Monday, June 26, 2023

The MuseInks Interview with Book Coach Erik van Mechelen

I'm so pleased to introduce you all to fellow writer and book coach, Erik van Mechelen.  In third grade he colonized Mars while living in Jakarta, Indonesia -- through a short story. These days, he writes novels and non-fiction and helps others write better, exploring the depths of the human mind and heart through imaginative writing.
Since 2014, Erik has
worked with more than 100 authors on every stage of their book writing and publishing process. Here, he discusses his craft:
Ami: How long have you worked in the publishing industry? What are some of the positions you’ve held?

Erik: After starting the first one as a teenager, I self-published two novels in 2018 in my mid-to-late twenties. My first audiobook (a strategy guide for my favorite board game, Diplomacy) came out in 2020. And my most recent book, published in 2022, explored elections in Minnesota. 

I've worked with fiction and nonfiction authors since the mid-2010s with writing, editing, marketing, and publishing. While helping over 90 authors choose the title and subtitle of their books gave me insight into many genres, working closely with independent clients as a book coach has lately been the most interesting. Why? Because I think these smaller scale engagements are not only the future of writing and publishing, but also storytelling more broadly.

I also recently accepted a role with Reedsy to help authors meet freelancers to bring their books to life.

Ami: In your experience, what is a writing coach?

Erik: A combination of project management, teaching, editing, and strategy to help a writer or author build a practice of writing and meet their goals. If they can imagine writing a book, I can help them write, design, and publish it. 

For me, a writing coach also provides an editorial lense, accountability, and strategic support to bring an author's writing into the world, whether in book or some other form.

Book coaching is definitely quite separate from ghostwriting. I'm able to distinguish the two because I've done some ghostwriting and ghostwriting-adjacent collaborations on book-length works. 

Maybe this analogy can help to understand how I look at it. 

I recently began group fitness coaching for a local gym. Now, imagine that
during class I noticed a member using improper form on a dumbbell movement. Next, suppose I tried to help this member by taking her dumbbells and performing the movements for her. Would this actually help at all? No. And while it is apparent that demoing movements can help an athlete perform better, it is preferable for the member to practice and make adjustments for herself, with guidance. The role of the coach is to use various visual, auditory, and tactile cues to assist and encouragement improvement. 

This is my general approach to writing and book coaching too. 

However long it takes — and it will take a good amount of effort and time — I am there to support a book writer toward their good first draft and beyond. 

Whatever writing project or book an author or writer can imagine, I help them to make a plan to get there and hold them accountable to it.

Ami: How long have you been coaching other writers? How did you get started?

Erik: Very recently, officially, though I've long helped friends, family, and acquaintances with everything from short stories to essays to autobiographies.

Ami: What are three of your favorite things about coaching?

Erik: Seeing someone solve their own problems, teaching how to let go of limiting beliefs, and being a guide toward steady improvement as a writer. 

Ami: What kind of person needs a writing coach? What is their goal? How does a coach help them reach it?

Erik: [The best people to coach are] authors and writers who understand the value of continuous improvement in their writing. Writing is a stepping stone to better communication. Writing with a purpose leads to the manifestation of a story or book which changes how readers comprehend something inside themselves or in the world. 
The coach helps them to reach this by sparking a deep awareness of where one is at as a writer and where one wants to go, and then helping put together a route given one's current capabilities and potential for growth en route.

Ami: What is one of your favorite projects that you’ve worked on? What made it so special?

About 9 years ago, I bought my dad voice recognition software so he could speak his autobiography into existence instead of typing it. A few years ago, he finished it. 
Along the way, I read drafts and offered encouragement. I didn't know it at the time, but that was my first experience book coaching and the book my dad wrote helped me understand him, his history, and really how great a father he was. Side note: One  benefit of my dad's work was that my brothers and I grew up in places like Libreville, Gabon, Jakarta, Indonesia, and Beijing, China. Perspectives from those formative years I carry with me.

More recently, I helped an author evaluate his early draft of a book introducing new readers to the Bible. With the help of a mentor, I learned how to give critical yet constructive feedback that, instead of dissuading him, actually encouraged him to do the hard work of clarifying his writing during revisions. 
Ami: What do you envision for the future of publishing? Why?

Erik: Books, when well written, artistically designed, and strategically marketed, are a unique package of information that immediately impacts its readers. Books, whether print, audio, or digital, will remain a vibrant living aspect of our culture, perhaps in the future more than at present. Books teach, heal, and uplift. 

How books get created and put into readers' hands varies. 

Just as very few people would wish elections to be centralized and controlled by one entity, publishing, which is really just the distribution of information and stories, should be decentralized. This means, at an increasing rate, independent writers and authors will work with freelancers or small teams to get their manuscripts to completion, edited, and published to serve their ideal readers. While there are observable patterns in book creation, the magic happens on the author's internal landscape and on the external landscape traversed with trusted adventurers, all in service of sharing something thoughtful and meaningful with readers.
Thank you for reading!
If you've worked with a book coach before, what was your experience?
If you've thought of hiring a book coach, what do you expect to get out of the relationship?
If you are (or have been) a book coach, what are your thoughts on the process?
Onward and upward, my pretties! A.H.

Sunday, June 18, 2023

Scribe has Fallen and Can't Get Up

(or: The Big Blog Reboot, 2023)

On May 25, I opened my computer, expecting to get to work writing copy for upcoming books from Scribe Media's authors.

I checked in on the company Slack feed, and discovered that most of the freelancers there were asking about a missed paycheck. I double checked my bank transactions -- sure enough, I hadn't been paid for the previous week.

That missed paycheck was my first inclination of anything wrong.

Only later (much later) did I discover that the company I worked for was in its death throes. The day before, on May 24, our much-lauded CEO, who clearly believes his own press, had posted some dreck on Linked In about why he's so excellent and why he has to work so much harder than everyone else shortly before firing the vast majority of Scribe's employees via Google Meet without any severance, PTO, or healthcare... and then resigning his position.

The few full-timers remaining (most of whom have since exited the company) tried valiantly to keep calm and carry on, but the iceberg of inevitability had already breached the hull.

In the past few weeks, much has been written and podcasted of Scribe's demise. I've heard many things that I can neither confirm nor deny. I wasn't privvy to the working of Scribe's Inner Circle. I was just a freelance copywriter. I showed up, wrote my copy, and moved on. And I LOVED my job.

I was not alone.

I can absolutely confirm that, once we learned the awful extent of how badly we were all screwed, the #1 topic freelancers worried about on the Scribe message boards was who would take care of their authors. No lie. Almost without exception, the writers wanted to continue working -- even if they didn't get paid -- at least long enough to contact their authors and let them know what was going on. Their commitment to excellence went far beyond their expectation for compensation.

"Don't contact your authors," freelancers were told. "We'll make sure they know what's going on. No one's going to miss their publishing deadline. Things will go on as usual."

All that was about as fact-based as the average AI-generated magazine article.

In fact, as of today -- more than three full weeks later, after Elvis has left the Scribe Media building (and the doors have been padlocked by the landlord, if reports are to be believed) -- many authors who had contracted with the company to do their books have not yet had anyone in a position of authority tell them the truth:

It's over.

It's been over for weeks.

In 2018, Entrepreneur Magazine rated Scribe the #1 Company Culture in America. The Scribe Culture Bible is still available online, for anyone who wants to compare their happy-dappy "we are family" words with their take-the-money-and-run actions.

Working at Scribe Media was, without exception, my favorite freelance gig ever. Every single person I had the pleasure of working with was an absolute pro, supportive, talented, and genuinely nice to work with. As I posted on LinkedIn: If you ever have the opportunity to hire anyone who worked for Scribe Media and who was summarily axed, you should jump at the chance.

In the past few weeks, as we've all been reeling at how quickly our airship went down, I have been endlessly amazed and inspired at the resilience my fellow Scribe-siblings have shown. 

They have finished courses and gained certification in new skills. They have dived head-first into entrepreneurship, opening their own businesses, reinventing themselves, and bringing tons of needed value, experience, and energy to the wild and wonderful world of hybrid publishing. And through it all, they have continued to worry about the authors who were caught up in the gill net of the collapse.

I predict that the fallout of the demise of Scribe Media will affect much of the hybrid publishing industry. I also predict some hefty lawsuits, as authors who have pre-paid get testy about little things like contract fulfillment, and former employees start to kick the tires of Texas' WARN Act. 

It's been a very long time since I've blogged. I've been doing lots of writing for other people, but put some of my own things (like this little slice of interwebs real estate) on hold.


It's high time I fired the ol' girl up again. 

And I can think of no better way to kick things off than to introduce you to some of the fabulous things that former Scribe employees, freelancers, and authors are up to. I can't wait for you to meet some of the most driven, talented people I've ever had the pleasure of knowing.

Good things are coming...

Onward and upward, my pretties.