Writing a book and getting it published and then selling it successfully is a big job. This is the job that faces anyone who has decided to become an author.
Although it may seem like authors do it alone, they really do not. Ask people who have written more than one book and they will tell you that they had a team of people assisting at many stages of the process.
The virtual author’s assistant is a very important partner to the successful author and as you will see plays a number of roles and can be responsible for some very important tasks that otherwise the author would have to do for him or herself.
The Role of the Author’s Assistant
Becoming an author is one of the most wonderful professional and personal accomplishments of a lifetime. It has been estimated that 80% of individuals hope to one day become authors. The truth is that only about 2% of people ever do become authors, but that 2% produce about 1 million new books each year. The difference between those who succeed and those whose dream to become an author never becomes reality is knowledge, persistence and confidence.
The author’s assistant can be the center point for keeping a book project coordinated, on time and on budget. The author’s assistant can focus on many of the important tasks, allowing the author to focus on the job that only the author can do – writing a great book. One of the ongoing challenges for the author’s assistant is to establish a great working relationship with the author. It is likely that the author has never worked with an author’s assistant before, so it may be up to you to set some guidelines and some boundaries to help you work together well.
There are four primary roles an author’s assistant can play in working with an author.
- The first is to give aspiring authors the right information to know what is involved in the process, what to do, when to do it and how much it will cost. You can be the key to that information for the author.
- The second is to help the author find the rest of the members of the author’s team. You can be the key to a great referral network.
- The third is to coordinate the process to make sure the right steps are taken in the right way at the right time, which is key to saving both time and money for the author.
- The fourth and final role is to provide specific services, from those in the writing process, to others in the publishing process or others in the marketing process with the expertise and skills you will gain in this course.
We will be talking about the first three – information, referrals and coordination at many points in this course. But we focus on the specific tasks that are the fourth role. These tasks include a great many things, but it is also important to know what a virtual author’s assistant is not. The VAA is not a publishing strategist, literary agent, ghostwriter, writing coach, editor, copyeditor, proofreader, indexer, book designer, cover designer, copywriter, web designer, publicist or marketing consultant. The VAA has specific tasks that he or she has been trained to do. If you have additional training, such as to be an editor or proofreader, then by all means use them. But if you haven’t received specific training, you owe it to yourself and to your author to refer him or her to a qualified professional in these areas.
There may be times, because this process is so new for the author, and because you seem so intelligent and talented, that the author asks you to do things that are beyond your area of expertise and which do not fit the role of the author’s assistant. Some authors do this as a way to cut down on expenses, but most do it because they just don’t know what your role is and isn’t.
This is your opportunity to provide guidance to the author. You can simply say, “You know, I think I can help you execute some of the publicity tasks, but first, let me recommend a publicist who can help you set up the strategy and give you some great options.”
The Role of the Author in Writing a Book
The author who wants to write a successful book, especially the nonfiction book, is confronted with certain important responsibilities that will determine whether this book sells well or does not.
First, the author has to have an understanding for the reader – what are his or her frustrations, concerns, needs, desires and motives. What does that reader need and want from this book?
Second, the author has to be able to clearly communicate his or her message for the reader in written form and organize it in a way that the reader enjoys reading it by using human stories, compelling facts and maybe checklists or thought-provoking questions that give the reader actions to take in his or her own life after he or she finishes the book.
Third, the author has to determine how best to publish the book to maximize success. Should the author find an established commercial publisher, like Random House or Simon & Schuster, or instead self-publish the book?
Fourth, the author has to develop a platform – an audience or fan base of people who admire the author’s work and are ready to buy the author’s book when it comes out. This can be done in many ways, with speaking engagements, seminars, a newsletter, a blog or podcast, for instance.
Fifth and finally, the author is the primary salesperson for the book. Once the book is released, it is the author’s job (and not the publisher’s) to meet with the potential reader and book buyer, whether in person or online.
As we have said, doing all of these things is a big job. Luckily for the author, there is one person who can help him or her coordinate all the activities involved in the job, find others to help, and do some of the specific tasks involved. That person is you – the virtual author’s assistant.
The Role of the Author’s Assistant in the Writing Process
Beyond the overview of the author’s assistant we discussed earlier, the author’s assistant has some very specific tasks in the writing part of the process to assist the author.
When the author of a book starts to work, something that will really speed up the process for him or her is to take an inventory of and organize the author’s source documents. This means helping the author look for work the author has already done that might be used in this book. It might include looking at past client proposals, emails, seminar recordings, articles and more to help the author organize these items along the lines of the topics in the book.
Doing research for the author is another specific task that many authors require. There are two types of research that are most common. The first is to research the target reader, to find out who the reader is and what that reader might need and want so that the author can write directly for that reader or, alternatively, convince a publisher in a book proposal that readers need this book. The second type of research is fact-checking the information in the book to make sure it is current and accurate.
When an author wants to use an interview or other quote or research statistic in his or her book, the author may be required to get permission from the owner of that material. You can help the author by following a process to obtain the required permissions.
Once the author is mostly finished writing the book, it is time to get feedback from a few people to make sure the author isn’t missing anything before the book is printed and gets out to thousands or maybe even millions of readers. You can help coordinate a professional peer and target reader review process to help the author get that feedback and make any necessary changes.
If the author has decided to search for an established commercial book publisher, then the author will need to write a book proposal to pitch the publisher on the idea for the book. There are two tasks that you can help the author with in writing the proposal. The first is to help the author research potential publishers, to determine which publishers are likely to publish the author’s book based on what they have published in the past. Another part of the book proposal is to do a competitive assessment. Part of the book proposal is devoted to explaining what books are already out on the market that are similar to what the author is writing. Having competition is a good thing in this case because it shows there is a real audience out there of people who buy books on this topic.
If the author is successful in getting a book contract, then eventually the day will come when the author is ready to turn in the manuscript for the publisher to get it ready for printing. Publishers are very picky about how they want manuscripts sent to them and they will indicate, usually in the author’s contract how they want this done, down to the type size, margins and more. You can aid the author by preparing the manuscript to submit to the publisher in just the way the publisher requests it.
As you can see, the author’s assistant plays a critical role in the writing process. After you have completed the reading, watching and listening in the first eight sessions, we encourage you to practice what you have learned by trying out the author services challenge exercises available on the VAA Online Headquarters.
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