Hiring a Writing Coach

After I finished the outline for my first novel last week, I emailed my friend T. Michael Martin (author of The End Games and Mr. Fahrenheit) to ask if he would look it over, maybe offer some suggestions or critiques. I offered to pay for his time if he’d consider offering those suggestions throughout the writing of my first novel.

Mike is not only a “real published author” but he’s also roughly my same age and has roughly the same influences that I do. So I thought he’d really get the story I was trying to tell. He’s my target audience.

“Oh, like a book coach?” he said. I had never heard the term before, but a quick Google search confirmed that “Yes! That is what I’m looking for!”

What is a Writing Coach?

The title book coach or writing coach can be used interchangeably for the most part. A writing coach is someone who mentors, encourages, and guides a writer. Writing a novel is a very long process, and can be a lonely process. And if you’re just starting with your first book, there’s so much to learn!

A writing coach is there to help when you get stuck, when a problem with plot or characterization comes up, and also when you need a bit of a push to hit your next writing goal.

Typically you meet up with your writing coach about once a week, over the phone or Skype or even in person.

A writing coach is not a ghostwriter, or editor, or mindless cheerleader. A writing coach should have the experience to offer real suggestions for fixing problems, hitting goals, and ways to improve your novel. But you’ll have to take action and actually incorporate those suggestions into your work.

How do you find a Writing Coach?

An ideal writing coach will be more experienced than you. A better writer. Probably a published writer. Or perhaps an editor.

There are professional writing coaches who offer their services to all. You can find a few professional writing coaches for hire with a quick Google search. If hiring a professional writing coach, make sure you look at the testimonials on their site, their experience, and their rates. Rates can vary from $75/hour to $150/hour.

T Michael Martin and Alan Lastufka

T Michael Martin and Alan Lastufka

You will also want to ask for an initial meet up or consultation, just to see if you “click” with the specific coach you want to hire. Have they worked in your genre before? Do they have a similar taste in books and/or similar sense of humor? If you don’t vibe, move on to the next coach. This is someone who you will be very vulnerable with over the next year, you want to make sure you feel comfortable with your coach.

You can also look to your friends and professional contacts. As I mentioned before, Mike and I are friends, but he also happens to meet all of the other requirements of a writing coach.

Before finishing my outline I had just read Mike’s novel Mr. Fahrenheit, and he had dropped by earlier that week to visit and chat about a few of his current projects. I knew his experience and interests would make him a good writing coach for me before I even knew there was a term for it.

When should you hire a Writing Coach?

I emailed Mike very early in the process (after finishing the first draft of my outline) because I didn’t want to waste three to six months and 80,000 words writing a story that had foundation issues. I wanted to catch those from the start, and build a solid novel.

I recommend hiring your writing coach as early in the process as you can. If you hire your coach after your first or second manuscript draft, and they find plot holes or make wonderful suggestions (that just happen to require quite a bit of rewriting), you’re going to spend a lot of time going back and fixing work you’ve already done.

A word of warning…

After my initial Google search, I poked around on a few websites of these professional writing coaches. Ever heard the old cliché, “those who can’t do, teach”? There seem to be quite a few writing coaches who have not found much success with actual writing.

Make sure the coach you hire has done what you want to do. Do you want to get a book deal? Do you want to self publish? Do you want to write a bestseller?

If your book coach hasn’t been able to accomplish a goal for themselves, it’s very unlikely they will be able to help you achieve that same goal. Mike’s written not one, but two thrillers published by HarperCollins’ imprint Balzer + Bray. Both have been reviewed well with his debut being praised in a professional review as “a tale of terror worthy of the early, great Stephen King.” I want that said about my book! Teach me your ways, Mike!

Not every author will be able to afford a writing coach. They are, ultimately, a large investment. In you. In your writing. If you move forward and hire a writing coach, do your research and make it a wise investment. The right coach can improve not only your current work, but your approach to all future work as well.