Every writer can benefit from having a book coach. For Stephen King, publishing-house editor Chuck Verrill has essentially served King as a book coach. In King’s book On Writing: A Memoir of the Craft, he says, “to write is human, to edit is divine.” Editing is just one service that a book coach provides.
Ernest Hemingway and F. Scott Fitzgerald had Max Perkins, their editor at Scribners. At the age of 17, William Faulkner discovered Phil Stone, a graduate of Yale, as a writing mentor in Oxford, Mississippi. Prior to becoming a published writer, Hemingway was coached by Gertrude Stein and Ezra Pound. F. Scott Fitzgerald served as a book coach to Hemingway on The Sun Also Rises, the novel that propelled Hemingway to fame. Fitzgerald gave Hemingway advice mainly about making cuts to the novel, and Fitzgerald was spot on. The deletion of the original opening of the novel made a world of difference.
What Is a Book Coach?
A book coach is potentially anyone who is qualified and capable of offering constructive guidance regarding a writing project—a teacher, an agent, a publishing-house editor, a fellow writer, a professional editor, even a friend.
The operative words here are “qualified” and “capable.” Sometimes friends and relatives can make a writer feel good (or really bad), but few are objective and have the abilities as a reader to provide detailed advice regarding overarching plot structure and characterizations; they often can’t explain how to create vivid, vibrant action or how to construct a stunning and memorable world; they may not have the background necessary to point out that a particular word is not the best choice, that there are other and better options; and they may not even have the training to catch common usage errors and grammatical mistakes.
The Benefits of Having a Book Coach for Writers
A good book coach gives guidance on all things large and small. It’s particularly valuable to have someone who can illustrate how to improve texture and style. Make no mistake—the small details matter tremendously. I see a lot of stories and novels that are successful in terms of the “big picture,” are predicated on compelling plot lines and characters but lack effective execution—the style is wordy, repetitive, and/or simply doesn’t enhance or reinforce characters, actions, settings, themes; the action is vague.
A good coach is an exemplary reader and knows that a good story is a meticulous accumulation of small details. A writer’s grandmother or spouse might be able to point out a gaping hole in the plot, but only a good book coach might pick up on ineffective stylistic tendencies or a lack of texture in a critical scene, in addition to pointing out the gaping hole.
A book coach works with a writer one-on-one, and a true literary intimacy can evolve when the book coach is entirely in tune with the writer’s intentions and aesthetic values. Before I take on a client in a book-coaching relationship, I give the writer a copy of my writer’s guide Fiction Club. That way the potential client is going to have a good idea of my perspectives on the creation of fiction.
Every Writer Needs a Little Help
If Ernest Hemingway and Stephen King need help, every writer needs help. Until a writer has had a high level of success in the publishing world, agents and publishing-house editors are not likely to be willing to serve in that role, but the good news is that there are various opportunities for guidance including classes, writers’ retreats, workshops, and one-on-one writing and editing services.
Are you ready to take the next step toward a final draft of your novel? This course is for you! Join Mark Spencer in an intensive 16-week coaching session focused entirely on your novel in progress. You'll work with Mark on your choice of up to 60,000 words of your novel or two drafts of up to 30,000 words each. You'll also have the opportunity to speak to Mark directly about your work during two one-on-one phone calls or Zoom sessions.