Lessons From a Book Coach: A Four-Book Week
In the last ten days, I had four writers launch their books into the world — a very unusual confluence of book birthdays! It was so fun to see these books splash across social media, and to see their writers become authors, and to hold the books in my hands. Having so much book-news all at one time gave me the chance to reflect on the nature of publication itself. I drew four lessons from my observations:
1.) The road to publication is long, lonely, and full of pain.
Uplifting, isn’t it? But it’s really true.
I began helping each one of these authors at the very beginning of their book journeys, so I was able to witness those journeys from the start. I saw them wrestling with the structure of their books and trying to find their way. I saw them dig in when they had to revise a particular chapter again and again and again. I listened while they wondered if the end-goal was worth all the effort, if their book idea was any good, and if they had what it took to bring the story to life. I watched them suffer rejections from agents, wait for months to hear back from editors, and shell out money for the support and services they needed to make their dream a reality.
But all of the things I described, above, were a cakewalk compared to the effort these writers made to capture the emotion they wanted their readers to feel.
Look at the topics of these four books: divorce, from the perspective of a survivor and an attorney who helps other women end their marriages with courage and confidence; childhood cancer and the impact it has on adult survivors, their friends and family; committing to uphold one’s marriage vows after a brain injury transforms your spouse into someone completely different than who you married; the toll that stress takes on a mother’s life and the way that making an ancient kind of bread can help her remain grounded. That is some intense stuff, and in order to immerse their readers in it, these writers had to first feel it themselves and then struggle how to convey it to the reader, which amounts to feeling it all over again. That is the truly hard work of writing — that generosity of spirit. The willingness to be the lightning rod.
I always tell people that if you can walk away from writing your book, do it.
If you can let go of the itch, give up the dream, put it aside and spend your free time doing something else, do it.
Being a writer is a particularly painful undertaking and those who do it well — even if they aren’t writing about intense topics — have the ability to lean into the pain.
2.) Story is story is story
I am often asked what kinds of books I specialize in coaching, which is a good question because the world of publishing is organized by genre. Someone who is good at coaching a romance may not be good at coaching a thriller or a business self-help book. But over the years, I have come to understand that what I am good at is the process of helping a writer go from vague idea to crystalline concept to the words on the page that bring that idea to life. I specialize in helping the kinds of writers who have come to believe in the power of that process.
These four books are wildly different in tone and topic — and yet the experience of helping their authors was very similar because the process was similar.
I bring this up because so often, the creative process is made out to be chaotic and wild and out of control. There is a myth that we can’t tame it, that we can’t even really understand it. This view of creativity holds that the genius in the attic or the garret or the studio must run their wild course in order to produce good art. I deeply disagree with this myth and this belief.
A writer can make peace with her own creative impulses. She can bring logic to her imagination. She can bring order to the process of writing a book.
What this means is that there is not so big a difference between Ann writing about the first step in reconciling yourself to a divorce and Cynthia writing about that time she had to sell her husband’s beloved fishing boat. There is not so big a difference between Amy writing about a fictional woman wondering if her husband is lying to her when he doesn’t show up for a dinner party and Beth writing about how she once jogged in place while opening the mail in her bathroom at ten o’clock at night, and called it exercise.
Story is story is story. A good story works the same way to draw a reader in. Every good writer is working with the same tools in the same toolkit. The fact that some writers are writing stories from real life, others are making stories up, and still others are using stories to give advice turns out not to matter much in the end.
What matters is clarity of thought, The intention with which you approach the work. And (back to my first point) a relentless desire to get the emotion on the page so the reader can feel it.
3.) The manner of publication doesn’t matter.
Each of these writers chose a different path to publication. Ann used an agent to get a traditional book deal. Amy and Beth both have agents but chose a hybrid publishing plan. Cynthia has an agent and went with a small, independent press.
So many writers wring their hands about HOW they are going to get published, but on the day your book comes out, that hardly even matters.
Each of these writers has to figure out how to connect with the readers who will love their book. Each of them has to figure out what marketing they want to do, what their budget is for the work, what their relationship is to social media.
Worrying about how to publish is like worrying about who is going to deliver a package to your friend across the country. Will it be FedEx, UPS, the postal service, a friend on a motorcycle? All those methods will result in the package arriving on her doorstep. The real question is — what are you going to put in the box? What are you going to send?
4.) The satisfaction of holding your book in your hands is more than worth all the effort.
I said at the top that writing a book is a long, hard, lonely experience — and that is true.
But there is nothing like the satisfaction of holding a book in your hands. Human beings are at their best when they are engaged in a challenge they are passionate about overcoming, which is why writing a book is such a thrill, and why so many people put so much time, energy, and effort into learning to do it well.
We all know that not just everyone can pull it off.
We all know that not just everyone will even try.
And we all know that the sweet satisfaction that comes from being able to say, “I DID it!” — to prove to yourself that you are not just everyone, and to hold that book in your hand — is enormous.
I have talked a lot in this post about being a book coach. Part of the reason I love my work is that I get to help people on this path of proving themselves to themselves. I get to be in the hard place with them. It is an honor and a joy. At Author Accelerator, we have been beta testing our book coach certification class so we can train more people to this incredible new entry in the gig economy. It’s too late to join now (well, unless you could devote the next two weeks to completing Basic Book Coach Training, which would be sort of heroic) but we will be launching it again in Q1 2019 — we’ll let you know as we get closer.