Do you need a book coach? If so, what should you expect from a book coach, and how can they help you become a successful author?
Writing can be a lonely process. Sometimes you'll come up with an idea for a book and wonder, is it any good? You might ask a friend or a family member, or a colleague. The result can be conflicting feedback, and it can be difficult to know if this type of feedback is worth listening to.
This is where a book coach can help.
This week, I caught up with Jennie Nash. She is a professional book coach. She also teaches other writers and authors how to become book coaches.
In this episode, we discuss:
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Jennie: I think the hardest thing for an author to do is to realize how big their point is and what they really want to say, and how it's usually more than what they think it is.
Welcome to the Become a Writer Today Podcast with Bryan Collins. Here, you’ll find practical advice and interviews for all kinds of writers.
Bryan: Do you need a book coach? If so, what should you expect from a book coach and how can they help you become a successful author? Hi there. My name is Bryan Collins. Welcome to the Become a Writer Today Show. Writing can be a bit of a lonely process. Sometimes you'll come up with an idea for a book. And you'll wonder, is it any good? You might say it to a friend or a family member. They'll say, "Oh, that's okay. But not really sure if that would make a book or not." Then you go away and think of a different idea. Then you'll pose a question to someone else, and they might give you some different feedback. But it can be difficult to know if this type of feedback is actually worth listening to. Because perhaps they're saying things because they like you or because they want to encourage you, and not necessarily because it's constructive. Sometimes you need somebody to say, "Look, that idea isn't very good, or perhaps you should write about something else." This is where a book coach can help.
So, this week, I caught up with Jennie Nash. She is a professional book coach. She also teaches other writers and authors how to become a book coach. In this week's interview, she explains what exactly you should expect from a book coach, what they do, and where they fit in the process between you, your editor, and proofreader.
One of my key takeaways from this week's interview actually came towards the end of the interview, when Jennie described a client that she's worked with. This particular client is a successful author. She still works as a book coach. She does so because she values working with other writers, and because sometimes seeing the issues in somebody else's work and having to explain that to them helps her see issues in her work that she has overlooked. Plus, she talks about how it engages a different part of the brain, which is different to writing. So, it's kind of like taking a break.
I hope you enjoy this week's interview with Jennie Nash. If you do, please consider leaving a short review on iTunes or sharing the show with another writer or another friend on Overcast, Stitcher, Spotify, or wherever you're listening. Your reviews and ratings help more people find the show.
Bryan: Welcome to the show, Jennie.
Jennie: Thanks for having me.
Bryan: What did your writing journey look like to take you to a point where you wanted to become a book coach?
Jennie: Well, I was a writer my entire career. I actually started working at Random House right out of college. My first job was working for a fiction and a nonfiction editor at Random House.
Bryan: That's a good job to get out of college.
Jennie: It was a great job. I loved it. I loved it so much, and I learned so much from those people and just being in that universe and in that world. But I wanted to be a writer my own self, and I became that. I published my first book when I was 25. I've written now 11 books in three different genres. But I got to a point in my career where I was a solid midlist writer, which is the place a lot of people want to get to. But it's also a kind of hell, because you're not paid really enough to sustain yourself in that career. You have to either break out to start making more money or do something else, like begin teaching or that sort of thing, which a lot of writers do.
Bryan: What were these fiction books that you wrote at this point in your career?
Jennie: They were memoir. I had written memoir, and then I had written fiction. I had three books with Penguin. They offered me another three-book deal, but I didn't take it because I couldn't see a way to continue on. That's why I was saying it was a kind of hell. It wasn't enough money. They weren't behind me enough to really say, "Oh, I've made it. This is my career. I can now do this full time." I was successful, but I was stuck. I started to teach and loved teaching. Teaching is what then led me into book coaching.
Bryan: This would have been before self-publishing was as easy and as popular as it is today.
Jennie: That's right. We forget that. It was not always what it is today at all. Back in the day, self-publishing was often spoken of as vanity publishing where somebody would publish a book because they couldn't get it published elsewhere. What we know of today, which is this open access, democratic way for people to publish all kinds of truly excellent work didn't exist. So, I didn't have a lot of options. Most people didn't have options. We do today, which is amazing.
Bryan: It is fantastic that it's a lot easier for somebody to publish their book. Maybe they can earn a nice side income in their writing, and then they can invest that in an editor or working with a book coach like you. But what does a book coach do? Why would somebody need one?
Jennie: So, a book coach does the work of helping you nurture the project and get it ready for primetime. It used to be, back in the time we were talking about, that if you landed a publishing deal at one of the traditional publishers, you got the support and hand holding and editorial feedback that you needed to do your best work.
Now that's just not true. The publishing world moves so quickly. Books need to be ready, right when they are bought. I call it camera ready. They need to be ready to go. So, writers need to bring that attention to their own work. It's quite impossible to do it yourself. It's hard to bring that perspective to your work yourself. So, a book coach is working with the writer while they write. An editor would come in at the end when the writing is finished. But a book coach is there when you're starting, when you're forming your idea, when you're framing it, when you're planning it.
On the nonfiction side, we would be there helping somebody write a book proposal, pitch it to agents, do the strategic work to do that pitching well, and help them all the way through until we hand them off to an agent and an editor. But coaches, just like we know what a basketball coach does, they're there to make a game plan. They're there to make a practice schedule. They're there to help you do your best work. That's what a book coach does, too.
Bryan: I always imagined help with writing a book proposal. I started as a self-published author like many authors. To be honest, writing a book proposal isn't something that self-published authors tend to do or tend to think of. Should it be? Is that something that should be part of the process?
Jennie: I think so, and here's why. A nonfiction book is going to exist in a marketplace. That marketplace is going to either be — let's say, you're a speaker, and you have a speaking career. You want to have a book that you can sell in the back of the room. It's a missed opportunity if you don't have that. Well, you need to know exactly who those people are who are going to buy your book, why they want it, somebody that comes to your speaking engagement. They've heard you speak, so now they're taking something home from you. You need to know about that. You need to know how you're going to spread your market beyond the people that are just in that room. A book proposal helps you gather those thoughts. Think a bit like a business plan for your book. Pinning it to the page is an incredibly important part of the process.
Now, if I'm coaching somebody that is going to self-publish, I would not spend as much time on that book proposal as I would if I were coaching someone who's going to try for an agent and a book deal. You don't need the level of polish. You don't need the level of convincing somebody to invest in your work, because you're investing in your work your own self. So, it's a different level of polish. But the same questions are really important for anybody to ask so that they get their book right.
Bryan: When you're working with new clients, Jennie, are there any common problems that you see that you help them overcome quite a lot? Are there any maybe mistakes that an aspiring author makes when they come up with an idea for their first book?
Jennie: Yes, on the nonfiction side, it is, I would say, not thinking big enough. So, what I mean by that is people often come in with a framework that they teach or a method that they have, that they use in their business, or something that they want to convey to people that they're already using in some way. Maybe they're running workshops or courses, or they're doing something with this material. They come in and they think that all they have to do is dump that into a table of contents and just write it out.
But a book has a very unique ability to move people, in a way that few other mediums do. When you think about it, as a reader, we spend a great deal of time with the book. We're one on one alone with this author, with their thoughts. We're really engaging with what they're giving to us. It's a process that oftentimes new book writers are not thinking correctly about. They're whipping it out. Maybe they're used to writing blog posts, or newsletters, or corporate reports, or that sort of thing. So, their books tend to be quite flat.
So, a lot of the work that I do with nonfiction clients is helping them to think big, helping them to think about their big idea that they want to convey, and really helping them raise their voice and claim their space in this conversation that they want to be part of, that other books are having. So, it's a smallness. There's a smallness of thought that I think is the biggest mistake I see nonfiction writers make.
Bryan: To put you on the spot — you can go back to if you like — but are there any big ideas that you feel have worked for nonfiction books or even for your clients or any ones that stand to mind?
Jennie: Oh, you mean an example of how somebody has gone from a small idea to a big idea?
Bryan: Yeah, to give a bit of context.
Jennie: Oh, absolutely. So, I was working with a writer who was, in fact, a big corporate speaker. She came to me right at the beginning of COVID. She had had 30. It was 30 or 40 big keynote speeches canceled. Like everybody else, everything was just pulled out from under us. Here, she was facing this total void of work and no ability to continue to do that work. So, she came to me and she said, "Okay. I'm going to use this time, and I'm going to write a book. Here's my keynote address. This is what I help people with."
She had a framework or an idea around — her topic was around vitality. So, this idea of energy, the energy that you bring to the work and how engaged you are with your work. Her ideal reader was somebody who, I would say, is obsessed with their work. So, they're not burned out. They're not trying to find their place in the work universe. They love their work, but they're starting to lose energy around it. Her specialty is in helping them maintain that energy and get that sort of buzzy vitality back to their work.
So, she had this framework for doing that work. It was a great framework that had to do with the traps that we tend to fall into. She had six traps. Just as I was describing to you, she said, "Okay. The book is going to be these six traps. That's going to be the table of contents. We're going to go through those six traps, because that's what I do in my keynote address." Well, when we started doing — I have a process called Blueprint for a Book. We started working through this blueprint. It's just asking the foundational questions about why you want to write, what your hope is for this book, who you want to move, what action you want them to take when they're finished with this book, the deep questions about the transformation that you want your reader to have.
We began to have these conversations. In terms of thinking bigger, she began to think about what work is to people. Why is it meaningful to us? Why do we even do it? Why do we care so much about it? Why is somebody who is obsessed with their work obsessed with it. So, she lifted her idea beyond what I would call 'tactics.' So, the tactics were these traps, these energy traps that sapped you of energy.
She began to think and realize that she actually had a point to make that was much more about the reason that we work and, again, the meaning that we have in it. She crafted this book that is bigger. It is more universal. It is more powerful. It's, ironically, more specific. Oftentimes, the more specific you get, the more universal you get. It just became bigger. That's a transformation that I often see my clients go through. I mean, the process I just described to you, I could name 10 clients that I've been through that same process with. It's just this understanding of, I mean, if you think about a book — now, I'll put you on the spot. What's the last book you read, a nonfiction book you read that you loved?
Bryan: Oh, interesting. Good question. I read a biography, when I was on holidays, of the British singer George Michael. It's like his music years ago. But it was a fascinating read into somebody who became really famous and became more comfortable with his success.
Jennie: And why did you love it? What was great about it?
Bryan: Because I felt like George Michael have presented one France to the world, a carefully groomed and PR version of himself. Then towards the end of his career, after all the stuff that happened to him in the media, he didn't care anymore. But then, he gave in to his demons and his vices. I felt like the author had really well researched resources. You see almost every stage of what George was going through, and maybe his mindset to the best that somebody can see in a book like that. Also, it was quite a sensory book because it's based on a musician, but it was touching lots of the five different senses. It was written like a story as well, so it had lots of ups and downs.
Jennie: First of all, you made me want to read that book, like I'm ready to go buy it already. I love it. I already love it. Then second of all, you actually described exactly what I'm talking about. That author could have, would read a million things about George Michael — that front-facing, crafted image that he puts out to the world. You're saying that this author took us somewhere deeper, took us to a different place, a bigger place, then a bigger story, then that story that we've been fed.
That doesn't happen by accident. I can promise you that that writer set out to do that and had a framework and a decision-making process to do that. I can almost promise you that the thing you described about the five senses was something that was intentional as well, wanting to make that broader and bigger.
So, you could have named any book that you loved. I can name you books that I've read recently that I've loved the same way. There's something about a book, when we love it, that grabs us on a deeper level. That's what I mean about the power of a book. I think the hardest thing for an author to do is to realize how big their point is, and what they really want to say and how it's usually more than what they think it is. The books we love do that. They automatically do that. The place that I work, the whole space that I work in as a book coach is that, that doesn't happen by accident.
Bryan: Oh, yeah, I would agree. A couple of years ago, I took a storytelling workshop by Robert McKee.
Jennie: Oh, I took his back in the day.
Bryan: I did, too. Yes, that's fantastic.
Bryan: He described what you've alluded to their journey, that every book should have the controlling idea that relates somehow to the human condition. Your soul may not, but your book is about relating it to an experience that we can all understand or empathize with, even if we're not seeing it, or whatever it is.
Jennie: That's right. I recently read a book by Michael Lewis, who's the famous author of Liar's Poker and Moneyball. He wrote a book called The Premonition, which was about some scientists who had predicted the pandemic before the pandemic happened.
It was these US government health care workers who are the most unsexy people you could possibly imagine. The work that they do is — I can say this with affection. Because, actually, one of my dearest friends is in charge of the garbage for the county where I live. But it's like the garbage. Taking out the garbage is one of those functions that just has to happen in the city. It's sort of just boring.
But these people had caught on to this risk that we were all exposed to, that a pandemic was probably going to happen. It was probably going to come. It had happened, the pandemic of — I think it was '18. I can't think of what the year was. But they were looking at history and knowing this was going to repeat it.
Michael Lewis wrote this book about these government health policy people. It is the most riveting thing. It was so riveting. I couldn't put it down. It was like a thriller. It was just absolutely fascinating. It made me think so much about how we are responsible to each other, what society really is meant to do and to be, what the role of government is. These big, big questions.
It could have just been this terribly flat book about these nerdy people who are running these numbers and seeing this pattern. That's really what it was about. But he made it about something just so big. I have pressed that book into so many people's hands and said, "Oh, you have to read this. You're going to love this." I don't think it's the kind of book somebody would normally pick up if they heard what the topic was. But that's what a great book does. It elevates it. That's what you just described with this George Michael book.
Books are sold by word of mouth. I'm not kidding, I'm going to go buy that book. Like the way you described it, it sounds amazing. That's what we want when we're writing something. We want to be part of a conversation where somebody who reads our book, who gets it, is going to say to somebody else, "You have to read this." It sounds crazy, but you're going to love it.
Bryan: That book, The Premonition, sounds crazy. But I got to add that to my reading list.
Jennie: Right. My husband just gave me a book called Wrath. I can't remember the author's name, which is terrible.
Bryan: I've read that book. Yeah, it's excellent.
Jennie: Same thing, right? I'm only maybe a few chapters into it. But it's about something bigger than what it's about. The author set out to do something to move us in a big way. As a book coach, my work is helping somebody define what that's going to be for their ideas, see it in the bigness and the largeness of it before they write a draft that doesn't go anywhere.
So many people write a draft of a book, and then they try to sell it. Readers don't go for it, or if they're trying to get an agent and a publishing deal, that doesn't happen. The feedback that they get, if they get any feedback at all, the marketplace will give feedback, which is just you don't move books. You don't sell a book. But if they get any feedback at all, it's along the lines of, "Well, it was flat. I just couldn't get into it. I read a few chapters, and then I stopped. Something else caught my attention. We all don't have the ability to focus anymore. We bounce from thing to thing. Your book better hold your reader's attention." So, the work that I'm trying to do is to prevent that from happening before you even write that draft that's flat.
Bryan: Yeah, definitely work worth doing. So, I'm curious, Jennie, about — authors listening to this wouldn't know that they need a book cover designer, and editor, and maybe somebody to help produce the audiobook. So, where does the book coach fit in between the author and the editor?
Jennie: That's a great question. Most book coaches are going to function as an editor as well. They're going to edit while you write. Then at the end, you might need a proofreader. But the draft that you write is going to be more solid than if you had written by yourself. A book coach comes at the very beginning of all of those things you describe. A lot of times, if people are self-publishing, they think in terms of, there's writing and then there's production, and then there's marketing. There’s this sort of three buckets that you have to do.
So, the things that you talked about — book cover, and doing an audio book, all of that — that, to me, is in the production bucket. You have to make the thing. You have to create the thing. Then marketing is, — well, we know what marketing is — we call it activities to get readers to know about your book and to buy your book.
So then, the writing piece comes before both those buckets. I believe that it's the most neglected piece in most people's process. They think they don't have to spend the time on it. They think they know already how to do that.
Writing is an interesting skill, because most of us in the course of our everyday lives write. We write all the time. We write emails. We write reports at work. We write letters. We write slide decks. We write all kinds of things. So, we tend to think that we know how to write. We tend to think that we're going to be good at our writing. It's not always true. Writing is something that to do it very well, in the way you and I are talking about, if you want to really move people and write something that they are going to tell their friends about, that's something you need to pay attention to and, many times, practice and learn how to do.
I see a lot of people neglecting that piece and that entire bucket. They write the book. They're largely focused on writing quickly. So, many of the things we hear about writing the habits and such are, "Write every day. Write X number of words a day. This is how you become productive as a writer." Productive writing is not the same as good writing.
Book coach is going to come before the production bucket, obviously. I put editing, which if you're using a book coach, it would probably just be proofreading in the production bucket. Now I'm getting my work ready to go to press. But the writing piece is, I'm doing work to engage my reader. What does my reader want? How am I going to write in such a way that I'm going to give it to them? How am I going to write in such a way that they're going to love what I wrote and tell everybody about it? That to me, if you're not paying attention to that part of the work, you're throwing away your money and the rest of it. You can do beautiful production. You can get a beautiful cover. You can mark it all day long. But if your book isn't great, it's not going to matter.
Bryan: When it comes to the actual day-to-day work with your clients, are they sending you chapters? Are you having weekly calls or monthly calls? How does it work?
Jennie: That's exactly right. Usually, I like the two times a month pattern. So, they're sending chapters, and I'm giving them on the page feedback. Then we're having a phone call. We go around and around that way until they're finished. I'm working with — I've just started working with a brand-new project with a client that is talking about productive. She's incredibly productive. I think this is the fourth book that she's written in the last two years.
They're all on contract with the publisher Workman, which is an amazing publisher. They love her work. So, she has an agent. She has an editor, and she still uses me. We just started work on this fourth book of hers. The work is to understand what this book is going to be, what is the shape and the structure and the content going to be, what is the point? Who is it for? How does it relate to her other books? How does it relate to other books that are out there?
So, we're doing that back-and-forth work. When I am working with somebody at that stage, it tends to be more frequent meetings and more faster back and forth. So, it might be every day, we're going back and forth with these things until we get it really set. Then it's more than two times a month sending work in, getting that feedback while you go. So, it's having a container to have support and perspective and feedback while you write.
For some people, they don't want to ever write another book without it. If you're the type of person who's listening to this, there are people who like to write alone. That's part of what they like. They like being in their own head. They like being in a room by themselves. That's part of the pleasure of writing. If that's you, a book coach may not be right. But for somebody who feels stuck or confused or overwhelmed or lonely in the creative process, bringing somebody else in can just be like a rocket boost.
Bryan: Somebody's listening to this, and maybe they'll be concerned about how much it's going to cost. Could you give them an idea?
Jennie: Sure. So, there's a very wide range of pricing for book coaches. My company, Author Accelerator, we train and certify and support book coaches. We don't employ them, so they are their own bosses. They run their own businesses. Their range of services and prices is all over the map. I have this book called Blueprint for a Nonfiction Book. The blueprint is 14 steps that you answer before you start to write. You could get feedback on all those 14 questions in the blueprint for somewhere in the neighborhood of $500 to $800, and really understand that what you have is solid and that there's no holes, and then that the logic is sound, and that you've got this deeper element on the page. In my mind, that's money extremely well spent.
If you want to spend longer, going back and forth with someone, it might be in the range of somewhere between $1,000 and maybe $3,000 a month for how long it takes you to write that book, which could be three months. It could be five months. It depends on the book and the process. So, that's the typical range.
I personally charge a lot more than that. It's just because I'm the boss. I run the company. My clients have hit the New York Times and Wall Street Journal Bestseller lists. I have a reputation, so I charge a lot more. But most of the coaches that we train, who are exceptionally good at what they do, it's more in that range of starting out, as I described.
Bryan: So, this is all on authoraccelerator.com. I know you also train people to become book coaches. Do many authors want to become book coaches? Is it to say a small niche?
Jennie: Yeah, actually, it's kind of fascinating. People can't see me, but I'm smiling. Because a really interesting thing tends to happen when people are coached. When a writer comes and they get coaching, they tend to love the process so much that many of them want to become coaches themselves. They see the power of it. They see the beauty of it. So, we have a lot of coaches in our training program who are writers. They're adding coaching as a component of — you have to put together a world to earn a living.
I just had an interview the other day with one of our coaches. Her name is Mia Manansala, and she's the author of a book called A Series of Cozy Mysteries. The first one is called Arsenic and Adobo. She is a Filipino writer. She writes about food and these cozy mysteries. She's got a three-book deal, and then another three-book deal from Berkley. She's with Berkley, I believe. So, she's really making it as a writer. She is making her living. She is making mark. She has won a ton of awards — everything from Goodreads, Reader awards to the big Awards in the mystery genre category. So, she has a great critical reputation as well. She's an Author Accelerator-certified book coach.
I was speaking to her the other day, and she's on deadline now to write her books. Every nine months, she has to turn in another manuscript, which is a pretty fast pace. She's still coaching other writers. She's still serving as a book coach to other writers. I asked her why. Why are you doing that? She said that she loves using that different part of her brain. Because coaching is a different skill than writing.
She said, it really helps her to look at somebody else's work and identify what's not going well or what's not going right, and to have to give evidence to that writer. It helps her be more efficient as a writer, her own self. So, that opportunity to coach other people is often something that galvanizes folks for their own writing. I love that loop. That sort of feedback loop, I think, is great.
Bryan: Yeah, I was reading an interview with a thriller author, best-selling thriller author. He was saying something similar that your job is — actually, I think, she was the author of Gone Girl, Gillian Flynn.
Jennie: Oh, sure.
Bryan: She was saying that your job as a writer is to take part in the book, so a lot of people will figure out what's working and what's not working.
Jennie: That's right. And if you're doing that, you might as well get paid for it and help other people along the way. So, that's what being a book coach is all about.
Bryan: Where, Jennie, can people call you if they want to learn more about you or your services?
Jennie: Sure. Authoraccelerator.com is the best place to go to. If you want to be coached, we have a very extensive Q&A intake form. You tell us about your project and your goals, what you're looking for in a coach, and we will match you with one of our coaches. There's no obligation to work with that person. It's just, we match you by hand because we believe in that process.
If folks are interested in becoming a book coach, I would send them to bookcoaches.com/ABC. That's for about book coaching. There's a series of videos that I do there on who makes a good book coach, how it works, how you make money, what it's all about. People can check that out there.
Bryan: We'll put the links in the show notes. Thank you, Jennie.
Jennie: Thanks for having me.
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