April 2023 archive

How a Book Writing Coach Critiques Your Book

Jamie Morris Writing CoachWhether your book writing coach calls it a “critique,” a “review,” or an “evaluation,” they mean the same thing. Your coach will read your work and give you their professional feedback on essential elements of your manuscript.

But wait! Does that sound scary?

For many writers, the idea of a critique—no matter what term we use to describe it—can be anxiety-producing. If you’re worried about sharing your work with a professional writing coach, here’s something to keep in mind. Your coach is not assessing your work to judge you, but to help you achieve your writing goals! As part of your book-writing team, your writing coach has only one objective—to support you.

To support you effectively, when you hire a book coach, the first thing they’ll want to do is evaluate your book-in-progress. It doesn’t matter how far along your book may be. You might only have an idea for a book. If so, that’s fine! In that case, your book coach will work with you to develop an outline or a synopsis from that initial concept. Whatever you have in hand—an idea, an outline, a partial draft, or just a few chapters—your new coach will want to get a feel for where you are in your book-writing process.

This initial critique will allow them to give you feedback on what’s working and what needs further thought. And it’s a great way to get the writing-coaching ball rolling in the right direction.

What your book writing coach looks for …

Writing a novel?

Specifically, if you’re writing a novel, your novel writing coach will probably ask you for a synopsis, a character list, a rough plot outline, and a sample chapter or two. From these materials, your coach will be able to review your story for significant story elements. They will want to know, is your pacing tight and suspenseful? Do your characters’ voices support the general tone of your story? Is your main character facing enough of a challenge to create their all-important internal arc?

You and your coach will discuss these and other aspects of your novel-writing craft after their review of your materials. From there, you’ll create a road map of the path you’ll take as you complete your novel.

Writing a memoir?

While writing a memoir is surprisingly similar to writing a novel in some respects, your memoir coach will first want to consider the scope of your story and its focus.

Memoir vs. autobiography: You see, a memoir differs from an autobiography in two ways. An autobiography considers the entirety of a person’s life—from birth up to time of writing. It will be written chronologically, start to finish, and may well include quite a bit of information about the writer’s parents and other family members.

A memoir, on the other hand, considers either a limited period in a writer’s life or focuses on a single aspect of their life over a longer period of time. Because of these limits, a memoir might be effectively written in any one of a number of non-chronological ways.

Therefore, when they are assessing your memoir concept, your writing coach will want to know the timeline you’ve planned to develop: For instance, where does your story start and stop? Does it cover just your high school years? Your first ten years of sobriety? Or the six months you were in rehab after your accident?

They’ll also be interested in understanding how you are “framing” your memoir. For example, are you focusing your story on a specific event—like the summer you were a ball girl for your local AA baseball team? Or are you writing about a trait from childhood that you overcame in adulthood—like a debilitating fear of dogs?! Your memoir’s scope and focus will determine the outline, so that’s where your coach will start their critique.

Writing a nonfiction book?

If you’re writing a nonfiction book—especially an instructional book, like a self-help or how-to title—a chapter by chapter outline is the most efficient way to convey the organization of your ideas to your nonfiction book coach. This outline will guide you in your drafting process—and it can also form the basis of a nonfiction book proposal, if you choose to create one.

Add in a sample chapter or two, and your nonfiction writing coach will be able to “hear” how you’re addressing your audience. From there, you and your coach are well on your way to tweaking what needs to be tweaked and getting a good, solid draft—or book proposal—done.

Accountability partner + cheerleader!

In addition to reading and responding to your writing, your coach will act as your accountability partner, creating a regular meeting schedule and offering assignments to keep your book moving forward. Your writing coach will also cheer you up when you feel discouraged and cheer you on as you make strides towards completing the very best book you can write!

If you need support in finding a book coach, check out this article on how to find a writing coach. Also, check out Should I Hire a Writing Coachin THE WRITER magazine. If you are considering hiring a book coach, I’d love to invite you to schedule a free 30-minute consultation. Let’s see how I can help!

5 Tips to Get the Best From Your Book Coach

Jamie Morris Writing CoachA book coach can help you transform your dream of writing a book into a hardcover (or paperback) reality! As a professional writing coach, your book coach knows a lot about how to write a book, for sure. For instance, if you’re writing a novel, she can show you how to fix your plot problems. If you’re writing a nonfiction book, she can explain the best way to organize your ideas. And if you’re just getting started? Your coach can even suggest ways to carve out the time you’ll need to write your book.

But no matter how skillful your book coach might be, it’s your input that will really make your writing coaching relationship bear fruit—and by “fruit,” I mean a completed book! Here are five of my best tips to help you make the most of your book coach’s expertise.

Tip #1: Name your goals. When you first hire your book coach, let her know your goals for your book. For instance, do you want to write a memoir and self-publish it to share with family and friends? Or are you writing a nonfiction book to establish your expertise in your field? Or maybe you’re writing a novel that you hope to have published traditionally.

Depending on your book’s genre, and your ultimate goal for it, it might take anywhere from three months to three years to finish your book! For example, writing a novel or a memoir typically takes more time than a self-help book or a personal essay collection. And self-publishing is a much quicker route to seeing your book in print than querying agents and getting a traditional publishing deal.

Once you help her understand just what you want to accomplish, your coach can tell you about how long it will take to complete your book. With that time frame in mind, you and your book coach can schedule regular progress check-ins to keep your book on track.

Tip #2: Take the time you need. Sure, you want to get your book finished as quickly as you can. That’s a given. But you also want to enjoy writing your book as much as possible—and create your best work in the process! To do so, allow yourself the time you need between writing coaching sessions. Don’t rush to meet your writing coach’s expectations. Just explain your other obligations to your book coach—then organize your coaching schedule so it supports your day-to-day life as well as your writing life.

Tip #3: Ask all your questions. Before each meeting with your book coach, prepare a bullet list of your current questions and concerns. One week, you might be wondering about the big, BIG picture: “Is my book really worth writing?” Another week, you may be worried that the plot of your novel isn’t dynamic enough or that you’re taking too long to get to the important elements of your memoir. Whether you want to discuss your book’s next steps—publishing, copyediting, or getting fresh eyes on your writing—or hear what your coach thinks about your current rate of progress, ask her!

Writing can be a lonely business. And, especially for a first-time book writer, the process can seem tedious or baffling or even terrifying! With seemingly infinite choices to make at every turn, it’s natural to wonder whether you’re taking one step forward or three steps back.

Trust that your coach will be truly interested in your questions. At each meeting, she’ll want to hear exactly what’s helping you feel confident, as well as where you’re getting stuck. You’ll be surprised at the helpful strategies she’ll have up her sleeve. As a professional writing coach, she’s gotten hundreds of writers through the tough stuff and back on track. And you, my writerly friend, will benefit from all her experience. If you just remember to ask.

Tip #4: Know that resources abound. No matter the genre of your book or where you are in your book-writing process, there are heaps and heaps of golden resources available to you. From books on plot to YouTube channels dedicated to explaining how to get an agent, you can find information to complement or even enhance all that you’re learning from your book coach. But you don’t have to dig blindly through Amazon’s lists to find the good stuff. Oh, no! Your writing coach has a list of relevant resources—book titles, bloggers, classes, podcasts—at her fingertips, and she will be delighted to share them all with you. Because the more you know, the more you know. Right?

Tip #5: Be an advocate for your ideas. Your book coach is awesome—I know she is! But sometimes she may miss the mark. She may question what you feel is a foundationally important idea about your book, leaving you to feel that you have an adversary, not an advocate. If this happens, though, stand up for your idea! Explain to your writing coach why the concept is important and ask her to help you figure out how to include it in a way that enhances your book, rather than undermines it.

For instance, writer Peg Love had an unconventional approach to joining two genres: Women’s Fiction and Thriller. Before she came to me, she had worked with four developmental editors on her novel. Each one of them was concerned about the same thing: whether the two aspects of her story could combine to make a seamless whole.

I also wondered how Peg could bring her characters’ vastly different experiences together in a way that a reader would find both believable and enjoyable. Peg and I really liked working together, but I continued to feel uneasy about having two genres in one book. After much discussion—and with Peg sticking firmly to her position—we found ways to integrate the two story lines and make them work. Woo-hoo!!

In a blog post about writing coaching, Peg referred to our experience this way:

Through my many [editorial and coaching] sessions I’ve found these attributes to be what makes, for me, a great writing coach: She’s an advocate—a champion of the work and an ally to my goals. When she pushes back on an idea, but changes her opinion after being led through my thought process, I know I have an advocate. She has the breadth of a developmental editor and the depth of an investigator, willingly jumping in to help me untangle weak points and suggest strong threads to braid into the story.

My work with Peg made me a better coach. And I hope sharing her story—and all my other tips—will help you in your relationship with your coach. As I read back through what I’ve shared here, I see a common theme: While your writing coach is a professional with wide knowledge of the literary industry, she’s not the author of your book—or the authority of your experience with her. So, take a page from Peg’s (metaphorical} book. Throughout your book-writing journey, keep the reins firmly in your own hands. Own your process, ask questions, state preferences, and stand strong for the book you want to write. Your coach—and your future book—will thank you for it.

Need help with your book? I’m available for book coaching! And check out Should I Hire a Writing Coach” in THE WRITER magazine.

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