On Book Coaching: A Conversation with Jennie Nash
Blueprint for a Book: Build Your Novel from the Inside Out
by Jennie Nash
Tree Farm Books (2021); 142 pp.; $11.95 (Paperback)Buy Book
Jennie Nash is the founder and CEO of Author Accelerator, a company on a mission to lead the emerging book coaching industry. Author Accelerator has trained more than 100 book coaches in both fiction and nonfiction through their book coach certification program. Jennie’s own clients have won dozens of national indie book awards and have landed top New York agents and six-figure book deals with large publishing houses such as Penguin, Scribner, Simon & Schuster, and Hachette. Nash herself is the author of 11 books in 3 genres, including Blueprint for a Book: Build Your Novel from the Inside Out and Blueprint for a Book: Plan and Pitch Your Big Idea.
Michelle Glogovac spoke to Jennie about how motherhood helped prepare her to launch a book coaching career, what a book coach is, and her recent interview with Zibby Owens on Moms Don’t Have Time To Read Books.
Michelle Glogovac: In your book, Read Books All Day and Get Paid For It, you describe the career of a book coach. What exactly is a book coach?
Jennie Nash: A book coach is like a personal trainer for your writing life. We help you set publishing goals, and then we help you reach them by providing accountability, emotional support, and editorial feedback while you write. So instead of waiting until you’re finished with a draft of a book to seek help, you seek help from the start. It makes for a much less lonely and far more efficient creative process. Concert pianists have coaches, and so do business executives and basketball players—why not book writers too!
At Author Accelerator, we teach our coaches a process called Blueprint for a Book. It’s a 14-step process that helps a writer lay a strong foundation for their story (fiction) or argument (nonfiction). This process is also excellent for revising a manuscript and saving a writer who is stuck somewhere in the middle. It can take several months to work through the Blueprint because it forces you to look at every single aspect of the project—from why you are doing it to who your ideal reader is to where exactly the book starts and ends to what the characters want both externally and internally, and what the best path to publication might be.
In a typical coaching session, a writer will turn in pages for feedback.
The writer gets this feedback, and then we get on a Zoom call and go over the whole thing line by line, sorting out the answers. The coach is there to brainstorm, to question, and to reflect back to the writer what is working in the pages and what might be missing. I’ll then give an assignment for revisions to be done for the next deadline.
Once the Blueprint is complete, the writer starts developing their manuscript, and if they stay with a coach, the same pattern happens, but now they are turning in chapter drafts, and the feedback is less logical and structural and more editorial. I am line editing, looking at language and nuance, considering pacing and flow. By the time the writer has finished their draft, it’s more like a 5th or 6th draft than a first draft because they have been coached the whole way through.
MG: Your book coach certification program, Author Accelerator, has now certified over 100 book coaches. Is book coaching a second career for most, or some sort of career pivot?
JN: No one starts out as a book coach. A lot of writers come to book coaching to supplement their writing income because it tends to be a steadier way of getting paid. We also have a lot of people who left corporate jobs during the pandemic—a lot of moms who didn’t want to go back or who decided they wanted to do work that was closer to their heart than whatever they were doing. We have teachers who realized that book coaching lets them do the best parts of teaching without the worst parts (like recess and grading papers or department meetings) and lawyers who decided the only part they liked about the law were the stories.
MG: As a mom myself, I know that once I had my children, I did some soul-searching around my career and how I wanted something more fulfilling. Do you find that moms who become book coaches feel the same way and are turning to book coaching as a career that not only provides freedom and flexibility, but also fills their cup in a new way?
JN: Absolutely. Doing work that you love makes an enormous difference in your life and your family’s life, and I think a lot of moms intuitively know that.
Many of our book coaches who are moms are writers who want to add an extra income stream, and they want that income stream to be in the industry they love. They don’t want to get a second job that has nothing to do with the work of their heart. Others come from what I would call writing-adjacent fields. They are English teachers or creative writing professors or lawyers (who write a lot!) or communications professionals or librarians, and they are making complete career pivots to book coaching, but usually for the same reasons.
A few of our coaches come from out of left field! It just so happens that our 100th certified coach is a mom of a five-year-old. She was working as a physician’s assistant. Like so many people in healthcare, she was exhausted by all the red tape and decided she wanted a job that focused on the people and the stories—the part of her work she enjoyed the most. She also wanted to pick her kid up from school and from dance class. So her pivot to book coaching was about both these things—the freedom and flexibility to be the kind of mom she wanted to be and the fulfillment of doing work that was close to her heart. She had always loved books and writing, but never thought she could make a career of it. Now she’s decided she can. I love her story!
MG: How does a physician’s assistant pivot to becoming a book coach?
JN: Our certification program provides rigorous hands-on training. If someone loves books and writing, and they love writers, they can learn how to lead a writer through the Blueprint, how to analyze a manuscript, how to give evidence-based feedback based on what we call the hierarchy of editorial needs, and how to lead a writer through the query process. Once a coach is certified, we have courses, training, and resources to help the coach continue to grow and learn, as well as a supportive community of other coaches doing this work to cheer you on. We don’t promise instant business success, because no one can promise that, but we promise that you will learn the tools you need to help writers do their best work.
MG: You’re a mom of two, and I know that a good part of being a book coach is in keeping an author on track with deadlines and on topic, much like the tasks of being a mother. Would you say that being a mom has helped propel you as a book coach?
JN: Wow, what a great question. I’m not sure I would put it that way, exactly, but I will say this: the things that made me a good mom are the same things that make me a good book coach. I use the past tense for mom because my kids are grown and flown now. It’s a different phase! I’m still a mom, of course, just not in the intensive way you are when your kids live under your roof.
Two things come to mind to explain what I mean:
I was good at listening to my kids—at really hearing what they were saying and what they were not saying. This helped me to honor who they were at any given moment (kids change so fast!), and I prided myself on that aspect of my parenting. That same skill is at the heart of book coaching. We read both to see what is on the page and what is not on the page. We listen intensely so we can hear when a writer lights up about an idea or when they speak about it like it’s a burden. We are trying to help them write the best book they can, and it draws on that key listening skill.
I also held my kids to high standards of excellence, no matter what they were doing. I believed they were capable of anything they set their minds to. Having someone believe in you like that often makes you believe in yourself. I do the same thing for my clients. I believe they can do the hard thing they have set out to do—I truly believe they can—and that belief can be deeply motivating to them.
Of course, now that I think about it, keeping people on task and on deadline are things I did well as a mom, too, so maybe you’re right! Maybe being a mom propelled me as a book coach!
MG: At age 35 you were diagnosed with breast cancer, ultimately beating it and writing The Victoria’s Secret Catalog Never Stops Coming: And Other Lessons I Learned From Breast Cancer. Being a mom and having such an illness is a heavy burden. When did you decide you wanted to write about it and what was that journey like? How different is it to write a memoir about your journey versus a how-to type of book?
JN: My kids were 3 and 6 when I was diagnosed with cancer, and they are now 26 and 29, so it was a long time ago, which is what anyone who has cancer wants to be able to say. I’ve been very lucky.
I knew I wanted to write about it almost immediately upon being diagnosed. There are two different ways of writing about your own life—one where you know the outcome and are looking back on an experience (like Cheryl Strayed’s Wild, for example) and the other where you are moving through the experience as it is happening and either don’t know—or don’t betray—the outcome. I wanted to capture what it was like to go through the experience—to be IN it. Writing can be a way of making sense of the world and chronicling the experience as I was living it was very grounding to me. I remember being in an appointment with a doctor, and trying to focus on what he was saying, not because it mattered to my health (which it obviously did) but because I wanted to remember the dialogue for the story.
The question about the difference between writing a memoir and writing how-to gets at one of the core tenets of what I teach as a book coach, which is that all stories are the same. There are some days when I am working with clients back-to-back and one of them is writing fiction and one of them is writing memoir and one of them is writing a how-to book, and what we are doing in each case is exactly the same: we are using words to capture the writer’s thoughts and ideas. We are working with the concept of how people change over time. In the case of memoir, the person changing is the author. In the case of fiction, the person changing is the protagonist. And in the case of how-to, the person changing is the reader. It’s not really that different.
MG: You were recently interviewed on Zibby Owens’s podcast, Moms Don’t Have Time To Read Books, where you talked about giving advice to Zibby on her own memoir, Bookends. What advice did you offer her?
JN: When Zibby came to me, she was in the middle of writing her memoir. She had a draft of a manuscript that was not getting the kind of response from agents and publishers that she wanted, and she wanted to try to figure out why. Memoirs are so tricky, because you are the author, the narrator, and the protagonist of the story, and it can be tough to maintain perspective. I read her manuscript and saw the problem right away: she was writing around the real story. She was holding back from the reader—and Zibby is normally so open and so authentic and so generous with her audience. She needed to take a different tack, which she went on to do (under the guidance of other folks, including her editor). Zibby has that thing all successful writers have, which is persistence!
Helping someone find what their book is NOT, is as important as helping someone find what it is. In both cases, you are in communion with the other person around their creative work. It’s a place of deep trust.
MG: Can you share why being a coach has been fulfilling after being a writer and teacher?
JN: During the pandemic so many people were struggling—they were isolated and lonely, missing the camaraderie of friends and social lives and work, but my work went on without disruption. In fact, it was a very busy time. Everyone suddenly wanted to write a book or become a book coach! And just sitting at home, never leaving, I still had an incredibly rich life, filled with ups and downs, deep connections, and emotions of every kind. That was due to the relationships I had with my clients and the intimacy we share around their work. It was a reminder of what book coaching is really about and why I am such an advocate for it.
MG: Are you working on more books that we can look forward to?
JN: I am! I just published Blueprint for a Book: Build Your Novel From the Inside Out and will be releasing the nonfiction version, called Blueprint for a Nonfiction Book: Plan and Pitch Your Big Idea, in May 2022.