5 Takeaways From Coaching Writers in 2023

5 Takeaways From Coaching Writers in 2023

Do you ever wonder what the writing process is like for other writers? Or if they run into some of the same challenges or traps as you do?

In this post, I'm giving you a glimpse behind the scenes and sharing some of the key takeaways I learned from coaching writers this year. And although there's no theme to these takeaways, they’re all things I see come up for writers of all experience levels, across all genres. 

My hope is that you'll be able to reap some of the benefits of these lessons so that you can move forward with your writing in the most efficient way possible. 


5 Takeaways From Coaching Writers in 2023

#1. It’s way easier to make progress when you’re surrounded by a community of like-minded writers. Plus, it’s a lot more fun, too!

Now, this isn’t really a surprise, but I do think it’s something many of us (including myself) forget sometimes. 

Earlier this year, I ran a 5-day challenge called Unlock Your Story, where I guided over 400+ writers through the process of developing their ideas and writing loglines to nail down the big picture of their stories. 

It was one of my favorite things of 2023, and the 5 days I spent with those writers were super powerful. I wasn’t sure what to expect because I’d never hosted a live challenge like this before, but it blew my expectations out of the water. 

Those who attended live really showed up. They came to the live trainings, they did the homework, they posted their homework in the Facebook group, and they made connections with other writers who were also in the challenge. 

It was amazing for me to see because not only did these people make A LOT of progress on their stories in just a short amount of time, but the community aspect was HUGE in terms of keeping people accountable and on track. 

For example, I saw someone post about losing steam and running out of motivation on day three, and then someone else posted a really supportive comment like, “You can do this! Hang in there! Here’s what I do when that happens…” And it was awesome!

I also saw so many comments about how having a community to talk to about writing stuff—including celebrating any wins they were having and/or troubleshooting issues that came up—was huge in terms of their ability to make progress. 

So, what I want to encourage you to do is to find a community. 

It could be with one other person, a few other people, or hundreds of other people. It could be virtual or in person. It could be on social media or email or text or video calls. It could meet once a week or once a quarter—choose your own adventure here. But find yourself a community of people who share similar goals. 

It’s something that can help you level up as a writer in so many ways!

#2. Querying can be super hard, but the more work you do upfront—and the more you get your mindset right—the more likely your chances of success are.

Before querying agents or editors, you should always have a draft that’s done, and that’s the very best you can make it. Ideally, you’d have already worked with a developmental editor or beta raiders to get feedback, and you’d have implemented any of the suggestions that resonate with you, too.

But beyond just getting feedback on your draft, it’s well worth your time to get feedback on your query letter, synopsis, and other submission materials as well.

It’s really easy to write a query letter that’s too vague, or that doesn’t communicate the essence of your story simply because you’re too close to it. 

Many writers prioritize getting feedback on their drafts, but they don’t go through the same exercise with their query letters or their synopsis, and it shows. It’s also why so many of them receive rejection after rejection as well.

But here’s the thing… 

Your query is the first thing an agent or an editor will read, and it must hook their interest. If they like your query, they’ll usually read your synopsis next, so that needs to shine and hook their interest, too. If they like your query and synopsis, they’ll move onto your pages—but only if the query and synopsis hook their interest first.

You’ll also want to research the appropriate agents to query. Yes, that might seem like common sense, but I see so many authors query agents a) who are not open to queries or b) who don’t work in their age range or genre. This is just asking for a rejection! 

So, just make sure to do your homework when it comes to querying agents and follow all of their submission guidelines when you do query.

It’s also super important to get your mindset right before you query because you will get rejections—probably more rejections than requests. If you aren’t prepared for this going into the process, it will probably be a pretty bad experience.

I follow a lot of writers on Instagram and I love how tenacious they are when it comes to querying. One writer I follow queried 50+ agents and received rejection after rejection, but they’re still querying—and that’s so cool! She’s learning from every single rejection and tweaking her submission materials to reflect any feedback or lessons she’s learned since querying, and it’s been amazing to watch.

Querying takes a lot of work. It’s not easy to get ready to query, to get organized with all the things needed to query, and then to send out those requests, hoping for a positive response. But the writers who do the work of getting feedback on their drafts, queries, and synopses—who have the right mindset going into the process (and who don’t give up)—those are the writers who succeed in one way or another. 

#3. More writers are leaning towards self-publishing to retain creative control and get their books to market sooner.

The third thing I noticed this year is that a lot more writers seem to be choosing self-publishing over traditional publishing, and I think there are a few reasons for that. 

Many of the writers I work with want to maintain creative control over their work, and they don’t want to deal with how much longer it takes to bring a traditionally published book to market. Plus, there are monetary benefits as well.

If you want to hear more about the timeline of traditional publishing and the pros and cons of going the traditional route, you can check out episode #66: The Pros and Cons of Traditional Publishing.

The October issue of Jane Friedman’s newsletter, The Hot Sheet, reinforces this trend I’ve been seeing with the writers I work with. 

In this issue, she recapped and interpreted some of the stats from the Author Guild Income survey and she said, “Younger authors seem to be observing and grasping how the industry is changing. According to the survey, the younger the author, the more likely they are to prefer self-publishing for their next book. In fact, less than half of authors under 45 years old would prefer to have their next book traditionally published.”

Friedman says that with a different sample of writers—not the 5,700 writers who submitted answers to the survey—the results would have likely been different (which makes sense) so, take this with a grain of salt. But I do think this stat is interesting because I’m seeing the same thing with the writers who come through my Notes to Novel program.

In the article, Friedman also said, “Other data points I saw showed evidence of how well self-published authors are able to market, promote, and sell their books to earn a living—if they’re able to keep writing and publishing over a sufficient period of time in a genre where there is market demand. I don’t envy traditionally published genre fiction authors, especially debuts, who must have a hard time competing against their self-published peers when trying to build a readership from scratch. They rarely have the advantage of competitive pricing, nor are they able to make use of KU in many cases (because large publishers won’t put their books in it).”

And I think that’s a super interesting insight. I often hear writers who want to be traditionally published talk about how landing a publishing deal means the marketing will be taken care of for them, but that’s not really true unless you get a really big book deal. 

Self-publishing helps you build that marketing muscle—or that tenacity not only to write, edit, and publish a book but to then take it to the market to try and find the readers who are going to enjoy it, too. 

I think a lot of people who want to publish traditionally don’t understand that they still need to do most of the marketing work themselves—or hire somebody to help them with their marketing if their budget allows. 

The last thing I want to quote from Jane’s newsletter is that she said, “One of the most important income findings I saw: When self-pub authors start out, they tend to earn exceptionally little compared to those getting traditional deals (or advances), which makes sense. But if the self-published author keeps going and becomes established (if they can hit the five-year mark as far as this survey), they are likely to outearn their traditional counterparts.”

So, again, I think this is all really cool for the writers who want to self-publish or who are on the fence about which publishing path to take. 

Regardless of which way you’re leaning—self-publishing or traditional publishing—it’s important to do your homework to understand the pros and cons of each publishing path. The decision will ultimately come down to your priorities and values and what you want when it comes to publishing your novel. 

#4. Kill your darlings, don’t build a scene around them.

Earlier this year, I worked with a writer who was absolutely married to the opening line in his first scene. It was a really fun, punchy opening line, but overall, the story didn’t start in the right place. In other words, the opening line wasn’t enough to hook the reader.

I shared my opinion with this writer, but he ultimately decided to keep the opening line and chose to tweak his first scene instead. However, instead of tweaking the scene so that it was the best opening scene for the story, he changed it to be more in sync with his opening line. 

Fast forward to a few months later when he went to a conference and pitched a handful of agents, not one of them asked to see his full draft. Instead, they offered him feedback that essentially said his story didn’t start in the right place and/or that there was too much build-up before the central conflict kicked up. And even worse, not one of the agents mentioned or even reacted to his opening line.

So, I don’t share this example to poke fun at this writer—I have his permission to share this story with you, of course. But what I want you to see is that the opening line in his story was a “darling.” You know that saying in the writing world that says, “Kill your darlings?” That’s exactly what he needed to do.

That opening line was his “darling,” and he needed to “kill it” for the greater good of his story, but he couldn’t, and it cost him. 

This is one of the most difficult things about writing. We fall in love with snippets of text or a really nice turn of phrase, but more often than not, those things don’t serve our stories. So, learn from this writer’s mistake and do your best to develop an objective eye that can help you see a darling from something that truly impacts your story.

#5. Fear is something almost every writer deals with—and it often shows up as perfectionism or procrastination.

Perfectionism is really tough. It impacted almost every writer I worked with this year, and it’s something that affects me in my own writing, too. 

I hear from writers all the time who say they’ve written many, many versions of their first scene and never make progress toward a finished draft. Some of this is probably due to lack of planning, or lack of understanding what it takes to write a full scene, but I’d say at least 95% of what stopped these writers was the sense that their writing just wasn’t perfect enough. 

As a book coach, this makes me super sad because a) I know how it feels myself, and b) I know that if you can just get to the end of a draft, you’ll know so much more about your story and the road to ‘The End’ gets easier. 

One writer I worked with in early 2023 was having a hard time getting into the head of her characters. And one day, we were talking about why she thought she was having such a hard time, and she said, “Well, what if I do, and it just sounds stupid? Like, what if I put my character’s thoughts and feelings on the page, and they sound cheesy or like I’m trying too hard?” 

So, I said, okay, well, what if that does happen? What’s the worst-case scenario? 

And then we both kind of laughed about it because she realized that in reality, nothing would really happen. Essentially, the only other person who would even see her pages was me—and in the even that something lackluster did make it onto the page? She and I would work together to make it better—just like we did for everything else in her draft. Luckily for this writer, this realization was all it took to push past her feelings of perfectionism and she was able to start writing again.

So, the key takeaway here is that sometimes you have to get out of your own way. And sometimes, you have to be okay with being uncomfortable. 

And what I mean by that is if you write something that’s not perfect, sure, that’s uncomfortable. Trust me, I know that feeling firsthand. 

But guess what? 

You can survive being uncomfortable.  You can be uncomfortable and finish a draft. And then, when you’re done, you can work on making it better. 

If you want to steal one of my favorite mantras, it’s “Aim for progress, not perfection.” Having this written on a sticky note at my desk makes all the difference!

Final Thoughts

So, those are the five biggest takeaways I got from coaching writers this year. I hope that you can see yourself in some of the examples I shared, and I hope this episode helps you realize that you’re not alone in some of your struggles.

Beyond that, I hope you can reap the benefit of these lessons, too, so that you can keep moving forward with your work in the most efficient way possible. 

And if you need help getting started with your story, go download my FREE Story Starter Kit. This guide will walk you through five key questions that will help you develop the foundational elements of your story. Doing this work up front will make the writing process so much easier!

Savannah is a developmental editor and book coach who helps fiction authors write, edit, and publish stories that work. She also hosts the top-rated Fiction Writing Made Easy podcast full of actionable advice that you can put into practice right away. Click here to learn more →