Read and Write with Natasha

From idea to manuscript with book coach Kathy Otten

January 02, 2024 Natasha Tynes Episode 42
From idea to manuscript with book coach Kathy Otten
Read and Write with Natasha
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Read and Write with Natasha
From idea to manuscript with book coach Kathy Otten
Jan 02, 2024 Episode 42
Natasha Tynes

Send us a Text Message.

📹 You can watch the interview on YouTube here.

Do you know what a book coach does?

I sit down with Kathy Otten, a certified book coach and published author. 

Kathy sheds light on the customized support that book coaching provides, from the germination of an idea to the pride of a completed manuscript and the various choices that the publishing world presents.

For anyone in need of a nudge of encouragement, this episode will fuel your writing journey with the reminder that persistence and authenticity are the cornerstones of every great story.

Support the Show.

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➡️ P.S: If you find my content useful, you might want to check out my Substack newsletter, in which I talk and vent about the writing life:


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Show Notes Transcript Chapter Markers

Send us a Text Message.

📹 You can watch the interview on YouTube here.

Do you know what a book coach does?

I sit down with Kathy Otten, a certified book coach and published author. 

Kathy sheds light on the customized support that book coaching provides, from the germination of an idea to the pride of a completed manuscript and the various choices that the publishing world presents.

For anyone in need of a nudge of encouragement, this episode will fuel your writing journey with the reminder that persistence and authenticity are the cornerstones of every great story.

Support the Show.

****************************************************************************

➡️ P.S: If you find my content useful, you might want to check out my Substack newsletter, in which I talk and vent about the writing life:


Speaker 1:

You're not using your brain. I think it would become like a crutch and then, pretty soon, where is it going to go? And then where is the voice of the author? Because how you develop your character is going to be different from mine and how you're going to structure your sentences is going to be different from mine. Because you should be able to pick up a Stephen King book and not see the author and you know that he wrote it and then, as his style, his voice comes through, and then, if you get too dependent on these, you know boxes of how to write. I think you're going to lose the voice of the author eventually. You know right now it's still in its infancy, but I think that eventually there's a danger of that, and if you're aware of it going in, then maybe you'd say no, I need to trust my own gut.

Speaker 2:

Hi friends, this is Read and Write with Natasha podcast. My name is Natasha Tynes and I'm an author and a journalist. In this channel I talk about the writing life, review books and interview authors. Hope you enjoy the journey. Hi everyone, and welcome to another episode of Read and Write with Natasha. Today I have Kathy Otten, who is a published author, a book coach editor and a workshop presenter. She writes historical romance and have written multiple short stories and four novel, and she's working on her fifth. She is also a certified book coach. Hi, kathy, nice to meet you. Hi, nick, so, kathy, you're a certified book coach, so that sounds really impressive. So what is a certified book coach and how do you get certified?

Speaker 1:

Okay, I was certified through Author Accelerator, which is a program designed to help authors write their whatever they want to write a memoir, a novel, a nonfiction book and it's been like on the back burner. It's on their bucket list, whatever. Everybody has a different goal and it's designed to help develop coaching as a new skill to help authors. So it involves more than just knowing how to edit or knowing developmental work or any of that. It's about helping each individual person reach their goal. So it can vary from person to person. Everybody has different needs.

Speaker 1:

Some people come into it, they have a full manuscript and they will know how to pitch to an agent. Some people have a great idea. They don't know how to articulate it in a cohesive way. They have all these crazy ideas. They don't know how to funnel it in and the coach will help do that. The coach also helps with project management.

Speaker 1:

It's like you said you have kids and things get crazy and maybe we need to reschedule, or maybe you're sick and we need to work through some problems that you're having, and it's a support group, support person, as well as a person that can help you with your actual writing. So it's like a coach, like a fitness coach or a nutrition coach or a life coach. It's got layers to it and in the training that we take we learn not only how to work with people, we learn how to develop a manuscript, how to pitch to an agent. It just keeps you in the loop of what's going on. It changes in publishing that normally a person who is sitting home alone and wants to write a book and they don't understand how publishing works and they don't understand the nuances of the changes in publishing with independent publishing and hybrid publishing and there's so much changes. It's always evolving and being part of Author Accelerator as a coach, it helps keep me as a coach, in the loop so I can help write and read their book.

Speaker 2:

So what are the top pain points that aspiring authors face and how do you help them with these pain points?

Speaker 1:

Well, sometimes it's hard because everybody's got different problems, everybody's had a different life experience. So say, a person has had a great idea for a book and they've always wanted to write it and they don't know what to do with it and you can help them develop an outline to move forward. Some people have written something and they're halfway through and they're stuck and they don't know what to do and you can help them work through that. Some people you know they've written a book and they've taken it to friends or whatever, or critique group and it was trashed. This is terrible. You don't know what you're doing. You should do it this way, not that way, and so they get discouraged and feel like this was all in vain and they kind of put their dream away.

Speaker 1:

And coaching will help the writer feel confident about what they want to do and how they do it and help you get the tools to succeed. And success is measured by each individual's goal. I mean it doesn't mean that I'm going to guarantee you a bestseller or make them feel or anything. Everybody has different goals and there's no guarantees because everything is, you know, subjective. But it's about the person, the author and their writing and how to strengthen them to this. They feel confident in what they're doing.

Speaker 2:

Can you share some success stories with us of something that somebody was really discouraged and you know? You know, like you, you walk them through the process and just curious how you know you define success.

Speaker 1:

Well, I don't really. It's whether the author feels good about what they've done, then I feel happy. It's not about my personal Success with it. It's my goal help others. It's a crazy world, this whole publishing thing and where everybody is in their life and so you know I've. I helped somebody, you know they had a complete manuscript and he's he wanted to know what to do with it. Is it any good? So I read it and we've chatted on the phone and, you know, talked about how this could be improved and how that could be improved, that kind of thing. I met someone at a conference and we chatted and she sent me her manuscript. Then we worked through some of the problems with that and she was happy with that. So you know, if the client is happy, then Happy.

Speaker 2:

So what is the difference between an editor and a book coach, like if someone sends you the manuscript, don't they do the same thing for an editor?

Speaker 1:

Well, there's like different kinds of editors. There is like a developmental editor and they'll look okay and say you know, your character arc is skewed off here or we don't have a complete arc for the plot or your secondary characters taking over. There's things in the developmental structure of the novel that could be off. And a developmental editor, We'll kind of look at that and say you know, this is gone off the rails here and here's some suggestions of how you can fix it. You know let's go from there. A line editor looks at stuff and says you know this needs to go here because your paragraphs aren't linking together and they they help with like you have too many adjectives or whatever in a row. You know that kind of sort of thing.

Speaker 1:

A copy editor looks at copy. They're like comma doesn't go here. This should be a semicolon. This means you know this is a copy editor, is a real specific to the copy, the copy per se. They don't fix. They don't fix things. Yeah, so I don't do copy editing. I will do line editing and developmental editing Because you know you can catch those things, having, you know, been trained in it and having written for years. But I don't do copy. That's really hard. It's a whole different skill. Editors are not coaches, you know. They're just looking at the specific work itself. They're not looking at the writer and meshing that together.

Speaker 2:

Okay, so what are, like, the types of publishing deals people are getting these days or they tend to go now most to self publishing like where is the the industry going these days?

Speaker 1:

It depends. I mean, everybody says that traditional publishing is going away, but it really hasn't. It sort of seems to me like this is just my opinion it's sort of leveled out. A lot of people have that open window now where they don't have to go through the you know, the gatekeepers of traditional publishing anymore. But Initially, when everybody started self publishing, they weren't putting in the time and the work. And now people are starting to. You know, I really want quality work, I want my best work. So they'll hire an editor, they'll hire a butch coach to help them Do their best, because it's been their dream for a long time. Or you know it's their second or third book and they really want to make sure that it's going to get out there and be reflective of them as their best work. So they're starting to. People are not just throwing stuff up there anymore. Okay, they're. They're like right, their own little business or whatever.

Speaker 1:

And and then there's you know you can do it that way, independent. There's hybrid publishing where you know it's kind of a combination of you pay for. It's kind of like an ala carte kind of a thing, where I don't know how to format, so I'll pay this company to format or edit. For me, you know, and you buy these kind of like, you know it's a blend of independent and traditional. Then there's small press, which is usually they do the editing, the cover art etc. Which is the way I usually go, because I really don't do copy editing and I don't want to get involved with Formatting and putting it up there.

Speaker 1:

For all the different formats for Moby or Kindle or Kobo, you know there's, they all have different formats, so I Just let this small press publisher do that, and usually they are all ebook. And then Sometimes you can get a publisher that also do them in print. Depends on where you go with. So it's. That's the other thing about a coach. A coach kind of keeps their finger on the pulse of what's going on and who's taking what and what agents. Some people will go through an agent and that's their choice. Everybody's got a different goal. So, yeah, publishing is changing all the time. I mean used to Just be a free-for-all with independent publishing, but now it's starting to be a valid way to publish, used to be, everybody's favorite insanity press.

Speaker 1:

You know where you just write anything and it goes up there. And some people still do that. That's their choice.

Speaker 2:

Yeah, so you published four novels, correct, correct. How did you publish them? Which route did you choose for your four novels? The small press, all of them the same one.

Speaker 1:

Well, my new one actually is with a different publisher, but it's still a small press when you finish the novel, you complete it the best you can, you go through it, you rewrite, you do as much editing as you can, make it the best you can do, write your query letter and your synopsis and submit it and wait for a response and then, if they accept it, then we, you know, they give you a contract.

Speaker 1:

You sign a contract or not, then they go through the editing again, come up with the galleys. Sometimes you have to do like two or three edits, depending on how well you've executed. And you know they do the cover art and publish it. And it goes up on all of the distributors, like you know Sony, google Books, kobo, kindle, the kind of thing I'm blanking out, you know. And then my publishers both have a print option where it's also available in print. Then a couple of my short stories I had it done for audiobook, so some of those are available in audio but you'd have to pay for your own narrator and stuff like that, so that can get kind of pricey sometimes depends.

Speaker 2:

Do you have to pay something out of your pocket for, like a Harvard publisher, for a small press?

Speaker 1:

For a small press. It runs with a traditional model. So you know, go through the submission process. The only thing you wouldn't do is go with an agent Like the Big Five in New York, like Penguin Random House. I'm just, you're going to go with an agent and they're going to pretty much vet your manuscript and then when they submit it to an editor, one of those big publishing houses, they already know that it kind of went to an agent and that's why they only accept manuscripts from agents. When you go through a small press, you do the same thing, except you don't need an agent.

Speaker 2:

Yeah.

Speaker 1:

A hybrid. They have different packages, you know, so you might want to just pay for editing. It's kind of a mix. I've never done hybrid, so that's really not my wheelhouse. I don't know as much about it as I should, probably, but most people do small press, traditional or independent.

Speaker 2:

And how do you find your clients Like, or how do clients find you?

Speaker 1:

Well, author Accelerator has a referral list. So if people come to Author Accelerator through their website or whatever, they can find a list of coaches. I did just have stuff that I, you know, use my signature line. I talked to people. Another coach might refer me to a client that they don't feel comfortable working with, or it's not in your wheelhouse, like, I tend to write historical romance and stuff, so I probably am not the best coach for someone who wants to write sci-fi. So if I know a coach that likes sci-fi or fantasy, I might refer that client to them. So it's kind of a networking kind of a thing. Plus, I'm also, you know, a member of writing organization called Penwriters and so my name is out there as a coach. So it's more a word of mouth sort of thing. It's a slow build to do the coaching side.

Speaker 2:

Do you use social media? Do you do social media?

Speaker 1:

A lot of people do. I am not the best one for social media. I tend to get sucked into the time of it and then after a while it's like what am I doing here? I just killed the whole day. So then I go for a while where I'm not on social media at all. So it's not my favorite thing, I don't. And then the half the time I don't know what to post. I'd rather focus my attention on something else. So I don't know, it could be a detriment to my success as a writer or a coach, but I at this point I'm just going to go with what's been going so far.

Speaker 2:

How did you manage to write so many books? How do you divide your time? When do you find the time to write all of that?

Speaker 1:

I don't know. You know, life changes and you change. It's like I. You know, I always wrote. I used to, when my kids were infants, you know, and I used to feed them in the middle of the night. I would pick up these harlequin romances that you could get at the end of the checkout counter back then and I would read them and say, please, I can do this, this isn't hard. So I would. When I had 15 minutes here or 20 minutes there, when the kids were sleeping or at school, I would write and then I would try to submit and go through a whole publishing thing and I was always rejected Okay, so I threw it under the bed. The kids got big and when they were in high school, it's like I want to try this again, and so I'd pull out those old things.

Speaker 1:

And then a friend of mine at work told me about pen writers and they were having a little mini conference thing. So I went to that and I really enjoyed myself and everybody was like you got to join, you got to join. So once I joined, I started getting the elements of craft. I started learning the craft, the tools that you need to put these stories together in a cohesive way. Okay, I learned about character arcs and plots and conflict and tension and internal conflict and all these things and there's a learning curve to that. It doesn't come here, you have to work at it.

Speaker 1:

So some of these books that I started in like back when the kids were little and I would write notebooks, those things were pulled out. So I mean one book I could say it took me 10 years to write it. It was before the internet, so I would have to send letters to people like historical societies and say I need help with this, that or the other thing, and it was a long process. So maybe one book took 10 years. One book took it's hard because they and then I tend to be sporadic. So I was like, oh, I don't want to work on this one right now, I want to work on this one. So it's like I don't know. Some people are like die hard. Six o'clock in the morning to two o'clock in the afternoon, they're going to write. Okay, yeah, and I always get in a.

Speaker 1:

I have a couple things going on. It's like, okay, this is my plan for the day and I'm going to write so many words. It doesn't work always, but try. Things happen in doctor's appointments. The dog has to go to that. I got the other business, the writing and coaching business, to do book work and and voices and all that stuff to keep track of the business side and sometimes that takes up time. Then if I doing like an event, like a mini conference, or I go to a conference that throws everything out of kill, it's like it's a hit and miss sometimes. So I don't have a standard. I'm going to write only these times and everything else has to go around with it. I just like okay, I have a priority here, this has to get done by blah, blah blah, so I'm not going to write this week.

Speaker 1:

I have to get this, the other thing, done, so I don't know, that might not be the best way, but that's kind of where I'm floating them right now.

Speaker 2:

Okay, so you're working on on a fifth novel. Is it the same genre? What is it about?

Speaker 1:

Actually the fifth novel came out in June oh good Congrats.

Speaker 1:

And it was through small press. And it was different because it was a young adult novel and it's kind of a mystery romance, but not a romance because it's in my brain all the time. It's a mystery, paranormal mystery. It's a young adult, it's about a 15 year old kid, so that one came out in June and I was working on it at my job because I work as a substitute teacher's aide, so if they need somebody to come into the school, I come in. So a lot of times, because I'm not a certified teacher, they throw me in study halls and pull the teacher. You know they float people around, so I'll be sitting there in study halls and take my flash drive and stick it in a computer while the kids are all doing their thing.

Speaker 1:

And I started working on this young adult. So the novel that I was working on got put on the back burner because I'm like oh, I had this on a flash drive, I'll just play with it. So from last September until December I polished up that young adult novel and then submitted it. Meantime the novel that I was working on got put on the back burner and now I've pulled it back out again to try and get that one finished. It's finished, but it's way over word count. I need to cut it. I'm trying to figure out where to cut. So that's another thing, cutting words. But I also teach online and so I got some online classes I'm doing and different things like that that take up time too. So jack of all trades sort of thing.

Speaker 2:

You know we have like in this business. We sort of have to survive. But what are the top mistakes that you see authors do these days? Or are aspiring authors or starting authors.

Speaker 1:

Sometimes it's about how to organize your structure, your story. Sometimes people write different ways. Some people are plotters, some people are panthers, and there's no right way, there's no wrong way, but each way kind of has their problem. So if you're a plotter and you meticulously plot out your novel, sometimes you lose the creative side of the character. So sometimes you might lose the internal thread that drives the emotion and attention of the story because you've so meticulously lined up every little thing. Then sometimes plotters, they go off and they go off the rails because they're so creative. It's just flow, flow, flow and they've lost their structure. So somewhere in there is kind of like the biggest problems. I think a lot of people tend to go this happens, this happens, this happens, this happens, this happens at the end.

Speaker 1:

I think Steven Spielberg said something about a lot of books have great beginnings that keep beginning. They don't have that arc that that's a dark moment where the character realizes they were mistaken in their beliefs about themselves or the world or whatever, and they change and that change causes them to save the world or whatever their goal is. So sometimes I don't think that authors spend enough time on the characters to really touch on that internal thread so that they don't really. It's a lot of surface and I think that even panthers, who tried to be really creative, lose sight of that internal thread. I think that, to me, is kind of the biggest thing and it's a hard thing to find. I mean, even if I look back at my stuff that I wrote back in 2000, it's like maybe I could have done better. So there's a growth curve to it. I don't know, everybody's got a different thing. Yeah, internal things to be the thing that I've noticed reading manuscripts, the internal conflict.

Speaker 2:

And how do you help them solve that? What kind of advice would you give them?

Speaker 1:

To go back Because basically, your story starts in the middle of the person's life and how they react from the start of your story forward to the end is all how they react, how they feel is all based on what happened before. So I think people really need to begin to what happens to create that misbelief, that lie, that perception that they have about themselves or another person. I mean, like if you kept it simple and said at the start of your story your character believes that all dogs bite. What happened to cause that? It couldn't have been one incident, it would have had there been several incidents. And so when they hit their story and they want to reach for their goal, that whole misbelief about all dogs bite is going to come into play. And you're going to have to hit that point where they find out that not all dogs bite and sometimes your dog can save your life.

Speaker 1:

So you got to go backward to go forward. I mean cause you're really starting in the middle of your character. It's just the story starts in the middle and then goes forward, but every reaction that the character has to the obstacles that you throw in their path as they reach their goal, every character that they encounter, how they react to all of that, how they handle frustration, how they handle a problem, every decision they make is all going to be based on backstory. It's like in that like say, you believe all dogs bite. If you have to go from A to B point A to B and there's a dog there, you're not going to go that way. You're going to make a decision to go another way based on your belief that all dogs bite.

Speaker 1:

So your character might have to face that fear by being stuck in a situation where they have to handle a dog or they have to rely on a dog. You know what I mean? It's not that dog, it's just kind of like coming free-fro here. But it's based on their misbelief. And I don't think people dig backward enough so that that character who's moving forward is distinctive enough from every other character in the story that their reactions, decisions, what they say and how they say it and frame it and the lie that's created and how they avoid things is all based on the backstory. So people might figure out who their first grade teacher was, or they might figure out their favorite ice cream flavor, but they don't really dig into their internal fears that everyone might have. So that's just how I've seen it.

Speaker 2:

Yeah, do you advise them to use like certain tools, like, for example, I use Scrivener to outline my book. Do you have any favorite tools that you use or advise your clients to use?

Speaker 1:

Whatever works for, like. If you use Scrivener and you're comfortable with it and you've used it for a long time and you find it helpful, go for it. I don't think there's any. I'm old school.

Speaker 1:

I like my notebooks because I can rough it out and I don't get stuck with little red squiggle lines and say I mispelled a word. So everybody has their way. Other tools work. I mean old days I used to typewriter, now I love my computer. Things change and you learn to work with different tools. Some people like Scrivener and some people don't. I just tend to be old school, so whatever works for you?

Speaker 2:

Have you thought about the effect of AI on writing?

Speaker 1:

Oh, my God, I think we have. It's like okay. I think that there's a danger of losing humanity in all of that, because this is just my opinion and I don't want to throw the baby out with the bath water, but there might be some good to add To me. I'm looking at the long term picture. If I'm on Microsoft Word and the grammar stuff kicks in and it says this is wrong. It's not always wrong.

Speaker 1:

Those techniques and those programs. You have to be smart enough to figure out that this is wrong. No, it doesn't work in this situation, because fiction writing is a little different from technical writing and I think those programs tend to use follow specific. They don't allow for the creative side of life and the creative author. So it'll say it's wrong, you have to use a colon here, and it's like you're in the middle of dialogue and it's like, no, you don't put colons in the middle of dialogue.

Speaker 1:

So I think that when you get caught up in depending on those tools, you're not using your brain. I think you become it's like a crutch, and then pretty soon, where is it going to go? And then where is the voice of the author? Because how you develop your character is going to be different from mine and how you're going to structure your sentences is going to be different from mine, because you should be able to pick up a Stephen King book and not know the CD author and you know that he wrote it because his style, his voice comes through.

Speaker 1:

Then, if you get too dependent on these boxes of how to write, I think you're going to lose the voice of the author eventually. Right now it's still in its infancy, but I think that eventually there's a danger of that and if you're aware of it going in, then maybe you'd say no, I need to trust my own gut, and if you, I just think that if people don't do that, everyone's gonna become little robotic authors and all the writing will sound the same. But that's just my thought. There's probably a good sign that I don't know about.

Speaker 2:

True. So do you have any final tips before we conclude this fascinating conversation? Do you have any tips for anyone who wants to write a book and scared?

Speaker 1:

Don't be scared. I mean it's hard. I mean there's people that say it's 10% talent, 90% perseverance, so just dig in and do it. Chuck Sanbachino told us once that a writing group he's local anyway he told us put down the remote. And how much time do you spend? It's like social media thing. You know how much time do people spend on their phones? Yeah 20 minutes at half hour and right, even if it's junk. Even if it's junk, you've written it and once it's tangible then you can fix it.

Speaker 2:

Yeah.

Speaker 1:

So it's just about putting in the time and the work. I mean, it's not easy, it's hard, it's isolating, it's like you said, it's scary, it's fearful, but it depends how bad you want it. You want it, I mean, any pro athlete just doesn't become a pro athlete, unless Tom Brady practices throwing footballs. So you have to put it in. But you can't fix it if it's not down on paper somewhere, whether it's on your computer or on your notebook.

Speaker 2:

Yeah, you cannot fix what's not there.

Speaker 1:

I mean it's great if it's in your head, and it doesn't have to be perfect. It can be. You can be writing along and say I don't remember that character's name, someone's going with X, for now you know it doesn't. You don't have to fix it, it doesn't have to be word for word perfect, just get it out, get it done, keep moving, keep moving, keep moving.

Speaker 1:

Yeah, I don't know, and then in a few minutes, while you can, and then you have to prioritize which minutes are important. Am I going to binge watch you know suits? Or am I going to binge watch you know something? Or am I going to take that hour every night and write or my kids are. That's what I used to do. My kids were napping when they were little and he'd be in a half an hour and I could grab a half hour and write.

Speaker 2:

Yeah, yeah, yeah. Squeezing it between the cracks?

Speaker 1:

Yeah, and eventually starts to add up and eventually you get it. That's why I said sometimes it took me 10 years to write one book because it has an increment. Yeah, true.

Speaker 2:

So this has been a wonderful coffee and you know, I'm sure anyone who's listening or watching and they want to write a book, you know they got something out of this conversation and if they want a book coach, they can always reach out to you. You have they can reach out to you on your website. Anywhere else they can reach out to you besides your website. Come on Social media. Come on.

Speaker 1:

You know in and out on Facebook LinkedIn.

Speaker 2:

Sounds great. Well, thank you very much for your time and for anyone who's listening or watching. Thank you for staying with us and listening to this fascinating discussion, and until we meet again, thank you, natasha. Thank you for tuning in to Read and Write with Natasha. I'm your host, natasha Tynes. If today's episode inspired you in any way, please take the time to review the podcast. Remember to subscribe and share this podcast with fellow book lovers. Until next time, happy reading, happy writing.

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