Have you ever been writing along and wished you could find out if your description made sense? If it was too wordy or uninformative? If your dialogue was true to character, your novel the right length, the plot coherent?
Such questions are not the sign that one is a “bad writer,” for even good writers have them. C. S. Lewis and J. R. R. Tolkien would meet with their fellow Inklings and ask whether their work was “any good.” Robert Lewis Stevenson would read his work to his wife and gain her thoughts, sometimes rewriting the whole thing in response to what she said, and Jane Austen read her stories to her family long before she published anything. Having an outsider read our words and see if they convey what we mean to say is sometimes the surest way to discover what needs a bit more polishing.
Where to Get Such Feedback
You have to look for such detailed commentary on your writing from the right source. You can’t rely on just your family members, because not every member of your family can help you. They may not like your genre or your plot. They may dislike the names of some of the characters or they may not be readers themselves, preferring sports or movies to the written word. And you can only pester your beta readers so much before the questions become burdensome–and yet, we authors need to know, chapter by chapter, passage by passage, how the story sits. It is like a sculpture, where every inch must be canvassed for us to know if it’s the masterpiece we want it to be or yet unpolished marble, a few inches or millimeters, perhaps, from perfection.
This is what book coaching offers. Some call it developmental editing while others call it being a writing coach, but it is essentially being a sounding board through the writing process, beginning to end. This used to be part of the “package deal” of being published through a traditional publisher, where an editor would advise the writer on what worked or what doesn’t, but with independent publishing becoming such a popular and effective means of getting your story distributed, that step is often gone. As a result, there are many, many books–even from traditional publishers–that would’ve gone from “pretty good” to “excellent” with a bit of further outside help.
Why the Extra Polish Matters
You may think, “Pretty good isn’t so bad. It’ll still sell.” Yes, but excellent does more than just sell. Excellent gets talked about and recommend to other people. Excellent gets reread, earning a favorite spot on one’s shelf, physical or virtual, and excellent earns you fans who can’t wait for your next installment. The extra polish may cost you more to begin with–much as good proofreading or an effective cover design can cost you something–but it will result in making you a stronger, better writer and making your story stand out in a crowd of “pretty good.”
How to Find a Book Coach
When looking for such a coach, you want to find someone who reads your genre, and, if possible, is themselves a writer, because then they know both sides of the equation. They value a well-turned sentence because they know the agony and attempts and words and sweat and tears (well, hopefully not, but sometimes…) it takes to reach that point. They have faced the exact same questions you do about description, characterization, dialogue and plot, and they often know work-arounds and have the creative mindset to brainstorm through the rough patches.
Once you find a few candidates, you’ll want to narrow it down to someone who is professional and articulate. If possible, see if the coach or editor offers a free trial so you can determine if their coaching style is right for you, and then turn them loose on a short story, a chapter…whatever you have on hand. You don’t have to impress them, because they aren’t an agent or publisher or potential reader. They’re someone who is eager to help you turn a rough draft into a finished product, and they expect the work you send to need feedback (otherwise, you wouldn’t need to hire them).
Once you find the right coach, remember to be as articulate and professional in return. Ask questions. Respond to emails. Let them know how the writing process is going and where you think you might be struggling. Don’t be afraid to tell them your true concerns, your deepest worries, for in sharing them you’ll grow. Book coaches are like a writing doctor. If you don’t elaborate your symptoms, how can they help fix what’s wrong?
If your looking for book coaching, let me know. I’d be happy to give you a free chapter sample of my services, and you can learn more about how my book coaching works here.
Copyright 2017 Andrea Lundgren
Photo by codhra and domas, Creative Commons