Two major misconceptions about coaching writers

As developmental editors, we often have authors come to us when their manuscripts are not actually ready for a developmental edit. I’ve known editors who turn such clients away, saying exactly that: “Your manuscript is not ready for a developmental edit.”

But writers wouldn’t be coming to us if they didn’t need help! So, coaching can be a way to offer them help that isn’t specifically developmental editing – and to earn a little cash at the same time.

I’ve had editors push back on that: “But they can do some planning and revision themselves before they come to me!”

As if the client is an inconvenience.

I’ve had clients who are a lot of things, but inconvenient is not one of them.

You may need to stop thinking of yourself as an editor and start thinking of yourself as a person who provides editorial services. Or, possibly better, as a person who helps solve writing problems.

And I know you can do this, because that’s exactly what developmental editing is: it’s identifying and helping to solve problems in a manuscript so that the author can create a satisfactory revision.

Now, if you have so many DE clients that you have to turn some away, and you are making the amount of money you want to make, then you do not need to read further! Keep doing what you’re doing.

But if you’re not in that enviable position, then you may want to think about ways you can help authors other than just editing their work. Not every writer can get through a full draft of their manuscript and several revisions of it without needing (or just wanting) outside help.

One common misconception editors have is thinking that coaching is a lengthy, ongoing process, like therapy, and they don’t necessarily feel confident in offering something like that (nor are they confident their clients could pay a reasonable fee for it). I mean, I’d be nervous with the idea of committing to a client for weekly meetings for the next six months. But coaching isn’t therapy. You can coach a client for an hour or two and be done. If you’re helping an author solve a problem of limited scope, then that may be all the help they ever need from you. That doesn’t mean it isn’t worthwhile (for you or them).  

As you build confidence, maybe you start offering ongoing coaching to support authors throughout the writing and revision process. But you don’t need to start where you end up. You just need to start somewhere.

The second most common misconception is editors thinking that coaching is all about giving advice. They’re concerned that they don’t know enough to answer every writing question a client might have. I’ve been helping writers for over twenty years and I don’t know all the answers, so I understand this objection. But coaching isn’t a transaction where you dispense wisdom as soon as a coin is inserted into your wallet. It’s a process where you and the author work together to discover the solutions.

In my admittedly loose definition of coaching, I include anything that helps a writer that isn’t actually a developmental edit. So this might be:

  • helping them brainstorm ways to find time to write
  • serving as an accountability partner as they draft or revise a ms
  • reviewing disparate feedback from a variety of beta readers to help them gain clarity about what should be accomplished in the revision
  • helping them understand the reasons for the rejection letters they’re getting from agents
  • reviewing the first few chapters of a ms to help the author figure out why they’ve stalled
  • helping them brainstorm solutions to problems they’ve already identified in their work

As you can see, some of these don’t require a lot of expertise in storytelling techniques so they can be a good place to start if you’d like to build up your confidence first. And of course there are dozens of possibilities I haven’t listed here.

The key is to start with something you feel fairly confident about offering and to build from there. Maybe you’re really good at using time effectively and can show some of your techniques to writers. Maybe you know all about technology tools that can help authors in their work. Maybe you are just a really good listener. Any of those (and many more) are excellent places to start.

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