Career changers and aspiring writers have many goals in common. In this two-part series, two Amys—Amy S (me!) and my friend Amy G—interview each other about best practices for how professionals can establish expertise and credibility by putting their ideas out into the world. We’ll start with Amy S’s conversation with Amy G about her work as a book coach and how she helps people figure out what to write, and who to write it for.
I first connected with my friend and colleague, Amy Goldmacher, on LinkedIn, back in 2013. Amy G is an anthropologist, a writer, and a book coach. She swears we met at an anthropology conference in 2010, but in my recollection, we "met" when we began following each other on Twitter in 2012. At this time, we both were relatively new to the world of practicing the anthropology we learned in school, working outside of academia as qualitative research consultants. The overlap in our interests, backgrounds, and approaches to problem solving quickly led to a friendship and partnership, one of the fruits of which was co-editing a special edition of an anthropology journal in 2014. Looking back at this project, all I can say is damn. That was a lot of work. But it was a fun challenge to wrangle 10 people (including ourselves) to write articles, and then edit them all, around the theme of anthropology in business and design, which remains a popular career path for academic transitioners.
We continue finding ways to collaborate and support each other as our careers have evolved beyond research and consulting into coaching in the past couple of years. Now, I'm a career coach for UX professionals, and Amy G helps entrepreneurs who want to write non-fiction books confidently demonstrate their expertise and deeply impact their readers. We thought it'd be fun to put together a mini series where we interview each other about our work and how we help folks figure out what they want to be known for and how, so they can establish credibility and create their own opportunities. Enjoy!
Amy S: Let’s start with an overview of your career journey, which includes time spent in anthropology and academia, publishing, user experience research consulting in the private sector, and now book coaching. What's the what, how, and why of your unique path?
Amy G: My first real job out of college was at an academic textbook publisher. I started as an editorial assistant, then moved to marketing, then sales, trying to work my way towards becoming an editor. When I was a sales rep, my job was to visit professors on campus and learn about the texts they needed to teach their students, and these interactions reminded me of anthropology, my college major. I realized that I wanted to solve business problems with the tools of anthropology, so I went to graduate school in the same discipline. During grad school, I had plenty of opportunities to write and publish on anthropological topics and work in a variety of business contexts, which was great for figuring out what I did and didn’t want to do.
Later, I had another realization, which is that there is a lot of natural overlap between anthropology and user experience. I was happy to find companies who needed my research expertise to complement their product design process. Fast forward to 2019, when I began tuning into a desire to write at a more personal level, and found book coaching as a way to both learn as a writer and help others write. As a certified book coach, I’ve evolved my career so that I can focus on writing what I want to write and help entrepreneurial-minded folks shape their ideas into book-length works. Writing a good book is like a good user experience—both are about reaching and resonating with the audience.
Amy S: What sort of clients do you work with, and how do you help them achieve their goals?
Amy G: I help entrepreneurs who want to write a nonfiction book confidently demonstrate their expertise and deeply impact readers. For nonfiction books to get traditionally published, writers need a book proposal before they have a complete manuscript. The book proposal is a business plan for the book. I help these aspiring writers develop a strong proposal and chapters that will entice agents and publishers. I help them envision and plan what their book is about, who it is for, and what it will encompass, so they can write it.
Amy S: Something I touch on with my clients is the value of sharing their ideas publicly to establish credibility and create professional opportunities. How does one go about figuring out what they want to be known for in the first place? What else is required before taking the next step?
Amy G: Writing a nonfiction book is a great way to do this. You don’t have to have an advanced degree or a fancy website to be an “expert”, but you do need a message aimed at a specific audience that addresses a particular problem or pain point.
Here are two ways someone can figure out their audience and impact. The first is from writer and editor Allison K Williams. She asks you to consider the following:
Who needs you? I would rephrase this as Who do you want to help specifically? Let’s use an example from your own coaching practice. You could have said on your website that you work with “career changers”, which is a pretty broad group of people. Instead, you say you work with “user experience professionals who want to navigate their own path to success and impact the world for good”. This is more resonant and specific. In my case, I don’t just coach writers, I coach entrepreneurs - people who have charted their own career path. I focus on a specific type of person with specific goals. Having a niche is important, whether you are a businessperson, a product company, or a professional.
What’s their problem? The writers who come to me have not written a book-length work before, nor do they know the ins and outs of the publishing industry, so they need guidance from someone with this expertise. I imagine the people who come to you need advice and feedback on figuring out what they want to do next and how to represent themselves to move in that direction. As coaches, both of us have to be really clear on people’s goals and challenges so we can do our jobs effectively and build our business. It also helps us know what kind of content will be most interesting and valuable to the kind of people we’d like to attract.
What impact do you want your work to have in the world? For example, I help writers go from an idea in their head to a polished book proposal and sample chapters that are pitch-ready. They will know what their book is about, who it is for, have a strategy for reaching their audiences, and a roadmap for writing the book. They will also feel confident they know what they are doing and are capable of delivering what they promise. Those are the outcomes I promise to my clients. If you’re trying to have an impact, focus on what people will be able to do or how they will think or feel differently after reading your content.
Here’s another way of getting at it from anthropologist Sabrina Nichelle Scott. You can use this formula to generate a mission statement:
I help X do Y by Z.
X = who?, Y = what?, and Z = How?
“I help hospitals (X) improve patient experiences and health outcomes (Y) by testing and implementing multi-channel solutions at the intersection of the digital and the physical (Z).”
“I work with non-binary people of color (X) to navigate identity-related workplace challenges (Y) through one-on-one coaching and small support groups (Z).”
“I partner with small environmental nonprofits (X) to help grow their budgets and increase their impact (Y) by connecting them with corporate sponsorships and grants (Z).”
You can see that by clearly identifying who you want to reach and how you will help solve their problem, potential clients or readers will automatically know if you're who they are looking for. As the saying goes, you can do anything, but you can’t do everything. What is your unique value proposition?
Amy S: We have a lot of options for getting our ideas out into the world, like blogging, LinkedIn, podcasts, conference talks, etc. What do you recommend for people who want to explore these different options?
Amy G: First, figure out where your ideal audience hangs out. For you Amy S, it’s clearly LinkedIn. It makes sense that career changers would be on LinkedIn, and you are very much plugged into the UX community. One of my client writers is a life coach and decluttering expert, and Facebook and Instagram are where her ideal clients hang out, so she meets them where they are. It’s useful to know that you can generate content that can be available on multiple platforms, so you’re not duplicating efforts. At the moment, my process is to write an email to my newsletter subscribers weekly, and I break that content up to go onto social media as well.
Amy S: There’s a clear connection between sharing your ideas publicly and building your network. They both feed into each other, in the sense that networking can be more effective if you post and engage in meaningful ways, and your ideas end up having a broader reach. What do you think about the relationship between these two activities?
Amy G: I totally agree. Successfully getting your message out is not a one-way street—it is a process of engagement by asking questions and listening to answers. It’s not just pushing content; it’s suggesting and responding and providing value. I like to share things I’ve learned or that I find inspirational, and invite others to share their perspectives.
Amy S: When it comes to writing and sharing ideas publicly, what do you struggle with? What do you always have a handle on?
Amy G: As a writer, I have a hard time getting started. The blank page just paralyzes me. I have been spending a lot of time learning how to identify and overcome my internal resistance to doing it wrong, or doing it messily, or not having an easy time of it. Most of the writers I work with as a book coach have no problem getting started, but they need help shaping the material so that it has a point and a logical progression from beginning and end. That’s my superpower as a book coach - cutting through the clutter and finding the meaningful patterns.
Amy S: I love that! It resonates with how I see my role as a coach. This has been a really great chat! What resources would you suggest for any readers who are interested in writing a book, or writing in general?
Amy G: First, I have a weekly email with tips, tools, and tricks for writers at any stage. If you sign up, I’ll send you an exercise called Brainstorm Your Book Title that will help you figure out what you want to write - and what you want to call it, even if you don’t have a single word written yet.
Second, even if you’re not writing a book, the exercises in Blueprint for a Nonfiction Book by Jennie Nash will help you find your voice, identify your audience, and develop a message.
And third, here are a couple of books on getting over resistance that have been helpful for me: Positive Intelligence by Shirzad Chamine, Refuse to Be Done by Matt Bell, and On Being Stuck by Laraine Herring.
Amy S: How can people get in touch if they’d like to explore working with you?
Amy Goldmacher is an anthropologist, a writer, and a book coach, which means her career has centered around transforming information for good. She has published on topics of anthropological work and careers; the most recent is the second edition of Designing An Anthropology Career: Professional Development Exercises from Rowman & Littlefield. She holds a B.A. in Anthropology with Honors from Grinnell College in Grinnell, Iowa, and an M.A. and Ph.D. in Anthropology from Wayne State University in Detroit, Michigan. Amy’s work has appeared in or is forthcoming from The New York Times, Essay Daily, The Gravity of the Thing, Five Minute Lit, and elsewhere. She recently finished writing a memoir in the form of a glossary, from which an excerpt was selected as the winner of the 2022 AWP Kurt Brown Prize in Creative Nonfiction. She is currently writing slightly surreal fiction and nonfiction.