Posted On March 19, 2012 by Print This Post

Virtual Assistants: Freeing Your Time so You Can Write by Jenel Looney and Sheridan Stancliff

Morning, RU Crew! Today, we’re hosting two fabulous ladies, Jenel Looney and Sheridan Stancliff, who know tons about making your admin load lighter so you can do what you love: write. I was fortunate enough to meet Jenel when I rented her lovely garage apartment in Georgetown, Texas, for two days last summer. If you’re ever in the area and need a gorgeous place to stay with billion thread-count sheets, give Jenel a shout. She, her husband and her cute Labradoodle, Sidiqi, will give you a warm welcome!

Jenel was sweet enough to recruit Sheridan Stancliff to chat with us as well. Welcome, Jenel and Sheridan!

There’s more to writing than writing. When you’re a published author – whether in print, ebook, or both – your job doesn’t stop when you write The End. If you write a book but no one reads it, you haven’t communicated. Although publishers do what they can to promote each book they release every month, no one will be as passionate an advocate as you.

Without question, the best marketing tool in your arsenal is to write the next book, but it’s hard to find time to do that with all the other pulls on your time. An author’s virtual assistant can be your best ally. A good VA will help you with all those tasks that take time away from your writing… and it might not cost as much as you think, because you can hire a VA on a job-by-job basis, if that works better for you.

VAs have a variety of skill sets, some can lean more toward organizational assistance and others may be stronger in creative marketing tactics. It is important to find someone who meets your needs in a variety of areas in order to be the most help to you – areas to consider when thinking about your plan are:

Marketing

  • Social media – A VA can set up and help monitor your Facebook, Twitter, YouTube, Goodreads, Pinterest, and other social media accounts. The one constant with social media is that it’s always changing, and it’s your VA’s job to stay on top of the changes. For example, Facebook will soon migrate all professional pages to the new timeline layout. What are the implications for authors, and what do you need to do to stay within the new terms of service? Sheridan has written an excellent primer on the subject: http://sheridanink.com/fyi/the-new-facebook-timeline/

YouTube is a site where most authors could benefit from a stronger presence. A VA with video editing skills can help you come up with a cute video to showcase your personality, attracting readers who will love your books, such as this one that Sheridan created for author Karen Hawkins: http://youtu.be/acelVyUkKiU

  • Contests – Contests are a great way to build your mailing list and your Facebook numbers (as long as you operate within Facebook’s TOS). Some of the most effective contests out there are author co-promo contests, meaning that you and another author “cross-pollinate” each other’s mailing lists. A VA can coordinate the contest, from buying the prize to picking the winner and everything in between.
  • Blog Tours/Blogger Reviews – Bloggers do an amazing job of telling other readers about the books they love. How do you get your book onto bloggers’ radar? It’s not difficult. It is, however, time-consuming. A VA can contact the bloggers, send out ARCs, and schedule blog dates for you.
  • Book Tours – Setting up book signings is another task that is more time-consuming than tough. A VA can contact bookstores and get you on the schedule. Your VA can then send a press release to local media and submit the signing to local events calendars.
  • Promo Materials – It’s great to have promo materials for signings and conferences. Your VA can brainstorm relevant promo materials, design them, then shop for the best price. Kate Carlisle wanted a unique reader giveaway, so Jenel came up with the “Bibliophile Mystery Time Killer,” a word search booklet. The answers are online, driving more traffic to Kate’s site.
  • Newsletters – With your marketing activities for the current book, you should be thinking about sales of your next book, too. If you aren’t already focused on growing your mailing list, now is the time to start. You will be amazed by how much impact a letter to your mailing list can have. Your VA can write, format, and send the newsletter for you.
  • Long-Term Planning – Together, you and your VA can plot out the steps of how you are going to get where you want to go. In publishing, there’s a lot that’s out of your control, but your marketing activities can have an impact. You must have a plan.
  • Press Kit – Your VA can research other authors’ press kits, make recommendations, design one for you, and ensure that it stays updated. She can even serve as your point of contact with the press, if you like.

Website Content

  • Updates – Your website should be the best resource, bar none, for readers who are interested in your books. An outdated website makes a bad impression on readers. A VA can schedule regular website checks to make sure that you are sending the right message at the right time.
  • Bonus Material – Ongoing series give readers the opportunity to reconnect with characters they love. This experience can be made richer with a VA’s help. On March 27, Susan Mallery will launch the Blackberry Island series with the release of BAREFOOT SEASON. Jenel created all of the bonus content on www.blackberryisland.com, as well as all the bonus content on www.foolsgoldca.com, the website for Mallery’s ongoing Fool’s Gold series of romances.
  • Mobile Apps – If you’re at the stage of your career where you would like to have a mobile app, a VA can help you find an app platform, create content for it, and keep it updated.
  • Stats Monitoring – Ask your webmaster to send a monthly statistics report to you and to your VA, so your VA can track results over time to see which of your promotional efforts have been most effective at driving traffic to your website.

Secretarial

  • Email Monitoring – When you’re under a pressing deadline, it’s hard to keep up with email. Your VA can sort your email for you. She can get rid of junk mail, set aside email that can wait, and ensure that you see time-sensitive emails immediately. Your VA can also set up Google alerts and send DMCA notices to sites where your copyright is violated.
  • Ebook Formatting and Uploading – If you’ve decided to self-publish but don’t know where to start, a VA with ebook experience can prepare your manuscript for publication on the Kindle, NOOK, and other ereaders, set up your accounts, even design the cover.

Each virtual assistant is an independent contractor, with different skills and specialties. When you find the VA who’s right for you, magic can happen.

***

Jenel and Sheridan both have tons of experience with business, promo and marketing functions that often frustrate authors. Feel free to ask questions and learn from the ladies in the know! What do you wish a VA would take off your plate?

Be sure to stop by Wednesday to chat with Damon Suede when he returns to talk about using verbs to better define and understand your characters.

***

Bios:

Jenel Looney (www.jenellooney.com) puts all the skills she gained from a lifetime of career indecision to work for her clients’ benefit as a virtual assistant. Her client roster includes Susan Mallery, Maureen Child, Kate Carlisle, and her current hometown, the city of Georgetown, Texas. She is not accepting new clients at this time but recommends Sheridan Stancliff without reservation.

Sheridan Stancliff has spent her career working in various industries, but always in the areas of marketing and project management. Her creative side lets her excel at brainstorming and concepting while her analytical side helps it all come to fruition. She is currently working with Karen Hawkins, The Goddess Blogs, Jane Atchley and is working on projects with Julia London, Emily March (Geralyn Dawson) and Dana Marton. She resides in western Colorado with her rescue cat and dog.

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37 Responses to “Virtual Assistants: Freeing Your Time so You Can Write by Jenel Looney and Sheridan Stancliff”

  1. Wow! I need one of these. I could do with one to organize blog tours and take some promo off my hands. Can I ask how you each came to be a VA?

    Posted by Shelley Munro | March 19, 2012, 1:52 am
    • Hi, Shelley! I used to say my dream job was to be a PowerPoint consultant. I just really loved making flashy PowerPoint presentations for all my different bosses over the years. In 2008, I was looking for a new direction. I’d been working as a Realtor and, although I was successful, I simply didn’t like the hours. Nights, weekends, weekdays… I felt like I never had a day off. And if I did, someone would call and want to go out to see houses.

      Susan Mallery and I had gone to school together. I remembered that Susan had a VA, so I wrote to ask her for details, to see if this was a viable career option for me. I didn’t know at the time that I would specialize in author services, but that’s really where my talents lie. Once I took the plunge and started my business, Susan hired me for a couple small jobs, loved my work, and then asked me to work for her more regularly. I spend the bulk of my time on work for Susan, but I also work for Maureen Child and Kate Carlisle, and I’ve worked for Dana Marton, who is also a dear friend.

      Posted by Jenel Looney | March 19, 2012, 7:07 am
  2. Good morning! Thank you so much for inviting me as a guest here at Romance University… and thanks for the shout-out for our Austin area apartment, too. (www.vrbo.com/223910 in case anyone’s interested.)

    Sheridan and I are looking forward to answering questions. Feel free to ask us technical questions about the new Facebook timeline, Twitter, Goodreads, or other social media sites. Also, tell us about your marketing efforts. What has worked for you? What didn’t have the results you’d hoped for?

    Posted by Jenel Looney | March 19, 2012, 6:47 am
  3. Oooh, this is a really tempting idea! I don’t think I’m good at delegating, unfortunately. If I get much busier, I may have to learn!

    Posted by Becke Martin/Davis | March 19, 2012, 7:32 am
  4. Hi Jenel and Sheridan,

    Social media is my biggest problem. Someone who understands it and monitors it would be a huge plus. Assistants are the unsung heroines and heroes of every office and business. They offer vital help.

    Mary Jo

    Posted by Mary Jo Burke | March 19, 2012, 8:46 am
    • Social media is an interesting creature – it provides a unique opportunity to interact directly with readers and others in your industry, but there has to be a strategy to tackle it. VAs can definitely help with that, especially when you have to keep up with all the changes that occur.

      Posted by Sheridan Stancliff | March 19, 2012, 9:07 am
  5. Jenel and Sheridan –

    Thanks so much for being here today. I can’t wait to dig into Sheridan’s FB timeline article.

    Would you ever see a need for a writer who doesn’t yet have a contract to utilize a VA’s services?

    What other types of professionals–designers, copywriters, etc.–do VAs tend to use, if any?

    Thanks so much!
    Kelsey

    Posted by Kelsey Browning | March 19, 2012, 8:53 am
    • Hello, Kelsey!

      I think someone who doesn’t yet have a contract could definitely benefit from talking with a VA about a few things to help you get the ball rolling for your marketing and launch efforts.

      For example: a good portion of social media is about networking, and those networks take time to build. Consulting with a VA who knows what is available (and is effective) can help you create a strategy for setting up the framework. Even if it just creating a to-do list of what to start on, it can be a great help in tackling it all.

      I have worked with some copywriters and designers on things – as well as web designers and coders. It all depends on the project and what is needed.

      Posted by Sheridan Stancliff | March 19, 2012, 9:16 am
    • I’m not sure I’d advocate spending money on marketing before you have a contract. I believe in optimism, but I also believe that you need to watch every penny you spend. Sheridan’s right, you can start to build a network online, but I think at the pre-publication stage, I’d suggest you do it on your own and not hire outside help. But when you sign that contract, a VA can help you come up with a marketing strategy to get the most notice possible for your first book!

      Posted by Jenel Looney | March 19, 2012, 11:05 am
  6. Good morning, ladies. This post is so timely for me. I’m in the middle of back-to-back edits on two stories and have had to force myself not to freak out over all the work piling up on my desk.

    The thing I’d love for a VA to take off my plate is building my newsletters. I tend to tinker too much!

    Could you give us an idea of what to expect in terms of rates for virtual assistants?

    Thanks for a great post!

    Posted by Adrienne Giordano | March 19, 2012, 9:24 am
    • Hello, Adrienne! It sounds like you do have a lot on your plate at the moment!

      Speaking for myself, I look at each client or project on a case by case basis as to what they need or require, time involved and what their budget may be. Jenel wrote a wonderful article for the RWR and in her research found hourly rates ranging from $15 per hour to $45 and $50.

      I realize that might not be of much help, but I would suggest figuring out what your budget may be and then talking with a few VAs about your needs and see if you can come to an arrangement that works for you both.

      Posted by Sheridan Stancliff | March 19, 2012, 10:07 am
    • My rate is $35 per hour, but Sheridan is right, every VA sets her own rates. I wrote an article in 2012 for the RWR, and I interviewed many different VAs. The rates varied from $5 per hour (!) to $50 per hour. $5 per hour might sound like a bargain, but I’d be very leery. You want a professional.

      I’d recommend you contact Sheridan privately to talk about your budget and what she can do for you within that budget. Sheridan does a terrific job on the newsletters for The Goddess Blogs.

      Posted by Jenel Looney | March 19, 2012, 11:10 am
  7. Morning Sheridan and Jenel!

    This is definitely something I will be looking in to later. The social networking part is already overwhelming and I’m not even close to publishing! I always feel I should be doing more, but …who has the time! What you two do is hugely necessary!

    My question is how do you help with FB and Twitter – do you post the actual posts and responses? Or just monitor and send off notes to the author?

    Thanks!

    carrie

    Posted by Carrie Spencer | March 19, 2012, 9:45 am
    • The only time I post something on the page is when it’s something I created for the author. So rather than emailing it to her to post, I just go ahead and do it and then let her respond to comments. For example, for every holiday, Susan Mallery invites her Facebook fans to have me create a holiday-themed profile picture for them. (www.facebook.com/susanmallery) I created somewhere around 60 St. Patrick’s Day pictures and over 100 Valentine’s Day pictures. It would’ve been silly (and annoying) for me to email each of those pictures to Susan to have her post.

      Posted by Jenel Looney | March 19, 2012, 11:20 am
    • I have posted for my clients, especially while they are under deadline or when something has taken them away from the computer (family emergency, vacation, etc.)

      For The Goddess Blogs, I am the point person for posting to their Facebook and Twitter accounts since delegating the responsibility among the ten of them would be an additional logistical dilemma.

      I have also taken a bank of tweets or posts and scheduled them ahead of time or posted them at the appropriate time for them. That way they are still writing the posts, but don’t have to worry about taking the time out to toss them up on the page.

      It depends on your needs and if you are comfortable with your VA being your “ghost writer” so to speak.

      Posted by Sheridan Stancliff | March 19, 2012, 11:38 am
  8. Thanks for the great article! I recently hired a VA and I love her. She does the things that I just don’t have time to do anymore, so I have more time to write. I used to stress (well, I still do) about not being able to do it all. My VA takes away a lot of that stress.

    Posted by Laurie London | March 19, 2012, 11:30 am
    • It can sometimes take a little adaptation to delegate some of those things, but I can only imagine how much it can take off your plate when you do make the jump. Congratulations on finding your VA!

      Posted by Sheridan Stancliff | March 19, 2012, 11:53 am
    • Congratulations, Laurie! If your VA is interested in connecting with other authors’ VAs, have her email me at jenel at jenellooney dot com. I’ll invite her to a small group we’ve created. It’s nice to have each other as a resource.

      Posted by Jenel Looney | March 19, 2012, 12:04 pm
      • Thanks, Jenel and Sheridan. I emailed her the link to the article.

        Oh, and Jenel, I meant to mention I love what you’ve done with Susan Mallery’s site. You’re so creative. And I didn’t know it was you who does those goofy holiday pictures. How fun! They make me smile whenever I see them in someone’s profile picture.

        Posted by Laurie London | March 19, 2012, 2:55 pm
        • Thanks, Laurie! Those holiday pictures are a lot of fun. I have discovered something very interesting over the past few months – women want to be made to look pretty, not silly. (I’d go for silly every time, but that is definitely not true for most people.) If you look at the photo albums on Susan’s Facebook page, you’ll see a Thanksgiving one, in which I put readers’ heads (and Susan’s) on the body of a turkey. We had fewer than 20 requests for that one – maybe fewer than 10.

          Susan has a fabulous webmaster who designs her website – including the Fool’s Gold and the Blackberry Island websites. I create the content that the webmaster uses, but she’s the one who makes it work, and she’s the one who makes it pretty. (Don’t want to take anything away from her!) I created both maps, but Shelley of Webcrafters Design is the one who does all the coding and website design.

          Posted by Jenel Looney | March 19, 2012, 6:52 pm
      • Good news Jenel, I work with Laurie and I love being part of that group. This article was great, it lets authors know that there are people out there that want to support them and they don’t have to do everything alone.

        Posted by Lindsey Lebret | March 19, 2012, 9:01 pm
  9. Sheridan and Jenel, thanks for joining us today! Such a great blog. Like Adrienne, this is a timely post for me. My debut novel releases in April and I’m struggling to keep up with everything. I want to provide some exclusive content for my newsletter subscribers and some fun stuff on my website, but just don’t have time right now to figure it all out.

    From what I read above, this sounds like something a VA can help with, right? I’m also in need of a landing page for FB and…holy cow, the list doesn’t stop. LOL

    Posted by Tracey Devlyn | March 19, 2012, 11:42 am
    • It is daunting to try and come up with all the plans for a book launch. And finish with everything pertaining to the book itself. And keep up with the day to day marketing. And have a life outside your writing.

      Coming up with those plans, a strategy and then work toward implementing it all is definitely something a VA can help with. VAs have different strengths and abilities, but all should be able to handle either doing the task themselves or finding someone for you who can.

      We can also help with creating that list of things so nothing falls through the cracks.

      Posted by Sheridan Stancliff | March 19, 2012, 11:58 am
    • Tracey, It’s great fun to come up with bonus content! For that, you definitely need a VA who is focused more on the creative side of things than just the administrative side of things. You also want to make sure you hire a VA with good spelling and grammar skills so you don’t have to spend much time rewriting what she’s written.

      Posted by Jenel Looney | March 19, 2012, 1:44 pm
  10. I could use every single one of those services listed! Thanks for being here and explaining how much a VA has to offer. I’m not yet published and have very little time to write since I spend so much of my time on marketing. Once I’m published, I’ll be in contact for one of you or one of your recommended VA’s.

    Posted by Marcia Richards | March 19, 2012, 2:47 pm
  11. Hi Jenel and Sheridan!

    Thanks so much for blogging with us today.

    Great info! Whether someone is still in the prepub stage or already published, your list serves as a reminder of what every author should be doing. Some people aren’t very comfortable with social media. Having an adept VA who knows the ropes certainly makes it less daunting.

    I’m on FB, Twitter, Pinterest and I blog, but I’m still trying to figure out sites like Reddit, Tumblr and Stumbleupon, and whether it’s worth my time.

    Thanks so much!

    Posted by Jennifer Tanner | March 19, 2012, 5:27 pm
    • Hi, Jennifer! I think every social media site can bring you a little bit of attention, but I wouldn’t recommend trying to do all of them. You can spread yourself too thin, and it’s not worth the little bit of extra you might get. I personally consider Facebook almost mandatory. After that, just do the ones that you enjoy.

      If I had to choose just one social networking site for authors in addition to Facebook, I’d recommend Goodreads over any of the others – but only if you’re willing to be an active participant. Goodreads is a very effective, very active social network for readers about books, so it makes sense to have a strong presence there. And you can do giveaways for free, which is fun, too. Only for printed books, though, and only for those with a current year or future year publication date.

      Posted by Jenel Looney | March 19, 2012, 6:39 pm
  12. Jenel and Sheridan –

    Although we may still have more comments, I just wanted to pop back in and say thank you for being at RU today!

    Kelsey

    Posted by Kelsey Browning | March 19, 2012, 10:31 pm

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