Do you ever feel overwhelmed with the number of tasks required to write, publish, and market your books? As you experience success in your writing career, more demands will be laid upon your schedule, and they will pull you away from writing.
As my dad says, “Only do what only you can do. Delegate the rest.” You are the only person who can write your books. Why spend most of your time doing tasks someone else can do?
But how and where do you find someone who can help?
In this article, you’ll learn how to find a Virtual Assistant and how to delegate tasks. Hiring a Virtual Assistant may be exactly what you need to dramatically increase your output as a writer.
Why Work With a Virtual Assistant?
Many successful authors have an assistant, and most of the assistants work remotely. Authors were ahead of the curve in hiring Virtual Assistants before the world was focused on flattening the curve by working from home during the pandemic.
Working with a Virtual Assistant (VA) does not mean you are working with a robot. A VA is a real human who works for you remotely and only works as many hours as you need them to. Some VAs only work an hour or two per week.
Your weaknesses are someone else’s strengths. As you become more successful as an author, you will be earning more money. With some of that income, you can hire a trained person to skillfully complete the tasks where you lack skills or desire.
When you spend less time working in your areas of weaknesses and more time in your areas of strength, you will be happier, more fulfilled, and more productive. In other words, you will earn more money overall by paying a VA than you would if you tried to do every task yourself.
Why spend the time and money trying to turn your weaknesses into strengths when you can just work with others?
When you hire someone to do work they are good at, you make the world a better place.
When you delegate, you create a job for someone who can’t do what you can do. You are the only person who can write your books. When you don’t delegate a task you could afford to delegate, you withhold a job from a willing worker, and you spend less time writing your books.
Hoarding tasks you can afford to hire out makes the world a worse place.
You might hire a house cleaner, but you can also hire someone to help you with your writing work.
7 Kinds of Virtual Assistants
Most authors only have one or two VAs, but there are seven main types of Virtual Assistants. Different people have different strength zones. You want to hire a VA whose strengths compensate for your weaknesses.
An Administrative Assistant’s primary job is to protect you from distractions so you can focus on your writing.
You can delegate the following types of tasks to your Administrative VA.
- Reading and responding to emails
- Scheduling meetings and Zoom calls
- Booking travel arrangements
- Responding to media requests
- Administrative tasks
What to look for:
- Friendly and confident
- Able to give a friendly “no” to people trying to waste your time
- Quick learner
The most important qualities to look for are organization and the ability to communicate in a friendly way. However, not every task listed above would require a person to be friendly and comfortable talking with people.
This kind of VA is generally only needed by indie authors. A Publishing Assistant will help you publish your books and manage your backlist. Especially for indie authors who have more than a dozen books, a Publishing Assistant can take care of many of the technical tasks.
They do this by:
- Formatting files into the correct format for paper and ebook
- Coordinating and communicating with editors
- Coordinating and communicating with designers
- Coordinating and communicating with beta readers
- Following up with endorsers
- Submitting copyright information
- Getting the book on Amazon and other booksellers
- Managing metadata
What to look for in a publishing assistant:
- Fellow indie author
- Someone who has gone through the process before
Many indie authors know the basics of the publishing process. They know how to deal with designers, editors, beta readers, and the copyright system. But for whatever reason, they haven’t written their bestseller yet, and they’re looking to earn money on the side. Other indie authors are a great resource, and if you find someone who’s already published their own book, you may not even need to train them.
This person helps you get more sales by:
- Updating your website
- Managing Amazon, BookBub, and Facebook Ad campaigns
- Submitting your book to BookBub at the maximum frequency
- Drafting email newsletters
- Reaching out to podcasters, bloggers, and media outlets to have you on as a guest
- Posting to social media
- Drafting blog posts or finding images for blog posts
- Coordinating book launch details
- Managing the launch team
What to look for in a marketing assistant:
- Quick learner
- Listener to the Novel Marketing podcast.
You may need to set up the processes first, but a Marketing Assistant can maintain them. If all you do is hire a VA to submit your books to BookBub every thirty days, the VA may pay for itself through sales generated by BookBub Featured Deals.
Your Marketing Assistant should be the kind of person who listens to Novel Marketing. They should be interested in learning marketing techniques. Novel Marketing has over 250 episodes that would be helpful to your Marketing Assistant.
A Research Assistant is generally only needed by nonfiction authors, and they help you look smart by helping you keep your facts straight.
They do this by:
- Conducting original research
- Analyzing data
- Organizing existing research
- Transcribing and cataloging interviews
- Fact-checking your writing
- Managing your citations, endnotes, etc.
What to look for in a Research Assistant:
- A nerd on your topic
- Good with spreadsheets (depending on the kind of research you are doing)
When I wrote my nonfiction book, I had over 500 pages of survey responses. We had to follow up with some of those survey respondents to include their stories in the book. It was a lot of work, but I hired people to help me comb through that research.
Your Research Assistant doesn’t have to be good with people since they are only working with research. Your money is better spent on an organized spreadsheet wizard than a friendly but disorganized conversationalist.
A Writing Assistant is a research assistant for a novelist.
They help you write better books by:
- Drafting chapters based on transcriptions of your audio recordings
- Editing your writing (WARNING: A writing assistant does not replace the need for an editor!)
- Keeping track of story continuity
- Maintaining your story/character/location bible
- Providing another set of proofreading eyes
What to look for in a writing assistant:
- Avid reader in your genre
- Fan of your previous books
Authors have used dictation for hundreds of years. Before typewriters, Writing Assistants used shorthand to transcribe an author’s dictation efficiently. Now, it’s as easy as speaking into your iPhone. If you’re on a Mac, click “Transcribe” in Pages. In Word, you talk into your microphone and turn on dictation.
After you’ve dictated your words to your artificial intelligence software, you’ll still need to edit it yourself or have a human, like your Writing Assistant, massage the wording.
A Writing Assistant will help keep your story world consistent from book to book. But let me reiterate, your Writing Assistant does not function as a professional editor. You will still need a trained editor to polish your final draft.
If you are a media content creator (you make videos or podcasts), a Media Assistant helps you make better content.
They tend to come in one of two flavors: Producer and Editor.
- Identifying show topics and potential guests
- Generating interview questions
- Scheduling guest interviews
- Drafting show notes
- Publishing episodes
- Following up with guests and answering guest questions
- Acts as an interface between you and the outside world
What to look for in a producer:
- Not dazzled by celebrity
Your producer should be comfortable saying “no” to a famous person and making sure the celebrity has the right microphone for high-quality podcast audio. The more famous a person is, the less they believe the rules apply to them. Your assistant should be friendly, organized, and firm.
- Editing the audio files and publishing the podcast episodes
- Editing your videos and uploading them to YouTube
- Creating a video thumbnail or episode image
- Advising you on how to create better audio and video
High-level podcasts and video channels will hire a Media Assistant to sit in the virtual recording room and act as an audio engineer. They help troubleshoot problems with sound, speakers, and microphones.
What to look for in an editor:
- Expensive studio monitor headphones: A good editor will have great headphones because they know they need to hear every detail. Hobbyists won’t have great headphones.
- The necessary editing software: I recommend Hindenburg Journalist for audio editing and Adobe Premier or Camtasia for video editing. Do not hire a VA who uses free software like Audacity, Garageband, or iMovie. Free tools cause the VA to work slower because of the lack of editing features in the software. Their free tool will cost you more when you pay them by the hour, and it will also give you an inferior product.
- Editing training
Invest in an assistant who has invested their money in the tools they use and has spent time mastering those tools. Since this is not a public-facing role, this person doesn’t need to have great people skills.
Even if you are independently published, you may find you need a literary agent to help you interface with large, powerful institutions. Literary agents are not technically VAs since you don’t pay them directly. But they do work remotely, and since they make money when you do, they work for you.
A literary agent helps you by:
- Representing you to foreign rights buyers
- Representing you to Hollywood: Do not deal with Hollywood without an agent. You’ll be eaten alive.
- Representing you to subsidiary rights buyers if someone wants to create a derivative work from yours
- Representing you to publishing houses if you plan to traditionally publish
For more on finding and working with literary agents, listen to the following episodes:
- 032 – What is a Literary Agent and Do You Still Need One?
- 082 – How to Get an Agent
- 083 – How to Get an Agent with Rachelle Gardner
One of these types of Virtual Assistants can help you make more time for writing books that only you can write. But where can you find them?
Where to find a Virtual Assistant
Fellow authors are better VAs than non-authors because they are familiar with the industry and your needs as an author. I encourage authors to hire each other. If you’re just getting started in this industry, working for a more established author is a great way to learn and earn money.
You come to the table with more knowledge than other candidates because you listen to this podcast, and you’re going through the process yourself.
Authors who listen to this podcast are savvier than average authors because they hear me debunk many publishing myths. Over the last seven years, we have provided comprehensive training on all things publishing and marketing.
Last time I hired a VA, I only promoted the position by announcing it on this podcast, and my biggest challenge was choosing from all the amazing candidates!
Upwork.com is the most popular VA matchmaking site in the world. You post your job for free, and potential VAs will post applications. You pick the VA you want to work with, and then you pay Upwork, who takes a cut and then pays your VA. Upwork handles all the tax paperwork and filing for you.
Your VA will make less money if you hire them through these matchmaking websites than they would if you hired a fellow author through the Novel Marketing Facebook group. But those sites provide a platform to connect, and they do the paperwork. Their cut pays for the services they offer.
Similar Competing Sites:
When you use these sites, you’ll receive applications from all over the world, and that may be a good thing for your business (as you’ll learn below).
How to Pay Virtual Assistants
If you are working with your VA directly, you will need to file the paperwork. I use and recommend Gusto (Affiliate Link) for handling payroll. If your VA is a contractor, it only costs $6 per month to have Gusto pay your contractor via direct deposit and create and file the 1099 at the end of the year. I’ve used Gusto for five years, and I’ve never had a complaint.
Depending on the type of job and the laws in your state, your VA will either be a W2 Employee or a 1099 Contractor. Gusto can handle both, but W2 Employees are a bit more expensive. If you pay a VA as an employee, 20% of their paycheck goes to taxes. Virtual Assistants usually qualify as contractors, but check your local laws to be sure.
Foreign VAs always qualify as independent contractors, and there are no taxes on hiring a foreign VA.
How Much do VAs Cost?
Virtual Assistants usually bill by the hour, and they may work as little as one hour per week or as much as 40 hours per week.
The cost of hiring a VA is a function of their experience and the currency in which they are paid.
If you pay in a strong currency, like the US Dollar or the Euro, and your VA gets paid in Rupees or Pesos, the VA will receive a pay boost in the conversion. One US dollar turns into 70 Rupees at the time of this recording. You will not be taxed when paying a foreign VA, but you will be taxed when you pay a VA if you both work in the same country.
Some VAs are willing to work for so little because the exchange rate benefits you and them. Their low hourly rate isn’t due to a lack of training or experience. They can charge less for their services because the exchange rate means that $5 buys more in their country than it does in the US. Someone in India who is charging $5 per hour is actually making 350 Rupees per hour.
Remember that the exchange rate is always changing. Right now, if you’re hiring a VA in the UK, your dollar will only be worth $0.85.
The less experienced someone is, the less they charge. On the high end, you can expect to pay as much as $50 per hour for an experienced VA. Often, these VAs already work with several authors in a micro-niche. Working with the same VA makes it easier for authors to coordinate marketing efforts. It is not uncommon for multiple authors to work with the same VA.
On the low end, VAs who are just starting out and live in low-exchange-rate countries might charge as little as $5 per hour. Many VAs charge a low rate until they are working full time. As they acquire more experience and add clients, they raise their rates because their time and talents are in demand.
Most VAs charge $15-$25 per hour, depending on the kind of work they do.
How to Hire a Virtual Assistant
I went to business school and took classes on how to find and hire good people. I’ve hired dozens of people over the years, and I’ve learned that interviews are almost useless for determining whether someone will be good at their job.
Employers who do interviews tend to hire applicants who are a lot like them in personality, temperament, and potentially even race, age, and gender. In other words, they tend to hire people for reasons that have nothing to do with their ability for the job. You’re hiring a person to work for you, not to be your drinking buddy.
Conducting an interview only reveals whether an applicant is good at interviewing. An interview will not tell you if the applicant is equipped to keep track of the 27 different alien races across your solar system of 43 named planets.
How do you determine if an applicant is any good?
You host a tryout.
If you were hiring a drummer for your band, or a first baseman for your team, you wouldn’t conduct an interview. You would host tryouts to observe their skills.
Host a tryout for your VA job opening.
How to Host a Tryout
Create a sample task and have all of the qualified applicants complete that sample task. Then you can see who did the best job. If necessary, eliminate the worst applications and then do another tryout on a related task. Repeat until you identify the best candidate.
If the sample task requires more than an hour to complete, you should offer to pay them for their time. Treat your applicants the way you would want to be treated if you were in their shoes. If you use a platform like Upwork, you can “hire” multiple VAs at the same time on an hourly basis to try them out.
Make sure you give all the VAs the same task. If you assign different tasks, you won’t be able to compare their work fairly. When they’ve all completed the sample task, you pay them all, even the candidate who did the worst job. Finally, you choose the applicant who did the best work.
If you want, you can conduct an interview with your best candidate to make sure their personality will be a good fit for your team.
How to Delegate Tasks to a Virtual Assistant
For many authors, hiring is the easy part. The hard part is handing off tasks and responsibilities.
Most people who complain about their VAs have skipped one or more of the following steps. It’s not magic, but it is important, and it will ensure clear communication and expectations between you and your VA.
Here are four steps to ensure you and your VA have a successful partnership.
Step 1: Do the task yourself and document your steps.
The difference between working with a VA and an expert is that the VA takes work off of your plate. An expert cover designer does work you can’t do yourself. A VA relieves you of tasks you’ve been doing yourself.
To be able to delegate a task, you need to be able to do the task yourself. You don’t need to be good at it, but you do need to be competent.
As you do the task, document the steps you take and create a procedure document. You’ll need your procedure document for all the following tasks. It might be good to document your procedure before hiring the VA because this is where you’ll get your sample task for your VA tryouts.
Let’s say you want to hire a VA to post to social media. Create a Google document with the exact steps they need to follow and include any information they will need to complete the task.
Many VAs get stuck because they are missing your password or login credentials. If you are unavailable to provide the information, they can’t do their work. You will be disappointed in their speed, and they will be frustrated by the lack of information and responsiveness. Give your VA all the information they need to complete the job.
Use a Google doc so your assistant can keep it up to date. It won’t take long for your VA to get better at the task than you are. You want them to have the ability to tweak the process accordingly.
Using a Google doc also allows both of you to see the exact same document at all times. People who email Word documents back and forth end up with file names like Final.final.version.2.doc.
Having a procedure document also helps with any cultural differences you may have with your VA. In my experience, a clear series of well-documented steps transcends cultural differences. You may expect your VA to figure out things on their own, but if their culture is different, they may do the task differently than you’re expecting.
People without a clear, documented process end up not wanting to hire people from other countries because they think they are bozos. In reality, a lack of clear communication on the author’s part caused the working relationship to deteriorate.
Your procedure documentation is an important asset for your business. It serves as a reminder for you if it’s a task you only do a couple of times each year. It’s also valuable for training a replacement VA or an additional contractor.
Step 2: Do the task while the VA watches.
Follow your procedure document from Step 1 while your VA watches live on a Zoom call. While you do the task, you may find some steps you missed. Narrate what you are doing and why you are doing it.
The why is important. If your VA knows why you are doing a step, they are less likely to forget that step themselves. They are also more likely to improve that step of the procedure as they become familiar with the work.
Encourage your VA to ask lots of questions during this process. Ask questions yourself like, “Does this make sense?”
Step 3: The VA does the task while you watch.
Watch the VA doing the task. Praise them when they do things well, and ask questions when they do things poorly. They may do something differently. Don’t assume your way is better. Ask why they did a task in a certain way. Who knows? You might learn something.
Keep a close eye on the procedure document as they are doing the task. It is not too late to change the process. If they have a better technique, upgrade the process and use that technique.
Step 4: The VA does the work.
Most of the time, things are running smoothly at this point. If something goes wrong, check the process first. While you may need to micromanage at the beginning when they are still learning, you will need to get out of their hair if you want to actually save time by hiring VA.
No one wants their boss breathing down their neck. If you do steps 1-3 well, you won’t need to be all up in your VAs business. Check in periodically. Ask questions. Praise good work. Give tips and feedback.
Think about the best boss you ever had and then try to be like that boss. Remember, the goal of this process is to give you more time to write. So get back to writing!
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As of this recording, the published fiction group is full, the pre-published fiction group has one open spot, and the nonfiction/podcast group has four open spots. I am thinking about starting a fourth group for speculative fiction. Let me know if that interests you.
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