What new service can you add
to your book business that taps into knowledge and experience you already
possess, brings personal rewards, and offers an additional source of income?
How about book coaching?
Books on writing and publishing
provide solid background information. But I have found that, for beginning
writers, there’s nothing like one-on-one coaching with someone who has walked
the book path and lived to tell about it.
Book coaching involves teaching,
consulting, training, and cheerleading. If the following descriptions apply to
you, book coaching may be in your future:
style=’font-size:11.0pt’> You’ve written more than one published, commercially
viable book. The quality of help you offer your clients depends on your own
depth of experience and knowledge.
experience. You enjoy advising
authors and, judging by their positive feedback, the solutions you’ve offered
have been useful.
style=’font-size:11.0pt’> You love the book business and have become almost as
excited about other people’s book projects as you are about your own. Your
enthusiasm will spur clients on toward their goals.
style=’font-size:11.0pt’> Brainstorming and problem solving bring out your
creativity. In the course of book coaching, you will encounter many situations
you haven’t had to deal with before. Coaching a client through those unfamiliar
challenges calls for mental flexibility.
style=’font-size:11.0pt’> You will have no trouble telling a potential client
that you don’t feel you could do justice to this particular project; or,
depending on the circumstances, that you don’t feel the prospective client is
ready for your services. Otherwise, you’ll shortchange the client and damage
Clients and Their Needs
To get clients, you can promote
your coaching through announcements and incentives. Talk it up at group
meetings, workshops, and outside presentations; send announcements to
organizational newsletters; include “Book Coach” after your signature (e.g.,
“Author • Publisher • Book Coach”), and add a coaching page to your site. As
incentives, offer workshop attendees and organization members a coupon for $25
off the initial coaching session, and give referral credits to existing
coaching clients. And include endorsements from your happiest clients for your
Web site and literature.
New clients may arrive with
anything from a basic idea to a full manuscript. In addition to coaching, most
will need a crash course in the book-business mindset—“It’s always about
One of the coach’s primary duties
is keeping the writer on track. Most clients are grateful for weekly or
biweekly assignments and goal setting.
Generally, aspiring authors need
help in defining a target audience, tightening their writing, establishing a
basic market plan, and deciding whether to self-publish. Needs for guidance on
other aspects of the publishing process vary, depending partly on whether the
project is fiction or nonfiction.
Fiction writers may require help
with character and/or plot development, structure, subplots, voice, dialogue,
setting, and other elements that turn an idea into a page-turner. Nonfiction
writers look for guidance on focus or slant, subchapters, front and back
matter, research and interview suggestions, style, and tone.
Book coaches are responsible for
pointing out the hazards of rambling and scattergun writing, overuse of barely
qualified author opinion, too narrow a niche, and inadequate research.
The Coaching Process
Invariably, clients begin with
nothing beyond writing in mind. I use a brief (free) phone conversion to learn
about the book-to-be—topic, personal deadline, writing experience, and
more. A phone call reveals far more about clients’ passion and energy levels
than email, and allows them to check you out as well.
Then, drawing on information
gleaned during the call, I provide an “Initial Project Analysis Packet,”
tailored for each client, to introduce them to the book-business mindset. The
packet includes a list of questions designed to help me understand the writer’s
level of professionalism and to help the writer understand that professionalism
is now required.
My questions include:
· Why do you want to write this
· What are your qualifications for
· Where and how do you plan to sell
· What is your personal deadline for
completion of the published book?
· What spin-offs—such as CD,
audiotape, workbook, or speaking engagements—do you envision developing
based on your book?
· Who will buy your book?
· Who will read your book?
The packet may also include a
weekly achievement chart divided in terms of number of pages or hours; a
brainstorming sheet for establishing chapter topics for nonfiction or a
chapter-by-chapter plot outline for fiction; a list of potential interviewees
and other resources; and a recommended reading list, beginning with Dan
Manual and John Kremer’s <span
style=’font-size:11.0pt’>1001 Ways to Market Your Books.
For telephone coaching sessions, I
email the packet to the client a few days before our Initial Project Analysis
phone conversation. During that session, we go over the questions and discuss
the book project. For in-person sessions, I simply take the packet along, with
an extra copy. It’s wise to plan for some get-acquainted time, but return to
the task as soon as you comfortably can.
At subsequent coaching sessions,
either in person or by phone, I check the client’s writing progress and usually
make a specific assignment to be completed by the next session. These
assignments may focus on pages to be written or time to be devoted to writing,
on creation of an outline or working table of contents, on research, or on
outside reading on the book’s topic or about writing or publishing.
Of course, I keep the assignment
sheet, with notes on progress, and the Initial Project Analysis packet, with
the client’s answers, in client folders.
If the client wants help only with
the writing, we work until the manuscript is polished and ready for outside
editing. For those who choose self-publishing, the coaching also covers publishing
and the basic marketing plan. When writers want to find literary agents to
represent them to the large publishing houses, I guide them in writing the
In my experience, clients seldom
have the mental energy to write a book and learn publishing at the same time.
But we frequently look at the project from the reader’s viewpoint, so they
don’t lose sight of their ultimate goal—selling books.
I’ve found that the
rewards—including but not limited to the income—far outweigh the
challenges, and that the coaching process sharpens my own book-business skills
in amazing ways. If you’re so inclined, try it—you just may like it!
Linda C. Senn—
author, publisher, book coach, and owner of Pen Central Press— has
written and published nonfiction books, teaching guides, and manuals. Past
president of SLPA (St. Louis Publishers Association), she posts information
about her coaching, books, and workshops at www.PenCentralOnline.com.