This week I got this message on LinkedIn: “Book coaching sounds to me like bullshit Jennie… businesses and ideas like yours are the ruin of everything that is good. Shameful.”
What elicited this nasty note?
I am in the midst of promoting an event that my Author Accelerator team and I have spent months designing and organizing. It will be the first-ever (as far as I know) book coaching summit — a free online event to introduce people to the idea of book coaching and give them insight and information about how to become one. This is the culmination of ten years of running my own book coaching practice and training more than 50 book coaches — and I will be offering it entirely for free.
As part of my effort to promote the event, I have been reaching out to friends and colleagues and peers and, in some cases, to people I have never met, to see if they believe what we are putting together would be of value to their audiences. I am always professional in my requests, and completely understand when someone is not interested, doesn’t feel that it would be a good fit for them, or doesn’t have the time. Rejection is part of the job for an entrepreneur, as well as for a writer — I’m fine with rejection.
I’m also fine with people asking questions to make sure that I am running my business with integrity. I had a colleague do this recently when I invited her to give an interview in a book coaching master class I was developing. She wanted to know if I was teaching people actual coaching skills, or just running some kind of scheme to take their money for a shallow promise. I appreciated her questions and the way she asked them and gave honest answers. Once she understood that I was operating from a place of integrity, we proceeded from there. I am fine with, and actually love, having those conversations, because it forces me to make sure our recent business decisions are aligned with our values, and recalibrate if we’ve somehow gone off track.
What I am not fine with is someone who doesn’t know me or my business coming after me with nasty accusations. The author of those words is a digital entrepreneur with a very large following who responded to my simple and professional inquiry with six full text boxes of a vitriolic diatribe. He sent it to me and then blocked me so that I could not respond. I am not going to name names because no good can come of that, so I will refer to this individual as LinkedIn Guy.
I want to post more of his text (and will not correct his misspellings — I forgive him that, because I often whip off emails and blog posts with errors, too…) because I want to show that the opening lines I quoted were just the beginning of what he said. I am doing this since LinkedIn Guy has chosen not to let me respond to him. I will instead reply to YOU, which serves the purpose of my restating my mission, which at a moment like this feels like the right thing to do.
LinkedIn Guy wrote (in part):
“Book coaching sounds to me like bullshit Jennie…You don’t make money writing books…so when you make money with book coaching you are holding on to the loose hope of making money with books. In fact you are giving authors fake hope that they can sit down and write all day and make a living doing that. That’s not accurate. In-fact it’s bullshit…straight up. How can you tell people they’ll make a living writing words only? Shame on you.
This is what sickens me about this over connected ‘internet’ world we live in…. The proliferation of the knowledge economy is built on the backs of no talent, no skilled individuals who build followings and get bestselling books because of those followings. What’s funny about this is, we’ve completely forgotten the elders. The folks with 50 years business experience or the authors who are working in complete anatomy who have the real knowledge for writers. Now we have people like you telling no talent 20 year olds that they can coach and teach other writers how to be successful. We are going the wrong way and businesses and ideas like yours are the ruin of everything that is good. Shameful.
Who cares about honouring the truly experienced and gifted invidiuals…it’s like the blind leading the blind. Have you ever say down and thought deeply about what you are doing? NO…you just do it because you make money. Horrible… You are encouraging writers as a coach to keep writing for the purposes of what? To hold onto false beliefs that they make a living just from writing?”
So, is it shameful to encourage writers to write?
So, is it shameful to encourage writers to write? Is it horrible to suggest that people can make money by becoming a book coach? Here is what I believe.
+ I believe that the goal of writing books is not only about making money. Money is nice, but it’s not what makes us write. We write because we are called to do it. We write to raise our voice. We write because making art of any kind often makes us feel alive. We write to have an impact on people, to engage readers, to get them to think and perhaps act. We write because it’s something we have dreamed about doing our entire lives and we can’t rest until we do it.
+ I believe that helping writers do this work — the work of their heart and the work of their soul — is good, noble work. In a world fraught with — well, everything, including an Internet where people feel emboldened to speak to strangers the way LinkedIn Guy spoke to me — helping people get clarity around their thoughts, share their stories and their perspectives, and invite others to see the way they see the world is one of the ways we can rise above the noise and reveal our humanity.
+ I believe that it is difficult to make a living from writing alone. Most writers will never get to quit their day jobs, land a movie deal with Reese Witherspoon, or even go on a great vacation from their earnings. It is for this reason that I never guarantee publication or a specific ROI from writing, and I counsel the coaches I teach not to do this, as well. Publishing is too dependent on luck and timing to make that kind of guarantee.
+ I believe that writing is not a zero-sum game. Even if someone tries and fails (which means what? They don’t gain a broad readership? They don’t make the bestseller list? Insert any arbitrary metric….) the effort is still more than valuable and enriching. The same could be said for children who take piano lessons. The goal of the work is not always to end up playing at Carnegie Hall. It is a worthy goal to apply yourself to something challenging, to engage with an artistic medium, no matter the outcome. Aiming for big success is good — of course we all want it, and I get up every morning to try to guide clients to it — but it is not the only acceptable outcome.
+ I believe that good writing can be taught. There are rare native geniuses who know how to write an engaging book without having to work at it or think about it, but most of the rest of us must learn the craft. Throughout my career, I have had the pleasure of seeing all kinds of people from all kinds of educational and cultural backgrounds figure it out. It takes time and persistence, but it’s a skill that can be learned.
+ I believe that book coaching can be taught. Whoever said that only successful writers can teach other writers to write? In my experience, famous writers are often the worst teachers because they are so genius at what they do that they can’t fathom not being a genius. They can explain what they do, but they can’t help others find their own way. There are a lot of good writers who are also good teachers, but the two things are not dependent on each other. In other industries — sports and music, for example, or executive business coaching — the coach has almost never reached the same level of achievement as the student. No one seems to question this. I believe it is no different in the world of writing. There are great agents and great editors at publishing houses who have never written or published a book. Most of them, in fact, have never written or published a book. They have learned how to help writers do their best work. This is what book coach training does for book coaches.
+ I believe that book coaching is a viable way for writers and other book lovers to add an additional income stream to the mix of things they do, either as a side gig of a full-time job. The coaches I have trained are moms who want satisfying work they can do from home during school hours, MFA graduates who have not yet found a way to monetize their skills, English teachers who don’t make enough in their day jobs to support their families, writers who have not yet found a way to earn a full-time living as a writer or who may never find it. In the powerful speech she gives at writing conferences all over the country, Jane Friedman, author of the book The Business of Being a Writer, gives a stark presentation of the reality of being a writer, and her main point is that you are likely going to have to find other ways to earn money in addition to your writing. She is crystal clear about this. Teaching is a time-honored “side gig” for writers. Book coaching is a new path to doing this same sort of work.
+ I believe that I am in a strong position to teach others how to be writers and book coaches. I have spent more than 30 years in the publishing industry (I deeply wish it was 50 years because LinkedIn Guy asks, “What about the people in business for 50 years?” ) and have developed a method that works across genres, across phases of the creative process, across different styles of working and writing. As a result of these systems, I can proudly and confidently teach others to do what I do.
+ I believe that I do my work with integrity. Integrity is the core value of my business — and I know that this comes through to the people I actually serve. This post was written this week by someone I do not know…another book coach, who obviously believes that a rising tide lifts all boats. (Thank you so much, Liz!)
Without my beliefs, I am no better than the person LinkedIn Guy describes
At the end of the day, these beliefs are all I have to go on. I have built an entire company and a brand-new book coach training and certification program on the back of these beliefs. Without my beliefs, I am no better than the person LinkedIn Guy describes. With them, however, I can stand tall in the knowledge that I am offering something of value. People can either choose to be part of what I am doing here, or they can choose not to.
But one thing I know for sure: LinkedIn Guy is not going to knock me off my game. He may have rattled me for a moment, but that moment has passed.
If you are working on a book, or considering becoming a book coach, I would say this to you: Make sure you know what you believe in, what your point is in doing the work, what your purpose is, and who you seek to serve. Because someone someday might come after you the way this guy came after me — unfairly, out of the blue, with rage in his heart. It is the risk we take in doing anything in public, in offering anything to anyone. And the only defense, the only way not to crumble, is to be clear in your convictions.