If you’re all about Mark Zuckerberg’s famous credo “move fast and break things,” you may feel confident diving from writing into self-revision and then editing. But if you like to get the lay of the land before trying new things, or if you’d appreciate having an experienced guide to call on as you’re writing, a book coach could be just what you need.
A book coach shows you the ropes from start to finish. Book coaches have been described as consultants, mentors, teachers, and personal trainers for your writing.
Book Coaching Vs. Editing
Book coaching shares a lot in common with developmental and line editing, especially from experienced editors who provide customized approaches beyond critiques or edits. Generally speaking, book coaching is more ongoing and interactive than editing, but one-to-one comparisons don’t paint the entire picture.
Editing provides feedback and guidance once the writing is complete.
Coaching provides feedback and guidance as the writing progresses.
Editing happens in stages, one person at a time: the writer writes, then the editor edits, then the writer revises, then the editor reviews …
Coaching happens collaboratively as the project progresses, with regular, real-time check-ins.
Editing is primarily text-based, using editing and written feedback.
Coaching frequently occurs via Zoom and email as well as written feedback and editing.
Editing is generally considered a distinct, one-time service for hire.
Coaching is more like short-term consulting or a long-term mentorship.
Editing seeks to identify and course-correct issues in a manuscript.
Coaching seeks to prevent issues from creeping into the manuscript to begin with.
Editing guides writers to improve their work in progress.
Coaching guides writers to improve their work in progress and develop long-term mastery.
But just because book coaching covers a lot of ground, don’t look for a book coach who claims to do it all. A jack of all trades is master of none—the best book coaches specialize.
Book coaches who specialize—certain genres (upmarket and literary fiction, SFF, historical fiction), certain types of clients (debut writers, memoirists, women, experts in a professional field), or specific tasks like self-publishing or marketing—possess a deep understanding of their fields and can offer nuanced and tailored feedback.
Coaches who claim to do it all may lag behind in rapidly evolving areas such as self-publishing or marketing. They may not edit frequently enough to stay fluent in the minutiae of copy editing. Yet when coaching companies spread these tasks across multiple points of contact, the carefully nurtured collaborative spirit of the client–coach relationship is diluted.
What Book Coaches Do
Book coaches typically lean into one or two of the following broad areas.
Story coaches help you develop and write your story. They’ll help you deepen your concept and plot and cultivate richer characters and themes. They’ll teach you how to use story form and structure to support your story. They’ll help you outline your book, and they’ll nudge your output as you write to keep it on track. They’ll help you define your genre, readers, and comp titles. These coaches are personal alpha readers, editors, and storytelling gurus rolled into one.
Support coaches focus on motivation, accountability, and emotional support for the writing journey. These coaches are like personal trainers, keeping you moving and helping you maintain a healthy outlook during the notoriously roller coaster experience of writing a novel. They’ll help you develop and stick to a writing schedule and keep you accountable for turning in pages regularly. Most book coaching encompasses at least some elements of support by virtue of regular communication and one-on-one focus.
Writing coaches are more like teachers, mentors, and editors. Their feedback may include story issues but often focuses on how authors express themselves on the page. Writing coaches will steer you through tricky narrative choices like point of view and help you master narrative techniques like narrative distance and dialogue before you’ve baked problems into the entire manuscript.
Publishing coaches are like project managers for writers. You may hear them referred to as book shepherds or book sherpas, publishing guides or consultants, or book consultants. These coaches may personally provide self-publishing or marketing services such as cover design, ebook formatting, website design, and marketing plans, or they may steer you toward reputable providers.
What Book Coaches Don’t Do
As versatile as book coaches are, you’ll want to hire other specialists for some tasks.
- Ghostwriting If you want someone else to write your book for you, you deserve a dedicated, experienced ghostwriter.
- Book doctoring To have someone rebuild an unsuccessful story from the ground up, doing most of the heavy lifting themselves, hire a book doctor.
- Editing Completing your manuscript under the eyes of a book coach won’t necessarily prepare your manuscript for querying or publication. Coaching is not a form of incremental book editing. Talk to your coach about the next steps for your book, and don’t be surprised if that includes editing.
Steer clear of book coaches who promise to get you an agent or publisher as part of their services. Legitimate professionals do not guarantee representation or publication for your book.
Book Coaching Benefits
Why would someone work with a book coach? To get the jump on things. Coaching accelerates your creative development as a novelist. Think of it as professional training or a start-up cost for your writing career.
The benefits you reap from coaching begin immediately and last long after this book is out the door. Your book gets intensive one-on-one development, and you finish with storytelling and writing skills you’ll use the rest of your writing career.
What To Look for In A Book Coach
When you’re ready to work with a book coach, identify your priorities. Do you want help with story development, writing technique, accountability and support, or publishing and marketing? You can have more than one of those things, but you probably can’t have them all from one person.
Check out coaching programs from bigger companies, but keep in mind that their standardized, one-size-fits-most methods may not work for you and your book. In programs that emphasize teaching and group feedback, you might not get as much one-on-one time with the coach. Some programs use proprietary software or methods to analyze your work and guide your revisions, which may not fit your writing or work style.
When coaches advertise themselves as certified or trained in a specific methodology, recognize that they’re referring to completion of a certificate program and not a professional certification. There are no professional boards or organizations that certify book coaches. Certificates indicate the coach has completed a paid training program with a company or trainer, not that they are certified by a professional or occupational board or organization.
How Much Does Coaching Cost?
Individual coaching sessions start around $60 an hour at the low end, climbing to a more typical $100 to $150 an hour. Rates for one-time consultations are often significantly higher, due to the prep time required.
Competitive coaching programs can cost $2,000 to $3,000 for several months of coaching. Bespoke packages or plans from independent coaches who provide frequent one-on-one face time or personally handle self-publishing or marketing tasks can approach $10,000.
Hiring a book coach is a smart move if you want to improve your writing and storytelling skills while developing and polishing your work in progress. With the help of a coach to keep you on track and offer support along the way, you’ll write more efficiently, effectively, and confidently, and you’ll optimize your book’s potential to connect with readers.
Here are some other helpful posts:
Feedback and Editing: The Right Eyes at the Right Time
When Are You Ready for Professional Editing?
Best Practices for Working with an Independent Editor
“Perfect to Me”: How Self-Editing Can Take Your Novel to the Next Stage
Lisa Poisso specializes in helping new and emerging querying and self-publishing writers. A classically trained dancer, her approach to writing is grounded in structure, form, and technique as doorways to freedom of movement on the page. Lisa and her industrious team of #45mphcouchpotato greyhounds can be found at LisaPoisso.com. Visit her Linktree for help with your early steps as a writer, join the Clarity for Writers community at Substack, and download a free Manuscript Prep guide. Connect with Lisa on Instagram, Facebook, and X/Twitter.