In high school, I was part of an amazing football team. We won most of our games and routinely went to the State Championship. But it wasn’t just the players that made the team great — it was also the coaches. And writing coaches can have just as great an impact on our writing.
An incredible coach doesn’t just tell you what to do and how to do it. They help you as you learn, answering questions and showing you how to improve your performance.
When I started writing, one of the first things I began looking for were coaches who could help me along the way. Finding the right writing coaches can make all the difference in our work.
As I was working on my first novel, I started emailing authors and publishers I thought would make great writing coaches. Their responses weren’t always what I hoped they would be. I learned a lot about the publishing industry by reaching out to them. Through this painful trial and error, I learned a few things the hard way.
Respect the Coach
First, before you reach out to someone, study what they have already put into the world. Good coaches are already coaching. They’ve likely written articles, blogs, or books about writing. They’ve probably been on podcasts. They may even have courses available online.
It is likely they have answered your initial questions already.
One of the most embarrassing moments I’ve had was when I emailed a writer I respected without doing any research first. I asked a question I was struggling with, thinking this coach would have the perfect answer.
The coach responded with a link to a book he had written. No other words. No explanation. Just the link. I read the book, and the coach was right, it was perfect.
Unfortunately, I’d set out on the wrong foot with that coach by not doing my homework before I made contact. I’d wasted the most important thing the coach could give me, his time.
Before you reach out to a writing coach, make sure that coach hasn’t already answered your question somewhere else. This will show the coach that you respect them and value any time you give them.
Look for Responsive Coaches
People are busy, especially in the author community, and especially if the person you are reaching out to is already a great coach. If a coach doesn’t have time to invest you in personally, that doesn’t mean they don’t like you. It doesn’t mean you aren’t a good writer. It doesn’t mean they are rejecting you personally. It just means they are busy.
At the same time, the best coaches give their players personal attention. One way to tell if a coach is going to be a good fit for you is to see how responsive they are when you reach out.
My first writing coach was Joe Bunting from The Write Practice. After reading a massive amount of the thousands of articles he’d written about publishing, I emailed him with a few questions.
Unlike other coaches, I’d reached out to, Joe emailed me back. That was one of the ways I knew he was going to be a great coach for me. After a quick back and forth, I signed up for one of his courses and began my publishing journey.
You Need More Than One Coach
In high school football, I played Defensive End. For this position, I had a Defensive Line coach who worked on the skills for my particular position, a Conditioning Coach who helped me stay in shape, and a Defensive Coordinator who taught me how my position was part of the larger defensive strategy.
Different coaches can teach you different skills. As a writer, you also will need more than one writing coach. Maybe you need a coach to teach you the basics of plotting a novel. Maybe you need a coach who can focus on helping you understand the specific genre you are writing. Maybe you need a coach who can help you understand indie publishing or how to find an agent.
Different coaches will train you in different skills, so look for more than one.
How I Found a Coach
Recently, I was looking for a coach to help me understand how to better promote and sell my books. I knew I wanted someone who had been in the industry for a long time and who knew how to work on a budget. I had heard Mark Leslie Lefebvre on podcasts before, but when I heard him speak on the Creative Penn podcast recently, the coaching he was giving lined up with the questions I had.
Mark has been publishing since 1992. He has published (traditionally and as an indie) more than twelve books and countless short stories. He was the driving force behind the creation of Kobo Writing Life and currently works with the Draft to Digital time. This experience and steady hand oozed from the pages of his books.
I went on to listen to the podcasts Mark had produced. As I did, I looked at his work online. There were things he was doing that gave me pause.
For example, Mark didn’t seem stressed about getting reviews. Since I’ve struggled to get reviews, this raised questions for me. I also noticed from his website that Mark does a lot of selling at conferences, a strategy I had never tried that I was curious about.
After reviewing all of Mark’s work, I had a few questions left for him, questions about how I could improve my practice. I went to his website to see if he would be open to talking with me and discovered that he had a mode for booking time with him. I scheduled an appointment and Mark got back to me right away.
The coaching conversation I had with him confirmed my suspicions: Mark is an amazing writing coach. I spent forty-five minutes with him and learned enough to about how I can refine my work to keep me busy for the next three months.
We All Need Coaches
The best athletes don’t pop from the head of Zeus fully formed. They have amazing coaches along the way that help them refine their practice. As an author, you need great writing coaches too, and you are writing at the perfect time. Never before have you had so much access to great coaches.
If you read this blog and haven’t already, I’d recommend starting with Joe Bunting as a coach. Sign up for one of his courses. I know from personal experience, Joe is a great coach.
Have you found any writing coaches? Tell us in the comments about coaches whose work you have followed.
Today, write a scene in which a character encounters a mentor who can help them achieve their goal.
What’s the character’s goal? What skill or wisdom do they need to achieve it? Who will mentor them, and how will the mentor respond to them?