What’s a book coach, and why might you need one? Q&A with Kelly Irving

We sat down with book coach extraordinaire Kelly Irving to chat about what a book coach does, why an author might need one, and some of the best achievements her authors have experienced so far.

We've been lucky enough to publish some of the excellent authors Kelly has coached in the past, including most recently Dr Kristy GoodwinMark Berridge, Fleur Heazlewood and Rosie Yeo.

Tell us, what is a book coach?

Put simply, a book coach is a writer’s link to the world outside their head. We help an author to get their initial book idea onto the page, to give it form and life, and then guide and nurture that author throughout the writing and publishing process.

A book coach provides several key roles:

  • critical and objective editorial feedback
  • marketplace know-how and publishing industry advice
  • emotional support during what can be an incredibly lonely and uncertain time
  • learning and improvement on the structure and craft of writing
  • project management and accountability to make sure deadlines are reached.
  • creative problem solving and encouragement to be their boldest self.

Not every book coach is a professionally trained editor; likewise, not every editor is a book coach. But many book coaches are professional writers or authors themselves.

So, authors need to have a fully formed book idea, or a first draft already written, to work with you?

Book coaches prefer to work with authors early on, at the start of a project – it’s about prevention of issues, not treatment. In much the same way we build a house, the foundation of a book is the key to its success.

However, some coaches, like myself, can help when you’re stuck and can’t get to a finished draft, or are not sure what you’ve got and where to go next. In this case, we conduct a manuscript assessment for an author, so they can understand what they have and where the potential is, and then we create a specific plan of action to help them achieve that.

The publishing industry can be a confusing place for authors; what are the benefits of using a book coach?

Exactly – that is why we alleviate confusion and aid sound decision making!

There are so many different pathways available to authors now, it’s not just a question of self-publishing versus traditional publishing. There are lots of hybrid options, and great independents like Major Street. I don’t believe there is a one-size-fits-all approach to writing and publishing a book. I pride myself on exposing all the avenues available to an author, and encourage them to think out of the square. But in any case, you still need to understand the business of publishing and how you will operate within it.

What if an author has published before? Is it worth working with a coach?

You can work with a coach on your first book or your 23rd book! In either case, it’ll help you level up and create a better benchmark for yourself (like any form of coaching, whether it’s for business or basketball).

The last time you wrote a book will be different to the next time. I often work with experienced authors who have published multiple books (whether with me, on their own or with someone else). You learn from the last process, but it doesn’t mean this time will be easier or quicker, because there are so many factors at play: where you’re at in the development of the idea, your headspace or how busy you or your business is, as well as what’s happening in the marketplace or economy.

It’s never too late to better yourself or your book!

What are some of the best achievements your authors have experienced?

Many of my authors have sold hundreds of books; some tens of thousands. Others have won global or local book awards, and been picked up by major international publishers or smaller ones. One of my US authors, Denise Collazo, secured a US$25 million donation from an organisation that had been rejecting her for years – until she published her book! I even have an author right now who is exploring rights for a TV show.

That’s great, but there are also so many intangible opportunities that arise just from the process of writing your book. Whether it’s an invitation to speak at a conference, or rebranding your business and its direction. The right coach is a valued team mate or even partner who can extract what you know in a way that adds value to how you communicate and do business overall – that’s the biggest achievement by far.

How can you tell if an idea is worthy of a whole book?

If you’ve got a personal story that you’d like to develop into a memoir, do you have enough for a whole book, or is it a couple of interesting articles? If it’s a business book, do you have enough of your own experience, case stories and research you can draw on? (This is far more valuable than quoting everyone else’s.)  

Writing is one thing, but you have to have the energy to get behind the book once it’s out (in 9 to 12 months’ time). Can you get drive it for at least another 12 months once it’s released?

I use a Book Screening Canvas with authors so that they can test these questions out for themselves and work out how viable their idea is.

Finally, how do you find the right coach?

Unfortunately, there is no professional directory for book coaches (yet!), so your best way of finding us is to ask your peers, especially if they’re published. Or even read the acknowledgement sections of their books!

You will develop an ongoing relationship with your book coach, so trust is crucial – and that’s why I believe in making the process fun! When you enjoy what you’re writing, you’ll create better work.

Kelly Irving is a best-selling book coach, editor, and creator of The Expert Author Academy – a global coaching platform and community that has launched hundreds of award-winning authors into the world. She empowers original, creative and renaissance spirits to share new solutions, offer new insights and produce work that enriches their lives as well as others. 


  • I am interested. I have many ideas, but don’t know how to start.

    Carol migneault
  • I have an outline for a children’s book but haven’t put in into book form. Is there a fee to get ideas?

    Glenda Anderson

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