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  • Writer's pictureBarbra A. Rodriguez

Why a Skilled Book Coach Matters at Different Stages

I recently worked with an author who’d published several books before we connected, talked regularly at writing conferences, and more. Yet the manuscript I reviewed had a protagonist whose motivation was absent on the page, some logic gaps, and other fundamental holes to address. That’s not to diss her, given the many levels that a book needs to work on to capture the story that’s in a writer’s head in a way that captivates readers. She understood those challenges, and sought me out as someone who could objectively evaluate what needed improving, based on multiple factors.


But you could potentially join free writing groups, for instance. So, you may wonder, Why bother to hire a book coach or editor, which can be expensive? As a certified book coach and certified copy editor who also provides developmental and line editing, here’s my take on the benefits of hiring a skilled professional, and what to look for, based on the stage of your manuscript.


What a Skilled Coach Offers with a Developing Book:


  • Efficiency

          Writing is appealing to many because it is open-ended, about inspiration and being free to create what you want. As early as possible, it’s wise to switch gears and get analytical toward your work—or hire someone to look at logic, the intention of your work, and how it hoIds together. It’s not uncommon for writers who go down this path to be focused on sentence-level details, such as grammar glitches and spelling challenges. From a purely logistical standpoint, though, there’s no point in dwelling on such finer details if a manuscript still has foundational elements that aren’t fully developed. Revising those elements will likely change sentence-level details, cancelling out some of that detail-oriented work you’d started putting in. So, using your writing time efficiently is one reason to turn to a well-trained coach or dev. editor rather than work from what could be more random comments from writing partners.


A professional editor/coach will typically offer a more comprehensive, understandable sense of where your work is. And a good developmental guide will be solution-focused, providing novice writers with specific example possibilities of where and how to address a craft challenge such as not having a backstory scene early enough that reveals how another character heavily influences the protagonist's main motivation.


Image of a young man shooting arrow at a target (credit, Annie Spratt))
A skilled coach/editor will provide a targeted, book-development framework
  • A holistic, targeted feedback approach

          You might be at the idea stage of a work, but aren’t sure how to move it onto the page–which some book coaches like me can help you to do. Or you might have a few chapters to a full manuscript, but it lacks key elements, such as the point of view choice not matching the story’s focus, or the narrative drive is hit or miss, or a major character feel cardboard-like from more understanding being needed by the writer of that character’s basic motivations. A coach or developmental editor will see all that could be fixed in a manuscript, and have the training to not overwhelm you with the feedback provided. That is, you will likely benefit from an intentional plan for what key elements you could focus on next, and later steps you could take. I’m using “could” because a good coach/editor also always understands that the final call on what changes to make is the writers.


  • Compassion, cheerleading, and honesty

          Regardless of whether your work is a how-to guide, a whodunit, or high fantasy, the creative act of writing often brings up challenges around feelings of self-worth, and the book development process rarely lacks a few moments of angst. While compassion can come naturally, a trained coach has likely learned specific ways to leaven the reality check they may need to provide you with about your work with reminders of what you have nailed. Both are important for developing as a professional writer.


  • Understanding of the publishing landscape

          What’s going on in the publishing world matters, even for authors who plan to self-publish. For instance, books are categorized into different types, aka genres, because readers of a certain type of story often want more of the same.  Among the big picture benefits of a good coach or dev. editor will be that they have an understanding of the genres they specialize in, including the genre tropes (traditional story elements readers often expect in that genre, such as gun fights and a focus on honor in Western novels). Ensuring your book’s genre gets pegged early on can help you with everything from word choices to knowing how better to market the published work; this genre classification is so important for a book’s success that it’s considered mandatory, if you want to attract an agent and a traditional publisher.


  • A deep knowledge base

          Book coaches and editors who continue to undertake professional development have access to professional colleagues for advice on book cover designers and more, and to vast knowledge about the best books, videos, and other content that can help writers understand everything from writers’ block, to how to improve the pace of a work, and more. In an ongoing relationship, a coach or dev. editor will also have time to suss out your writing skills overall, allowing them to tailor content guidance more closely to your needs. Knowledge of thorny issues also comes into play at times, such as in advising about how to consider copyright legalities or things like depicting a family member whose views on a traumatic family moment differ from the writer’s (as I’ve covered in previous posts).


The Trained Coach/Editor Benefit Once the Book’s Structure Is Solid:


Helping your voice shine through is a line editor skill
  • Knowledge about improving voice and style

 Whether you’re an academic creating content for lay readers that needs simplification and to be de-jargonized, a historical fiction author, or have another focus, how well sentences flow, what mood you create with your word choices, and the consistency of styling choices all matter to keep the reader focused on your story. A line edit may be the work of a coach or editor. In my case, I’ve had 90-plus hours of training on line editing (for voice and style), applying this knowledge to indie authors’ memoir and other works, including content for lay audiences from Stanford University and MIT presses.


  • Knowledge of grammar, punctuation and other rules of the writing road

         Once you get a manuscript past the first three or so foundational levels of elements, and potentially have had a work polished for voice and style, strengthening the sentence-by-sentence details become the focus. That’s the time to use a trained copy editor with an eagle eye to ensure your manuscript meets published standards. For this aspect, I am a certified copy editor through the UC, San Diego program (and will tell early-stage coaching clients about grammar-type glitches that they are routinely making, as a way to potentially reduce how much needs to be addressed during this later, copy-editing stage). Often a proofreading round by a separate editor will occur, if you’re following the thorough approach that’s used at traditional publishing houses.


  • Insight into readers’ expectations

A well-rounded coach/editor may have experience being edited, as I do from having written about complex subjects like research and medical developments for decades. But being a writer isn’t a necessity. You do need someone who has been trained, formally or informally, to think like a reader in terms of what questions they will likely ask about the information shared—or missing—on the page. Often, a coach/editor can help by understanding general reader expectations too, such as word choices that will likely reach a specific audience, or how you describe characters or communities from outside your own lived experiences; that could help when describing someone who has a medical condition, is of a different race, sexual orientation or differs in other ways from you (this is sometimes called cultural sensitivity, which I have served as an editor of for MIT Press, for example).  


How We Can Help with a Final Manuscript:


Part of the Author Accelerator coach training I’ve done focused on how to guide writers through the different publishing options. There are numerous ways to get training on this aspect of book development, though. So, you can ask about that aspect of a book professional’s experience when evaluating a potential writing guide.


A coach and/or editor may also be trained to guide the final stages of getting a book considered by a traditional publisher, which is a rarer skill to have. That is, they may help writers with the tough steps of preparing a query letter and other content to most effectively pitch their book to agents, and selecting which agents to target pitch to, while developing a pitch plan (all of which I’ve formally trained in).


The final trait I’d recommend keeping an eye out for in a book coach is someone who helps you to develop your own gauge for how much revision, if any, remains to be done on your manuscript. For ultimately, a good coach should help you step fully into your writerly self.


By Barbra A. Rodriguez


To receive my brief Scoops4Scribes shares on the writing life, style matters, and writing hacks, click here.


To review the different levels of coaching and editing you could receive, read this post.


Here is a reminder of key book development terms.


 


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