of money simply by
preying on identifying (and helping you overcome) on your insecurities and frustrations.
There’s not necessarily anything wrong with that. But… it rubs me the wrong way if they aren’t actually great at writing books – and few people are. At the same time, you don’t necessarily have to have written bestsellers to understand the basics of good/bad writing, or how to encourage people to keep on doing the work.
It’s only dangerous if they fill you up with pleasantries and hot air, and get you really excited, and then when you finally finish your book (hurray!) you find nobody else wants to read it. I’d much rather have you consume all my free materials on writing better books, self-edit, and self-improve. But, I understand that’s altogether a different offer that doesn’t solve the underlying causes of crippling procrastination and avoidance, along with the feelings of guilt that come with it.
So IF you’re thinking about hiring a book coach, here are some tips:
1. First, read this post from Writers Digest about how to protect yourself from writing coach scams. Mostly to understand that it’s a crazy world out there, and all sorts of confident people are charging as a “writing coach” even if they aren’t that great at it. Or, perhaps, that anybody can be a writing coach because there isn’t much skill involved. I know some amazing people who are much more friendly and sympathetic than I am.
Even though I’m narcissistic in my book-crafting abilities (to the extent that I can’t recommend any developmental editors I’d trust more than myself), I also wouldn’t be a great book coach, if that just meant listening and encouraging. While I’d talk your ear off with a thousand specific, practical ideas on how to publish and launch successfully, I’d also flatly tell you you’re wrong if I think the book needs to go in a different direction.
2. Second, go through some of my materials on procrastination and productivity. Often, these are very real experiences that stem mostly from inflated expectations, fear or lack or experience. They can be handled and managed, without feeling like you need to pay for help.
3. Third, check out programs or courses: a lot of them have some kind of social aspect like a Facebook group or weekly calls. You don’t always need to pay for 1-on-1 time with a writing coach. You can get information relatively cheap, but paying for someone’s time and energy will cost more, as it should.
How much should you pay?
The going rate, I’d reckon, is roughly $100 an hour. So, you might expect to pay $500 for a 3-month program that includes weekly accountability emails and maybe a few phone calls. It depends a lot on what you want, what you need, and what service providers are willing to do. For example, I avoid phone calls as an introvert, so I would rarely schedule them unless they were absolutely necessary. I’d much rather provide concrete services, like reviewing and giving feedback on your actual writing, than just listening to you talk.
THAT SAID: whenever I’m stuck on a story, which is often, I make my wife sit and pretend to listen to me as I ramble through my plot, often resolving the issue myself. So even though it’s not something I’m very comfortable with, I definitely see the value of talking out loud and bouncing ideas around. Plus, I’m exceptional at plot-doctoring and fixing up a story to remove problems and add intrigue and conflict.
Keep in mind, however, that you may really be looking for a developmental edit, or manuscript critique, rather than a writing coach – but only if the book is finished – and these may be very different roles (motivating you to finish vs. critiquing the work). Also, it would be cheaper in the long run to fix plot holes and critical issues before you finished the rough draft; after that it gets much harder to do heavy edits.
One of my major aims with all my content, is to help authors fix their work earlier, with planning and plot outlines, so that they don’t have to start fixing or improving the story after it’s written, which is generally the worst time. Which, again, is why I’m skeptical of writing coaches.
If only there was some kind of program that could kill two birds with one stone, as it were… I’ve started noodling on some ideas, and tentatively set up a 10-month program option on my writing courses. Though I might come up with something better in the future. Basically, my courses have a ton of amazing content, but it takes some time and effort to parse through it all.
And I’m reluctant to do full proofreading or editing, because it’s so time consuming. But I do love developmental editing or even limited ghostwriting, where I can just fix up your story. However it takes a mountain of consistent brainpower and months of painstaking work, and I’m currently not thrilled with the prices I’m charging (when I know, I could just write my own books and potential earn more long-term).
Why I’m not a writing coach (yet)
(I wrote this awhile ago, but most of it stands.)
Coaches are standing by the sidelines with a whistle telling you to run faster and keep going. Coaches are about motivation and cheering you on, getting you to take that next step, pushing through your personal fears or mental barriers. Coaches help you do the work and get the work done. Coaches are probably not star athletes themselves, but that doesn’t mean they don’t know what they’re talking about. They see the big picture.
Why I’m not a fan of “writing coaches.”
- They don’t usually care WHAT you write: they help you finish YOUR goal. To help you actually improve your book, they’d need to be better writers than you (plus an expert on your subject or genre!)
- I hate sports.
Sure, I was a pole-vaulter and recreational soccer player and I loved it. But these days the only exercise I get is when I walk to the store for more cookies (just kidding, I drive.) And writing isn’t just about powering through and doing the work, it’s about doing the RIGHT kind of work! What is “right” though? What kind of work is the most meaningful? Which work will change more people’s lives?
Short answer: the work that sells.
You need a book so inherently amazing (both from external and internal qualities) that people rave about it and share it with friends.
You need a book people love, that gets found, that shows up, that attracts (because the cover or title or subtitle is just so damn amazing they’re like “I want THAT.”) I could never be a coach because I won’t hide the truth to spare your feelings.
I won’t say “sure, this book could be really successful!” when I’m sure it won’t be. (That said, I’ve been wrong, and several of the projects I’ve helped produce blew away my expectations completely.).
Coaches usually come first, because most authors never get the writing done. So joining some expensive book coach program could help you get the book done. But (and I’ve seen this from a LOT of publishing packages) you might end up with a finished, but extremely mediocre book, with an average cover and no obvious or immediate benefits – especially when you sign up for a vanity publishing package.
That would drive me crazy. I’ll tell you exactly what’s wrong with your book and what you need to do to reach more readers and sell more copies… but have yet to organize it all together into one big package, even though that would be the most convenient.
What should I call myself? A guru?
That’s also not my preferred choice. It sounds too much like a charlatan or quack.
And a mentor is too personal and intimate, though that’s closer.
I’m facing enormous resistance, because – despite the demand – I don’t really want to BE a coach. I want to be a writer. I want to write my own books. I help other people because they need help and I have knowledge and valuable skills to share. But picture me like a guy with a beard in a cave. I stick my head out every few days to get some food, you can ask me questions but I don’t do chit-chat. I’ll drop pearls of wisdom that are direct but concrete, and it will be up to you to discern the meaning and do the work. I’m gaining wisdom and knowledge and I’m SHARING it, carving it on the walls. You can come in and make sense of my notes, but it’ll take years.
Or you can ask me questions directly.
I drop wisdom bombs but then go back into the cave. If you’re brave enough to come find me, we can unlock the secrets of the universe together.