Perhaps you’re wondering, Why hire a book coach? Jen’s story, below, will give you a novel writer’s first-hand experience of working with a professional book coach.
When Jen first contacted me, she’d completed a Young Adult (YA) novel and had already been under contract with a literary agent for a year. Unfortunately, the agent was not able to sell the book. The editors rejecting Jen’s manuscript said things like: “The plot was slow-moving,” “I found my interest waning by the third chapter,” and “I couldn’t quite connect with the main character.”
Finally, mutually frustrated, Jen and her agent parted ways. This brought Jen to a come-to-Jesus moment with her literary career—and led her to hire a writing coach. I’m delighted that coach was me! And I’m so happy to share Jen’s thoughts on our process together.
Why hire a book coach: Jen shares her story
If you’re a writer, you spend a lot of time in your own head. If you’re not a writer, that might sound weird to you, but trust me—it’s fun! There are people in there, and they’re doing interesting things: falling in love, learning magic, murdering their families. Writers’ heads hold maps of cities and castles and the location of quicksand. They’re populated by talking animals, ghosts who refuse to speak their needs clearly, and, maybe, if we’re really good planners, several generations of violent family trauma.
Writers, however, aren’t content to hang around in their own brains by themselves forever. We writers want to show-n-tell the insides of our brains to the world. And we want the world to love what they see. And pay us for it.
So we sit down to our laptops and we type for many years. And then we send our manuscripts to our friends and family and wait for them to say they like it. And then we email our manuscripts to carefully researched agents in New York who we’re sure are going to love it. And then we die when we receive piles of rejection letters.
But we revive ourselves and do it again. And again. Maybe we do it three times before we stand in front of our haggard reflections and ask ourselves if we should stop—forever.
We don’t, though, either because we really loved show-n-tell (and we’re still mad that Mrs. Walsh mismanaged her time and missed our turn on the last week of second grade) or because there’s something in our bones that won’t let us stop.
When to hire a book coach
After all those rounds of rejection, we realize it’s time to do something different. If we’ve got several years of free time on our hands—not to mention a spare $50,000—maybe we go back to school for a Masters of Fine Arts (MFA) in writing.
If we don’t have that luxury—and I didn’t—I highly recommend hiring a book coach.
If you’re intimidated by the cost of a writing coach, you might want to research the cost of a three-credit graduate class on novel writing. Then consider the fact that you’d be sharing your professor with your classmates. Not only that, but your class will likely end long before you finish a first draft, let alone your second.
When I found Jamie, I was in the middle of my MA in Special Education, and it put the cost in perspective. By the age of 35, I had invested tens of thousands of dollars on myself as a teacher and only a few hundred dollars on myself as a writer. I decided it was time to change that.
Why hire a book coach if you have a finished manuscript
I came to Jamie with a finished manuscript—my first foray into writing adult fiction, rather than my seemingly unmarketable YA novels. But no matter how many times I revised it, it wasn’t working.
We decided to go back to the beginning of the process—back to story concept. That meant I had to trust Jamie with the raw contents of my brain, and it wasn’t easy. Jamie, however, is a big fan of raw brain. She’s an idea zombie, if you will—deeply interested in the process. I learned to trust her to help me untangle the contents of my gray matter and weave them into a cohesive story, one that connects with readers.
Writing a novel is inherently a lonely process. While it may not be show-n-tell, writing is a way to make a human connection. (Maybe AI is going to write the next novel. And maybe it will be entertaining. But I daresay readers want satisfying connections with characters, understanding that another human designed that character and her journey.)
Leo Tolstoy said, “Art is a microscope which the artist fixes on the secrets of his soul, and shows to people these secrets which are common to all.” Writing 400 pages of the secrets of your soul just to receive a “no thanks” earns you membership in an especially sad club.
You start to wonder if there’s something wrong with you—something about your secrets that really are uncommon.
And then you meet Jamie, who tells you that’s crazy, to get back to work. The issue isn’t that you’re too weird, she’ll say. It’s that you’re not being weird enough. From there, you discover the secret to connecting to readers is mastering the craft. It’s a skill. It’s hard work. That narrative structure, the Hero’s Journey—the one that’s been in literally every story ever since the dawn of human language—it exists for a reason.
No, it’s not easy to master. But Jamie is a plotting expert with a keen eye for characterization. She’s a voracious reader with a book recommendation for exactly what you need to work on this month. She’s a cheerleader and a tough-love distributor. Family and friends will pretend to like your work when it’s bad. Jamie will not. She’s your personal trainer who’s going to tell you that you need to work harder, but she’s also going to make sure you’re not wasting your valuable time working harder on the wrong things.
Welcome to the book coach reality show
Working with Jamie hasn’t exactly been the show-n-tell I’ve wished for; it’s more like being a contestant on one of those reality TV shows. You know. The ones where the straight-shooting declutterer holds your hand as you tearfully toss four of your five chipped Teflon pans into a distended garbage bag. Just like that host, though, Jamie reassures you that, somewhere, behind those dutch ovens and glass casseroles, there’s going to be a story people—editors included—will love.
And I believe her.
Struggling to get published? A top book coach might help! Let’s chat.
I love story—and the characters that live through their stories. I’ve helped many novelists develop their plots in ways that make them more engaging and more marketable. If you’re working on a novel and wonder how to make it more successful, schedule a free 30-minute consultation with me. Also, check out THE WRITER mag article “Should I Hire a Writing Coach.”