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!


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?


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.


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 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.


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.


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!


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.


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  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

No comments:

Post a Comment