Writers tend to look for coaches once they’ve hit obstacles too big to overcome: they’re stuck and they need help, they’ve written themselves into a story they can no longer make sense of, they know something’s wrong but aren’t sure what.
I’ve long maintained that it’s never too early to hire a coach to support writing goals. Most writing coaches love to work with clients from concept through completion, and a good coach should be an ally and, if appropriate, a cocreator. A coach should be a gentle guiding force and never take credit for shared ideas or suggested story lines. A coach should be encouraging but firm. A coach is a cheerleader, yes, but writers should not hire coaches to stroke their egos. The point of spending the money is to get constructive feedback and to become a better writer.
Writers’ reasons for hiring coaches vary, but the three most common seem to be to instill discipline, to have a professional sounding board, and to offer creative collaboration.
The value of discipline cannot be overstated. It’s not easy to write a book. We have so many demands pulling at us each day, and sometimes knowing that a coach is expecting a deliverable is the single most important factor in making it happen.
Sounding boards can be meaningful in ways that writers might not anticipate. Writers often get too close to their writing. They can have tendencies they’re unaware of, lose track of the bigger picture, or get seduced by tangents that aren’t critical to the story line. In all these ways, coaches hold the line and help writers ascertain what matters; they may even be so bold as to say when something isn’t necessary and to help writers kill off their darlings.
Finally, there’s creative collaboration, which can be a hard thing for newer writers to invite into their practice. Seasoned writers who’ve been through rigorous editorial processes know the power of collaboration and the value of a coach’s direction and queries. This kind of support is invaluable to many authors and pushes them to be their best and nothing less.
A Coach’s Value
It’s not that indie authors need coaches more than other authors. Rather, indie authors have more responsibilities because they’re striking out on their own and publishing their own work. To do this they need to build a team—and a writing coach can be an integral part of that team.
Though different writing coaches offer different services and assist with different aspects of projects, there are many—those with book production and publishing experience—who will see writers all the way to the finish line. And any good coach will insist that writers publish their best work, that the manuscript be revised and polished. Many coaches will refer authors to copy editors, proofreaders, and designers.
Coaches should also deliver a spirit of encouragement and generosity—and this is something writers should be able to feel early on. If there’s no encouragement or intellectual meeting of the minds, writers would do well to move on and try to find a better fit.
How to Hire a Coach
Writers can find coaches online or by asking authors they know or admire for referrals. Many coaches offer complimentary intro sessions, so writers can get a feel for the coach’s energy and test out her services. Coaches will also use this time to make sure they are a good fit for new clients.
Agents and publishers can also provide leads on writing coaches—and many recommend that authors work with coaches to tighten manuscripts before they’ll consider them. Writers may also find coaches at writers’ conferences, which are increasingly inviting coaches to sit on panels, lead workshops, and participate in pitch sessions.
The most critical thing when hiring a coach is instinct. The relationship should feel good. Writers should like the energy of the coach and see the value in the coach’s comments on their work. If defenses come up, it probably means the coach is not a good fit, or that the writer isn’t quite ready to be coached.
Brooke Warner is publisher of She Writes Press and SparkPress and author of Green-Light Your Book and What’s Your Book?.