In her own words: The Literary Life Coach says there’s a book in everyone

Scratching HeadCoaches are enthusiastic men and women who help us achieve our goals. One of the most visible is the sports coach who works with a team, evaluating athletes’ performances and giving feedback. There is the dialogue coach who works with actors to help them sound convincing before an audience. A dating coach helps individuals pursue healthy relationships. I worked with performance coaches during my broadcasting career to improve my on-air delivery.

But what about writers? Do they have anyone to coach them? If so, who do they go to? What happens to the writer suffering writer’s block, or the writer who can’t get motivated enough to sit in the chair and write the thing, or the writer who’s got a great manuscript but doesn’t know how to market it? That’s where a literary life coach comes in. Lisa Allen Lambert first discovered the lure of writing while researching and writing travel news at Yankee magazine. Later, she wrote, designed, and self-published Eating Clean, a cookbook based on the healing and healthful benefits of unprocessed foods. Recently, an excerpt from her MFA memoir thesis, “Paradise Not Quite Found,” was a finalist in the anthology contest “Times Were A-Changing.”In this exclusive interview, Lisa Allen Lambert, the Literary Life Coach, talks about being a motivator.

Lisa Braxton: What has inspired you to become the Literary Life Coach?

Lisa Allen Lambert: Two things: One, I believe everyone has a book in them. And, two, it was a matter of making official what has long been an avocation: talking with people about their book projects, problem-solving concept and/or structural issues, encouraging writers and following up on their progress. I am a cross-pollinator of people and ideas and love to bring people together; if you meet with me, be sure to bring paper and pen for note taking. As the Literary Life Coach I work with non-fiction writers, primarily business owners, who use a book(s) about their area of expertise to broaden their visibility in the marketplace — to help them make noise in the world. A book keeps your message fresh, long after a meeting or workshop has ended.

L.B.: How does a literary life coach differ from a literary coach? From a writing coach? From a book packager?

L.A.L.: The easy answer first — I am not taking on another author’s book project myself, or collaborating with a publisher, as a book packager would. I function as a writing coach, in that I provide a step-by-step process for growing an idea into a book. Also, I am an accountability partner, a customizable cheerleader. Although I do not proofread, copyedit or edit, I work in tandem with others who do. The word ‘literary’ is my way of implying quality for the end product, the book. In the excitement of seeing their names in print, it is easy for first-time self-publishing authors to overlook the fundamentals such as grammar and spelling. It is my mission to ensure that my clients’ books have integrity, from the inside out.

L.B.: So many authors slog away in privacy and do it all themselves, why would someone need a literary life coach?

L.A.L.: Because writing can be a lonely process, because figuring out how to develop an idea into tens-of-thousands of organized words can be overwhelming.

L.B.: At what stage must a writer’s work be for you to work with him or her?

L.A.L.: Think of my services like a menu — it is possible to order just an appetizer, or an entree, or even dessert, or all three courses. Any stage is the right stage.

L.B.: Do you help with the mechanics of the manuscript? Keeping the writer motivated? Guidance in finding an agent? Marketing the book? Self-publishing?

L.A.L.: All of the above.

L.B.: Tell me of rewarding experiences you’ve had as the Literary Life Coach.

L.A.L.: I’m working with the author of a children’s biography of someone famous. The manuscript has been edited, finely groomed, given the thumbs-up by important people in high places, yet the author needed regularly scheduled check-in sessions to override self-doubt. With the manuscript already in good order, we’ve brainstormed publishing options and marketing strategies. In September I’ll be meeting with the author and her illustrator, an accomplished artist. It is thrilling to seeing this project come to fruition.

I recently had a call from someone who has written several books but described her current project as “writing hell.” She had three versions of the manuscript with input from her team of advisors, and was absolutely stuck on how to organize the chapters, how to edit how some elements that should be used for a different project. How lucky was I that she was vacationing at her lake house, and that we could meet there for a day-long session?! Together we worked out the best flow of information for her book, and, the true test, after sleeping on it, she was energized and focused and back on track.

As the Literary Life Coach Lisa can help you with your nonfiction book or blogging projects. She is the managing editor for Tall Poppy Writers (web site launching in Sept.), a new online consortium that connects smart readers with smart books, and is the assistant residency director for a low-residency MFA program in creative writing. 

 

 

 

Writer by Day, Karaoke King by Night

KaraokeIt’s a Saturday night at independent bookstore Brookline Booksmith and the latest author event is about to begin. The chairs have been arranged. The book signing table has been set up. But before the author, Rob Sheffield, talks about his book, the people attending– in the order in which they signed up–grab a microphone, flip through a booklet of lyrics, and belt out their favorite tunes. Turn Around Bright Eyes, is Sheffield’s story of how he started a new life as a young widower spending nights in New York City karaoke bars. Karaoke played a big part in his emotional journey and led to him meeting his second wife. Karaoke also plays a big part in his book launch, getting readers to come to his events and plunk down the price of a Saturday night dinner to buy his book. 

It’s a clever marketing tool, taking a theme from your written work and making it a vehicle to generate sales. I’m sure plenty of karaoke lovers show up at his events who hadn’t heard of Sheffield before. Some of them probably don’t even read very much. What a great way to build an audience.Gone are the days when authors stood stiffly at podiums, wore drab, rumpled suits with elbow patches, or uninspired pantsuit and blouse/shirt combos to deliver flat presentations.

Authors and publishers are realizing that getting the buying public to pay attention, in this day of flashy video games and fast-paced social networking, requires creative thinking.Cookbook authors have been catching on lately. At Trident Booksellers and Café in Boston’s Back Bay, for example, the author of EATS: Enjoy All the Seconds, has a September 15th engagement to not only talk about her book, but to give a “free” cooking demonstration, billed as an event to ensure that readers will never be faced with tossing away the healthiest foods again. I doubt if all those in attendance, dining on balsamic strawberries and carrot and cumin fritters, will eat and run before making a pit stop at the cash register.This has me thinking.

My novel in progress features an African drummer. I’m making a mental note to book African drummers to do a demo or mini class when I eventually launch my book. I’m curious to know if anyone else has been to a nontraditional book event or hosted one. What other approaches are authors and publishers, and publicists using these days to get a reader’s attention?

Why I won’t let my fiancé read my manuscript

Looking back at my term as president of the Boston chapter of the Women’s National Book Association (WNBA), I have to say that Hank Phillippi Ryan, investigative television reporter for Boston’s NBC affiliate station and author of Prime TimeFace TimeAir Time, and three other books, including a new one due out in September, is one of the most generous authors I know.  Lisa Hank Head and ShouldersThe award-winning crime fiction novelist took time out of her busy schedule to be the keynote speaker at one of our annual year-end dinner banquets. Before an audience of about 30 members and guests in the private dining area of one of Boston’s upscale hotels, she regaled us with stories of how she began writing her first novel. She talked about the long hours in front of the computer screen after her shifts at the TV station, the social events she skipped to carve out time to work on the book, the reams of paper she went through as she revised what she had written. I’m sure she doesn’t know this but her methods provide me with guidance as I work on my own book project. However there was one tactic she told us about that I would feel uncomfortable using: she had her husband read her raw manuscript pages and give her feedback.

I cannot imagine having my fiancé read my manuscript, not a chapter, section, or paragraph. He is also a writer, a very good one, with a background in journalism, like me. I know that he could provide me with insight that would be helpful in polishing the story. However, because my manuscript is so personal, has been a part of my life for more than five years, and because he is so close to me, he is the one person I won’t let read it. I plan to show it to him after it’s published, after it’s been edited, bound, and printed, but not before. Does anyone else feel this way? How do you feel sharing your work in progress with a significant other, whether it’s a writing project, work project, or other personal creative venture? I’d love to hear from you.

 

 

 

The lady with the sharpened pencils in her quiver

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Several years ago I was introduced to S.W., one of my mother’s high school classmates. We’ve been friends ever since. S.W. and I enjoy going to classical music concerts, movies at independent theaters, museums, and dinners at ethnic restaurants.

S.W. and I have made plans to get together in the near future. However, as the date grows near, I am filled with such trepidation that I think about postponing the meeting or canceling it altogether, not because of anything personally involving S.W., but because of something she has in her possession: a copy of the latest revision of my manuscript. S.W. is not only a friend, but a retired editor at one of the country’s top educational and general interest publishing houses. Her ability to shepherd a project from raw manuscript to award-winning literary treasure is legendary.

S.W. didn’t put her sharpened Ticonderoga Number 2’s back in the pencil case when she retired. The woman whips through the New York Times crossword puzzle before her first cup of morning coffee has cooled. She’s been known to call television news reporters on the phone and scold them because they misplaced a modifier during a live report. And those reporters thank her profusely for doing so.

Two years ago I handed S.W. my manuscript and when I got it back it was covered in so much red ink and post-it notes that I thought I’d need a defibrillator to bring my story’s characters back to life. After spending a month decompressing, I read through her edits, which I largely agreed with, and went back to work, confident that I could make the story much better. Now that I’ve handed it back to her again, I feel ill at the prospect of seeing her for our meeting. Who knows what she’ll do? Maybe I’ll need a fire extinguisher to hose the pages down. But it’ll be okay. I value her skills. S.W.’s level of editing is exactly what I need.