Hi writers! I hope you’re doing well this week.
Take it from me that hiring an expert to help you get through the process of writing your manuscript is one of the most surefire ways to make sure your book gets published.
But how do you know whether you would benefit more from working with a coach or an editor? When should you hire one or the other? Or is it better to hire both?
One of the most common questions I’m asked by potential clients is whether I will do extensive editing of their manuscripts or give them detailed feedback on their ideas.
Because I’ve had to explain the differences between coaching and editing so many times, I thought I would devote today’s podcast to clarifying these issues.
So what are the differences between editors and writing coaches?
Let’s start by talking about editors, since their territory is a bit more straightforward.
When it comes to scholarly writing, there are two types of editors who help make your work shine: copy editors and developmental editors.
And just to clarify, these are not the acquisitions editors that work for scholarly presses.
I’m talking about professionals you specifically seek out to help you with your writing before you submit your manuscript for review!
I have hired both and benefited a great deal from it! In fact, my two books (plus the third one I’m currently working on) would not be nearly as good if not for the work of paid editors.
So let’s start with copy editors, which we’ve probably all heard of. Their role is to fix grammatical issues and other language problems.
Although I’m a native English speaker and am quite confident in my writing skills, I hired a copy editor to polish the prose of my second book after she edited an article I published in a Sociology magazine.
For my book, she made my sentences much more concise and the prose much punchier, which allowed the main points to come through better.
It was totally worth it.
Now onto developmental editors. I must admit that I had never even heard of this job until I was in my second tenure track position!
It was only once I infiltrated certain social networks that I learned that many highly productive faculty hire developmental editors to help them work through conceptual issues with their manuscripts.
This includes things like the argument, theoretical contribution, and structuring of ideas.
According to Tanvi Mehta, who’s a developmental editor I met on LinkedIn, “a developmental edit fixes deeper problems that are less related to writing and more related to thinking.”
She goes on to say, “An edit qualifies as a developmental edit the moment an editor either starts asking you to clarify what you mean or suggesting you delete, expand on, or re-place your text.”
Laura Portwood-Stacer, the author of The Book Proposal Book, published by Princeton University Press, has a useful Medium Article called “8 Signs You Need a Developmental Editor for Your Academic Book.”
In case you don’t want to look it up, here are her 8 signs. I’ll list each one followed by a bit of my own commentary
- “You’re the sort of person who feels you will be a burden to others if you ask colleagues to give up several hours of their time to read and comment on your entire book manuscript.”
So, let’s just be clear that reading and commenting on an entire manuscript draft—especially one that’s still fairly preliminary—would certainly take longer than just a few hours!
This is the reason why it’s a great idea to host a book manuscript workshop before you submit to a press, which is something I’ve done and will talk about in a future episode.
2. “Your colleagues have already been generous with their time as you’ve worked on the various bits and pieces of your manuscript.”
Yes, there’s only so much you can ask of your colleagues before the good will runs out.
3. “Your academic friends are too nice to tell it to you straight when your writing isn’t working.”
I think this is a great point. Your colleagues and peers in the field are often also your friends. This means that they might sugarcoat their comments to preserve your relationship when what you need is for someone to tell you exactly what they think.
4. “You’ve gotten seemingly helpful comments on your work but little actionable advice.”
Again, you can only expect so much help from colleagues who take time out of their very busy schedules to provide feedback. They likely don’t have the time or energy to give you detailed advice on how you can improve your work.
5. “You’re so tired of your topic, your research, or the sound of your own writing voice in your head that you can’t imagine trying to ‘tell a good story’ on top of everything else.”
This one’s pretty self-explanatory!
6. “You’re feeling mystified or overwhelmed by the reader reports you’ve received.”
So reader reports are the feedback provided by the press that come from the typically two anonymous reviewers they sent your manuscript out to. In my personal experience, they are no more detailed than reviews of journal articles, but it really depends on the reviewer.
7. “The thought of giving an elevator pitch about your book project to an acquisitions editor or hiring committee makes your blood run cold.”
So this would be about finding someone to help you build confidence and clarity on your project so that it actually can be summed up in a sentence or two.
8. “You’re a perfectionist or imposter syndrome sufferer who just needs someone objective to tell you you’re doing well (or tell you exactly how to do better) before you can really let your work go.”
And this where I would say developmental editing most overlaps with coaching.
But before I talk about coaching, I want to say that for all the reasons above, for both of my books, my developmental editors were the only people who read and commented on the entire manuscript before turning them into the press for review.
They were my partners in the writing process and served as a source of external accountability because we would set deadlines I needed to meet.
And in terms of when you should hire one, it really depends on your own situation. For both of my books, I started working with one once I had a proposal and two or three chapters written.
However, now that I’m working on a third book, I hired my former developmental editor at the outset to help me brainstorm and plan out the structure of the book and develop a proposal.
This is because the press I’m working with has only asked for a proposal and one chapter to send out for review.
The only issue with developmental editors is that it can be really hard to find one because there’s no central directory.
Therefore, I always recommend to my clients to ask people in your field who they have worked with for their recommendations and to fill you in on their pricing.
Also, one of my coaching clients recommended a website to me called Editcetera.com. It’s an equal opportunity organization that supports the principles of diversity, equity, and inclusion.
You can put in the details of your project and they will match you with an editor.
Once you’ve found someone, you might also want to start by sending them just one chapter and seeing the kind of feedback they provide before you commit to the entire book.
What does a writing coach do?
Okay, so now that we’ve clarified the details on editors, let’s talk about how the work I do as a writing coach for authors is different.
I typically work with scholarly authors over a period of 6-7 months through the Your Words Unleashed signature program.
We focus on mindset and developing a writing practice that supports your well-being rather than detracts from it.
I’m a little different from other writing coaches in that I was trained as a life coach as well as an academic.
Therefore, I view publishing a book as being part of a holistic life journey and a goal that is best reached by being fueled by internal purpose rather than just external rewards.
Of course, it will help your career a lot to publish a book!
But, if you work on feeling good along the way, you’re much more likely to enjoy the process, write faster, and actually like what you write.
AND get all of those external rewards as a result!
We also work on creating a sustainable writing schedule and realistic goals so that you don’t feel like you’re always falling behind—which in itself can feel like a heavy burden.
This means establishing strong boundaries with your job—and sometimes with your family and other relationships—so that you can reserve your mental and emotional energy for writing.
Notice that I didn’t put time first. Instead, I am talking about energy.
I’ve learned that sometimes even when people have the space in their schedules, other draining situations in their lives can distract them from writing.
And so they end up using that time to accomplish small tasks on their to-do-lists that need to get done anyway, such as answering emails or prepping lectures.
Unfortunately, they don’t feel satisfied at the end of the day.
They’re much more likely to feel guilty and like they’re falling way behind, which can easily turn into a shame spiral.
So I work with clients to find ways to make their writing time non-negotiable.
That often means prioritizing your own goals and needs over those of your colleagues, peers, and students.
As a coach, I help people give themselves permission to put their own dreams first, which is something that women are taught not to do in both unconscious and conscious ways.
So, if this all seems a bit abstract, let me list five specific things I do as a writing coach.
- The first thing is to help you identify your core values and figure out ways to apply them more to your writing practice.
Now what do I mean by values? It’s a term that everyone thinks they understand until we actually take a deep dive.
In essence, values are what make you who you are. They are the things that motivate and inspire us internally. And if these things are missing from our lives, then something feels off.
But if we can find ways to align ourselves with our core values in our work and our personal lives, then things flow much more easily.
So values become the inner compass we use to make decisions moving forward with your book.
2. I help people discover the deeper purpose of their research and writing.
This is especially helpful for folks who are transforming their dissertations into a book or have been working on their topics for a decade and have lost that loving feeling towards their research.
You might be downright sick of your project and don’t want to ever think about it again. Totally understandable, but what do you do?
Using your core values as a guide, we go back to your original sources of inspiration and come up with strategies to rekindle that intellectual spark you once had so that you can finish your manuscript once and for all.
This might mean letting yourself work on other, more exciting projects at the same time or adding new data.
The fact is, if you’re truly not inspired by your work, why would you want to do it?
And something like a book takes A LOT of work, so you really need as much inspiration as you can get!
3. I help people find their authentic voice as a writer.
One of the biggest mental hurdles people must overcome when they become a book author is to own your expertise and speak to your audience in a way that connects them to your story.
I talk about this at length on podcast episode #4, “Develop Your Writer’s Voice.” (https://yourwordsunleashed.com/ep-4-develop-your-writers-voice/)
Connecting with your readers boils down to knowing exactly who you’re writing this book for and why.
And no, I don’t mean reviewers or other experts in your field who are looking to critique you. I’m talking about the people you want to read your work and be transformed by it.
This matters because your book is a conversation with other people who care about your work.
And the best conversations we have in life are with folks who “get” us and support us in our endeavors.
So that’s another thing I work with my authors on figuring out
4. I help writers increase their self-confidence and reduce self-doubt.
Oftentimes, we wait for external evidence to prove to ourselves that we are capable of something.
Like, once you get a book contract might be the time you give yourself permission to believe you will actually become a published author.
By contrast, I am a big proponent of acting “as-if” as a way of making the book writing process easier, more enjoyable, and something you do on your own terms.
This means I encourage my clients to act as if they were already successful, published authors.
They try on the beliefs they would have about themselves if they had already achieved this goal—one that can often feel so distant.
One of the biggest shifts I see in my clients is when they start to believe down deep that their book is inevitable.
It’s amazing to witness the changes that come from truly trusting yourself and your own capabilities.
5. And finally, I walk authors through the process of developing a book proposal, figuring out the right press, and contacting editors.
For folks who need it, we go over multiple drafts of their book proposal to ensure it is the strongest marketing document they can send out.
We brainstorm the best presses for peoples’ books within the context of their careers, as well as go through the process of contacting them.
And there’s no one size fits all model of when and how to do this, so this is something we strategize around based on personal circumstances.
Whew, that’s a lot! And there’s even more that I do as a coach, but this list is a good start.
What I don’t do is edit your work or provide substantial feedback on your ideas outside of your proposal.
That’s the territory of editors!
Summing it all up
So I hope this episode has helped to clear up any confusion between the work that copy editors, developmental editors, and book coaches do.
I’ve hired all three and have benefited hugely.
Of course, you can do it all yourself, but my books have come out faster, been better written, and connected with my audiences more because I worked with paid professionals.
And because I know that funds can be scarce, next episode will give you tips on how to get coaching and editing paid for by your institution.
So stay tuned!