Do you have a great idea for a book but you’re not sure what to do with it? Have you ever started writing a book and never finished, or finished it but didn’t know what to do next?

If yes, you might feel frustrated. You also might greatly benefit from hiring a writing coach.

But what is a writing—or book—coach? Do you need to hire someone to finish a book, or can you do it on your own for free?

writing coach

Whether or not you’re interested in self-publishing a book or pursuing the traditional publishing path, a writing coach will make you a better writer in every step of your writing process.

Learn why a writing coach might benefit your first book, or hundredth, and how to find the writing coach you need.

I Knew I Wanted a Writing Coach for My Writing

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.

Writing coaches can have just as great an impact on our writing.

They can take good writing and help you make it great, maybe even push you on to becoming a bestselling author!

But what kind of writing coaching actually helps writers?

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.

Great writing coaches know how to push you out of your writer’s block, and they help you overcome the emotional hurdles holding you back. These hurdles will come, and when they do, you might need a personal trainer to help you get out of your own way.

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 book, I started emailing authors and publishers I thought would make great writing coaches. And their responses weren’t always what I hoped they would be.

Regardless, I learned a lot about the publishing industry by reaching out to them.

Through this painful trial and error, I learned a few things about the process of writing the hard way.

Realities that, without my writing coach, may have forever prevented me from finishing my writing project.

What Is a Writing Coach (and What are They Not)?

A writing coach works with writers in various ways, from helping writers understand what’s preventing them from finishing their first draft to pushing them beyond procrastination.

When it comes down to it, a writing coach works with writers with one goal in mind: help that writer draft the best book they can.

A writing coach is not an editor. They aren’t responsible for proofreading your book, and unlike a ghostwriter, they won’t write a book for you.

This means that you shouldn’t expect a writing coach to make the sentences on each page sound like a bestseller off the New York Times best-seller list.

And while a writing coach might not give you tips to improve you writing skills, they will teach you how to set and accomplish your writing goals.

Some specific ways a book coach will help you include:

  • Identifying your writing fears and developing skills to overcome them
  • Recognizing and understanding your emotional hurdles
  • Teaching strategies that help you make the most of your writing time
  • Pointing out when you need to dig deep while writing your rough drafts
  • Discussing any emotional hurdles preventing you from making the most of your plot

Your writing coach will follow up with you as you take your story from your first page to querying agents or publishing. They’ll teach you how to understand and recognize your writing process quirks, inconveniences, and strengths.

And while they won’t edit your story, they will coach you through the rough spots that might stop you from finishing it.

That’s why you need to respect the coach.

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.

They usually will have testimonials that speak to their coaching style and strengths.

It’s possible that through all of this, they’ve already answered your initial questions before you reach out to them.

One of the most embarrassing moments I’ve had as a writer 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.

And it might be the reason why you’ll make a good pair for the long run.

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 in you personally, that doesn’t mean they don’t like you.

It doesn’t mean you aren’t a good writer, either. 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 many, many 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.

It seems simple, doesn’t it? A book coach I was interested in working with reached 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.

Writers need different editors at different stages of their writing process, and the same goes for writing coaches at different stages of their writing and publishing processes.

All of these writing coaches should push and support you—and in more ways than a phone call.

You want a writing coach that meets with you, face-to-face.

How I Found a Coach That Challenged Me

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, the coaching he was giving lined up with the questions I had.

After listening to the podcast, I went and got Mark’s two most recent books: The 7 P’s of Publishing Success and Killing It on Kobo. Both books were simple and engaging reads packed full of wisdom.

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 about how I can refine my work to keep me busy for the next three months.

Mark worked for me.

Still, writers need different coaches with different styles.

Which is why it’s crucial that writers do their research and learn first-hand what an inquired coach offers before hiring them.

5 Questions to Ask When Researching Writing Coaches

Before hiring a writing coach, I would encourage you to ask for a consultation call to talk about their style and coaching process. I’d encourage you to ask them about their preferences, styles, and strategies with at least these five questions:

1. What kind of writers do you like to coach?

Different coaching strategies and styles work better with certain types of writers.

Is this your first book, or even your first draft? Maybe you’d be better with a writing coach who specializes with new writers.

Are you someone with a particularly thick skin? Do you want a coach who gives it to you straight, and knows when to put pressure on you at the right times?

You should talk to writing coaches about their style of coaching before hiring them. You don’t want to hire a writing coach and then learn that your personalities and styles are harmful instead of empowering.

And while you might end up friends, you should consider your coaching and writing relationship like a business. This mindset could shift your attitude while writing and receiving the mentorship and guidance you need along the way.

2. What kind of books do you like to coach?

Editors like certain genres. Literary agents have manuscript wish lists. And writing coaches have favorite book types, too.

Although writing coaches won’t edit your books, it’s probably a good idea to find a writing coach who actually likes the type of book you’re writing.

For instance, if you’re working with a writing coach who specializes in creative writing but you’re a nonfiction writer, there might be a better match out there for you.

I’d argue having a shared style of coaching is more important than a shared taste in stories, so it isn’t necessarily true that if a coach isn’t an expert in your genre, they won’t be a good fit. But it doesn’t hurt to have a writing coach who loves the kind of stories you do, too.

Shared passions make for stronger relationships. It’s also likely that a writing coach who loves your genre can probably coach you better while finishing your manuscript.

3. How will we meet for our sessions?

Especially following the pandemic, more and more writers understand the value of face-to-face conversations with their peers, editors, teachers, and book coaches.

Looking into someone’s eyes as you share your writing struggles and worries makes a difference.

It just does.

Maybe video calls aren’t important to you, but for many people, the best book comes out of personal conversations that supported them as they wrote.

Video calls on Zoom can push you a lot further than audio alone—and especially more than conversations shared via email alone.

4. Do you offer developmental editing and coaching, or coaching only?

Not all writers are developmental editors, but there are plenty of developmental editors that are also trained in book coaching. They tend to bring these combined skills into their sessions!

If you’re a writer looking for an editor who is also a book coach, your best bet is to search for a developmental editor who coaches and edits since developmental editors help writers with their macro—or big—storylines, instead of micro details like copy edits and line-editing.

Big ideas come from bigger conversations, so if it’s important to you that your coach also edits, make sure you ask them this question.

More importantly, make sure you ask them how they apply and differentiate their coaching and developmental editing mentorship into their conversations with you.

5. What are some of your worst and best experiences coaching writers?

It never hurts to hear about a writing coach’s best and worst days. Not only will this question give you insight into how a writing coach works, but it will also help you envision what it would be like to work with them.

Your writing is important. Your book will one day be shared with the world.

If you’re going to hire a writing coach to help you reach your writing goals, make sure you’re both on the same page.

Now go confidently to your blank pages.

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 yet found your writing coach, I’d recommend starting with Joe Bunting as a coach. Sign up for one of his courses.

Have you found any writing coaches? Tell us in the comments about coaches whose work you have followed.

PRACTICE

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?

Write about your character and their mentor for fifteen minutes. When you’re done, share your writing in the comments, and be sure to leave feedback for your fellow writers!

Jeff Elkins
Jeff Elkins is a writer who lives Baltimore with his wife and five kids. If you enjoy his writing, he'd be honored if you would subscribe to his free monthly newsletter. All subscribers receive a free copy of Jeff's urban fantasy novella "The Window Washing Boy."
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