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Monday, January 19, 2015

Ask the Assistant: 5 Ways to Protect Yourself and Your Information




So you’ve decided to hire an assistant, but you’re nervous about handing them the keys to your castle. Don’t worry! I’ve got some tips to help you protect yourself.

Please note, I am not an attorney and this post should not be used as a substitute for professional legal advice.

1. SET UP A CONTRACT

Once you find your new assistant, you might consider asking them to sign a brief contract, which includes a confidentiality/non-disclosure agreement and defined guidelines about invoices and billing.

If you hire through a 3rd party like odesk or elance, you should review their standard agreement that comes as part of any hiring relationship.

2. DISCUSS YOUR BUDGET

Estimates - When you first start working with someone, you don’t want to be surprised by a giant bill. If you are delegating tasks that you don’t have the skills or knowledge to complete on your own, you might not have much of an idea of how long they will take. Especially if that is the case, you should ask for an estimate of how long the project will take.

Hourly Budget - One of the things I highly recommend when it comes to starting with an assistant is that you set an hourly budget. Tell the assistant that you would like them to work on X, Y, and Z tasks, but please don’t spend more than 5 hours total.  Let the assistant know that when they hit the 5-hour cap, you would like to receive an update. At that point, you can decide if you want them to continue working on the projects or if you want to pause their efforts until the next billing cycle.

Initial Investment - Keep in mind that starting with an assistant is an investment for both of you. It will take them slightly longer in the beginning to complete your projects because they are getting to know you, setting up notes and procedures, and learning how to do tasks in the manner you prefer. The longer you work with someone, the more valuable should become.

3. PAY INVOICES SAFELY

In my previous article, How to Find and Vet Assistants, I recommended that you ask to see a sample invoice. Hopefully, this invoice will be broken down by line item so if you are asking your assistant to work on a wide variety of tasks, you can see how much time each task requires and make decisions about which outsourced items give you the biggest return on your investment.

Ask if the assistant can invoice you via PayPal or a similar 3rd party, or ask to mail a paper check. I think this usually goes without saying, but do not share your credit card information.


4. OVERSEE COMMUNICATION

If you ask the assistant to start communicating with others on your behalf, ask to be carbon copied on all correspondence during the beginning of the relationship. This will give you a chance to stay up to date on everything. An assistant can save you tons of time if you will allow them to communicate with:

·      Schools, Libraries, And Booksellers
·      Your Publicity Team & Publisher
·      Bloggers/Reviewers
·      Other Freelancers You Use

5. USE LASTPASS TO SHARE PASSWORDS

You don’t have to share passwords with your assistant. However, if you choose not to share any passwords or allow them access to any accounts, you will be seriously limiting the amount of things your assistant can help you with.  This is where establishing trust comes in.

If you feel twitchy about emailing your passwords or you’re worried about having to change all of your passwords if you decide to terminate a relationship with an assistant, I recommend you use LastPass. You can open an account with LastPass and share your passwords with others without them ever seeing the text of your passwords.  It works like the “keychain” on a browser (EX: Would you like Safari to remember this password for you?), but it allows you to share the passwords with others. Your assistant will also have to have a LastPass account for this to work.

BONUS TIP: You can make someone an “admin” of your Facebook page without having to share your Facebook password.  Instructions here: https://www.facebook.com/help/187316341316631

HOW AND WHAT TO START DELEGATING

I hope this helps! Please let me know if you have questions. Check out my post next month about exactly which items are the easiest to delegate.


Mel Jolly, founder of Author Rx and Author’s Atlas, has been “Keeping Authors Out of the Loony Bin Since 2009.” Mel started out as a Library Assistant in Young Adult Services where she specialized in outreach to at risk teens at juvenile detention centers and inner-city schools. Melissa has always had a true passion for connecting readers (and non-readers) to books and now enjoys channeling that energy into teaching all authors the tips and tricks she’s learned about how to thrive in the publishing industry through workshops and the Author’s Atlas blog. To follow along with Mel's tips to help you Get Organized in 2015, sign up for the Author's Atlas newsletter at http://www.authorsatlas.com/.

Mel Jolly

Manager
Author Rx
www.authorrx.com
(828) 308-2925



Thursday, January 15, 2015

Ask the Assistant: How to Find and Vet Assistants



Let’s jump straight into the next stage of finding your new assistant!

PREP WORK

Before tackling these steps, you should have your:

·      Financial budget
·      List of tasks to outsource
·      General idea of how much time per month you expect to outsource

These items were covered in my November post, Is it Time to Hire Help?

FINDING NAMES

This part might seem daunting, but I’m promise it’s not difficult!

Referrals - Ask your author friends if they work with an assistant or if they know of someone else that does. Personal recommendations are a great place to start.

Check the Loops – If you are on any author loops or discussion groups, run a search for “author’s assistant.” Chances are someone else has already asked for recommendations. If nothing comes up in your search, be the first to ask.

ResourcesAuthor’s Atlas is a free review and ratings site for all the freelancers an author might need and has a significant database of assistants. AuthorEMS also has an extensive listing of freelancers.


VETTING

Once you start collecting names and referrals, visit each assistant’s website. Here are the items I recommend you look for on their site:

Testimonials - This will give you an idea, not only of the assistant’s experience in the field, but also of other authors you can contact to make sure they were happy with the freelancer’s work.

Services  - Most freelancers are going to have a detailed list of their services on their website. Just make sure that the majority of the items you are hoping to outsource are on the list. Most assistants are flexible in what they do, so if something is missing from the list, make a note to ask about that particular item in your inquiry email.

Copy – One thing I always check when vetting someone is their website copy and blog. I’m looking for writing skill level and attention to detail because both of those items are important to me.

RATES

Rates of assistants are going to vary widely based on experience and skill set. On average, you can expect to pay $25 - $40/hour. There will be outliers, of course, and a new assistant might not charge as much as someone who’s been working in the industry for years. Some assistants also offer a bulk discount if you’re going to contract them for a set number of hours per month. The assistant may or may not include their rates on their website.


INQUIRY EMAIL

At this point, you should have a handful of names that you would like to contact. If you have one or two favorites, contact them first. In your email, I recommend you include:

Introduction – Include the usual items: who you are, what you write, and where you are in you career. Every assistant is going to have unofficial areas and genres of expertise, so sharing that info with them upfront helps them to determine if they are a good fit for you. 

Referral – If someone recommended that freelancer to you, be sure to mention it. First of all, it’s so nice to hear that a client likes your work! Secondly, it’s also a reverse referral. If one of my authors recommends someone to me as a potential client, it makes that person stand out in my inbox.

Tasks – Give the assistant a brief description of what you’re hoping to outsource. Don’t worry about going into a ton of details; a simple list (social media, managing my inbox, setting up speaking events, mailing review copies) is sufficient. Make sure to specify if you’re looking to hire someone for ongoing help or if you just need to hire for one project that will have a definitive end. If you’re especially nervous about hiring someone, a small one-time project is a great place to start.
  
Budget – Let them know how many hours/month you think these tasks will take. If you have a solid budget that you can’t afford to go over, mention that. (EX: I would like to start with a budget of $250/month.)

Timeline – Let them know if you’re looking to start working with someone immediately or if you can be flexible on start date.

RESPONSE

Many assistants are busy. They might not be able to take you on right away or at all.  However, if they aren’t able to work with you at all, ask if they have any referrals. I am part of a several freelancer groups and it’s common for someone to send out a “Who is taking on new clients?” email. Even if I can’t work with an author, I do want to make sure they find a happy home!


INTERVIEWS

If you get a favorable response from an assistant, set up a time to chat via Skype or on the phone. Or, if you’re uncomfortable with calls, continue exchanging emails.

Here are some questions you might want to ask:

Turnaround Time – How long does it typically take them to start working on a project? Is it a few days or over a week?

Invoicing and Payment – How often do they invoice and what forms of payment do they accept?  Ask to see a sample invoice.

Communication – Let them know how you prefer to communicate (email, text, phone). Ask about their response time to emails and whether or not you have to schedule calls.

Responsibilities – Talk about what you hope to accomplish and ask for feedback.

Team – Some assistants have assistants of their own that do some of the work. Ask if that’s the case and find out who will be your primary point of contact.


PROTECTING YOURSELF

Check back next month for my post about how to protect yourself, in which I’ll cover how to safely start delegating tasks, ways to protect your personal information, and tips for building a trusting relationship with your new assistant.



 Mel Jolly, founder of Author Rx and Author’s Atlas  http://authorrx.com/about/  has been “Keeping Authors Out of the Loony Bin Since 2009.” Mel started out as a Library Assistant in Young Adult Services where she specialized in outreach to at risk teens at juvenile detention centers and inner-city schools. Melissa has always had a true passion for connecting readers (and non-readers) to books and now enjoys channeling that energy into teaching all authors the tips and tricks she’s learned about how to thrive in the publishing industry through workshops and the Author’s Atlas blog. To follow along with Mel's tips to help you Get Organized in 2015, sign up for the Author's Atlas newsletter at http://www.authorsatlas.com

Wednesday, January 14, 2015

Need an Author Assistant? Is it Time to Hire Help?


So you’re ready to hire someone? That’s great! Sara Blakely, the inventor of Spanx, says one of her biggest lessons learned is “that you have to be willing to hire your weaknesses.” We all have weaknesses and even if you’re good at most things, not having enough TIME to do everything can be a problem.

The question is where do you start?

Assess Your Needs
Spend some time tracking what you do each day.  Use a timer and a notebook and track what you do and how long it takes. It’s important to do some actual data collection. I’ve found that things always take longer than I think they will. This might be a little painful, especially if you’re in denial about how much time you think you spend on Facebook versus how much time you actually spend on Facebook. For example:
·      Social Media – 30 minutes
·      Answering fan mail – 45 minutes
·      General email – 30 minutes
·      Creating a to-do list – 15 minutes
·      Writing – 1 hour
·      Mailing prizes to giveaway winners – 1 hour 15 minutes
·      Working on cover art/searching for stock photos – 1 hour 30 minutes
·      Tracking sales data – 1 hour 45 minutes
·      Writing guest blog post – 45 minutes
·      Creating author newsletter – 2 hours
·      Answering blog comments – 15 minutes
·      Website updates – 1 hour


Divide and Conquer

Now that you have your list, divide it into groups. Mark the items that are easily outsourced. Tasks like scheduling your social media posts, mailing swag to fans, and sending out your newsletter could all be done by an assistant.

Put the things that can only be done by you into another category. However, before dumping something into the “only me” list, ask yourself if that item has multiple steps. Can you train someone else to do part of the prep work for you? Make a list of those steps.

Keep in mind most things can be at least partially outsourced to someone else. This means, part of your decision-making will revolve around what you are comfortable outsourcing.

BONUS TIP: If you track how much time it takes you to do each task, this will give you a good idea of how long it will take an assistant to do these tasks for you. This will be extra helpful when it is time create your budget.

Set Goals
Before you even begin to look for a freelancer, it’s important to determine your objective.

·      Are you hiring because the freelancer has skills that you do not?
·      Are you trying to expand your business or are you simply unable to keep up with everything?
·      Are you trying to create more time in your day? If yes, what are you going to use that additional time to do?
·      How is hiring someone going to enhance your career?

Your goals may shift once you start working with someone, but it’s important to pinpoint what you need right now so you can work towards achieving that goal.

Set a Budget

It may sound like a dream come true to have someone else take over a portion of your workload, but don’t forget the financial repercussions. You don’t want to hire an assistant and then realize two months later that you can’t financially sustain the relationship.

I read The Naked Truth About Self-Publishing by the authors of the The Indie Voice, and one of the things that stood out to me most was Denise Grover Swank’s chapter about looking at your writing as a business. Create a plan that includes your projected publishing schedule, earnings, and expenses. All of these items should inform your decision to outsource some of your workload and ensure that you are able to stay within your budget.

Ask yourself:
Do you make a profit from your writing?

If YES:
 How much do you allocate for your business expenses and how much of it goes to personal needs?
·         Do you have anything left in your business budget for outsourcing? If not, where will you find the extra money?

If NO:
·        How much are you going to allocate for your starting your business?
·        Don’t forget to budget for:
o   Product Expenses (cover art, editing, formatting)
o   Platform (website)
o   Outsourcing
o   Advertising and Materials (swag)
o   Education and Travel
o   Fees and taxes

The amount you will need to spend on a freelancer will vary widely based on your needs and the experience of the freelancer. The key is to find someone that meets both your needs and your budget.
In next month’s post, How to Find and Vet Assistants, I’ll cover more of what an Author’s Assistant actually does as well as the cost of hiring one. Tell me, have you thought about hiring an assistant?



Mel Jolly, founder of Author Rx and Author’s Atlas, has been “Keeping Authors Out of the Loony Bin Since 2009.” Mel started out as a Library Assistant in Young Adult Services where she specialized in outreach to at risk teens at juvenile detention centers and inner-city schools. Melissa has always had a true passion for connecting readers (and non-readers) to books and now enjoys channeling that energy into teaching all authors the tips and tricks she’s learned about how to thrive in the publishing industry through workshops and the Author’s Atlas blog. To follow along with Mel's tips to help you Get Organized in 2015, sign up for the Author's Atlas newsletter at http://www.authorsatlas.comwww.authorsatlas.com/.
http://authorrx.com/about/

Monday, July 28, 2014

NEWS and more News...

Hi Friends,

I've been busy writing book four in the Jess Vandermire Vampire Hunter series.  I love it when Jess throws me a curve ball.  She's such a vixen.   I've been getting requests about book four in the series and my editor tells me it might be available around March 2015.  I'll let you know when I have the actual date.

I am also in the process of creating a newsletter list to keep my readers in the loop, and I'm incorporating a few  things I think might be of interest. So stay tuned and sign up. ALSO, there is also going to be a SURPRISE GIVEAWAY after I've reached the next 50 members.  (You'll find a signup form on the right hand of the blog -- it's a little faded but readable).

I've already bought the surprise gift and it's SO….CUTE!  I want to keep it.  What?  You don't think I should since I've promised it to the lucky winner?  Oh well, I guess you're right.  And for you fellas out there who enjoy my books; and I'm happy to say there are quite a few of you, if you win the surprise, you'll get something decidedly more masculine than the CUTE surprise.  :)  I haven't bought that SURPRISE GIFT yet, but I will if you win.

Ta ta for now,

PS… Unknown Assailant is on sale for 99 cents at Kobo, Amazon, Apple and Smashwords.  Click on the book below you'll be taken to my webpage where you can find the link to your favourite ebook seller.

Lina

Tuesday, July 1, 2014

FREE BOOK by Kate Kelly.

Kate is a good friend of mine.  Her book Sleight of Hand is free right now.  She has a huge following and also writes for Harlequin Super Romance.  I love Kate's characters.  They are always people you wished lived in your neighborhood.  And her romantic suspense novels will keep you turning the pages well into the night.

Link to Sleight of Hand by Kate Kelly


Saturday, May 31, 2014

JOYCE LAMB GETS THE SURPRISE OF HER CAREER

Joyce Lamb is not only a fantastic writer and a good friend, she has long been an advocate for her fellow writers by initiating the Happy Ever After Blog at USA Today.   (See post from the beginnings of HEA by clicking this link)
 

If you've ever met Joyce you'll instantly pick up on her faster than the speed of light wit. I really enjoy her sense of humor.  And her kind heart.   

Joyce's wonderful surprise came when she won the Romantic Times Melinda Helfer Fairy Godmother Award for being a huge supporter of the romance genre through HEA. A VERY BIG DEAL... And Joyce certainly deserves this award since she works tirelessly behind the scenes to promote romance writers and their books.

If you haven't stopped by to read some of the wonderful reviews and blog posts at HEA, click on the link above and visit the USA Today HEA Blog today.

Joyce is also a well known author in her own right.  To find her books (at most booksellers) or go here Amazon.com   

Joyce's second novel, Caught in the Act was a 2004 RITA finalist in the romantic suspense category, and True Vision (book 1 in the True trilogy) won a Daphne du Maurier award for romantic suspense and a HOLT Medallion for Best Book by a Virginia Author. Find out more about Joyce at her Web site   (Taken from Joyce's Amazon bio).

Kudos to you Joyce!