I have an assistant now.
No, it’s not the girl in the picture from the previous post (not that I didn’t search for her).
Well, not this Bill either.
His name is Bill Vaz and he’s from a magical land known as Portugal. He speaks fourteen languages, climbs Everest every year, and cuts his own hair. The only picture I have of him is a silhouette that looks remarkably like Keanu Reeves in a space suit.
Okay, that’s not totally true, but since you don’t know him and I do I can pretty much say whatever I want.
Why am I writing about him? Because I mentioned Bill to another writer who was thinking of hiring someone and they asked how and why and if it was worth it. So, for my fellow writers out there I thought I would expound a bit.
A long time ago in an ambulance far-far away I scribbled out a story about a guy running around killing people that…well, needed it. Three years and a lot of luck later I was making my living writing such stories. I’m what most aspiring writers deem a success. I get to do what I consider fun, and would happily do for free, as a job. One that makes me enough money to live on and support my family. I agree with their definition 100%. This job is the greatest job in the world and with even more luck I hope to continue doing it for years to come.
But even a job as great as this one comes with problems. They may be what most would consider first-world problems, but they are still problems just the same.
When you get to the point that I’m at you start to have time issues. Time spent marketing, tracking sales, maintaining a website, setting up promotions, proofreading, uploading, upselling, upchucking, etc, all take time away from what actually makes these things necessary: writing. While the other stuff is part of the business and has to be done it doesn’t change the fact that writing is what makes it all possible. Without more content your readers will go somewhere else. The term “Publish or Perish” suddenly becomes very real.
So I weighed the cost of this lost time against the cost of hiring an assistant. It’s not an exact science. If you mistakenly hire the wrong person you may actually lose money. Find the right person and they can free up your time and possibly double or even triple your production.
I needed someone who could hit the ground running. Someone I didn’t need to train too much. Someone who was tech savvy in areas that I was not and familiar with the self-publishing world. They also had to be affordable, a self-starter, creative, honest, and get along well with the people I already had on my team.
That’s asking a lot.
So how did I find Bill? The first thing I did was lurk on a few threads at Kboards. I asked other authors I know who’d already hired people what those people did for them, how much they earned doing so, what they were trusted with, and if they were happy they had taken them on. The answers ran the gambit as I expected. Some had to try a few times until they found the right person. Some gave up after a number of tries. Some hired relatives that needed work. One was a teacher and had hired an old student. One hired her own mother. Some trusted them with everything while others kept things very compartmented. I took lots of notes and then made a list of the things I needed in an assistant.
That list became an ad, this is it:
Successful Author seeks Personal Assistant
Yes, I’m really looking for someone to assist me in the day-to-day stuff so I can spend more time writing. If you would like to join an established team and are familiar with the in’s and out’s of self-publishing please consider applying. This would be a part-time job working with professional editors, formatters and cover artists to help an author grow his business. Please contact me via email at www(dot)RandallWoodAuthor(dot)com.
The Projects you’ll be a part of:
- Book promotions
- Blog/Website campaigns
- Managing a small press
- Social media campaigns
- Publishing/Updating to all platforms
- PR and blogger outreach
- Administrative tasks such as mailing, working with spreadsheets and internet research
- Marketing to bookstores
- Website maintenance
- Facebook page maintenance/advertising
- Maintaining a Twitter feed
- Sales tracking and Data mining
I’m looking for someone who is organized and a self-starter. The ideal candidate would have:
- excellent social media skills
- familiarity with books and publishing
- familiarity with WordPress and HTML
- basic graphic design skills
- PR experience
Salary is negotiable. Independent contractor. (you do NOT have to be local but this is a plus)
10 hours a week to start (Likely would expand for the properly skilled person.)
I threw the ad up on a few job-seeking boards and got a wide variety of answers back. Most were secretarial types. Only one knew that self-publishing was even a thing. Another was a non-practicing attorney. I didn’t know why he was non-practicing at the age of 32 and he didn’t offer, but he was clearly very type-A and we just didn’t mesh well. I also got a few people from outside the country. Most failed the English test and despite being very nice I had to say no.
This was proving to be harder than I thought.
So, what to do? I went back to Kboards to ask that question and then thought, why not throw it up on the board here? So I did.
Bill was one of six people to answer me. He was a self-published author himself and had a bit of experience with what I was trying to accomplish. I said let’s give it a try and he was game.
How does one “try out” an author assistant? Do you just give them your passwords and hope they are honest? Yes and No. This is how I did it:
Yes, you have to be cautious, but you also have to have a level of trust, otherwise you’ll never really accomplish the main goal of having them in the first place, which is to free up your time for writing.
I had a few “tests” ready in case I was entertaining hiring someone from outside North America, but they’re not that different from hiring someone from down the street.
One, an English test. Not so much do they speak the language but more of do they understand American slang and idioms. The easiest way to do this is to ask them to edit something full of both. Not to generalize but I’ve found that most Europeans have a better grasp of these things then the far eastern nations.
Two, a test project, one that involves the skills you need but will not compromise anything critical to your income. This might be fixing a blogpost or website glitch, or maybe setting up an author Facebook page. It tells you where they are strong and also where they are weak. Bill won me over by being up-front about his strengths and weaknesses. He’s already taken it upon himself to read and learn what he’ll need to know to fill in the gaps.
Once you’ve found the person you are looking for and they’ve passed the tests to your satisfaction it’s time to talk money. Have an idea upfront about what you are willing to pay and how many hours you’ll need from them to accomplish your to-do list. Bill is a student and we agreed on 15-20 hours a week as a reasonable amount of time he can work and also do his schoolwork. Within a few weeks we’d know if it’s going to work or not and could then adjust accordingly.
Some tips going in:
You get what you pay for. If you try to low-ball a skilled person you simply won’t get their best work, or you’ll only get it until they find someone that’s willing to pay them what they are worth. Pay them a fair wage and do it on time. Be professional and expect the same from them.
Give them room to stretch their creativity as well. If the job is boring they will soon do the minimum to get it done. So instead of saying “Make me a Facebook page and I want it exactly like this.” maybe say “make me a Facebook page that rocks, show me when it’s done” and then together the two of you can tweak whatever needs to be changed after. I’m even encouraging Bill to write a blog-post or two about being a AA! If you both view it as more of a partnership the end product will be that much better.
Bill and I are doing well so far. He’s knocking items off my to-do list and I’m spending more time writing. We’ve decided to blog about this together, so in the next post you’ll meet him and hopefully together we can help the other authors and aspiring assistants out there.
So stand by for Bill Vaz, Author Assistant/Mountain Climber/Astronaut. He’ll be here soon.