Do Less, Write More: How the Right Author Assistant Can Sell More Books

Expert publishing blog opinions are solely those of the blogger and not necessarily endorsed by DBW.

author, author assistant, books, sales, self-publishingIf you were to sit down and make a list of all the tasks involved in writing, publishing and marketing a book, it would feel exhausting. Add to that a partner, family, personal time or a full-time job, and you’ve got a recipe for sleep deprivation.

Many authors we talk to say they simply cannot afford to hire an assistant. But if you’re immersing yourself in audience research, advance review team coordination, managing contests and multi-author promotions, posting on social media, formatting your own manuscripts, managing street teams, managing an email marketing system, fact-checking, research, blog and podcast tours, ebook uploading and distribution, media kits, proofreading, editing, email correspondence, and website content management, you are just doing the bare bones. Oops, we forgot writing.

The Benefits of Hiring an Author Assistant

What if you were able to take just a few of those tasks off your plate? How much more time could you spend writing? How many more books could you turn out a year? How would that affect your income?

The return on investment of an excellent assistant is proportional to the increased amount of time an author can spend writing.

Some of the benefits of having an author assistant include:

• More time to write*
• Reduced stress
• Improved organization*
• Ability to engage in more promotional opportunities and events*
• Increased time with family and friends
• Increased personal time
• Being able to hand off tasks you dislike or tasks that drain your creative energy
• Access to expertise you lack, such as book marketing or formatting*
• Professional connections/networking
• Rejuvenation of creative energies
• Streamlining of tasks*
• Gaining a competitive edge
• Coverage for vacation, holidays and sick time

*These tasks have a direct relationship to your bottom line by making better use of your time, money, resources and energy.

You may want to use a cost-benefit analysis to assess the value of hiring an assistant:

1. Identify and quantify potential risks/costs.
2. Identify and quantify potential benefits/gains.
3. Compare the projected risks and benefits. If the gains exceed the costs, you may want to consider hiring an assistant.

What Type of Author Assistant Do You Need?

Author assistants come in all shapes and sizes according to their skill set. Here is a list of tasks that require entry level skills, intermediate skills, and advanced skills. This list is not conclusive, but you’ll get the idea.

Entry Level: Basic data entry, general office assistance, organizing email, postal mailings of books and prizes, maintaining your personal schedule, submitting books to contests and award programs, file maintenance, ordering author swag.

Intermediate Level: ARC distribution, blog management, blog or podcast tour coordination, answering email, scheduling and managing events like book signings, contest and giveaway planning, data management, managing street teams and advance review teams, posting books on free sites, newsletter management, posting social media content from author, research, fact-checking, virtual party planning.

Advanced Level: Managing short-term marketing campaigns, blog tour management, copyediting, proofreading, formatting and uploading books, writing book blurbs, keyword research, putting together media kits, cover design, developmental editing, ebook distribution, email marketing campaigns, Facebook ads, managing social media ad campaigns, query letters, screening email/correspondence, social media content management, website management.

You can expect to pay more for an assistant with advance level duties. Entry level assistants may charge from $10-$15 an hour while assistants with industry experience and advanced level skills may charge up to $50 or more an hour.

Finding an Excellent Assistant

Before you start looking for an author assistant, make sure you have a general idea about what you want. Take time to answer these 10 questions:

1. What services do you need? Prioritize your list, especially if financial resources are limited.
2. How much can you afford to pay an assistant? Per hour, week or month?
3. What skills, experience and knowledge are mandatory? Desirable? A nice bonus?
4. What type of working relationship do you prefer (virtual or in-person)?
5. Do you want a dedicated assistant, or one who handles multiple clients?
6. What is your preferred method of communication? Email, Skype, phone? Where can you both reach each other immediately if necessary?
7. What qualities do you value in a person? Don’t overlook the importance of compatibility.
8. Are you going to require references or samples of work?
9. Do you have any special considerations or requirements? Do you write erotica? Do you require someone who can be on-call?
10. Have you written a job description you can share? Make sure it includes specific tasks and requirements.

Why Set It and Forget It Won’t Work with Author Assistants

Even though your assistant may know more than you do about subjects like marketing or developmental editing, you have to be able to recognize poor work or wrong practices. Delegating tasks does not mean abdicating. You still need to be able to manage an assistant’s work. Make sure your knowledge of the areas you are delegating is at least basic. You don’t want to micromanage; you just want to be able to check their work.

Any task you give an assistant should be one you are familiar with. If you are lost when it comes to marketing, then be careful hiring an assistant to take that on for you. You may be better off hiring a marketing consultant or publicist.

When looking to hire an assistant, especially at the advanced skill level, be sure to ask for recommendations from other clients, as well as for referrals and work samples. Make sure their listed skills match their actual abilities before you delegate a task to an assistant.


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8 thoughts on “Do Less, Write More: How the Right Author Assistant Can Sell More Books

  1. Michael W. Perry

    Ah yes, an author’s assistant is a marvelous idea, particularly for what I hate most and yet must do this week for my latest: Embarrass Less: A Practical Guide for Doctors, Nurses, Students and Hospitals. The primary market is obvious, medical and nursing school professors. It’s all that cold contacting I hate. That and the distraction from writing.

    I’d suggest another option for paying an assistant, particularly for one who does a specialized task, perhaps editing or marketing. That’d be to designate a certain slice of the book’s income to them. That’d make them like an author’s agent and would provide an incentitive, particularly in marketing. They’d get a steady income. The author would not be out money up front.

    And to do that, it’d be great if the usual distribution channels for independently published works—Amazon, the iBookstore, Ingram and others—would allow a designated share of a book’s income to go to multiple people. That’d be great for co-authors. It’d be great for assistants. And it’s not just the hassle of one person getting the checks and having to divy them up. There’s also the IRS messiness when incomes get mixed.

    Independent publishing is still so new, that there’s a lot of loose ends that need fixing.

    Reply
    1. Maria Connor

      I’ve only heard of one assistant who requested a share of royalties as part of her compensation package, and many authors were strongly opposed. Incentives can work well, however, so this might be a good idea for tasks related to sales.

      Reply
  2. Alison Holand

    Author assistants are a great idea, and I used one full-time for a while…. until I made an interesting discovery. Beth (my assistant) asked what my made goal was, and I said to get more sales and reviews for my books. So she wrote to every reviewer she could find on Amazon, and she asked many others to buy my book using email lists she was compiling. All good so far. I was paying the average $15 an hour for her great help, so after a month of working 25hrs a week, that came to a total of $1,500. I couldn’t fault her dedication and work. She was extremely thorough, even showing in a spreadsheet all the hundreds of emails she sent out, and her research hours put in. Yet, after a month I had only 4 new reviews of my book and 30 sales.
    I was honest with her and told her that despite her great efforts this was not working out. I was then recommended by a fellow author to try a site called KindleBookPromotions.com that promised far more sales and reviews than what I was getting. It was a little risky since they were not cheap, but they were highly recommended. Beth helped me submit my book, and sure enough for $480 I got 18 reviews for my book, and good sales results. And they even got my book into the Best Seller lists for up to 5 days. I was blown away!
    Yet I was also left with a dilemma. Do I spend $1,500 next month on a virtual assistant getting me an average of 4 new reviewers and 30 sales of my book, or go for book promoters like KindleBookpromotions that got me far better results and for less money?
    I hate to say it since Beth was a great worker, but in the end I went for the option that delivers the best results. Yet the story is not so bad for Beth. She now works less hours for me, but focuses purely on getting my book on book promotional sites. And the results I am getting show this was the right choice.
    So chose wisely on how you want to use your virtual author assistants.

    Reply
    1. Maria Connor

      Hi Alison – You summarize the tough lesson you learned in working with your full assistant in the final statement, “Choose wisely how you use your author assistant.” Most (all?) marketing strategies do not offer guaranteed results and paying an assistant, a publicist or a promoter can be risky. Additionally, accumulating books reviews is a challenge, even for well-established authors.
      I believe the best use of an author assistant is delegating tasks that take you away from writing. Building your inventory is critical for increased sales, broader name recognition and gaining reviews. Good luck to you!

      Reply
  3. Chris Syme

    Agree with Maria Alison–that is a tough lesson to learn. I don’t think that was the best way to go about getting book reviews. But then, live and learn. We have a lot of success just recruiting reviewers through an email list, newsletter, and Facebook group–all pretty good bets as the reviewers have already bought in and you won’t waste time and effort recruiting people blindly. If they already have buy-in somewhere else on your platform, chances are a lot better you’ll get more and better reviews with a lot less effort. I really recommend Maria’s book Do Less, Write More as it covers a lot of those dilemmas with assistants and how to prioritize what they do to get the best return from their time.

    Reply
  4. yvonneW

    Thanks Alison, Maria and Chris this is a great article. I am an author assistant at The YP Publishing. The article is very helpful. There are so many tasks involved in publishing and promoting a book. It’s nice to have the help.

    Reply

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