By Jennie Nash
Jennie Nash is the founder and CEO of Author Accelerator, a company on a mission to help writers write books worth reading by training book coaches to support them through the entire creative process. She is also the author of the book Read Books All Day and Get Paid For It: The Business of Book Coaching. Learn more about being coached or becoming a coach at www.jennienash.com and www.authoraccelerator.com
From Karen: I invited Jennie to submit this post after getting to know her and her work because we both think book coaching is an excellent #postac #realac option for PhDs to consider, and I’m always on the lookout for small business/entrepreneurial ideas for academics.
To get a deeper sense of what book coaching is all about, check out Jennie’s Author Accelerator free online Book Coaching summit on January 20, 2020. She interviews 15 experts in the field to discuss everything from making a career shift to setting prices to marketing your work, and more. If you are reading this after the summit, the videos are all still available at that link (for a small fee), or you can sign up for her free Introduction to Book Coaching course.
I became a book coach because I was frustrated with the way writing is taught. After publishing six books and figuring out how to navigate the constantly changing publishing landscape, I wanted to teach others what I had learned. For ten years I taught a memoir course at UCLA’s Writer’s Program, but I could never give my students what they needed to make meaningful progress. Like graduate students embarking on original research, book writers are hungry for someone to be immersed in their idea with them – to be down in the heat of the creative process where ideas spring to life, structure is hammered out, and voice and confidence are forged – but a classroom does not allow for that kind of intensive attention.
When one of my colleagues asked if I would guide her in writing a book about story and brain science, I saw the opportunity to develop a framework for giving a writer everything a classroom course never could, including accountability, ongoing editorial feedback, and emotional support. Lisa Cron worked with me for more than a year as she organized, wrote, and revised her book, and then we developed a book proposal and a plan for approaching agents. She ended up with a two-book deal at Random House. Her books, Wired for Story and Story Genius, have become very popular in the writing world and she is currently writing her third.
Our experiment gave me an entirely new career as a book coach and then as an entrepreneur. After honing my framework for helping writers, I launched a company called Author Accelerator and began training book coaches. My target audience was other writers who were seeking a way to earn extra income to bolster their writing careers, but we also attract a large number of academics – MFA graduates, creative writing professors, English professors, and even people who work in development and communication at universities.
Academics bring skill, talent, and passion to the work of book coaching and often become giddy to have found a career where they can immerse themselves in the world of ideas, guide others to produce meaningful work, and make money doing something they love. It would be as if someone gave them permission to let go of the parts of academia they found frustrating (students taking courses just to meet requirements, too many meetings and committees, not enough time to truly help the students who want it, not being paid commensurate with their experience) and keep the parts that felt most pure and most inspiring.
Here are the top 8 reasons why book coaching might be a good choice for an academic:
- Book coaching is teaching. It is giving writers the tools and resources they need to hone their words and ideas, giving them the framework for doing complex intellectual work, and helping them claim their identity as a writer. Ira Glass says that what is most difficult about doing creative work is that, in the beginning, our ability to perceive greatness is far more advanced than our ability to produce it. There is no more satisfying feeling than helping a writer bridge that gap.
- Book coaching is mentorship. The writers who seek book coaching will be among the most highly motivated students you will ever encounter. These are adults who are seeking out the help of a professional and paying directly for their services. They have no requirements to fulfill or any other reason to learn other than straight-up desire. One of my favorite clients is a woman who retired after a distinguished career on Capitol Hill. Her goals in retirement were to learn how to play the cello and learn how to write a novel. I have been working with her for three years. The first novel she wrote was good – but not good enough. The novel she is working on now frequently keeps me up turning the pages to find out what is going to happen – even though I know exactly what is going to happen. It is a joy to guide her.
- Book coaching is research. It’s the ultimate way to persist with one idea – to go as far and wide and deep with it as the writer needs to go, and this is as true when coaching fiction as it is when coaching nonfiction. I recently found myself in conversation with a middle grade writer who thought she was writing a book about a child flying alone for the first time because of her family’s divorce. We spent an hour talking about the idea of faith as it relates to being Jewish, and how these ideas could best be expressed in a scene in which the young girl is stranded at an airport on the first night of Hanukkah. I learned something about Judaism I never knew, and the writer figured out that her book was not really about being brave, but about finding one’s identity in a changing world. It was a very satisfying afternoon.
- Book coaching is learning. By helping an eager student understand the way to use words to engage a reader, you can’t help but improve you own ability to read, to discern, to write, and to articulate difficult concepts. When someone asks me to explain what an agent means when she said the writing is flat, or what exactly it takes for a reader to feel the same emotion as the protagonist, I can do it. I also find that the more I coach, the more I come to understand and appreciate creativity in all its forms. I love talking to artists and photographers and filmmakers and other creative entrepreneurs to hear how they approach idea generation, doubt, failure, and the concept of perfectionism because it usually helps me figure out one more piece of the puzzle of what it takes to produce creative work.
- Book coaching is an introverts’ dream. You don’t have to leave your house, go to any conferences or meetings, speak in front of an audience, or give a Power Point presentation (although if you want to do those things, you can. I do all those things in the course of my work.) You often work in silence with people who also work in silence, and there is something sacred about working in this way without being interrupted by anything extraneous to the work itself.
- Book coaching is valued labor. You can earn a fair wage for your work because you set the parameters and the pricing. If you can offer a service that is of value to writers – and there are many needed services at many points in the development of a book – you can earn money that feels aligned with your experience and your effort. Too often, creative work is devalued. In my work training and certifying book coaches, I have become an evangelist for people understanding the value they are bringing to their clients and setting their rates accordingly.
- Book coaching gives you independence. You can be in control of how much and how often you work, the kinds of work that you do, and the types of writers you serve. You can create a side gig that boosts your income or a full-time career that supports your family. All the decisions are under your control. Of course, you need to learn how to manage your business and you must adopt the mindset of an entrepreneur, but I have found these challenges to be invigorating – part of the ongoing learning process. In managing my book coaching business, I am also learning skills that my writers need to master in order to manage their own writing careers, because writers need to be entrepreneurs, as well.
- Book coaching allows you to make an impact. Through your work, you can help middle school reader fall in love with reading; young adult readers feel comfortable in their own skin; sci-fi and fantasy readers engage with the most pressing issues of our time; nonfiction readers learn everything from what life was like in ancient Greece to the principles of leadership to how to better manage your money; and memoir readers feel less alone in the rawness of their humanity. Sometimes the writers I work with impact just a few people and other times they impact a great many, but regardless of the numbers, the work feels meaningful – both to them and to me.
If you are an academic who is interested in becoming a book coach, I can promise that you already have many of the skills you need to be an effective one. The work you did researching and writing your own thesis and dissertation, and the work you do writing papers, collaborating on projects, and teaching your students to clearly and effectively communicate their ideas, will give you a strong foundation to build upon. You may need to learn about the elements of story, how the publishing industry works, how to set up a sustainable business, and how to manage projects and clients, but these are learnable skills.
Check out Jennie’s Author Accelerator free online Book Coaching summit on January 20, 2020.