A Book What?

Susan DeFWriting resourcesLeave a Comment

Tell people you’re a book coach and you’ll get some questions: What is that, exactly? And what’s the difference between book coaching and editing?

I get these questions a lot—at least I did, when I was allowed to leave the house—so I thought I’d speak to them here. 

Editing is that old-school thing wherein someone reads your manuscript and provides you with editorial feedback designed to strengthen it in revision. The first round of feedback generally takes the form of a detailed editorial letter, while the second typically involves markup on the manuscript itself. 

Independent editors work with authors prior to publication to increase their odds of…well, publication. Acquisitions editors decide which books will make the cut with their given publishing imprint, and copyeditors employed by that publisher make sure you don’t go to print claiming that the Library of Alexandria is located in Virginia, or using semicolons in an indiscriminate manner.

When you’re working with an independent editor, you send off your MS, the editor responds with feedback, you revise the book, and then rinse and repeat as needed. In this sort of relationship, both you and the editor are mainly interacting with the text, rather than with each other.

A book coach is more of…well, a coach. For authors who don’t yet have a first draft, a book coach will often start by working with you to develop a solid outline, based on the big-picture principles of effective storytelling. For authors who already have a full draft, this process might take the form of a manuscript evaluation or reverse outline, but the purpose is the same: to develop a game plan for the book that’s going to set you up for success with it.

From there, a book coach works closely with the author as they write or revise, one chunk of the manuscript at a time. My coaching clients send me up to 25 pages twice a month, which I respond to via email and Track Changes comments, and then we follow up with a phone call to discuss the feedback.

Oftentimes, that follow-up phone call is more about a lot more than that. For instance, it might be a space for us to touch back on the author’s original impulses for writing the book, and how that might play through to the current section of the MS; it might be about thinking back to the character arcs and making sure the current section of the manuscript is touching on that arc in a way that sets up the emotional payoff in the story’s climax.

Or it might be about the writer’s process, the elements of craft they tend to struggle with, the issues they seem to run into again and again. When I work as a book coach, I’m not just interacting with the product of my client’s process, I’m helping my clients master the process itself. 

I do both editing and book coaching, and I enjoy both, but increasingly, I enjoy book coaching more. Not just because it’s more personal and hands-on—it is—but because I’ve found that it’s more effective in helping writers make big strides with their craft, and produce a publishable MS in fewer drafts.

That said, I’m always in the process of improving what I offer my clients. Say you had a chance to work with you dream book coach. What would that look like?

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