Is there a story on your heart? Maybe it’s been brewing for decades. Maybe you woke up one morning and it all came to you. Either way, you start writing, putting the pen to paper. Until you realize that your story is still more like a gloppy lump of clay than the finished sculpture you imagined in your mind.
Yet, still, your soul longs to write. It can’t be that hard, really. Right? I mean, rumor has it that 8K books a day are released on Amazon. Right. Writing a book is a painful and beautiful process of laying down pieces of yourself and the world you love into the fictional framework that makes readers care. There’s a reason why, even if that 8K is an inflated number, statistics show that the vast majority of these books will sell less than 100 copies.
You don’t want to simply throw a soggy story out into the world, shapeless and undefined. You know the basics of structure, but actually coming up with the right scenes that move your story and characters along leaves you with hours of staring at the blank screen. So, what do you do?
It’s time to learn. Whether it’s a mentor, book coach, or a writing program, you’re going to need to dig in for the long haul and treat it like a master’s degree in storytelling.
First of all, know that books are fantastic resources for learning story structure, character development, and editing techniques. However, they fall short in a few ways because most new writers have an intellectual understanding of story structure. But let’s face it– it’s a lot harder than it looks!
We also do well with feedback from an expert. Remember those essays in English class that came back with comments and the dreaded red ink? Comments like “go deeper here,” or “I love this imagery.” That feedback helped you grow as a writer. One of my mentors is excellent at helping pump up the verbs of my story for rich layering.
Getting feedback and guidance from an experienced writer who can walk you through the process is an invaluable step if you’re stuck or unhappy with your novel. Not all experts are created equal, however, and not all experts are the right expert for you. Why? Because writing is like painting. There are styles, genres, and industry rules. You wouldn’t go to Monet to learn Cubism, right? You have to learn from a master who is further along the road you want to be on, who’s in your lane.
When you start your search to take your writing to the next level, keep these nine keys in mind:
- Find someone who writes in the same genre as you. When it comes down to it, while strong characters and story structure are fairly universal, there are subtle differences between the genres and what is expected in each. Learning from someone in your wheelhouse will give you a clearer, cleaner direction to follow and they will be able to give you feedback that is pertinent to the genre’s current industry trends. In addition, people often write what they read, so you’ll have common ground to stand on.
- Read their writing. Consume as much as you can. You want someone who has a lot of books out there, that readers are craving and that publishers are backing.
- Read the writing of their other students. Have some been published traditionally? Or do they end up indie-publishing? There’s nothing wrong with the latter, but you have to be able to measure their success in terms of the success you hope to find.
- Is there a trial period or lower tiered options? You don’t want to get locked into a $1000 contract, only to find out you aren’t compatible and there’s no refund option.
- Do they guarantee publication? This is a red flag. I’ve seen some of these “programs” that look like a mentorship and they guarantee they’ll publish your book. These are usually vanity presses in disguise. No one can guarantee you’ll write anything worth publishing. It just doesn’t work that way. What you do want? Someone who delivers what they say they will, so review what all is included.
- Are there complaints about the coach or coaching program? Check out online reviews and see what others have to say about it. People with bad experiences tend to voice them.
- Does their teaching style align with your learning style and needs? Odds are, you’ll want feedback. Some people are heavy-handed with harsh criticism and some writers are okay with that. Most of us are not. Most of us like constructive criticism that makes us feel like we know where to improve without feeling like a complete failure–because, when we write, we’re pretty good and criticizing ourselves anyway. Are there live classes? Are there one-on-one phone calls? Are some materials online and supported by additional, personal feedback?
- Does the named mentor/coach work with you directly or do they farm out much of the interactions to assistants or other writers? What qualifications do these others have? Ensure you know exactly what is included and which items you will have to pay more for. Discuss your needs with the coach to ensure the right fit.
- Are there in-person opportunities to interact? This might be a group class intensive weekend, a conference, or one-on-one meeting. What’s the additional cost?
A good book coach will help you become a better writer and give you the confidence you need to stay the course through the tough times. There’s always room to grow and learning from an expert will save you hours of frustration and writing in circles.
Have you used a book coach or writing mentor? What kind of experience was it for you?