Book Creation Coach

<strong>Butterfly’s Tongue</strong>
Butterfly’s Tongue

Say you want to write a book but lack a friend who is not a rival and who is good at coaching and has time for it. Say further that you who are not so lucky as to have an agent or an editor at a publishing house who despite a heavy work load, will take the time to give valuable and detailed advice. You would have lots of company. Many writers lack this kind of help, or don’t get enough of it, or don’t get it at the right time.

When I noticed this need, I became a book creation coach, working with private clients. This drew on experience writing long articles and editing a college paper and a couple of books (Learning After College, by Nevitt Sanford, and Sanctions for Evil: Sources of Social Destructiveness ,co-edited by him and by the present writer).

Relying only on word of mouth, I had many more prospective clients than I could serve and had to develop criteria for accepting people. I sought writers who would nudge the culture in what I thought were good directions and who would be responsive to me (not in the sense of agreeing with me, but in the sense of engaging).

Let me add that I’m retired as a coach, and am therefore not seeking clients. I would encourage people with the necessary experience and curiosity to offer their services. In years of practice, not enough good people were in the field.

I would like to give the names of clients, some of whom are widely known, but I offered anonymity, in part because of the ridiculous assumption that an author is supposed to go off to a mountain top and isolate him or herself. Most of my clients were workshop leaders in many fields, academics, professionals such as therapists, doctors, attorneys, entrepreneurs, activists. One who generously gave me credit in her introduction was Margot Anand, author of The Art of Sexual Ecstasy.

I would charge either a cash fee or a share of royalties. Over about 25 years all but one project led to a book from a traditional publisher (the first two were from Harper and Tarcher, the latter of which is now part of Penguin).

What did clients need? They needed to define their likely audience, to assess what they had to contribute, to review other books in the field (if any), to develop a structure, to specify what further research was necessary, to try out various “voices,” to compose an “elevator pitch” for their project, and to explain their main points in a way that I could understand, as a non-expert.

I was naïve about most of the subjects, but this was an advantage because my clients wanted to reach beyond their immediate colleagues. It was a particular challenge to initiate clients accustomed to talking into the somewhat different medium of the word on paper

Writing can bring out self-doubt, but as long as the client’s quirkiness did not exceed my own, I could tolerate it and continue to be helpful. Perhaps part of the work of a coach is to ask a series of innocent but supportive questions and, when necessary, to challenge.

It helps a coach to have writing of his (or her) own. Along with working with authors on their own projects, I edited some other books, and recently I have written The Gratitude Trilogy: Gift of Darkness: Growing Up in Occupied Amsterdam (a biography) in 2015, Enlarging Our Comfort Zones (a memoir) in 2016, and Better Ways to Live: Honoring Social Inventors, Exploring New Challenges (a celebration) in 2017. If a coach does writing of his own, he are much less tempted to try to smuggle his ideas into the work of clients, and he is sharing the challenges of composing a book.

It probably helped that I had a varied background (a good college, travel, a year of law school, life in the country, an interdisciplinary graduate program, mentors in several fields. Why? The need was not knowledge in a client’s area, but curiosity and a taste for serving other readers.

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