You may have heard a colleague mention working with an academic book coach, or you may have bumped into this new moniker on the web. Until a few years ago, book coaching wasn’t even part of a scholar’s vocabulary: academic writing was seen as the domain and duty of the scholar alone. But who actually teaches academics how to write?
Many PhD students suffer from a lack of guidance while writing their dissertations and continue to struggle once they finish. Even scholars with established careers and networks are unsure of how to build a writing process and leery of sharing “underbaked” work with their colleagues. Yet publishing is still necessary to succeed in most academic careers.
Other than tapping time-strapped colleagues or generous friends, where can scholars find the support they need to get their writing projects done? An academic book coach can help. In this post, I’ll explain what academic book coaches do and their qualifications, and when in the writing process scholars should take advantage of their skills.
What is an academic book coach?
While book coaching is relatively new to academic writing, it’s been around in other fields for some time (e.g., fiction and general nonfiction). Generally speaking, an academic book coach is an editor who helps scholars by talking through their ideas, helping them develop healthy writing habits, setting reachable goals, and keeping them accountable along the way.
Coaches can help you:
- Strategize your manuscript as a whole, including the storyline of your book or article
- Develop your thinking about how you frame your topic and chapters
- Provide general feedback on outlines and drafts as you develop your manuscript
- Craft your research into digestible and engaging sections or chapters
- Formulate reachable writing goals and plan your writing schedule
- Handle the peer-review and revision process
- Provide accountability and moral support throughout the process
Book coaches may also bill themselves as “writing coaches,” “publication guides,” or “publishing consultants,” depending on what they emphasize in their particular practice, and they can also help scholarly authors with journal articles and book proposals. But whatever they call themselves, they all provide a safe space for scholars to get ongoing support and knowledgeable feedback on their writing.
What kind of training does a book coach have?
There is currently no formal training to become an academic book coach, although there are several training programs for general writing coaches. Many academic coaches came to the field from academia and have PhDs of their own.
Many book coaches have a background in other kinds of editing: for example, in developmental editing (also known as structural or substantive editing) or in acquisitions in the publishing industry. Some wear several editing hats, offering coaching in addition to various other editorial services (developmental, copyediting, proofreading, indexing, etc.) that they might combine with their coaching services. Others draw on their years of experience working with academic writers in college classrooms or university writing centers.
Some coaches specialize in working with scholars in particular disciplines, or focus on clients in the humanities, social sciences, or hard sciences. Some even bring subject-matter expertise in a particular academic field—though it really isn’t necessary for a book coach to have worked in your particular area of expertise to offer perspective that benefits your project.
When should a scholarly author seek out a book coach?
Although an author can seek out a coach to help them at any point in the writing process, it is generally better to have at least an outline or a rough draft to start from. Many writers choose to work with a coach before they have anything down on paper, while writing, or in the early stages of a draft.
In the earlier stages of the writing process, an academic book coach can help scholars get clear on what they need to do and how to do it, and provide them with a clear roadmap for reaching their goals.
What can the writer expect from working with a book coach?
When working with a book coach, one should expect either a set number or a customized set of virtual meetings where you’ll discuss your project directly with the coach. The author can use sessions for any of the services bulleted above. The coach may give the author reading or writing assignments to complete from one session to the next. Your sessions might also include the editor performing some level of “homework” (reading or research) and possibly other editing services outside of the scope of coaching, such as developmental editing (more on this below).
The coach works together with the writer to determine the overall number of sessions and how frequently to meet, which varies depending on the scope of the author’s project and budget. While some writers only want a coach’s help to finish a particular project by a certain deadline, others seek a coach to support them for several months or even years as they develop their manuscripts.
Some coaches charge by the type of project, others charge per coaching session, still others use a flat-fee “retainer” model. The writer should discuss these factors with the book coach before they commit to working together.
How does book coaching differ from developmental editing or peer review?
While many book coaches also do developmental editing, the scope of book coaching goes well beyond what most developmental editors typically offer. The primary difference between coaching and developmental editing is the necessity of a manuscript: while coaches don’t need a manuscript to work with you, developmental editors need to have a draft to work with.
However, the two fields are quite related: in addition to assessing the author’s drafts for their argument, evidence, structure, and tone as a developmental editor would, the book coach can also discuss the text’s theoretical framework and intellectual content more deeply with the author, offering them a space to continue thinking through their ideas.
Book coaches are also not the same as peer reviewers. Although the two roles overlap in some places, only a peer reviewer can address the specifics of the author’s field and its literature. Nonetheless, the book coach can ensure that the text submitted to peer review will be as well-framed and thought-out as possible, improving their likelihood of getting a positive “revise-and-resubmit” result.
How do you find the right book coach for you?
The best place to start is with your colleagues: Who do they recommend? If no one in your network has experience with a book coach, search your favorite social media channels for “scholarly writing coach,” “academic book coach” or “publication consultant.” You can also find academic book coaches in the databases of the Editorial Freelancer’s Association, ACES, or the Northwest Editors’ Guild.
Once you’ve made contact, be sure to interview them to ensure that you align in terms of work styles, personalities, and approaches. Once you’ve found a coach you want to work with, be sure to ask about their process and how they typically work with clients.
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