“Mentoring week” is well and truly over now, having stretched over not just a week but more than a fortnight, but there are still a couple of stories I’d like to tell you, so I’m going to continue through to the end of this week. Then I’ll return to your usual scheduled programming of feminist issues.
Today’s story is about coaching. Or specifically, as the title of this post suggests, how hiring a writing coach was the best $240 I ever spent.
I didn’t hire my coach at the start of my career, but just a few months ago in March this year, after I’d already been writing professionally for six years. I didn’t hire her because I didn’t know “how to write”, but because I was about to embark on a journey that was a bit (okay, a lot) outside the scope of anything I or anyone I knew had done: getting a book deal in the US as a first time author who was born in Australia and lives in London. And while I could try to strategise and feel my way through the process, I figured I’d be in a much better position to do it if I sought advice from someone who, you know, actually knows these about things.
And so I hired Brooke. I’d actually heard of her years before I asked her to coach me, through my many friends in the US femmesphere. I’d even sent her a book proposal on the advice of one, five years ago when my understanding of “book proposal” looked more like “hastily written email” (yeah, I didn’t hear anything back).
I knew Brooke worked as a commissioning editor at a publishing house specialising in gender and sexuality. I knew she looked at book proposals all the time. So, when I found out through She Writes that she offered a coaching service, I jumped at the opportunity to work with her.
Who better to tell me if my proposal was ready? Who better to guide me through the confusing process of navigating the publishing world, or fill me in on which agents might be interesting in books like mine? (They must be sending her manuscripts all the time, right?)
I have to admit, when I went into our first session, I kind of hoped she would say, “Your work is amazing. Get thee a six-figure book deal now!” Yeah. She didn’t. She said I had the bones of a good idea, but she hoped that I was willing to work on it.
So we did. It turned out that I didn’t need to change the concept that much after all: it was more about clarifying what the hell I was talking about. She got me to redraft my chapter names from simple and (I liked to think) Alain de Botton-esque, to something catchier, more exciting and, well, more American. We decided to add an extra chapter to the structure… and then I went out and wrote that chapter to replace one of the ones in my original proposal. She drove me to clarify my ideas, encouraged me when I felt like everything was hopeless, and gave me a solid set of deadlines to keep me honest.
Last week, after three and a half months working together, we agreed that my proposal was ready to send out into the world. And something amazing happened, which could never have happened without her. In an industry where would-be authors are led to expect to wait for months to hear back on anything they send out, I received an offer of representation four days after I sent out my initial query letter. From an amazing agent who not only “gets” what the book is about, but who shares my greatest creative and commercial dreams for it, and who believes we can make those dreams a reality. I haven’t cracked my dream yet, but I’m one significant step closer to doing it.
That’s not why I’m writing this post in praise of Brooke – I had this series planned out a couple of weeks before I even sent out my query. And I knew I wanted to write a post like this months before this series was planned, after my second or third session with Brooke. I knew then that I was getting something truly invaluable from our relationship: direction, motivation, and a set of objective eyes who could tell me when I was being a perfectionist, and when I really did need to do another redraft.
So what’s the take away here for you? I don’t think a coach is the answer to everything that ails you – and I wouldn’t recommend hiring one unless it’s to help you with something you’re very actively working towards and they have specific expertise in that area (or unless you have money to burn and hiring coaches is something you’re able to do as a hobby). And like mentors, coaches can only help you if you’re willing to put in the work yourself.
But if there’s a specific hurdle you’re facing and you know there’s someone out there who can guide you to the answers, hiring them to do that can be a transformative experience – even more so than having an informal mentor, and especially if you’re not in the position where you already know someone who will help you out for free.
Related: It’s mentoring week here at Musings of an Inappropriate Woman
Mentoring week: Putting together your mentoring dream team
Mentoring week: Do men and women mentor differently?
Mentoring week: Mentoring and the media industry