Coaching writers is distinct from developmental editing, but because of the nature of DE work, it’s common for it to shade into coaching (and, indeed, into mentoring). Many DEs fall into coaching because their clients ask for it while others want to move into the field more intentionally. Here are my thoughts about offering coaching services as an adjunct to your developmental editing work.
Coaching Versus DE
In general, a developmental edit is a finite act that is concentrated on evaluating a finished ms, making ms edits and queries, and recommending revisions for the author to make. While you might answer questions about the edit or look at the author’s revision, the main bulk of work is in the actual editing of the ms.
Coaching, then, is whatever else you might do to help a writer grow in craft that isn’t that finite act of editing. It may be offering critiques on chapters as the author writes them (rather than after the whole is complete). Maybe it’s providing writing prompts and feedback to help the author grow in skill. Maybe it’s hopping on the phone for a brainstorming session when the author is stuck with her current ms.
I do a mix of both in my work. My work with indie authors tends to veer more towards coaching while my work with publishers is strictly dev. While I can quote a project fee for a dev edit, coaching is more likely to be something I bill by the hour.
Start with Your Current Expertise
Whether you’re qualified to offer coaching depends on the types of service you’re planning to offer.
I have a lot of experience in traditional publishing, so authors will often ask me to critique a query/synopsis. Or they’ll ask if they can have a phone call with me to go over their pitch for a pitch session at a conference. These things I feel confident in doing. Someone who didn’t have much experience in traditional publishing would not understand what makes a good pitch so this would not be a good service for them to offer.
I used to work with writers for whom English is a second language but I haven’t done that in years. I don’t know what the good current resources in this area are or what the latest research shows regarding effective intervention. So I don’t offer that type of service anymore.
The best way to break into coaching is to figure out what you already know and do well and connect the dots to how you can use it to help writers.
Pick out one aspect of something you already do and have a lot of experience in and use that as a springboard to coaching. We sometimes think of coaching as one big pie where we have to know everything there is to know about writing and publishing to offer it but really coaching is a bunch of slices crammed together. You can probably coach one of those slices right now.
If you don’t have a lot of experience, the way to do anything like this is to start small and scaffold up. Your local writing group would probably be glad to have you lead a session on how to use the five senses in their writing. Once you have this experience, you can offer a class or workshop for the local arts center/parks and rec program/senior center. Now you’re a local expert on the five senses in writing and it took you a month.
Next, pitch a workshop for a national conference. Now you’re someone who teaches writers about using the five senses. Your coaching fee for offering this help one-on-one is $X per hour.
Finding Coaching Clients
In general, I find that indie authors don’t hire us for coaching out of the blue. No matter how great your website is, an indie author isn’t going to stumble over it and say, “Coaching is exactly what I need! How much will it cost?” Even if someone you know makes a referral, it’s rare for an author who doesn’t know you and hasn’t worked with you before to hire you for coaching.
Usually what happens is the author works with you in some capacity before and you both feel you work well together. This leads to the coaching relationship. Typically the best way to add coaching to your business is to build up your business enough so that some portion of the people you’re working with opt to pay you for coaching.
What are some ways you can build up your current clientele? What are some other things you can do to market/promote? For example, can you teach (virtual) writing or editing classes for the library, senior center, art center? Can you join writers’ groups and editors’ groups? Could you team-teach with someone who is more established? Subcontract?
Next, you have to think about how to stand out from others who offer editing/coaching services. What in your background, past experience, and/or personality is different/unique/useful to the writers you want to work with? When you’ve worked with writers in the past, what particular problems did you help them unknot? What kind of mentoring did you do and at what point in the writing process did you do it?
Your special skills don’t even have to be writing/publishing-related, exactly. I recently had a talk with an editor who markets to a law of attraction crowd because she’s very into that. So, explore why indie authors might want to work with you versus someone else.
Then consider what specific solutions you can offer to potential coaching clients. For a long time I would say, “Yes, I do coaching! I can coach writers and editors on craft and business concerns!” And no one would ever sign up. Then I started creating lists of things I could specifically do: For writers, I can review and give feedback on your query. I can educate you on how publishing works and help you come up with a plan for getting an agent. For editors, I can review a ms you’ve edited and give feedback on your work.
Once people saw the specifics, they could imagine themselves wanting that. Then, even if they had a request that wasn’t on the list, they would ask me (“Can you help me figure out what these rejections mean?” came up recently). These steps will help you drum up coaching clients.
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