Can You Really Make Money as a Book Coach?

Photo credit: Kevin McIntrye

Jennie Nash is the founder and CEO of Author Accelerator, a company on a mission to help writers write books worth reading by training book coaches to guide them through the creative process. She is also the author of Read Books All Day and Get Paid For It: The Business of Book Coaching. Join her free online book coaching summit the week of January 20, 2020. Jennie will be interviewing 15 top experts as she takes followers inside the world of book coaching.

I founded Author Accelerator in 2013 because I was seeing the enormous impact that working with a book coach could have on writers and I wanted to help other people learn the systems and strategies to do this work. Once people understand what book coaching is — being an editor, a project manager, a shepherd, a cheerleader, and a guide for writers while they are writing — the next thing they want to know is if you can really make money doing this work. This question stems from the “starving artist myth” that says that writers don’t have any money and therefore writers won’t spend any money.

But the myth is a myth. Writers have money, and they are willing to invest money to become better at what they do and to achieve specific goals around their work. After all, they buy books on writing, attend workshops on writing, travel to far-flung cities to go to conferences on writing, and spend a great deal of time on writing.

Seth Godin, marketing guru, says that marketing is doing work that matters for people who care. Writers definitely care about getting their work into the world, learning the skills they need to express themselves with clarity and power, finishing the books they set out to write, reaching readers, and myriad other things. By helping them achieve these goals, I make multiple six figures a year as a book coach and have for the past five years. 

In my Book Coach Training and Certification Program, I never promise any of my students they can make that kind of money. So much depends on your experience, your entrepreneurial skill, and your motivation. What I like to do, instead of making promises, is explain how I got to where I am, money-wise. It shows that building a business is a process that unfolds over time and making money is a practice you can develop. This progression is adapted from my new book, Read Books All Day and Get Paid For It: The Business of Book Coaching.

  • Hourly. In the beginning of my book coaching business, I charged by the hour. I set my price around $50.00 an hour and thought that was pretty great! $50/hour seemed like a lot. I neglected to factor in the time I took to market my work, talk to potential clients, onboard them, bill them, deal with regular business issues like software upgrades and buying office supplies, and handle problematic clients. It turned out that $50/hour was not sustainable and didn’t feel good. 
  • Going from hourly to higher hourly. I quickly upped my hourly rate, eventually getting to $120/hour. I thought this was the solution and was quite pleased with myself. But the same thing kept happening where other expenses weren’t being factored in, and, on top of that, I was WAY over-delivering, even at this higher price. The way I work with people is to go all in. I want my clients to achieve their goals and I want to do whatever I can to help them do that. I began to understand I needed to change my fee structure so that I could work the way I wanted to work.
  • Going from hourly to project rates. I began to set prices by the package. This allowed me to work the way I liked to work, to deliver the kind of value I wanted to deliver, and to really help my clients meet their goals.
  • Going to higher project rates. As my clients began to do well, I got more and more work—far more work than I would possibly be able to do. My solution for managing this problem was once again to raise my rates, thinking this would solve the problem of supply and demand. It didn’t. I also learned that just because people can pay doesn’t mean I want to work with them.
  • Going to an application-based in-taking process combined with higher project rates. I added an application to my client in-taking process so that I could take some time to evaluate a project before I worked with the writer. If I chose not to work with them, or if they couldn’t pay my fee, I would recommend them to other book coaches. 

Another change I made during this time is that if someone is desperate to work with me and needs something done on a very fast deadline, I charge a rush rate. I got to the point where I was charging double my normal rate if someone wanted something done very fast and refused to wait. I would only do this for clients I knew, or new clients whose projects were appropriate to what I was trying to do in my business. In one notable scenario, someone asked me to help them develop a book proposal in less than three weeks. She was heading off to a conference where she had signed up to pitch and had nothing to show. I asked if she was willing to work day and night, and to do whatever I told her to do, and to pay double my normal rate. She agreed. We did two months of work in less than three weeks, and she ended up getting a two-book deal.

It was around this time that I started earning six figures a year as a book coach. Here’s how I continued to grow my income:

  • Starting Author Accelerator. I started Author Accelerator in part because I saw the opportunity to serve more clients by referring them to coaches whom I had hired and trained. When the company got off the ground, I began to refer writers to Author Accelerator book coaches. We set our prices very low at first because I thought the market wanted lower-priced work.
  • Establishing longer required terms. I began to require clients to work with me for a minimum of six months at even higher rates. Again, this allowed me to do my best work for the clients who were the best fit for what I was offering. This was also a big inflection point for my business; I earned multiple six figures as a book coach when I made this move.
  • Raising rates and terms at Author Accelerator. Using the lessons I learned in my own work, we changed the way we work with writers at Author Accelerator, adding higher prices and longer terms of engagement.
  • In-person premium events. In response to client requests, Author Accelerator added in-person workshops, so people can work directly with me, live. These are premium-priced events. The first one sold out, and we are planning more.
  • What’s next? My business has grown to a point where I work only by referral, and I have a waiting list. Clients must pay a deposit to hold a spot in my schedule, and I only take on a new client when one leaves, either because they are finished with their project or no longer need my services. As a result of this reality, I changed to a retainer model. I take very few clients and they pay a premium to work with me. 

You can see that my book coaching career has been a work-in-progress the entire time. I constantly change how I work with clients, what I charge, what I offer, how I decide who to work with, and a hundred other variables. But I set up my business so that I was able to earn money from Day 1, and now I’m equally invested in helping new coaches do the same. Whether you jump into book coaching as a side gig or a career pivot, being paid well for your time and talent should be part of it. Finding a way to read books all day is only the first step in designing an engaging and rewarding path. Figuring out how to be paid well is the step that will ensure you can keep doing it.

Goals (and Anxieties) for 2020

Soooooooo… I feel like I ought to share my goals for 2020, because that would be the correct thing to do on my first post of the new year, but some of my goals are so fresh and so tender that I don’t want to make them public quite yet.

Here’s what I can share:

You already know that I want to finish drafting MYSTERY BOOK, and not just “in 2020” but “as soon as possible.” I’m 39,570 words in, with maybe 15,000 words to go.

The trouble is that I’m at the part of the story where all the pieces are coming together, which means I need to think about each individual move as carefully as if I were playing a sokoban game—and this means I can only write about 500 words at a time before I have to stop and think about the next move for 24 to 48 hours. (This is also how I beat Cosmic Express, if you were curious, and how I’m currently tackling Sokobond.)

But writing the BIG SCARY SCENE with the CAR and the DANGER was fun, and no that isn’t a spoiler because what is a cozy murder mystery novel without a BIG SCARY SCENE where our amateur detective is trapped with THE PERSON WHO MIGHT BE THE MURDERER but PROBABLY ISN’T because THERE ARE STILL 15,000 WORDS TO GO?

In terms of freelancing and budgeting and all of that: I set up my 2020 budget under the assumption that I would have another six-figure year—which seems likely, based on my current workload and projections—but also gave myself plenty of room for adjustments if things change. Personal expenses are still capped at an average of $2,500/month; I put a lot more (theoretical, unearned) money in the business column this year, but those are all expenses that can be cut if necessary. Fewer conferences, less money on professional development, and so on.

The real question—the one that is occupying my brain when I’m not thinking about how murder mysteries get solved—is whether I’m going to try to hit Disneyland Paris or Tokyo Disney in 2020. I keep running the numbers on what it would take to do a business class overseas flight on points, and I don’t think that’s going to happen, and part of me isn’t even sure this summer is the best time to take an overseas trip, and I know that if I do visit Paris or Tokyo I really need to combine that with a visit to see friends and relatives who live on either the East or the West Coast (depending on which park I choose), and then of course I keep reading (and writing) all of these articles about the environmental cost of international flights.

But I still want to visit every Disney park in the world. Sooner rather than later, because I don’t believe in “someday.”

Even if I don’t add a new Disney park to my tally this year, I do want to take a for-serious, two-weeks-in-a-row vacation—even if one of those weeks is a staycation where all I do is watch movies and bang on my piano and read books. (I had a few days to myself this holiday break to do exactly that, and they were wonderful.)

Also that writing retreat that I’m attending in (*checks calendar*) SIXTEEN DAYS. I should not be worried about this, it is supposed to be a retreat in which I can spend serious time improving my writing, but I keep thinking about the part where I’m going to get to take classes with Meg Wolitzer, and how I won’t be able to think straight because all I’ll want to do is tell her how much The Interestings meant to me—I mean, my eyes literally filled with tears just typing that, and I am not the crying type.

Also I’m worried that everyone else is going to be cool and artsy and really good at wearing scarves, and I am going to wear the same utilitarian striped dress that I bought five of so I could take them on book tour (because it’s going to be Florida in February and those are the clothes I have for that weather), and I know I shouldn’t worry about it because it doesn’t matter and I look great (or at least good enough) in that dress.

But still.

Wow, I didn’t realize that retreat was sixteen days away until ten minutes ago.

Better get back to drafting MYSTERY BOOK. ❤️

Where I Got Published This Week

Technically, everywhere I’ve been published since December 20. 😉

Lifehacker

How Have Your Finances Changed Between 2009 and 2019?

Use the ‘Swarm of Bs’ Technique to Successfully Form New Habits

To Help the Environment in 2020, Just Do Less

Don’t Quit Until You Ask Yourself These Questions

The Write Life

AutoCrit Identified This Author’s Novel’s Biggest Flaw — Could It Help Your Draft?

“This Author” is, of course, me. ❤️

From 2009 to 2019

I knew I wanted to write a post summing up the previous decade, and then I decided to let the past ten years of creative work sum things up for me.

So… here’s one link (and in one case, two links) to represent each year. Some are music, some are words, some you’ve probably seen before, and some you probably haven’t. Not every link leads to something I created during its respective year (the first link is actually a Billfold article from 2014, for example) but every selection tells a true story about something that happened during that year.

Here we go.

2009: I saved my first $10,000.

2010: I got out of debt and bought a guitar.

2011: I helped put together a They Might Be Giants tribute album.

2012: I moved to Los Angeles for love and music. (Neither worked out.)

2013: I moved to Seattle for love and money (one of them worked out) and began writing 5,000 words a day for all kinds of freelance clients, including The Billfold.

2014: I got to perform in Molly Lewis’s original musical Thanksgiving vs. Christmas.

2015: I began writing The Biographies of Ordinary People.

2016: I got out of debt again.

2017: I moved to Cedar Rapids for family, community, music, and money.

2018: I tried running The Billfold (it didn’t work out). I also bought a piano.

2019: I had my first six-figure year as a freelancer.

Here’s to the next decade. ❤️

This is technically “2010 vs. 2019” because that’s how far back my Apple Photos go. It still counts.

Where I Got Published This Week

Bankrate

How to do a balance transfer with Bank of America

Credit Cards Dot Com

Best credit cards for families

Lifehacker

Fancy Versions of Inexpensive Items Make the Best Gifts

You Can Still Apply for ACA Health Insurance

Did Your Spending in 2019 Match Your Personal Values?

The Best Digital Gifts That Aren’t Gift Cards

How to Choose Between the Chase Sapphire Preferred and the Chase Sapphire Reserve

Happy Friday! I’ll have a post on Monday, and then I’ll be taking a holiday break through the rest of 2019. ❤️

Why Routines Can Be the Core of Creativity

Akanksha Singh is a journalist, content writer, and editor based in Mumbai, India. She writes about travel, culture, social justice, and her experience of being raised as a third-culture kid. Essays and journalism have appeared in Bon Appétit, CNN’s Parts Unknown, HuffPost, The Independent, South China Morning Post, The Sydney Morning Herald, and many more.

As a child, my Air Force brat dad drilled one thing into me: If you’re not at least two minutes early, you’re late. Since then, the idea of being late has given me immense anxiety. (The condition is exacerbated by the fact that I live in Mumbai, one of the world’s most heavily-congested cities, where it’s impossible to predict arrival times of any sort.) That said, the idea of people’s time—including my own—being important is something I’ve learned to respect, especially since I’ve started working as a full-time freelancer.

It irks me to no end when a musician I’m interviewing texts to say they’re running half-an-hour late after I’ve reached our café at the agreed-upon time, and it’s even more frustrating when the rebuttal to this is a sympathetic nod accompanied by, “Yes, but she’s a creative…” 

There are many legitimate reasons why a person might be late to a meeting, but being ‘a creative’ shouldn’t be one of them.

I know this because, at one point, I was that type of ‘creative’ person. Not the type who didn’t think owning a wristwatch was fashionable (still rocking my grandfather’s retro Titan, thank you), but the type who didn’t do anything unless she ‘felt’ it.

***

There’s a convincing (albeit self-perpetuating) myth that ‘feeling’ it is better than ‘forcing’ it when you’re trying to earn a living through your art. It’s a beautiful, beautiful thing to wait for the muses to smile upon you as you romantically put pen to paper to write your magnum opus; less so when you’re writing a listicle on where to eat in your city, or how to go about saving more money as you set up a freelance business. 

I’m not suggesting there’s anything wrong with ‘feeling’ it; just that the feeling comes more frequently when you start setting aside time to do your work. Sit down at your desk, open up your guitar case—whatever your ‘it’ is.

While I used to believe in the wishy-washy idea that setting rigid hours for yourself was somehow harmful to my creative spirit, I now see that the truth lies in balance. For instance, I know I’ll never be the type of freelance writer who timetables her day to the hour. That’s just not me—I’d be terribly bored within the first two days of doing what I’m doing as I’m doing it.

I thrive on variety and a peppering of uncertainty. I find that it’s great to get out and actually do things before I sit down to write. That bit—when I’m going out to a museum or a bookshop, say—is where I get to indulge my creative self. But when I’m home, which I have to be for a minimum of four hours a day, I write like there’s nothing else in the world. I don’t care if that’s two hours and two hours, or one hour and three hours, or one-and-a-half hours and two-and-a-half-hours (you get the idea). I put in the work, and I’m accountable to myself.

In other words, I make myself ‘feel’ it for a given amount of time. Specifically, with an oven timer that dings to satisfaction when I’m done.

***

An editor I once worked with, Chloe Angyal, recently tweeted the following:

She’s right; we’ve conveniently taken an eraser to the fact that those who we thought could work only when they ‘felt’ it had the luxury of time, money, or someone making one or both of those things on their behalf.

The fact is, the stories we hear of ‘go where the wind takes me’ artists—and people who are so in ‘the zone’ that they became immune to the laws of time and rules of polite society—are myths. In her book The Art of Asking, Amanda Palmer refers back to Henry David Thoreau:

Thoreau wrote in painstaking detail about how he chose to remove himself from society to live ‘by his own means’ in a little 10-foot x 15-foot hand-hewn cabin on the side of a pond. What he left out of Walden, though, was the fact that the land he built on was borrowed from his wealthy neighbor, that his pal Ralph Waldo Emerson had him over for dinner all the time, and that every Sunday, Thoreau’s mother and sister brought over a basket of freshly-baked goods for him, including donuts.

Donuts, people! Donuts!

It’s ridiculous to think that being a creative sort of person requires you to simultaneously be an isolated, lost-to-the-world-until-my-novel-is-complete kind of person. The reality of it is that those ‘lost-to-the-world’ moments when we’re engrossed in our work are punctuated by real life—and there’s no shame in that! My four-hour timetabling efforts are my way of choosing how and when to punctuate (or an editor choosing the same for me).

When I was starting out, the idea of routine scared me. Sort of like it went against the idea of being creative, almost. Since then, I’ve learned that a writing and freelancing career requires enough structure in your day to pull your creative efforts into place.

I don’t want to sound like I’ve got it entirely together, because I don’t—this is still my first year of doing this full-time. But what I do works for me, and while it took a little trial and error to come to, it’s the sort of routine I can stick to without much effort.

Because if there are three things a career of full-time freelancing needs, it’s this: structure, coffee, and—of course—donuts. 

A Whole Pile of Updates

As we approach the end of the year, I figured I should update you on a bunch of topics that either A) I left hanging or B) you might find interesting.

Here we go!

Budgeting

At the beginning of the year, I set myself the goal of keeping my personal expenses under $30,000 for the year (or an average of $2,500 per month). This includes rent, health insurance, personal travel, clothing, etc.; it does not include money I spend on my business, nor does it include the money I put towards taxes and investments.

It looks like I’m going to achieve this particular goal—and if you’re curious about where my personal spending actually goes, here are the numbers:

It's a screenshot of my budget. I'm sorry it's a screenshot and not something screen-readable.

To answer a few questions that immediately come up when I look at this budget:

  • Rent and health insurance are two of my biggest expenses—and my CPA is pretty sure I’ll have to pay back the $3,600 I claimed in health insurance subsidies, which will put my actual health insurance premium total at $5,913.96. Luckily for my budgeting system, that number will go under taxes and will still let me pretend that I kept personal expenses under $30K for the year.
  • When I applied for 2020 health insurance, I didn’t claim the subsidy. My new premium will be $370.33, which will mean either cutting $177.50 from another part of my budget or increasing my 2020 personal spending limits. (I haven’t decided what to do yet.)
  • Yes, the “Giving” line feels embarrassingly low. Combine it with the “Patreon” line and the “Arts” line (because part of giving to the arts is buying tickets to events and performances) and you get $1,371.18, which is 5 percent of my total personal expenditures for the year. Do I want to increase that percentage in 2020? That’s a good question.
  • The HyVee Membership lets me order groceries online without paying a grocery delivery fee. I did the math, and it’s worth it—in fact, it’s some of the better money I spent this year.
  • The $8.00 I spent on “Travel” (and not “Family Trip” or “Vacation”) went towards shipping my passport to the government to get it renewed.

Taxes

Hahahahaha I am going to owe SO MUCH in taxes this year

(by “so much” I mean “probably $20K”)

(this includes the money I already put towards estimated taxes, but I’m still going to need to make an extra-large Q4 estimated tax payment to catch up)

Financial independence

The calculators claim five years and eight months if I continue investing at my current rate ($5,151.46 per month on average) and stick to a $30,000/year personal spending limit.

Who knows whether that will happen, but it’s interesting to know the numbers.

Phonebanking for Andrew Yang

Remember how I claimed I was going to do more of this?

Well… I did not, mostly because I was getting so many calls from political campaigns (and getting so irritated by the multiple calls from the multiple campaigns) that I did not want to add to the call volume.

EVEN THOUGH I KNOW THE CALLS WILL STILL GET MADE

REGARDLESS OF WHETHER I AM THE PERSON MAKING THEM

Still excited that Yang made the next round of debates, though. 🧢

Various dietary abstinences

Look, I know that nobody cares about what I eat except for me. But I want to be transparent about this, just in case you saw me eating some award-winning peanut brittle at a holiday party this weekend—because I did in fact eat the peanut brittle, and the kringla from the recipe that has been passed down for generations, and I ate the ham even though I am mostly vegetarian, and I even consumed both bourbon and mead even though I hadn’t had a drink since (if I remember correctly) Thanksgiving 2017.

Because I’ve now been in Cedar Rapids long enough to get invited to multiple holiday parties, and that means ham and great-grandma’s recipes and carols around the piano and ridiculous festive holiday clothing and I am not going to abstain from any of it.

Do I feel like pretty much absolute garbage today? YES YES FOR SURE YES.

Was it worth it? YES YES FOR SURE YES.

Am I going right back to “no refined sugar, no meat, no booze, no coffee” in my everyday life? ABSOLUTELY.

The dance pad

I am using this surprisingly less than I thought I would.

The Instant Pot

I am using this exactly as much as I thought I would, and have finally overcome the learning curve.

The breadmaking project

Part of said learning curve included learning that all of those recipe blogs that claimed you could rise, proof, and/or steam-cook a yeast bread in your Instant Pot were wrong.

I wasted literally four pounds of flour trying to steam bread on the yogurt setting, proof bread on the yogurt setting, rise bread on the yogurt setting, rise bread on the warm setting, etc. etc. etc.

Then I made bread the ordinary way with an oven.

It turned out just fine.

No laptop after work

One of the best habits I picked up this year, even though it’s one of the reasons why I don’t use the dance pad as often as I thought I would.

Mystery Book

33,872 words—or just a little over halfway there. ❤️

Where I Got Published This Week

Bankrate

How being an authorized user affects your credit

Are credit repair companies a scam?

What’s a good APR for a credit card?

Lifehacker

How to Digitally Detox While Still Carrying a Smartphone

The Freelancer’s Guide to End-of-Year Tax Prep

Improve Your Decision Making With These Cognitive Behavioral Therapy Techniques

Always Get Proof That Your Roommates Paid Shared Bills

To Maximize Credit Card Rewards, Transfer Your Limit Before Closing a Card

Vox

Money Talks: How this self-employed couple pays for health insurance

I love the digital detox piece and the Money Talks interview, so make sure you go read both of those—and yes, I did get my ACA health insurance plan set up before the Open Enrollment deadline this Sunday. ❤️

New In-Person Class at the Iowa Writers’ House

If you’re in the Iowa City area in February, I’m teaching a class on how to build your own creative writing practice. Hope to see you there! ❤️

Making Space for Creativity: How to Develop a Writing Practice

Iowa Writers’ House

Saturday, February 8, 2020. 1:30pm-4:30pm.

Successful writers understand that writing is not just an art—it’s also a practice. If you’re having trouble finding time to write or feel like you lack the motivation to complete your writing projects, this class is for you. Students will learn how to track their creative energy throughout the day, evaluate their schedules and routines to set aside time for writing, use measurable goals to shape and inform their writing practice, and discuss how to remain committed to their writing practice long-term. All writers welcome, no matter your level of experience.