All of a sudden it happens! A potential client has responded to your email, article, talk, or has heard about you through a mutual acquaintance and it is time to have that first conversation about working together. What do you say to establish your relationship and get it off to the right start? How do you take an interested person and turn him or her into a client?
You pick up the phone and hear the following: “Hi, my name is Linda. I have a friend, Susan Wright, who said you were a big help when she decided to become an author, and I’d like to talk to you about doing the same for me.” This conversation might also take place in person at a networking meeting or a writer’s conference. This is your opportunity to make a great first impression and gather some information that will make it much easier to know what to say in a second, more specific conversation. You might respond to Linda like this: “Linda, it is so great to talk with you. I really appreciate Susan sending you my way. Tell me something about your book and how I can help you.”
Most of this conversation will be about listening and taking notes. Feel free to be encouraging and interested, but resist the temptation to say, “I can do that!” Instead, listen for what the client is looking for – help with preparing manuscript to send to a publisher, help with self-publishing or help with marketing a completed book.
To wrap up the conversation, it would be great to say, “Linda, would you be comfortable sending (or giving) me your book (or the first chapter, or an outline or table of contents)? I’d like to spend some time with it before I tell you specifically what I think I could do to help. I’d like to set up a time to talk in more depth next week and in the meantime, I’m going to send you some general information about author’s assistants and how we might work together.”
This will give you time to prepare for a second conversation you hope will end in a resounding “Yes, I want to work with you. Let’s get started!”
Sending a Follow Up Email
As soon as possible, but at least within 48 hours, send the potential client a follow up email which should do three things:
1. Confirm or set the time for a more substantive conversation
2. Give information about what you do (Send What a Virtual Author’s Assistant Can Do For You and links to your web site)
3. Confirm what you heard she is looking for in an author’s assistant
While you are educating the author on what you do and what to expect in your working relationship, you want to continually listen and evaluate the opportunity to truly help this author and whether this is the right client for you or you should refer them elsewhere.
Evaluating Client Potential
At the end of this second conversation, while you are hoping the client will feel positive about going forward, you will also have to evaluate whether this is the right client for you. If you answer “yes” to these critical questions, then you should take the next steps in helping the author become a client:
• Is this a person who could become a paying client? (Or were they calling for free advice?)
• After your conversation, does this person understand how you might work together and does he or she seem to value our potential work together enough to pay for it? (Or do they have such a limited budget that they expect a lot of work for free?)
• Is there the right chemistry to work well together? (Or is there something that just doesn’t feel right)
• Is what they need me to do realistic? (Or do they have unrealistic expectations for book sales or is their timeline just too tight for success?)
• Does this person understand his or her role in becoming an author?
• Do you think that it will be profitable for you to invest your time and energy in this relationship? (Or do they want to pay for only one small project and the learning curve on your part to do that project would mean that what they pay you would not really pay for your work.)
• Will this project or relationship create new learning and growth opportunities in areas that interest you? (Or is this not really your area of expertise and not one you care to develop.)
• Are there any apparent ethical issues that make you uncomfortable with this project (for example, an author who uses lots of quotes in her book, but refuses to get permission for them, saying she doesn’t have time)?
It is common for every virtual author’s assistant to talk with more people who do not become clients that those who do become clients. Just know that the more people you talk to, the more likely you will weed out those who are not right and find the ones who are. If the answers are “yes”, then follow up your call with a package of information that will show the author you are a professional with the skills and resources to do the job. We have created a sample for you of what to include in that package. If the answer is no, then send an email or letter recommending some alternative next steps to the client. It is always best to be able to recommend resources rather than just to say “no.”
Working with Author’s Assistant Checklists
We have developed three checklists to help you talk to authors about what you can do for them. Which one (or more) you will use will depend on where the author is in the book development process (writing, publishing or marketing). Using these checklists will help you tailor your discussions to the needs of that individual author. Any of these checklists can be emailed to the author, presented in person, or you can use them yourself to guide the conversation and take notes. It can be helpful to put an “official” looking document like these in front of an author to bring up questions that it may be hard to ask regarding the author’s budget or familiarity with the process.
Selling Yourself and Your Services
Getting Down to Business
There are as many ways to have a business discussion as there are people, so over time you will find your own style. It is important to consider the questions your potential author client wants to make sure he or she gets answered during the conversation, such as: • What can this author’s assistant do for me, exactly?
• How much will it cost?
• Will what I get in return be worth the cost?
To answer those questions completely, we encourage you to follow the Working with an Author’s Assistant checklists. Make it into a conversation, not a questionnaire.
Setting the Stage
Set the conversation for a time and place where you will be able to concentrate on talking with the potential client and will not be distracted by other things going on. Start by relaxing and being yourself. You have important skills, a passion for what you do and this is what it is all about – helping others. Remember, not only are they interviewing you, you are interviewing them. You only want to take on clients you can help and not everyone will be the right client for you.
Breaking the Ice
If your potential client has sent anything to you ahead of time, make sure you acknowledge receipt of that and talk about it in a casual way before you get down to business. It is a wonderful way to establish immediate rapport to comment on how you could relate to their work or something about them personally you may have read in their bio, such as, “I was born in that area, too” or “I have two sons who always want to play video games, too, so I could really relate with what you said about encouraging kids to read as an important part of parenting in your book.” and then take the lead in steering the conversation toward business. You might try to find a natural break, such as, “And speaking of your book, I’m really looking forward to figuring out how we might work together and how I might help you increase your sales. Did you get a chance to look at the material I sent you?”
Taking the Next Step
Send a follow up email after this substantive conversation. This email might be one of two types, depending on the outcome of the conversation. Send a follow up email even if you will not be working together. If you seemed not to be a good match, then send a very cordial email, thanking the potential client for his or her time, wishing him or her all the best, and, preferably, sending them links to resources he or she can use on your site or another publishing-related site. Especially if it was apparent that the author did not have the budget required, then you might have ready some no or low-cost resources. You always hope to leave the door open to working together at another time or having this potential client recommend you to others.
Estimate of Hours/Costs
If the author has a specific project for you to do, you will need to estimate the number of hours the project will take and give the author an idea of what to expect. It can be very hard to come up with an accurate estimate. You don’t want to estimate that it will take you two hours, only to find later it took you ten. If you estimate two hours and it looks like it will take a lot more, it will be important for you to communicate that the author and to explain what changed or why this will take longer. If you have that conversation by phone, make sure and confirm via email.
If you don’t give an estimate up front and communicate any changes before they happen (and get the author’s approval), you hold yourself open to not getting paid or getting paid less than your invoice asks for. If you choose not to communicate and just bill, unless the author has told you to do this, you risk not getting paid or losing the client. This is just not professional and the client has a right to not get an unexpectedly high invoice. If this does happen, you must be prepared to negotiate. It would be reasonable for the client to say to you, “You didn’t tell me up front that it would take you ten hours and my expectation was that it would take only two hours. I am willing to pay you for four hours because that is the value of the work to me. If you had told me that it would take more than four hours while you were working, I would have told you to stop, but you didn’t give me that option.”
As a pro, you probably would be smart to apologize to the client and take full responsibility for the non-communication and take the offer. If you can explain further, then you might be able to make a counter-offer, but unless you have something in writing that says the client is obligated to pay the invoiced amount, then you don’t have a lot of leverage here. An ounce of prevention is worth a pound of cure.
This is just a starting point. You might want to also check with other VAAs about what they have found in working with clients and estimating hours.
A self published book will cost in the range of $10,000 to produce. DO NOT get talked into the POD Publishers line about it being less than $500 or other come-ons that result in later add-ons for many thousands of dollars. The average book can cost over $30,000 if you work with a POD publisher and there are many other negatives as well. The best, most professional and most cost effective way to get a book self-published is by hiring independent contractors for the services you need individually. We talk elsewhere about the problems of working with POD Publishers.
Here is an estimate of what you can expect to pay for a 150-200 page printed book with a black and white interior and full color cover and an ebook version as well. Please understand that I am not a publisher, I am a book coach who can guide you through the process to publish on your own or with some professional assistants like editors, cover designers and indexers. What you see below is only part of why you might want to do this yourself – the costs are much lower. This website is dedicated to educating aspiring authors and everything on it is free. We are not here as publishers, we are assistants to authors.
Expected costs – all from independent contracts who do this work for a living:
Book Coach – $1,000 -$2,000
Editor – $1,000-$3,000
ISBNs – $300
Cover Design – $1,000 and up
Interior Design – $2,500 and up
Copywriter – $1,000 and up
Proofreading – $500 and up
Indexing – $750 and up
Virtual Author’s Assistant – $1,000 and up
Proposal for Author’s Assistant Services
If it looks like the author has in mind a lot of different services you offer, such as you helping the author through the entire publishing process or you helping with many book marketing services, you may wish to send the author (or bring with you to a meeting with the author) a written proposal for author’s assistant services for working together on a retainer basis (paying the same amount every month over the course of many months.) This is not a contract (yet), but a letter outlining the scope of the total project with an approximate budget that leaves plenty of opportunity for making changes after you talk in more depth.
Scroll down to download and use a client proposal for VAA services, a sample contract, an estimate of hours per author service and the author services checklists you can use to market your services to authors.
Over time you may want to develop a presentation package with samples of your work, testimonials, copies of acknowledgments pages from books that mention your name and more. If you are just starting out and don’t have samples of your work, you still have a tremendous resource for helping authors understand the value of the author’s assistant by sending them to www. AuthorsAssistants.com where they will find articles, interview information and other things that potential clients need to know.
Getting a “Yes”
As soon as possible, but at least within 48 hours, if you felt like you were a good match, send the client a formal agreement for services with a cover email or letter that explains it.
I am excited to be able to meet new people and bring to them a level of skills that will help them meet their own goals. I understand that as much as I want to be a help and resource to everyone, not everyone is going to be the right client for me. Not everyone can afford my services, and not everyone understands what value I bring.
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Download material for your notebook
Download PDF versions of these checklists and forms: