New Podcast Episode: Find the “Write” Words to Begin with Book Coach Kelly Irving

Best-selling book coach, editor, and creator of The Expert Author Academy Kelly Irving explains how authors can find their most commercially viable ideas, where inspiration can come from, and how to get unstuck during the writing process. Get tips, tricks, and advice for brainstorming through editing!

Olivia: Hi, and welcome to this episode of All Things Book Marketing, I’m your host, Olivia McCoy, and I’m joined today by Kelly Irving. Kelly is a bestselling 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 nurtures authors to bring their biggest, best, and most commercially viable ideas to the market via traditional, hybrid or self-publishing. Kelly’s unique Write Book Method helps connect dots and solve complex business messaging problems by empowering original, creative and renaissance spirits to share new solutions, offer new insights and produce work that enriches their lives, as well as others. Hi Kelly. 

Kelly: Hi, Olivia. Lovely to be here. 

Olivia: Lovely to have you. Thank you for making it despite the time difference.  

Kelly: Despite the time difference, yeah, it’s a little bit of a juggle to organize and it’s all good. 

Olivia: It’s all good. So I’d love for you to start off by telling us a bit more about your work and how you’re able to help authors. 

Kelly: Yeah, thanks. So, I guess I wear a couple of different hats. By training, you’d probably label me as a developmental editor. I’m a book coach, so I’ve devised my own process to really help people unpack their ideas and structure them and understand all about the publishing world. And then the unique thing about me is, which is quite different between Australia and the US, is I kind of wear a bit of a hat of a literary agent in a lot of ways. So, you know, in America, you pretty much can’t do anything without an agent in the publishing world, but in Australia, because we’re a bit smaller, I’ve had the opportunity to create really good direct relationships with commissioning editors, publishing houses throughout my career.

So it kind of puts me in a unique position to really help authors understand and unpack how to take an idea out of their head, but also to overlay it with that commercial aspect. So actually understanding what makes their idea viable in a larger marketplace and helping them bring structure to that. And really a strategic focus on that. Because, I think in my experience from working with authors, we tend  to think of editors “you know, I’ll go away and I’ll write my manuscript and then I’ll take it to an editor and they’ll fix up my words and my language and take it to the next steps” and that’s kind of too late. So there’s some key elements that happen. It’s the foundational aspects of writing and understanding how a book works that people need to understand first and foremost, kind of like building a house. You know you need to know where the water is connected, you’ve gotta have the electricity on, have your gas and have that firm foundation, but we tend to sort of skip over and go to the sexy bits, like the aesthetics and the couch and the color of the walls and stuff like that. So, my work really involves slowing down and understanding those beginning steps first and foremost.

Olivia: I love that. And we don’t often look at the differences between publishing internationally and publishing here in the US, so it’s so interesting to hear how it works over there as well. So let’s start from the beginning. How can an author find out if their book idea is commercially viable? What does that look like?

Kelly: Yeah, it’s a good question. So, I think in this case, a lot of us focus on which idea do I focus on, which one is gonna be the biggest benefit to me and my business. And so you actually really have to understand what you are doing in your business first and foremost. So I don’t profess to be a business mentor or a business coach at all, but what I do say is I bring a business brain to a book. So, it’s actually almost complimentary to understanding what your strategic intentions are, what your goals are in your business, what you’re gonna be doing in the next 12 to 18 months time. That’s how you can figure out what you should be focusing on. So what audience you have, what kind of readership you’re trying to get to, for me it doesn’t matter if you’re self-publishing, if you’re going hybrid, if you’re going traditional, whatever, you still need to understand your holistic intentions and how you’re gonna be using your book in your business to help you and to help spread your message out. So it sort of is a complementary process to actually thinking, really carefully, about where you’re going to be at in 12 months time or where you’re going to be at in 18 months time. Because I think a lot of authors can write a book for now, not necessarily where they need to be.

Or equally, I think I see this a lot, we have this burning desire to write this book and this is a book we really want to write, but we’re not quite ready yet. We sort of have to go through a process of delivering to our audience and our message based on where we’re at now, so that we can build up to that next big step. So there’s a lot of understanding when we talk about that commercial aspect, whether you’re pitching to a publisher, whether you’re going self-publishing, the pathway doesn’t actually really matter, per se, right at the start, it’s actually figuring out what your wanting to do with your book and how it’s going to build you first and foremost.  

Olivia: How is the book going to build them? How can a book elevate a brand? And I know on your website, you mentioned that books are even more than a business card with a thud value. So let’s, let’s dig into that a little bit. 

Kelly: Yeah. I don’t know if you’ve heard that term, I feel like that’s a bit of an Aussie term. I’m not sure. 

Olivia: We use it here too from time to time. 

Kelly: Oh, you do? Yeah, I think we talk about it in terms of that, we know that a book, especially in the case of a business book or a non-fiction book, if you are any kind of business owner, entrepreneur, it is a marketing tool. So that thud value thing is, you walk into somebody’s office, you know, potential client or whatever, and you’ve got this book that you throw on the desk and it’s that thud when it hits the desk, way more than a business card. But I actually think if we think about it, a book is way more than just a marketing tool. It’s actually a product. So it is a product of you, everything you know, everything you do and it should sit in the center of everything you do. So, I call it like the ecosystem of you, because when you work on a book, yes at the end of it you’re gonna have this tangible outcome, AKA a book, but you’re actually working on honing your whole business message through the process. So it is gonna influence how you speak, how you sell yourself, what workshops you put together.

Like, I’ve had clients rebrand their whole businesses after they’ve written a book because it’s helped elevate them and see where that next direction is and where they should be going. And I think we undervalue that. So I think there’s a lot more, we should be focusing more on that understanding that it’s really a product. And the return on investment that you get from that is tenfold because of the process that you’re going, that thinking process, that distillation and all the other facets that you’re putting into this during that process. So, to me, it’s not just a marketing tool, it is a product and it should be valued in that way. 

Olivia: An ecosystem of you, I have never heard that one before and I love it. I might start using that myself.

Kelly: Go for it. I think the more we all use these terms, the better the books are going to be that are out there. 

Olivia: Yes, I totally agree. And then, let’s talk creativity, let’s jump into, an author finds an idea that is commercially viable. They really are interested in the ecosystem of them and making it part of their brand and their identity as a product. What’s a good catalyst for creativity? And where do authors often get stuck? 

Kelly: Yeah. I love this question and I think the reason why I love it is, from my experience of working with a lot of different authors, writing is a creative process, but equally, you know what we’ve just talked about with the commercial understanding, that feels really practical. It feels really logical. And I think there’s a tension between wanting to be creative and bring our best ideas, and for a lot of people that process can look really different. So I actually joke, I sort of joke about this continuum that I have, the Mark to Michael continuum. So these are based on two clients that I’ve worked with before. And Mark is an ex-SAS guy, his planning, his preparation is out of this world, like I learned a thing or two about him, like I could set five tasks expecting he was going to turn that around in a week and he’d do it in two hours. And at the other end of the spectrum is working with someone like Michael Dixon who’s genius is creativity. So he’s a musician by heart and by trade, really big on the speaking circuit and an ideas generator and really spontaneous and really fun and passionate to work with. But there’s kind of a tension between the two. So, someone like Michael with that creativity, you have to understand that a book is still a logical process. Someone is gonna read it from page 1, 2, 3, 4, 5.

So you have to be able to harness your creativity and put that into a logical format. I often use the example of improv acting. So we think that you turn up on stage and there’s this spontaneous thing that happens, but there’s actually a method behind it. You know, like that method behind the madness, that’s what allows it to be spontaneous. And on that Mark side, when you are really good at that planning and you have all this structure and you’re ticking all the boxes, you still need to be able to allow that passion and that expertise, and that almost brings some spontaneity into it to be able to hit that right note, so it’s sort of like striking a balance. And I tend to, I think for me, what I realized from working with so many people over the time is we are, I mean we all know that we are unique, but we think differently. We plan our work differently. The way that you would sit down and plan, I don’t know, even for today, Olivia, might be different to the way that I’ve sat down and planned it. Maybe I haven’t sat down. Maybe I went for a walk. And I think this is the trick to the book process.

So I don’t necessarily think that there’s a formulaic 1-2-3 step to writing and publishing a book for everyone. There has to be some kind of process and some kind of system in place, but I kind of see it more as a guide, a framework. And I think a big part of that creative kind of process is actually experimenting and finding out what works for you. And I’ve seen, especially, my coaching community being around so many different people, that’s a real benefit to learning, like it, it sort of allows them to experiment and try with what works for them.

A good example is like on a coaching call with someone, they might say to me, I had Karen a little while ago and she’s really struggling to do something and she’ll come to me and ask that question. What do I do next? And actually a better question is what do you feel like you need to do next? Because, and it is interesting what her needs were, she’s very visual, so she felt like she needed to take what she had on the page and put it in post-it notes on the wall, almost like a post-it note for every subheading or whatever, so she could see it and she could visualize it. And she did that within 30 minutes and that’s what unlocked that position of feeling stuck, but she couldn’t move forward, but that’s not something that I would do. And it’s not something that I would necessarily say, go and do that.

I think that’s a really big part of it is actually having the right space and environment because intuitively we do actually know what we need to do to get through our stuck points. But we look to others for those solutions, but actually you’ve got to think really about what works for you. How do you think, how do you articulate ideas? Are you visual? Things like that and I think there’s a really big emphasis on trial and error through this process. I’ve seen so many times that people think they’re gonna write or publish their book one way and they end up doing completely the opposite So our expectations often align really differently with what actually happens in the moment. And I think that’s a really beautiful space to play in, and I think it’s really underestimated.

Olivia: I’m so glad you hit on that flexibility and the fluidity that comes from writing and publishing a book, I think that’s where you see the most helpful and the best received publishing professionals. It’s those that can really adapt their process to fit with the author’s needs in that moment and help them get through it the way they need to. So I’m so glad you brought that up. 

Kelly: Yeah, I think it’s kind of one of those things that, we go into this as people who have an area of expertise, we are sharing that, but there’s a bit of a shift when you realize that your book isn’t actually necessarily about you, it’s actually about your reader. And I know you had AJ Harper on a recent podcast…

Olivia: Mm-hmm.  

Kelly: And she’s really great in this space, because when you make that, it’s kind of that difference between acknowledgement and acceptance. And I think there are two big things, you can acknowledge something, “Well, I know that I’m writing my book for somebody else”, but when you drop into a place of acceptance, there’s a really big shift. And I think I find with writers, their mindset shifts where they almost become the beginner and they realize, you know, I’m not the expert, I’m sharing stories, but it’s really centered around the reader and their own journey through that process. And I love that about the creative process, because although we start with that logical intention, where we are talking about that commercial idea and that viability, the two have to marry together.

So, you know, we do have to have, I think in my experience, the planning and the pre-work and understanding that is what allows for the spontaneity and the creativity through the rest of the process. And like you said, allowing that flexibility, realizing that it’s actually an iterative process, like even with your reader, you never nail that at the start. It’s something you go back to over and over and over and over again, and you keep refining it, even when you get to the publicity stage, when you’re sharing marketing tools and audience and stuff like that, I still think you go back to who am I really writing this for? Who is really that one person who’s going to read my work? So, I think when we realize that it’s that iterative process, that’s where the fun is, because I think that’s a big part of it too, is having fun.

So a book is a really serious project and especially if it’s gonna help us in our business. But the worst thing you can do is turn up at your laptop with your suit and tie on and sit down like you’re writing a presentation or about to do a presentation in front of a thousand people because you end up writing to this pseudo-person in your head. It’s not a natural state. It almost like becomes like a chore. And I really do believe that the process should be fun. Yes, it’s hard and yes, it’s challenging, but we should be able to enjoy it while we’re doing it because it’s such a developmental process and you’re learning so much about yourself through that process too. 

Olivia: You’re speaking my language, you’re speaking it. Yes, the process should be fun. It’s a big project, but it’s also exciting and actually that is a great way to transition into talking about the reader, because we know how much the authors put into these books of themselves and their brand, their messaging and what these ideas they really believe in. And as publishing professionals, we really believe in this project, we’re taking them on as clients. So we wanna be part of that feedback loop. We really want to be able to share expertise and make this as successful as possible. How do we make the readers care? How do they find that ideal reader, that actual person, and then share that passion with them and get them just as excited as we are? 

Kelly: Oh, good question, one of my favorite topics at the moment, because we talk about building an audience a lot, but what does that actually mean? So, and you probably see how things have changed in the last few years. Where we used to be was, you write a book and you write it in this, almost like solitary confinement. A lot of the times, you don’t tell anybody you’re doing it and then suddenly you’ve got this 30 days where you’re launching a book and people are like, “oh my God, you wrote a book”. It doesn’t work like that anymore. People are so invested in your journey. They actually want to be a part of the journey. So, one of the biggest things, one of the starting steps when I start working with people, especially my community, is actually telling people, publicly, like on LinkedIn, that you are writing a book because people don’t want to do that. They’re suddenly scared that they’re gonna be held accountable, that people are gonna be asking them about their book and in traditional publishing, as well, in the past, people will talk about the audience getting fatigued with your idea. And I don’t think that it works like that anymore, because people want to be part of the journey. They want to see the creative roadblocks that you’ve had. They don’t wanna know that it was a perfect journey. We love, if you think about how we consume on social media and all of that kind of stuff, it’s actually the realities of this that people are interested in.

So you are building your audience and your readership from the first day. As soon as you decide you’re going to write your book, that’s when you’re building your audience for it. And the more you can share along that journey, then the better it’s going to be when you launch that into the world, because you’ve built an ambassador club for your work. You’ve got all these people invested in helping you take that message to the world. So, I think a big part of that as well, especially as people who might be running workshops, have speaking gigs, whatever it is, for busy people, we don’t have the benefit of say an author sabbatical, as lovely as it sounds to like take four or five months off and go and sit under a palm tree in The Bahamas or something and write your book. That is just not a reality for most people, but it’s not a disadvantage. The benefit of that is, you always have close contact with your audience, from the get go, because you are speaking and delivering your work with that audience as you go. So you have this really awesome benefit of creating your own feedback loop where you can test out your ideas as you go, you can be sharing it on LinkedIn. You can be talking about concepts that you are writing about in your book and you can deliver that and you can actually see how people respond to that. And that’s what can motivate you. It’s really motivating to know how “wow people responded really well to this. I have to write about this in my book”.

I’m actually working with someone at the moment, Christy Goodwin, and it’s all about our digital world and she’ll come back with, “I used this term and people really like this term”. So it’s going back through and making sure that term is there and things like that. So there’s this real great opportunity for including your audience, but also testing out those ideas as you are writing. And I think we undervalue the benefit of that and we should really focus more on that and utilize it a lot more. And then of course, there’s a wider scope in terms of the people around you. So yeah, okay, you’ve got your mom and your dad and you know they’re always going to support you, whatever work you’re doing, your partner and stuff like that, but being around other people, especially other people who are writing, I think for me, I’ve seen how this can unlock ideas and how it can really push people even further with ideas, being around people who are in a similar place or have gone through similar challenges.

So it’s actually setting that up in a way, I’ve got a woman in my coaching group at the moment, Karen, and she actually talked about how, I think we know that concept of lonely writer syndrome and some people are like, “well, I don’t mind because I like writing”. I’m probably the same, I write in my office and I’m pretty happy doing that, but she talked about how it’s not the same being stuck in your office being able to talk out your ideas with say your husband, because your husband is just like, “yeah, okay, alright, whatever, don’t get it”. But when you are in a room or a zoom room even, in whatever capacity that is with other people who are on a similar path to you, it’s amazing what that can do for motivation, for that creative energy, for working through those stuck points and things like that. And I think, she made me realize, especially I think if we think over the last couple of years, but it’s all working at home more and being stuck in our offices, I think that can close our mind off to what’s going on out there and being able to give us that confidence to share where we’re at or share our journey or share what we are stuck on. And that’s the stuff that you really need to do, because that’s the stuff that’s going to elevate you when you get down to the pointy end of wanting people to buy your book and your work in the first place. 

Olivia: You know, it’s funny you should mention sharing every part of the writing process and everything that you go through publishing a book, because I just attended a webinar today and a big point they made was how important authenticity is. Having authentic micro influencers were actually having more of an impact than some of those less authentic macro influencers with a ton of followers. So it’s just interesting that I’m hearing it twice in the same day. 

Kelly: Yeah, I love that term too. Micro influencers, because we do think about bigger influencers, people who are bigger or not necessarily better, but they have more profile, they have more presence, but I love that concept of thinking more micro, like the audience, you always have more impact when you think more specific and more narrow.

Olivia: Exactly. 

Kelly: And I love what you’re talking about there with elevating your ideas, like who’s around you in that micro, you’re looking at the micro influences and then adding, that’s how you have that ripple effect. 

Olivia: Mm-hmm. And then being more targeted, more niche, you’re seeing generally more engagement from a very interested audience 

Kelly: Yes. 

Olivia: Rather than someone trying to appeal to everyone. 

Kelly: Yeah. Hundred percent. And I think we crave that. I know if you look at the landscape of ideas and especially in the leadership space, you really do need to have something different. I think people are afraid of being niche. People are afraid that by being really niche, by being really targeted, that they’re not gonna have that macro influence. But the opposite is true. We really need to believe that and step into that and almost own that a bit more, to really think about being more targeted because yeah, that’s the landscape that we play in today. It is a saturated market. How are you going to step into that and not compete? I talk about stepping into the same conversation, because you are elevating a conversation, but I think owning your space and your unique take on that is really important. 

Olivia: Absolutely. And then, I did want to touch on sharing the highs and lows because in the process it’s like we mentioned before, it’s a very passionate, emotional process. You’re putting a lot into it. You have the balance of organization and thinking about it logically, but also putting so much of yourself into it. How can an author deal with the self doubt that comes with all of that? How do you confront that big question, will anyone read my book? Is anyone interested and move on to the next high? Right?

Kelly: Yeah. And I don’t know, does that ever go away? I don’t know. I’m sure you work with authors, even at the end stage where they’re sharing publicity and getting on podcasts and stuff, most of us will have that niggling little doubt. Is anyone going to care? Is anyone going to listen to this? Is anyone going to read this? And I think that that is also, like going back to that stage and what you talked about with the authenticity of sharing the lows. Sharing the highs, sharing the lows, bringing your audience on that journey because at the end of the day, we’re all humans. We all think similar thoughts. There’s no difference between you and the other person at the other end reading your book. It’s really a conversation between you and someone else. And those doubts never really go away. But whatever project I think you’re working on, whenever you feel personally passionate about something, you will never ignore or push them away. And I think that’s probably the most important thing to realize. It’s kind of to accept them as and when they come up. “Today, yeah, I’m not feeling that great about today”.

So going back to where we talked about, what do I need in this moment? What do I need to help me move through this? Like most of us, I mean, I know I used to be really bad at this, like I just sit at my laptop, almost like chain myself to the desk for like the next seven hours until I’d finish writing that paragraph. And that doesn’t work. Like, all it does is make you miserable, more anxious and you wasted like eight hours of your day because with a break and hindsight and contact, you come back and you nail that paragraph within 30 minutes the next day. So I think we have to realize that the niggling doubts, the self doubt never really goes away. It’s how you choose to deal with it in any moment. That’s the trick and that’s the key to moving forward. 

Olivia: Yep, absolutely. That’s some great advice. And I, again, an authentic response too. I love that you’re setting a good example in these responses for the authors. And I think having us in that feedback loop too, having a professional that knows the industry, that knows the process and have worked with other authors too, is another great support system to lean on when you’re having those doubts, ask questions and then give us the opportunity to cheerlead you. I mean, let us get you hyped up and excited again and remind you that this is fun and here’s part of it, but we’re going to get through it and get onto the next part that you love as well. 

Kelly: Yeah. I think we can get really emotional, there’s so much emotion in this, because if you think about it’s your life’s work, for a lot of people, this is your life work. And so you are attached to it and you are emotionally invested in it and that’s not a bad thing. But equally it’s being able to distance yourself from that, time and time again, to actually look at your work objectively and understand what is there and what you’re trying to achieve and how it lands with the other person who’s reading it, it’s going back to that reader centric type of writing. It’s almost, in a lot of ways, you have to learn to become an editor, your own editor, or have people around you who are approaching it like an editor would. As a writer, you’re really emotionally invested in it and we want your passion to shine and we want you to be engrossed in what you’re writing, but then you need to be able to have those moments of space and to actually look back on things objectively.

I talk about like the weeds, when you are a writer, you’re in the weeds all the time, but then you need to have that editor view, the big picture bird’s eye view of stuff. And then you might need to do some ground level work before you get back into the weeds. So you always oscillating between the three kind of viewpoints to be able to take that feedback on board. And I think being with professionals that you trust, because I think this is a real key, it’s the key to any relationship, but trust is really crucial and being in, I’ve sort of seen in my community, it’s vulnerable even though people are not necessarily sharing, I don’t know, some traumatic story of their life, like it’s their life’s work and it’s their skills and their experience. It’s still a really vulnerable space to be in, to share that with other people. So you need to create an environment, be in an environment where you feel safe and just secure sharing that with other people and being around other people who are gonna elevate you towards the next step and how you get out of that. So yeah.  

Olivia: Yeah, no, absolutely. I agree with that. Kelly, I know we’re running out of time, so where can our readers follow you? How can they get in touch to learn more about working with you? Because they’re gonna be clamoring at your doorstep now. 

Kelly: You can reach out to me, Kelly Irving, kellyirving.com. And we are always looking to help new authors who need that community, who want that feedback loop around them, and want to have fun during the process. So I run the Expert Offer Academy. Yeah, it’s a really great, safe, sacred judgment free space where we turn up, we do group coaching, we have guest experts come in and share and learn their experiences. We’ve got an author coming in today, who’s from the group and he’s sharing his process for writing and editing. I think it’s really important whether it’s with a community like mine or something else, like reaching out and finding those groups, because I think that’s a really important part of the process. And if you are just at that beginning stage and you’re like, “okay, I’ve got this idea and I want to do this, but how do I know that this is the right idea?” Then there’s a great free tool called the Book Screening Canvas that I use. And I’ll give you the link Olivia, so you can put it in the show notes for people, but it only takes 15 minutes to do. You can fill it out multiple times for multiple ideas. And it’s a really great starting step for authors just to take something out of their head and get it onto the page and actually see what is there. In my experience most people know and have their ideas there, but they just need to see it on the page first and foremost. And that’s actually what gives you the confidence to take the next step. So I’d love people to have a go and hopefully that will help you take the next step forward. 

Olivia: Yes. Please send us all the links. We love links. We’ll make sure to include them in the section. So all of you listening now can look below in the description, click and go ahead and take that. All right. Well thank you so much for joining today. We really appreciate having you on. 

Kelly: Thanks Olivia. I love the conversation. You do some great work at Smith and are always excited when we have authors using you and using your services. 

Olivia: Oh absolutely. We love working with you too. Thank you so much.

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 nurtures authors to bring their biggest, best and most commercially viable ideas to market, via traditional, hybrid or self-publishing. Kelly’s unique Write Book Method helps connect dots and solve complex business messaging problems by empowering original, creative and renaissance spirits to share new solutions, offer new insights and produce work that enriches their lives as well as others. Learn more at www.kellyirving.com and follow on LinkedIn and Instagram @goodcontentkel. Check out her free Book Screening Canvas to find and validate your most commercial book idea in just 15 minutes at www.kellyirving.com/canvas.