Sunday, October 26, 2008

What do writing coaches do?

I don’t know what makes people search for certain kinds of help on the Internet, but it would seem that book coaching is a pretty popular topic. I get a lot of inquiries about coaching, probably because I’m near the top of Google’s site under that heading. If you doubt that such positioning helps, let me assure you that it’s like magic.

What’s interesting is that people search for a book coach, find my website, and then e-mail me to ask what services I offer. I suppose that is because every writing coach is different. I have one colleague who is very scientific about her process. She does certain things in a certain order and doesn’t waste any time. I admire her technique, but, quite honestly, it doesn’t work for me. There simply is no one-size-fits-all in my approach to coaching.

In fact, my method can only be described as customized because it is based entirely on what each client wants or needs from me. Every potential author who contacts me is at a different stage in the planning, writing, publishing, or promotional stages of a book. Some have no idea what to do and need guidance from start to finish. Others have written a book and suddenly ask themselves, what do I do now? Those people need an editor more than a coach. A few discover, after they begin, that the whole process is overwhelming and what they really want is someone else to write their book for them. They need a ghostwriter. And then there are writers at increments in between the ones I’ve just described.

That first conversation with a potential client is a two-way interview. The client wants to know what I can do for him, and I want to know what he needs. Usually, I ask these questions:

• What is your book about?
• What is your purpose for writing it?
• Where are you in the process?
• Have you written an outline?
• Have you written the book or any part of it?
• Have you written a book proposal?
• What kind of help are you looking for?

On the other hand, the client may ask me:
• What exactly do you do?
• How does this process work?
• How much do you charge?
• How long does it usually take?
• Can I send you what I’ve written so far?

These conversations vary in length and detail. Both of us are trying to get information but also to determine if we can relate to each other. I want to know if this person is serious about the project and looking for the right partner or just surfing the Web to pass the time. He wants to know if I am interested, experienced, and trustworthy. We are engaged in a dance of strangers, each of whom has an agenda.

The client usually wants me to read what he has written; I want him to have a better idea of what coaches do. He offers to send a sample; I promise to send links to articles. We agree to talk again. I follow through and follow up at least once. Occasionally, this dance becomes a working partnership, but not always. Establishing trust and rapport, conveying information, and deciding whether to commit to spending hundreds of dollars is a lot to ask of a single conversation. It usually takes more chat to create that bond.

That’s why when people ask me, “What do writing coaches do?” it takes more than 500 words to provide a coherent answer.