QUESTIONS ARE THE BEST PART OF LIFE.
How do you coach authors?
I start by clarifying what you want to say, who needs to hear it, and how to get it in their hands.
We discuss the pros and cons of traditional vs. self-publishing.
From there, we craft a book outline that will engage readers from beginning to end.
I coach you to draft compelling content using a combination of methods that work best for you—written and/or recorded and transcribed.
I ask questions to fill gaps, clarify insights, and add depth, gathering and polishing your content until we get every word right.
Because I’ve been through this process myself many times, I know how to keep you energized.
That said, every process is different. Every. Single. One.
Do you ghostwrite?
No. I’m a journalist by training and editor by profession. I draw out your thoughts, then refine your words to professional publication quality.
As an author and publishing leader, I’m highly sensitive about integrity and intellectual property, and I’m only satisfied if an author can speak to a crowd and honestly say, “This is MY book.”
If we decide ahead of time I should contribute substantial original content, we contract and share credit as co-authors. That’s a different process and product than my work as a book coach.
Do I need to be a great writer?
You need great ideas. And plenty to say. Not a blog post. Not a TED talk. A book. I can dig for the message, but it has to be inside you.
I don’t expect you to have the knowledge, skills, and experience to generate, organize, and pace 30,000 or 40,000 words, a typical book length these days. That’s where I help. I specialize in gathering and arranging your content and communicating it with the punch that keeps busy readers turning pages.
Many accomplished people had negative writing experiences in school growing up, which can make the goal of completing a book feel impossible. I start wherever you’re at.
How do I get finished books?
I highly recommend partnering with Richard Dodson of Artisan Digital for a seamless hand-off from our finished manuscript to cover design, interior layout, final editorial clean-up, proofreading, and assorted details of professional print and electronic publishing
Richard provides connections to several high-quality printers and guides you through the best options for your project.
He and I communicate throughout the process, and I remain available for input as needed.
How hard is it to write a book?
I make writing as easy and efficient as possible, but a book never happens without commitment and effort from everyone.
My superpower is assuring you we WILL complete the book and knowing how to get it done. Every project is different, so we adapt and reinvent as needed.
I should admit that I’ve made a few authors cry, but only because I prodded them to spill the raw, authentic, personal material demanded by their project. Not a surprise since I’m an author-editor-pastor-coach rolled into one.
How did you get your start as an author?
I’m a mashup of my dad (a lifelong inner-city teacher) and my mom (a beloved author of children’s historical fiction).
I majored in English and minored in print journalism, an education I first applied as an editorial intern at an industry-leading book publisher. During graduate school, I worked at a magazine and edited a couple successful reference titles.
I started submitting book proposals when I was 26. When I was 27, I won a four-book deal. My first book launched in 1992.
Where did you learn to coach writers?
Back in college, I coached remedial writers in a writing lab. Loved it.
I sharpened my skills as a publishing leader, directing a $6 million adult nonfiction publishing division. I built a cohesive remote and in-house team to acquire and develop 30+ new books per year.
In that role, I drove start-to-finish publishing strategy, including market analysis, author and IP rights acquisitions, internal advocacy, editorial development, and cost control of new titles and backlist revisions.
I aggressively pursued prospective authors across the US, Canada, and beyond, from significant new voices to proven A-list authors.
My job required coaxing manuscripts out of authors and ensuring they delivered their very best. There was often a lot on the line, like when I rescued the redevelopment of a bestselling book exceeding $100 million in lifetime revenue. I learned to wave carrots and wield sticks.
Things got even more interesting and educational when I began partnering with world-class coauthors, including one with 50 million books in print in a hundred languages. I realized I was smart enough to make stuff up and fill content gaps myself. But the finished book was far better if I instead asked the right questions to draw out my coauthor’s point of view.
My unique background means I possess ample tools, techniques, and determination to guide and support my book coaching clients. I combine boundless quirky creativity with serious credentials.
Who do you coach?
I work with other leaders who share my aim of driving positive change for individuals, organizations, and society.
I don’t move ahead with a partnership until a potential author has a business rationale for publishing. Hell hath no fury like the spouse of an author with a garage full of unsold books.
I come alongside writers who’ve struggled enough that they know they need my skills, earning me a reputation for rescuing stuck manuscripts and even a few difficult authors.
I also enjoy working with thoughtful people to build books from the ground up.
And yes, I know I should have said, “Whom do you coach?”
Can I use a book to launch a business (or a non-profit)?
Do you have an entrepreneurial mindset and proven experience?
Writing a book is no substitute for a solid business plan and the scrappiness that drives development. Investing your time, effort, and money expecting a book to power a totally new endeavor probably isn’t a wise first step.
On the other hand, a book can almost always advance what you already have going—if you do it right.
How long does it take to collaborate on a book?
A few months to most of a year, depending on length, complexity, material already developed, my schedule, and your own energy, availability, and timeline. Producing and printing the book adds another three to four months, which can be compressed.
If you’re up for it, I’m also capable of meeting insane deadlines.
Do I need a traditional publisher?
Maybe. That’s one of the first questions we consider, based on your reasons for writing.
I’ve directed a nonfiction line at an industry-leading publisher, had exceptional agents, and entrusted my 60-plus authored or coauthored books to friends at major houses for print and eBook publication, so I know that world well.
Many authors getting started today make a different choice. Speed, accessibility to target markets, and business rationale for a book all figure in.
How much do you charge?
I charge on a par with other professional services firms.
A few clients earn back their investment through book sales, but a more realistic business plan is to recoup by selling one or two additional gigs of your own, using your book to drive client acquisition, consulting, coaching, or speaking. That’s always where the money is. If writing books was a way to get rich, my wife and I would be soaking up sun on a beach. As a wealthy friend once said, “Kevin, you’ve lived the artist lifestyle.” Meaning feast and famine. I can help you right-size your expectations.
Books with commercial value to traditional publishers require a different fee structure.
Where are you located?
I’m based in the United States—in the northern state of Minnesota in the Twin Cities of Minneapolis and St. Paul.
I work with writers virtually and face-to-face.
By the way, I took all the landscape photos on this website within a four-hour radius of home.
Do you have a day job?
I have in the past.
Writing is amazing—and isolating. One of the secrets to my longevity—and keeping the dog fed—is that I’ve learned to balance my artistic impulse with other endeavors and outlets.
I’ve now been on my own as a full-time coach for several years.
Didn't you start as a youth author?
Yep. Writing for students honed my ability to make complicated topics accessible, a skill I carry into every project.
Many of the best lessons of life came from working with hundreds of junior highers in my first gig out of grad school. As a communicator, If I can’t explain my point to a seventh grader, I’m not making myself clear. And my first editor wondered if I had considered a career in stand-up comedy.
Do you still write for students?
Nothing new lately. But in the last couple years I’ve had the chance to fully update and revise three titles. Each had been in print for at least 15 years.
Did someone really let you be a pastor?
Indeed. More than once. Twelve years in very large churches and six as solo leader in a small, unconventional group meeting in a community arts center. In one role, I led 45 paid staff and hundreds of volunteers serving 1200 children and youth from birth to high school.
I learned to motivate individuals and move crowds, and I’ve walked with people through the best and worst of life. Cradle to grave and everything between.
Sometimes I rocked a Belgian robe and artisan stole. Or I might be up front in Keens, shorts, and an untucked shirt.
Check my LinkedIn profile for intriguing details.
What's the thing with a lot of buttons and knobs?
It’s an amateur radio transceiver.
I started listening to shortwave radio when I was 12, and I’ve heard broadcasts from 165 countries. As kid I stayed up listening way past my bedtime. I had a world map on my bedroom wall where I drew tidy red lines to all the places I logged.
Shortwave broadcasts are mostly dead, but now you can hear even more of the world with tens of thousands of exotic stations streaming online. In the old days, I might try a hundred times to hear a station in Nepal, for example, with no luck. Now I click a button and soak up music and news with perfect audio.
Streaming doesn’t capture the wonder of hearing a scratchy, barely-audible signal that’s bounced several times between earth and the ionosphere before reaching my radio. The pandemic gave me space to study for three successive amateur radio license exams. I now hold the highest level license—Amateur Extra—and am on the air as N0KWJ. With a wire antenna and a hundred watt radio, I’ve made two-way digital (FT8) contact with operators in 50 states and 150+ nations. Places like the South Shetland Islands (off the coast of Antarctica) and the Kingdom of Eswatini (formerly Swaziland).
How about the telescope and shades?
Total Eclipse 2017. The clouds parted long enough from our viewing site in Nebraska for a gobsmacking experience from first contact to the ring of fire to fourth contact. I was prepared to be underwhelmed. Whoa. Was I wrong.
I’m one of only a couple hundred people in the world to have earned the title of Master Observer, which means I’ve looked at a lot of faint gray smudges from my well-lit driveway and from much darker sites. In other words, I have a telescope and know how to use it. I majored in English, but I’m a science nerd to the core.
Where can I find out more about you?
Check out my profile on LinkedIn for additional professional and personal details.
Have I heard of your books?
My first readers were middle school students now in their 40s. Back in the day, I led the faith-based student books category on Amazon, usually with five or six books in the top ten. My books had titles like Does Anybody Know What Planet My Parents Are From? and Could Somebody Wake Me Up Before I Drool on the Desk?
My best-known product was a team effort. I was the external editor and lead writer of the original Refuel, a New Testament “Biblezine” that looked inside and out like Rolling Stone or Spin. Sight unseen, Newsweek dubbed it “the beer and boo** Bible.” People loved it or hated it, and those who hated it clearly never read it.
Other career highlights include a Hollywood adventure to write books for Universal Pictures’ Evan Almighty. A writing trip to Colombia to see firsthand an organization doing work in 60 countries and 400 languages. And receiving a photo of Chinese youth studying Find Your Fit at a tent school following a magnitude 8.0 earthquake in Sichuan, China, that killed more than 80,000 people. Schools were hit especially hard.
I have at least three books I’ll deny having written. Oh, the regrets of youth. In my case, my 30s.
Throughout my career, I’ve flown low. No big speaking gigs. No media. I invested that time in my family and day job and feel fortunate my publishers made something of my books.
Writing has been equal parts of little sleep and much fun, inspired, for a while, by large quantities of Mountain Dew.
What still jazzes me is seeing first-time authors hold their well-produced book in hand.
What matters most are the relationships formed along the way. Books are eventually forgotten. Trusted friends are not.
Do you write fiction?
I’m writing a series of graphic novels called The Fridgelight Horrors where smart egg cartons take over the world.
What's up with you and that darling dog?
That’s Sophie, our rescue Shetland Sheepdog. She’s my therapist. And a Rorschach test for potential clients. WYSIWYG. Let’s not take ourselves too seriously. And if we don’t have some laughs writing a book, we’re not doing it right.
if you don’t ask, you MIGHT NEVER know.
KJBOOKCOACH.COM is Kevin Johnson, bestselling author and writing coach. If you’re serious about exploring how a nonfiction book can advance your business or nonprofit leadership, let’s talk!