Monthly Archives: March 2013

What is the Work of a Book Coach or Book Shepherd?

There is clearly no recognized explanation of what a book coach or book shepherd does and because more and more people are using them, this has become important to those of us who do this work and our potential clients.

This particularly hit home for me today when I got an email today from Becky Carbone, Business Manager of Dan Poynter’s Para Publishing.  Now if anyone knows what a book shepherd does, it should be Dan Poynter, self publishing guru and someone who regularly recommends book coaches/book shepherds, including me.

Becky wrote to let us know that it was time to update our book shepherd listing on the Poynter web site.  Along with the request for the update was some additional information. I think they have done some due diligence to determine who is qualified to be in their listing and for that I am grateful.

Verbatim, here it is in italics below:

The role of the Book Shepherd.
Occasionally, in the past, some of you have asked just what your role as a book shepherd is.

While most of you provide a specific service (editing, PR, covers, etc.), you have been in the business a long time and know other reputable service providers. Most important, you can answer almost any publishing question or tell the client where to find the answer.

What you charge is up to you.
We do not charge for the listing, do not ask for a commission and do not get involved in your business. Most Book Shepherds quote an hourly rate and charge by the minute.

Here is how we explain the service to our clients:
Book Shepherds are a particular kind of consultant; they know book publishing well. They specialize in taking a book project through all the necessary steps that may include editing, design, typesetting, locating the right printer, getting a distributor, marketing and promoting (including your Web presence) and more.

A qualified Book Shepherd can help the author bring a book project through its necessary steps.

Book Shepherds use their expertise to ensure each book they affiliate with is produced and marketed efficiently and economically. A Book Shepherd is a virtual production & marketing director, a mentor, tutor, coach and friend in the book building process. A Book Shepherd is highly qualified  to answer publishing questions or advise the client where to find answers.

What concerns me is that I think there really are some better definitions for this service and that we, those of us who do this work full time, must better define the work and set up professional standards so that clients can know what to expect of us and our work with them.

This blog is devoted to the pursuit of those standards.  I invite those of you who consider yourselves to be book shepherds, book coaches or publishing strategists (terminology I’ve adopted because it fits what I do better) to comment on my suggestions for standards.  If you agree, or if you don’t, let’s have the discussion.  Our work is going to become more critical as the number of book publishing companies and book publishing company editors decreases and the number of self published books increases.

The Work of the Book Coach Today

Today a book coach can choose to be a writing coach or he or she can also choose to work with the writer on book publishing and book marketing as well.  Today’s book coach may be the primary person guiding the publishing process, especially if the writer is planning to self publish.

Book coaches owe their clients mastery of the subjects they coach on – it is just that simple.  No one should charge money to coach on a subject that they cannot claim mastery to.  How do we define mastery in this area?  I would suggest that you should not charge for work as a book coach unless you have helped 10 people successfully publish books by working alongside an experience book coach.  I am shocked to think of how many clients will work with someone without checking out their credentials in this area.

To consider oneself a book coach or publishing strategist, our clients should be able to expect:

  • Real experience in book publishing with an established book publisher (not a POD publisher and heaven help us if you don’t know the difference)
  • Real experience helping writers self publish books that are of professional quality (bookstore quality)
  • Referrals to professionals we value (and not just people who are willing to pay us for the referrals)
  • That we aren’t selling them get rich quick schemes, or you-can-publish-in-a-week courses
  • Honest, candid feedback about their work, even if we lose clients in the process
  • That we stay up to date with all the changes in the book publishing industry to help our clients avoid scams but take advantage of trends
  • That we don’t become the sales force of a vanity press who promises to pay us for sending them new clients

When these simple rules of professionalism aren’t followed, we don’t deserve our clients’ trust (or their money).

Something to think about in your own book coaching practice:

  • Do you know how to help a client select an editor, a publisher, a cover designer?
  • Do you know how to guide a client to making a good decision on a publication date?
  • Are you recommending vanity presses to clients?  Do you know what types of clients may profitably self publish and for which self publishing would be a huge mistake?

Our clients trust us and expect us not to guess at the things that may make the difference between tremendous success for them and a costly mistake.

The Work of the Book Coach in the Past

Book coaches have been around for a long time. When I was the CEO of a publisher (we did about 200 titles a year), we occasionally worked with authors who had book coaches. We generally didn’t think much of their work. Why? Because they usually knew nothing about book publishing. They coaxed a writer into writing a whole book, chapter by chapter, helped the writer get organized, do research and use words, sentences and paragraphs that would entice an audience – all of which we were grateful for. Too often they gave what we felt was bad advice to the client regarding title selection, cover design and worst of all, bad advice about what they should demand in contract negotiations. Since we were a smaller niche publisher, most of our authors did not come through agents, so the book coach was the only professional they were working with who knew anything about the book publishing process.

When we sold the publishing company, I started working as a consultant to mid-sized publishers.  Over time, my clients became smaller start-up publishers, and then many of them were authors who were self publishing.  I consider myself a consultant and when I’m working with new writers, a coach.&nbspI would not have started doing this work if I had not worked for a mid-sized publisher and if I didn’t have an intimate knowledge of the book publishing industry.  I am shocked at how often someone who has written one book will consider that he or she has the background to coach others.

The book publishing industry is not an easy environment to work in and many of the traditional approaches are counter-intuitive.  There is no place you can learn book publishing, other than from more senior people at book publishing companies.  You might argue that there is a lot of information out there in books and on the Internet and you can certainly learn enough to self publish from these sources.  But this is not enough to master the subject enough to coach others.

I would assert that to become a book coach you must have worked at a mid-sized or large sized book publisher or for a reputable agency.  Even that isn’t enough.  You need to work with a book coach to learn how to provide the right information for each individual author.

So to begin to put some parameters around this discussion, I think there are several parts or specialties to the work of the book coach.  The book coach may choose to focus on just one part or all parts.

The classic book coach worked with writers on the writing process. Since twenty years ago publishers took care of the rest of the process, publishing and marketing, there was only a need for coaching in the writing process.  My focus is on non-fiction books, so you may see that bias in the following.

The book coach helped the writer:

  • Select a topic that would be marketable
  • Find the courage to get the words on paper
  • Develop a voice and viewpoint that would distinguish this writer from others on the topic
  • Have a profound understanding of the problems of the reader and how this book might solve them
  • Stay focused on the project and deadlines
  • Become a better writer
  • Find the energy for the rewriting and self-editing that the writer must do to polish the manuscript
  • Celebrate the successes and get perspective on set backs
  • By providing a place to get questions answered from someone who has worked with many writers and seen many challenges met in the book publishing process

In addition, the book coach required certain things from the writer:

  • Payment for services
  • Commitment to a level of professionalism and rigor that was appropriate to the importance of the work
  • Research where it was needed, where a manuscript was weak without it
  • Obtaining permissions where the work was not original (and the book coach would advise on how to do this)
  • A peer and audience review – a way to vet the material before it was sent to a publisher
  • An open mind and a willing spirit for true collaboration

In exchange, the writer could expect certain things from the book coach:

  • A contract outlining services to be rendered, with terms of payment and termination provisions
  • Complete confidentiality
  • Timetables and costs
  • Reliable recommendations to other service providers (editors, indexers, proofreaders, permissions specialists, literary agent and attorneys)
  • A professional level of advice based on years of experience and a professional background

All of these things are still true today when working with a professional book coach, but this job has now become so much more.  More about that in part 2.

Unhappy Book Coaching Clients

I am often consulted by unhappy clients of well-known book coaches.  Just this week (seriously just this week)  I’ve talked to three writers who told me the following stories:

Unhappy book coaching client #1: Spent tens of thousands of dollars with a book coach who demanded that she only used the book cover designer, editor and other professionals that the coach recommended and required the client to only connect with those people through her, never directly.  The writer got wind of the fact that one of the professionals was paying the book coach a referral fee, even thought the coach’s contract says she was never paid referral fees.  Book coach recommended the client publish with a vanity press.

Unhappy book coaching client #2: Upon the first reading of the client’s manuscript, the coach told the writer that the work was “brilliant”, resulting in a lucrative assignment.  Believe me, the work was a solid “B”, but certainly not brilliant.  The book coach sold the client a package of services, including an ISBN, book cover design and interior design and typesetting and printing of 10 books.  The cover was so poorly done that the client redesigned the cover herself (both covers were a disaster) and the book was designed using word processing software. The book coach had purchased a series of ISBNs to use with her clients (I’m going to assume you, the reader of this blog, know why that would not be appropriate or in the author’s best interests). The book coach took it upon herself to rewrite and reorganize whole sections of the book without consulting the client so they would meet a promised timetable (“work with me and you will have your book finished and published in two months!”).  The client is starting over with a professional cover designer, interior designer and an editor.

Unhappy book coaching client #3:  Made me promise I wouldn’t call her book coach because she promised her book coach in writing that she would follow all her recommendations or she wouldn’t work with her and now she was having doubts. She called me for a second opinion, saying, “I’d just like to hear what someone things about my work who hasn’t been paid thousands of dollars to say nice things.”  She had been flown to a large metropolitan area to have a famous photographer take her photo for her book cover, and no, she is not a famous person, but she was so flattered by the whole adventure that she paid what was asked.  When she got back home, she had a hard time even getting the book coach on the phone.  When she did, the book coach said she wasn’t an expert on distribution and maybe the writer should call a well-known, but not well-regarded distributor once the book was published.

Is this the way we want book coaching to be viewed?  Do we have anyone to blame but ourselves if we don’t do the hard work of telling the truth, knowing what we are talking about and holding the best interests of our clients above our own?

March 2, 2010 – 8:39 am Categories: Uncategorized | Post a comment

There is clearly no recognized explanation of what a book coach or book shepherd does and because more and more people are using them, this has become important to those of us who do this work and our potential clients.

This particularly hit home for me today when I got an email today from Becky Carbone, Business Manager of Dan Poynter’s Para Publishing.  Now if anyone knows what a book shepherd does, it should be Dan Poynter, self publishing guru and someone who regularly recommends book coaches/book shepherds, including me.

Becky wrote to let us know that it was time to update our book shepherd listing on the Poynter web site.  Along with the request for the update was some additional information. I think they have done some due diligence to determine who is qualified to be in their listing and for that I am grateful.

Verbatim, here it is in italics below:

The role of the Book Shepherd.
Occasionally, in the past, some of you have asked just what your role as a book shepherd is.

While most of you provide a specific service (editing, PR, covers, etc.), you have been in the business a long time and know other reputable service providers. Most important, you can answer almost any publishing question or tell the client where to find the answer.

What you charge is up to you.
We do not charge for the listing, do not ask for a commission and do not get involved in your business. Most Book Shepherds quote an hourly rate and charge by the minute.

Here is how we explain the service to our clients:
Book Shepherds are a particular kind of consultant; they know book publishing well. They specialize in taking a book project through all the necessary steps that may include editing, design, typesetting, locating the right printer, getting a distributor, marketing and promoting (including your Web presence) and more.

A qualified Book Shepherd can help the author bring a book project through its necessary steps.

Book Shepherds use their expertise to ensure each book they affiliate with is produced and marketed efficiently and economically. A Book Shepherd is a virtual production & marketing director, a mentor, tutor, coach and friend in the book building process. A Book Shepherd is highly qualified  to answer publishing questions or advise the client where to find answers.

What concerns me is that I think there really are some better definitions for this service and that we, those of us who do this work full time, must better define the work and set up professional standards so that clients can know what to expect of us and our work with them.

This blog is devoted to the pursuit of those standards.  I invite those of you who consider yourselves to be book shepherds, book coaches or publishing strategists (terminology I’ve adopted because it fits what I do better) to comment on my suggestions for standards.  If you agree, or if you don’t, let’s have the discussion.  Our work is going to become more critical as the number of book publishing companies and book publishing company editors decreases and the number of self published books increases.

The Work of the Book Coach Today

Today a book coach can choose to be a writing coach or he or she can also choose to work with the writer on book publishing and book marketing as well.  Today’s book coach may be the primary person guiding the publishing process, especially if the writer is planning to self publish.

Book coaches owe their clients mastery of the subjects they coach on – it is just that simple.  No one should charge money to coach on a subject that they cannot claim mastery to.  How do we define mastery in this area?  I would suggest that you should not charge for work as a book coach unless you have helped 10 people successfully publish books by working alongside an experience book coach.  I am shocked to think of how many clients will work with someone without checking out their credentials in this area.

To consider oneself a book coach or publishing strategist, our clients should be able to expect:

  • Real experience in book publishing with an established book publisher (not a POD publisher and heaven help us if you don’t know the difference)
  • Real experience helping writers self publish books that are of professional quality (bookstore quality)
  • Referrals to professionals we value (and not just people who are willing to pay us for the referrals)
  • That we aren’t selling them get rich quick schemes, or you-can-publish-in-a-week courses
  • Honest, candid feedback about their work, even if we lose clients in the process
  • That we stay up to date with all the changes in the book publishing industry to help our clients avoid scams but take advantage of trends
  • That we don’t become the sales force of a vanity press who promises to pay us for sending them new clients

When these simple rules of professionalism aren’t followed, we don’t deserve our clients’ trust (or their money).

Something to think about in your own book coaching practice:

  • Do you know how to help a client select an editor, a publisher, a cover designer?
  • Do you know how to guide a client to making a good decision on a publication date?
  • Are you recommending vanity presses to clients?  Do you know what types of clients may profitably self publish and for which self publishing would be a huge mistake?

Our clients trust us and expect us not to guess at the things that may make the difference between tremendous success for them and a costly mistake.

The Work of the Book Coach in the Past

Book coaches have been around for a long time. When I was the CEO of a publisher (we did about 200 titles a year), we occasionally worked with authors who had book coaches. We generally didn’t think much of their work. Why? Because they usually knew nothing about book publishing. They coaxed a writer into writing a whole book, chapter by chapter, helped the writer get organized, do research and use words, sentences and paragraphs that would entice an audience – all of which we were grateful for. Too often they gave what we felt was bad advice to the client regarding title selection, cover design and worst of all, bad advice about what they should demand in contract negotiations. Since we were a smaller niche publisher, most of our authors did not come through agents, so the book coach was the only professional they were working with who knew anything about the book publishing process.

When we sold the publishing company, I started working as a consultant to mid-sized publishers.  Over time, my clients became smaller start-up publishers, and then many of them were authors who were self publishing.  I consider myself a consultant and when I’m working with new writers, a coach.&nbspI would not have started doing this work if I had not worked for a mid-sized publisher and if I didn’t have an intimate knowledge of the book publishing industry.  I am shocked at how often someone who has written one book will consider that he or she has the background to coach others.

The book publishing industry is not an easy environment to work in and many of the traditional approaches are counter-intuitive.  There is no place you can learn book publishing, other than from more senior people at book publishing companies.  You might argue that there is a lot of information out there in books and on the Internet and you can certainly learn enough to self publish from these sources.  But this is not enough to master the subject enough to coach others.

I would assert that to become a book coach you must have worked at a mid-sized or large sized book publisher or for a reputable agency.  Even that isn’t enough.  You need to work with a book coach to learn how to provide the right information for each individual author.

So to begin to put some parameters around this discussion, I think there are several parts or specialties to the work of the book coach.  The book coach may choose to focus on just one part or all parts.

The classic book coach worked with writers on the writing process. Since twenty years ago publishers took care of the rest of the process, publishing and marketing, there was only a need for coaching in the writing process.  My focus is on non-fiction books, so you may see that bias in the following.

The book coach helped the writer:

  • Select a topic that would be marketable
  • Find the courage to get the words on paper
  • Develop a voice and viewpoint that would distinguish this writer from others on the topic
  • Have a profound understanding of the problems of the reader and how this book might solve them
  • Stay focused on the project and deadlines
  • Become a better writer
  • Find the energy for the rewriting and self-editing that the writer must do to polish the manuscript
  • Celebrate the successes and get perspective on set backs
  • By providing a place to get questions answered from someone who has worked with many writers and seen many challenges met in the book publishing process

In addition, the book coach required certain things from the writer:

  • Payment for services
  • Commitment to a level of professionalism and rigor that was appropriate to the importance of the work
  • Research where it was needed, where a manuscript was weak without it
  • Obtaining permissions where the work was not original (and the book coach would advise on how to do this)
  • A peer and audience review – a way to vet the material before it was sent to a publisher
  • An open mind and a willing spirit for true collaboration

In exchange, the writer could expect certain things from the book coach:

  • A contract outlining services to be rendered, with terms of payment and termination provisions
  • Complete confidentiality
  • Timetables and costs
  • Reliable recommendations to other service providers (editors, indexers, proofreaders, permissions specialists, literary agent and attorneys)
  • A professional level of advice based on years of experience and a professional background

All of these things are still true today when working with a professional book coach, but this job has now become so much more.  More about that in part 2.

Unhappy Book Coaching Clients

I am often consulted by unhappy clients of well-known book coaches.  Just this week (seriously just this week)  I’ve talked to three writers who told me the following stories:

Unhappy book coaching client #1: Spent tens of thousands of dollars with a book coach who demanded that she only used the book cover designer, editor and other professionals that the coach recommended and required the client to only connect with those people through her, never directly.  The writer got wind of the fact that one of the professionals was paying the book coach a referral fee, even thought the coach’s contract says she was never paid referral fees.  Book coach recommended the client publish with a vanity press.

Unhappy book coaching client #2: Upon the first reading of the client’s manuscript, the coach told the writer that the work was “brilliant”, resulting in a lucrative assignment.  Believe me, the work was a solid “B”, but certainly not brilliant.  The book coach sold the client a package of services, including an ISBN, book cover design and interior design and typesetting and printing of 10 books.  The cover was so poorly done that the client redesigned the cover herself (both covers were a disaster) and the book was designed using word processing software. The book coach had purchased a series of ISBNs to use with her clients (I’m going to assume you, the reader of this blog, know why that would not be appropriate or in the author’s best interests). The book coach took it upon herself to rewrite and reorganize whole sections of the book without consulting the client so they would meet a promised timetable (“work with me and you will have your book finished and published in two months!”).  The client is starting over with a professional cover designer, interior designer and an editor.

Unhappy book coaching client #3:  Made me promise I wouldn’t call her book coach because she promised her book coach in writing that she would follow all her recommendations or she wouldn’t work with her and now she was having doubts. She called me for a second opinion, saying, “I’d just like to hear what someone things about my work who hasn’t been paid thousands of dollars to say nice things.”  She had been flown to a large metropolitan area to have a famous photographer take her photo for her book cover, and no, she is not a famous person, but she was so flattered by the whole adventure that she paid what was asked.  When she got back home, she had a hard time even getting the book coach on the phone.  When she did, the book coach said she wasn’t an expert on distribution and maybe the writer should call a well-known, but not well-regarded distributor once the book was published.

Is this the way we want book coaching to be viewed?  Do we have anyone to blame but ourselves if we don’t do the hard work of telling the truth, knowing what we are talking about and holding the best interests of our clients above our own?