When to get help with your memoir

From book coaching to editing, query and manuscript assessments, there’s many services available online to maximise your chances of a memoir that will be snapped up by a publisher.

Making a mistake can be costly and demoralising, so it’s important to know what to expect going into the relationship with anyone offering these services.
Many would-be memoirists were left out-of-pocket after engaging the likes of Anna March who seemed to know ‘all the right people’ in literary circles a couple of years ago. Anna is one of hundreds of potential sharks for writers looking for both validation and a potential publisher. I’ve been burnt by a few, too!
What people like that trade on is a certain gap of knowledge which holds you back from being confident in trusting your own publishing instinct. Sometimes, writers think by paying someone well-connected to look at their manuscript means they’ll skip the queue of necessary slog any finished book is going to take.

You need to know the basics of the financial side of publishing before you can make an educated decision on how much to invest in coaching, editing or other types of manuscript services.

This post will explain what you need to know before you hire someone to coach you through a manuscript or edit your work.

First, a note of caution

I recently did a phone session with a writer who had paid thousands on editing sessions over a couple of years, and she still didn’t have a manuscript ready to send to a publisher.

I would never recommend a manuscript assessment or even an edit if you were working on your first draft.

Why? The first draft is meant to be bad. It’s you feeling your way into the story. And, so much of that manuscript is going to change, anyway.

Editing before you’ve even written the entire draft is just ludicrous! And, like I always say, you can’t write a first draft of a memoir with one eye on the reader. The first draft HAS to be just for you.

If your grammar and syntax is really bad, and you’re not coming from a writing or journalism background, yes, I’d recommend you get someone to proofread or copyedit your manuscript before you submit.

But, you need to get the book as good as you possibly can before you get someone to proofread it. Why?

It’s going to cost you at least 2-4K and you want to make sure the manuscript isn’t going to change again, which would make all their work redundant!

Speaking of money, I’m going to briefly explain the financial side of publishing, because this is what I’ve been explaining to many would-be authors recently in kickstarter sessions so i know there’s a real gap of knowledge in this area.

It’s important to have your eyes open before you pay someone to edit or coach you on your memoir, or even start the long and (yes, difficult!) process of getting one ready for a publisher. What devastates me is when I hear of people paying thousands for help before even knowing what the publishing industry involves.

Getting a book advance from a publisher

When your memoir (or other type of book) is signed on with a publisher, they offer you an ‘advance on royalties’. This is based on what the Publisher thinks they can recoup from a print run of your book.

Of the $10 – $40 RRP someone pays for your book (paperback or e-book version), you get 15%.

You only get royalties after and if the first print run sells out. It can take years to even sell that first print run or ‘earn out’ your advance.

What’s the average book advance?

Advances for memoirs vary from 5000 to 200 000, depending on the country (US and UK deals are bigger, Australia is a smaller market so they’re much smaller). The size of the publisher factors into it too: a small press would pay a smaller advance than one of the Top 5 (Hachette, Penguin Random House etc). If you have a huge ‘platform’ – whether that be a TV show or fame in your niche – then you may get a bigger advance because the Publisher thinks the audience for your work is bigger.

Authors don’t choose their publishers on book advance alone – some smaller presses have a better reputation for quality editing, or for getting your book into different markets and translations, for example. But this just gives you a basic idea.

You won’t receive the full advance when you sign on with a publisher.

Advances are typically paid out in two or three instalments. If the book deal was brokered by a literary agent, they will typically take 15% of your advance (because you never pay a literary agent anything upfront! If an agent asks for a reading fee – run.)

How is the advance paid?

The first third (minus any agent fees) is typically paid on signature of the contract with the publisher, the second third, on submission of the manuscript, and the final third on publication.

The reason I’m sharing these financial details up front is because you need to keep in mind the size of a possible advance when you think of engaging anyone to help you polish or draft your manuscript.

Do you really want to spend ten thousand dollars getting something ready that may only get an advance half that size?

The other thing is that once a traditional publisher signs you on, they take care of the editing, the marketing, the publicity, the cover design, sometimes even a (small) book launch. You do not pay any money for these services.

If you find a publisher who demands up-front payment for editing or any other services, they aren’t a traditional publisher.

They’re either a Vanity Press or a self-publishing service.

These can be costly. And while they can get your book out there quickly (which may be your priority over the sometimes long and laborious process of finding a traditional publisher), their distribution networks are small.

So be wary.

All of that said, I do recommend getting professional feedback on your work before you submit it. Here’s what you can expect from typical services and when you might think about engaging someone:

When should I hire a book coach?

If you’ve been approached by a publisher, or you have some other reason that you need to get a draft manuscript ready in a short space of time, it can be helpful to pay for a book coach to keep you on track with your deadline.

Like a personal trainer or any other kind of coach, they can break down the process for you and set you week-by-week tasks, as well as answer any questions you may have.

I personally think that you need to have a good chunk of writing down (at least 10-20 000 words of your first draft), before you begin a 3 – 6 month relationship with a book coach. You need to be committed and motivated and this ensures you actually enjoy writing! They will not write the book for you. Just like a personal trainer won’t do the actual exercise for you! They’re there to ensure you maximise your potential, learn more, stay on track, and reach your goal.

I know this sounds obvious, but you’d be surprised how many people have asked me for book coaching and what they actually want is a ghostwriter!

The other reason I recommend doing a large chunk of writing before you engage a book coach is so that you’re clear on where you want the story to go so they don’t sway you or confuse you.

Feedback can really mess you up in the early stages. I really think our deepest creative selves come out to play when we can tap into this solitude and have the perseverance to get out a messy, bad first draft, before we start trying to make it better with someone else.

That said, you may just want to have one session with a coach to get feedback on your synopsis, ask a few questions about the publishing process, get some help finding comparative titles or just answer a few specific questions so you can go off on your own and work on your manuscript.

I offer one-off coaching sessions for this reason.

What should I look for and expect?

Before paying for any kind of book coaching, check their credentials!

  • What transformation are they offering and is it something that you want, too?
  • Have they successfully reached the end goal that you’re seeking – either for themselves, or for others
  • Are there examples on their website from people (or themselves) who have undergone this transformation?

The best book coaches have been published themselves. Many have testimonials, but I would personally want to hire someone who has been through the writing and editing process, because that’s even more valuable than a testimonial, in my opinion. You can look at their published work and judge it on its own merit.

Also have a think about whether you want a large commitment or just a few one-off sessions. How do you work best?

TIP: Even if the coach you’ve found offers a three or six-month option, make sure you have a fifteen minute chat before you pay for anything to check you’re a good fit and get a good vibe. All good book coaches will offer a complimentary short chat.

When should I hire an editor?

From ghost editors who can help you restructure your memoir and give you feedback through different drafting stages to someone who can give you a one-off manuscript assessment or edit your query, get super clear on your ideal outcome before you hire someone. And know what the process will involve!

Is your manuscript the absolute best you can get it on your own? Are you up to the 10th or 12th draft or really struggling with the structure before you start sending it out on submission?

Then you could definitely benefit from a manuscript assessment.

Before you pay for a query edit, a manuscript assessment, or even a ghost editor to help you with your structure, you need to have the draft, the synopsis and the material as good as you can possibly get it on your own.

What should I look for and expect?
  • Again – look for credentials.
  • Have they published their own work or worked with a large publisher? Who with? Have they got testimonials either on their website or elsewhere?
  • Lastly – are there any glaring typos on their own website?!

What to expect:

When you get your edits back, you want feedback.

Most editors work with track changes (unless otherwise specified up front).

  • Get familiar with track changes so you can see how they’ve made their editing decisions and you can actually see their notes.
  • Make sure you have an agreed time frame and list of feedback or services to expect before you pay any money.
  • Expect written feedback. Any editor who gives you a few paragraphs of “this is great!” and nothing else, has totally ripped you off. Editors are like surgeons, you’re paying them to find problems. Not to make you feel better!

 

You want them to spot any glaring plot holes, chapters that don’t add to the story, query fluff that needs to be removed etc.

Editing and ego

You need to park your ego at the door when it comes time to open up your editing feedback because this is how professional editors work. An editor is an objective assessor who is reading your work with the mindset of “how will the general reader respond to this?” and they are assessing your work as though it’s out there in the world. A good editor will raise your book to the next level. If the feedback seems harsh, take a break, sit with it, remind yourself you’re awesome and brave but ultimately, you are paying them to look at your book objectively.

You’ll have to develop a thick skin to get a book published, anyway. From the feedback you get when you send the ms out to query or even reviews on Goodreads, the public can be brutal. With memoir, it seems, even more so. Don’t think if any editor writes pages of notes on one chapter they’re criticizing you! They’re assessing your work in the aim of making it even better.

What you don’t want

The worst thing is to you pay for a manuscript assessment and only get light-on and positive feedback. I engaged an editor for a manuscript, once, and all of her feedback was positive. So I was shocked when that was never accepted for publication!

You want your manuscript assessor to give you feedback on pace, plot, timeframes, inconsistencies, voice, so you can go back and do a solid re-draft with their advice.

This is another reason why you shouldn’t hire an editor in the early, vulnerable stages of crafting your manuscript! All this stuff will be shifting and changing in the early stages. To get a manuscript assessment your book needs to be ready for a next level re-draft.

Be ready for the feedback and park your ego at the door. Criticism will make your writing better!

Help that costs nothing

Having trouble with structure? Read everything you can in your memoir’s genre and sub-genre.

Want to know how to write a query, author bio, how to edit your own work?

There is so much information at our fingertips if we’re willing to do the work.

Invest in your writing by educating yourself about the process. Work on your memoir as best you can, and only engage someone to help you when you think it’s the best way to bring your writing up to the next level. Working with an editor or book coach can be a really valuable process.

Here’s what I’m currently offering if you reach the point where you’d like some help, too. Or just read my blog posts and work though your manuscript at your own pace.

Happy writing!

 

2019-04-14T09:13:33+00:00

About the Author:

I write, read and teach memoir. I'm a paper cut survivor from way back. I love cats, kindness and coffee.

2 Comments

  1. Rosemary de jager April 14, 2019 at 5:30 am - Reply

    Louisa I look forward to your posts they are both helpful and heartening and I thank you for them.
    Since I first started reading your blogs I am 35 000 words in, and thoroughly enjoying crafting my story. It’s rather like finding a dress pattern, hsving to cut out the template before pinning the tracing paperto the material ready for tacking stitching etc! – only far more enjoyable!

    • Louisa April 14, 2019 at 8:58 am - Reply

      So good! Love that analogy! Thirty five thousand words is a great effort… keep going!

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