Category Archives: feedback

Wrestling an incomplete manuscript book coaching

Wrestling the Incomplete Manuscript: Book Coaching

Wrestling the Incomplete Manuscript: Book Coaching

“I’ve started writing a book, and I can’t figure out how to finish it.”

“I think I have an outline, but how do I go about writing a complete book?”

“Can anyone help me while I’m in the process of writing my book?”

Editing is great and all, but until you have a complete manuscript—a full story with a beginning, middle, and end—professional editing is of limited value to you. While you’re actively writing, other types of feedback pack a bigger punch, which is why some writers turn to coaches in their book creation process.

Wrestling an incomplete manuscript book coaching

A book coach can help you during the writing process. Image courtesy of Big Stock. Some rights reserved.

Do any of the above scenarios sound like you? I’ve coached authors who’ve gotten deep into manuscripts and lost the thread, writers who want actionable feedback on how to make their story better, and would-be authors who seek accountability and ongoing support. All that being said, coaching is not for everyone—and now may not be the time you want or need it.

Book Coaching: The Basics

Most writers turn to coaches for a combination of accountability (that manuscript you started ages ago and never finished), and ongoing feedback (comments/revisions to make your work better as you’re writing it). Some level of cheerleading is also included, because every writer can use someone who supports their work.

All good coaching involves outline development. This means creating a structure you’ll use to guide you as you write. Your coach may work with you to create an outline, or if you already have one, review it to help you stay on task and on target. Don’t like outlines? We can guide you through using mind maps or other techniques that capture the big picture.

Coaching by definition is book development. We’re asking the same big questions the developmental edit asks, only we’re asking them over and over again.

  • What is your concept?
  • Who is your audience?
  • What is the overall structure and how can you develop your ideas?
A book coach will help you fine tune your concept, audience, and book structure. Click To Tweet

If you’ve read my blog post from last month, these questions might sound suspiciously like the Big Four Questions everyone should ask their manuscript.

In addition, coaching pays close attention to:

  • Your writing strengths and weaknesses
  • Strategies you can use to help you meet your writing goals

Depending on your needs (and payment choices), coaching can be very “high-touch.” You might be speaking with your coach or sharing revisions back and forth on an intensive basis. Or, you can decide on a less-intensive schedule of feedback, on a spectrum that suits you.

Coaching is a flexible arrangement. It’s also a great way to build accountability into your writing process and ensure you meet your deadlines, whether self-imposed or external. However, it is not for everyone, all the time.

When Book Coaching is NOT for You

Fiction authors, in particular, can go through a long process of story discovery. If you are playing with a variety of ideas and characters, and a big story arc or character hasn’t solidified for you as the central figure, coaching may be premature.

Alternatively, if you want to hone your craft and tinker with a variety of ideas big and small, coaching may also not be appropriate. In these cases, I recommend taking writer’s workshops, and/or attending writer’s groups in the genre of your interest.

And finally, if you want help writing your book, and what you mean by that is “can someone else write this for me?” the answer is yes. This person is a ghostwriter, not a coach.

When Workshops and Writer’s Groups May Be Helpful Instead

Nonfiction writers can also benefit from classes and writer’s groups. You can connect with like-minded writers who share personal experiences and best practices. And you can find workshops on book proposals and building your platform, all of which helps your book.

You can find literary hubs in many cities. In Denver, we have Lighthouse Writer’s Workshop; Minneapolis has The Loft; Boston has Grub Street; Seattle Hugo House; you get the idea. The Loft has a listing of literary organizations, as does Writer’s Market. Find a group that works for you, and work on your craft in a supportive environment.

In my experience, most of these hubs focus on traditional publication, and some may be more open to the idea of self-publishing than others. However, they have excellent instructors and you can learn a LOT about the craft of writing, as well as find a community of like-minded people.

The Bottom Line: What a Coach Can and Cannot Do

Know this: your coach will not write your book for you. If you begin work with someone as a coach, and your arrangement morphs to where they are doing the writing, instead of you, what you now have is a ghostwriter.

A book coach can be a great resource for you as you tackle a manuscript that doesn’t want to get done. Consider what you want from your coach: accountability, craft tips, help with the outline, and so on. Interview your coach just as you would your editor.

Coaches can’t make you do what you don’t want to do. We can give you lots of great advice about the writing and revision process. We can give you great feedback on your ideas, your arc, your characters and style. We’re a great source of tips on how to break through writer’s block. But we can’t make you write your book. You still need to put in the work.

== ==

Subscribe to the monthly newsletter and get all future blog posts delivered to your inbox. You’ll also receive instant access to the Checklist for Self-Publishing Writers:

  • Learn how different kinds of editing can improve your book
  • See what your manuscript needs to get to the next level
  • Get tips on how to find the editor that’s right for you

Sign up today!

== ==

Dos and Don’ts of Advance Reading Copies

Advance Reading Copies—Dos & Don’ts for Self-Publishers

four different hardcover books in different colors spell "OPEN"

Open your book! CC image “BYU faculty survey…” courtesy of opensource.com on Flickr. Some rights reserved.

How do you go about getting one (or more) of those nifty recommendation blurbs from well-known authors on the back cover or inside flyleaf of your book?

How can you time your book to appear when a notable review of it is also released?

What about getting test audience feedback on your story or their reaction to your cover?

You can do all of these with Advance Reading Copies of your book, also known as ARCs.

Advance reading copies: benefits

At the most basic level, ARCs are a preview of your forthcoming release. Prior to the main print run (or mainstream e-release, if you are not doing a print version), you print/create a select number of copies and send them to select people. Emphasis: select. You are not saturation-covering the known literary universe.

ARCs are NOT final copies of your book. You can use them to check for errors, formatting, and print production choices. You may also think about tweaking the cover, now that you have an example of it in your hands and not only a PDF.

You can get test audience feedback with ARCs. In addition to more private feedback directly to you, you can use advance reviews to your advantage on sites such as Goodreads and Amazon, and to reach out to bloggers and others. ARCs are great for reviews and author blurbs, because you can get a copy of your book into the hands of reviewers before you publish to a wide audience.

Advance reading copies: don’ts

Although your ARC is not the final copy of your book (and you should clearly state this in all copies), appearances matter.

  • Don’t send out a messy ARC. Make sure your formatting is clean and neat.
  • Avoid sending out your ARCs before you’ve had at least one major editorial pass. Readers don’t care how awesome your story will be later if they think the book is a hot mess right now. Remember, they can post advance reviews on various websites.
  • Avoid hedging about your genre. Readers will not be pleased if they receive a horror story when they expected a comedy, or vice versa.
  • Don’t send out your copies without basic proofreading. You might be surprised how many people focus on your spelling over the story, even if you tell them they’re reading an advance copy.
  • Don’t send out ARCs that are not CLEARLY labeled as such.

Many authors don’t think about the ARC until they’re through with the editorial process. However, I have had clients who were excited to share their book, and who really wanted to gather blurbs and reviews prior to release. In some cases, they sent out unedited manuscripts in the form of a Word document to readers. Unfortunately, this produced mixed results. I would strongly caution you against this tactic. Most people have certain expectations when they hear the word “book.”

ARCs and beta readers

As I mentioned, ARCs can be a great way to get feedback from your audience. However, they are different from true beta readers.

Beta readers are your writing colleagues and others who read your work while it is still in progress. These people have a high understanding of the writing process and sensitivity to the challenges and excitement you encounter while writing your book. They help you brainstorm, they commiserate with you, and provide you with craft feedback. They are a small group.

ARC readers on the other hand read what you hope will be the final product. This can be a much larger group than the beta readers, especially if you send them to reviewers and bloggers. They may or may not care about your process; they review the book in front of them as though it was the real thing. They may not have craft insights to share with you, and instead react with words such as “boring,” “awesome,” “interesting,” and so on which do not help your writing process—though they do help you gauge whether you’re reaching your audience.

What you should do with ARCs

  • Do clearly mark your ARC copies as “advance” and not final.
  • Do proofread them before they go out!
  • Do read reviewer guidelines and send ARCs to reviewers several months before you wish to publish.
  • Do tell your readers what to expect in terms of your book genre.
  • Do use this opportunity to see how you feel about the print production and the cover.

The bottom line

Advance reading copies are your book’s ambassadors to the world. You can generate advance interest in your book, get blurbs and recommendations from other writers, receive glowing reviews, catch errors, and take the temperature of your test audience. ARCs can do this best when they are produced and used with care and attention to quality control. As with every other part of the book process, think about what you want your ARCs to achieve.

== ==

Subscribe to the monthly newsletter and get all future blog posts delivered to your inbox. You’ll also receive instant access to the Checklist for Self-Publishing Writers:

  • Learn how different kinds of editing can improve your book
  • See what your manuscript needs to get to the next level
  • Get tips on how to find the editor that’s right for you

Sign up today!

statue of a woman holding her head

Why the Developmental Edit is One of the Hardest Things You’ll Ever Do

Why the Developmental Edit is One of the Hardest Things You’ll Ever Do

statue of a woman holding her head

All this editing makes my head hurt. CC image “headache” courtesy of threephin on Flickr. Some rights reserved.

Friends, I’d like to address a difficult and emotional topic: the developmental edit.

You’ve sent your manuscript off to your editor for developmental work. You’ve completed a draft! The world is a beautiful place, filled with hope. Rainbows, puppies, and kittens are everywhere. You buy everyone dinner.

Then:

Your editor returns your draft manuscript filled with comments, cross-outs, lines pointing everywhere; or they’ve rearranged the content for you, and nothing looks like it did. There are questions, so many questions! You think about the pristine draft you sent out and realize now that it’s obviously defective and awful. You spend a week hiding in a dark room, blinds drawn, listening to sad music or watching Dead Poets Society on repeat.

A developmental edit is as necessary as it is painful

The best and worst part of a developmental edit is how radically it can change your book. Continue reading

closeup of typwriter writing word Feedback

Your book’s fresh start: How to ask for great feedback

Your book’s fresh start: How to ask for great feedback

The difference between dud and dazzle

closeup of typwriter writing word Feedback

CC image “Feedback” courtesy of Dennis Skley on Flickr. Some rights reserved.

New beginnings! Why is it we only think of them when we have spare time?

Truly. Ask anyone who has had to work over the end-of-year holidays: have they sat down to have a luxurious talk with themselves about the year past and the year to come? Probably not. What about that problem you’ve been trying to solve for months: how often did you solve it in the shower—when you weren’t thinking about anything else? My bet is: often.

When we’re in the middle of a situation, we often don’t see it for what it is. The same goes for that book we’re writing.

As you write your book, eventually you give in to the temptation to go back to the beginning, and “fix” it. Unfortunately, after you tweak one paragraph, you need to fix the next one, and the next… By the time you get to where you need to add new material, a lot of time has gone by, you’re tired, and you don’t produce much.

The more you play this game, the more likely you are to question any writing choices you make. Maybe the first way you said it was better? You can’t stop second-guessing yourself. Continue reading