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So, you want to become an author assistant?

29 February 2016

From Elle Casey’s assistant, Noelle Gaussens:

How I met Elle
Readers often ask how I met Elle, and the answer is that it all started with a mutual love of books. Although we come from the same hometown in Western New York, Elle and I landed in small, neighboring villages in the South of France and didn’t meet until we were living here. Elle started an English-language book club, and I began attending the monthly meetings two years ago. The book club’s members have very different backgrounds, and come from several different countries—the United States, Belgium, Britain, Canada, France, Germany, South Africa, Wales—but what we all have in common is that we speak and read in English and we’re all bookworms. This is a group of dedicated, committed readers with strong opinions and very unique worldviews who come together once a month to talk about books they might not otherwise pick up off the shelf, were it not for the club.

Discussing books with a published author
When one of the other bookclubbers casually mentioned that our founding member is a New York Times andUSA Today bestselling author, I almost dropped out. I’ve always been a huge reader, but I’d never met an author before. The idea of chatting about books with a widely-published and successful writer was instantly intimidating. I decided right then and there that as tempting as it was, I wouldn’t google Elle. I didn’t want to know anything about her career because I was sure that learning about her success would make me act star-struck and feel awkward at our meetings. I just wanted to get to know her as a fellow reader and book-lover, and as an American living in France. Elle never, ever mentioned her “day job” at our meetings, and I found out later it was because she didn’t want to feel awkward herself! Talk about great minds thinking alike.

The job
Over time, Elle and I got to know each other, and sometimes attended events outside the club with other English speakers. It was during one of those group dinners that I mentioned that my job was part time and I was looking for other work. Elle sent me an email after, asking me if I might be interested in working for her. It turns out that publishing a book a month is a huge undertaking, and she’d realized that she simply didn’t have enough time to keep up with all the non-writing tasks her job as a self-published novelist requires. She’d thought about hiring a VA (virtual assistant), but it was important to her that she be able to train her assistant in person, and have regular face-to-face meetings with someone she could completely trust.

. . . .

Interaction with readers, or why I wrote this post
Since Elle introduced me to her readers, I’ve been getting questions via email and Facebook about how I got the job, what it entails, and how to find one. I’ve also met (virtually!) many other author assistants, and I’ve learned it’s a real up-and-coming career. Authors are publishing more frequently and there are more of them out there, and the amount of work they have to do in addition to writing the next book is mind-boggling. Authors need organized, reader-oriented people on their support teams to help them handle all of their publishing tasks. To manage the details of their careers and author brands, they’re on the lookout for people who “get” them and their genre (or genres), who understand their brands, who are able to work independently and are self-motivated, and who are passionate about reading and connecting with readers.

Link to the rest at Elle Casey

The Business of Writing

14 Comments to “So, you want to become an author assistant?”

  1. Not that this would fit everyone (assistants or authors), but this rings true to me.

    I think there’s a career path here that could (and would probably need to) start very part time, but that would build up if you provide value.

    I think authors are hungry for that value… and some authors have money, enough to weigh against the value of time they could save and skills and/or expertise they could benefit from.

    I also think that it’s perfect for someone who has a big interest as a reader and also wants to write and publish–if not now–at some point.

    I think someone who does this work ably could also learn to employ others, train them, and extend the brand.

    What a learning laboratory for those who can provide value as they also acquire and enhance their skills….

  2. I desperately want an assistant to do all my marketing and social media. I can’t afford to pay anything, though, so I’m stuck. Sigh.

    As my brother would say – I need to win the Lottery. 😉
    Or better yet, sell more books!

    • Have you ever thought of paying an assistant with a percentage of your writing income? Like an agent? I have not tried it, but it might work and get you out of the tax hassle of an employee.

  3. I approve of the notion, certainly.

    But when I look at the practicality of hiring that out, for me, I’m not so sure.

    I’m still experimenting with how much writing/day I can do reliably (no day job) and I’m maxing out at about three sessions of 1000-ish words. After each session, I feel the need to take a break. Even if I can move that number to four, it means I’m looking at 4000 words/day, or about 5+ hours, and that leaves enough time (arguably) to do all the rest of the work, too. And I’m running more like 2000 words/day at the moment, or 5+ books/year (at my book lengths).

    So, in my length-approving genre (fantasy) at my current levels of productivity before brain burn sets in, I’m only putting out (at best) half as many books as her employer per year, for the foreseeable future, and I have time during the day when I find I can’t do creative work well which I can use for the rest of it.

    I can’t justify the expense. But I’m sure others can…, esp. in shorter book-length genres where there are more publication events. It’s certainly true that publishing & distribution takes longer than one expects (not so much the activities themselves which are predictable, but the endless followups to make sure everything went out properly — I released my last novel a month ago, and I’m still pinning down a hitch with Ingram, for example).

  4. I’d rather have someone do the cleaning and cooking. I like the writing related stuff. Maybe I just need a husband. I hear you don’t have to pay them. 🙂

  5. I’d be lost without my assistant. Writing four or five books a year, I can’t possibly keep up with all the marketing, advertising and administrative tasks involved with self publishing. Great piece, we will likely do one too since getting a good assistant is tricky, too. It’s not as easy as signing up a VA in India…

  6. I occasionally run into authors who want to work with a VA who is “local.” For most of the work, authors don’t need a Robin to play sidekick to their Batman. Most VAs are more like Alfred to your Batman, taking care of things behind the scenes.

    I’m five time zones away from the people I assist and the tech makes the process seamless. I’d suggest that, in most cases, the match is more important than the locality of your prospective VA.

    • My AA and I have an ocean between us. I have a different ocean between myself and my cover artist. My editor is three time zones away. Its never been much of an issue. Email, Dropbox, Skype, and Google Doc’s make it easy to get things done.

      The decision for me was just time management, Bill frees up my time and takes the pressure off the daily word-count. My editor likes it as she has someone more tech-savvy to deal with on the formatting and changes. Now, instead of putting things off “because I’m frickin writing right now!!!” I can just pass them to Bill and he does them better than I would have done. Win-win.

      We’re already discussing projects we can work on together in the future. Hiring an AA was one of the the best decisions I’ve made.

  7. Thank you, Randall Wood, for your kind words. You’re one of the best employers I’ve ever worked with!

    When one thinks of becoming a writer, one thinks about writing. One does not think about taking care of administrative tasks, technical stuff, etc. Which is why a writer should hire an AA, which will allow you to do what you love more – writing – and, consequently, publish more books!

  8. I really hope to be at this level someday. 🙂 I hear more and more how great it is to have a VA or AA who can really help.

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