This article, written by Kate Tilton is from the April 2020 edition of Nink, the monthly newsletter of Novelists, Inc.  (NINC). Nink, which is packed each month with informative articles for career novelists, is a benefit of NINC membership. 

When publishing a book, an author has a whole team of people to help them take that manuscript from first draft to finished product. Both traditional and indie authors will have a variety of professionals—agents, editors, formatters, cover designers, and early readers—to help the author along the way.

These days, however, everything else that goes into being a career author ends up on the author’s plate, including managing the website, social media, book events and travel, career planning and strategy, business admin and accounting, and so much more.

Whether an author publishes with a traditional house or goes indie, or does a little of both, much of the job of an author is left up to the author alone. But it doesn’t have to be this way. Authors can and should grow their publishing team, as a well-rounded team will help an author with the business side as well as the craft side. Doing this can save authors valuable time and help authors earn more in the long run.

Why hire help?

Just because authors can do a task does not mean it is cost effective. This is not as cut and dry as other industries, as authors do not make an income based on hourly services but by selling their products (books). The more quality books an author produces, the greater their income can become. Hiring others to take on things that keep them from writing can mean a bigger income at the end of the year.

Teams also offer support and encouragement. Publishing, no matter what route an author takes, can be tough. Unlike family and friends, having business professionals on the team offers a different kind of support. They know what it is like to be a part of this industry and can relate better to an author’s struggle.

These professionals may also be better than the author—at least when it comes to certain things. Having insider knowledge makes publishing professionals better suited to offer guidance and problem-solve for an author’s particular needs. A consultant may be better at planning a launch strategy. An assistant may be able to make better looking newsletters or promotional graphics. A social media manager may understand policy changes better.

Avoid common pitfalls when hiring help.

The common pitfalls when hiring help boil down to one big pit with many ways to fall into it. But in essence, it’s about hiring the wrong person.

Pay attention to the five pitfalls below to help avoid this.

Pitfall 1

The author hires a consultant when they need an assistant (or a publicist when they need a consultant, or an assistant when they need a consultant, and so on).

To avoid this trap, when an author decides to hire help, first they should figure out what things they need help with.

  • If feeling overwhelmed by all the publishing advice out there and not knowing what to do, a publishing consultant may be the right fit.
  • If an author has admin and basic marketing tasks (i.e. managing a launch team, newsletters, social media), an assistant or social media manager may be who they need.
  • If an author wants to get on TV, radio, and/or other traditional media, they likely need a publicist.

Before beginning any search, authors should write down where they are struggling so they can identify the right type of service provider needed. Make a list of specific action items or goals, For instance, one could be to release a monthly newsletter and build a street team. Seeing the list in full will help avoid wasting time contacting the wrong type of professional and makes the entire process easier.

Pitfall 2

The author hires a person who doesn’t have the skills they need.

There are different types of professionals, but in each profession there are also different skill sets.

For example, there are a wide variety of tasks assistants can do. However, some assistants do not work on marketing strategy. If marketing is something the author needs, they may do better by looking for a consultant who can help with creating the strategy and then hire an assistant to execute the strategy.

Another example—if an author wants someone to manage their Instagram account, the author should look for someone who can post photos that will attract readers of their genre.

With the list in hand from pitfall number one, authors should take a few minutes to research the skills of each potential team member and look for those who match their needs. Most service providers will list their skills on their website. Authors can use these lists to compare the offerings of each service provider. Doing this will help an author avoid hiring someone who can’t provide the services needed, saving everyone time, money, and the headache.

Pitfall 3

An author hires someone without enough or the right kind of experience.

If a potential team member lists the skills the author is looking for on their site, the next step is for an author to see if the team member has the experience needed.

If the author needs someone who can do a task without much direction, they will want someone with more experience.

Authors should also consider the experience in terms of what type of books and authors the professional works with.

For example, an indie author may want someone who works with indies. In another example, if an author is looking for a publicist, the author will want someone with media connections relevant to the author’s genre. A publicist who works primarily with business books is probably not a good fit for a romance author. It seems like a no-brainer, but is a common pitfall.

Authors can avoid experience issues by asking other authors for recommendations, and then ask the potential team member about both current and past work experience, and any book acknowledgments. It is also a good idea to check references if possible.

Pitfall 4

The author hires a “bad apple.”

There are many wonderful professionals in publishing. There are also some bad apples. Authors should do due diligence to avoid hiring someone who is not a professional.

Authors can check the professional’s website and social media to look for red flags such as lots of errors or poor formatting. There are also resources like Writer Beware and the Alliance of Independent Authors’ service ratings. Not every professional is reviewed, but this step can help authors avoid bad apples.

Pitfall 5

After hiring, the author and professional do not get along/cannot communicate well.

Working with a professional is a partnership. For a successful team, communication is crucial. Authors should also want to build a team of professionals they enjoy working with.

This can be difficult to figure out before starting to work with someone, but there are steps an author can take:

  • Is there a written contract? If so, what does it spell out for each side? Make sure you are comfortable with the terms.
  • Before hiring, check out the provider’s social media, website, and newsletter to look for any similar interests and if the provider seems like someone worth working with. Is the provider professional?
  • If wanting to start small, consider doing a smaller project or consultation before hiring long-term. Some professionals offer free consultations, others have paid one-time consultations (often this depends on their demand and experience). This could be a good litmus test.
  • Make communication expectations known. Discuss how communication will happen (email, phone calls, Skype, text, messenger) and when (what days are work days). Discuss how a professional can get in touch in case of something urgent and vice versa.

How to find help to hire?

Once an author knows the kind of help they are looking for, they can begin their search by:

Asking their author friends for recommendations.

  • Picking up a copy of The Self-Publisher’s Ultimate Resource Guide by Joel Friedlander and Betty Kelly Sargent, which is a directory of publishing professionals.
  • Using online resources like Author E.M.S. (a list of different professionals), Reedsy (an online marketplace connecting authors with professionals), Kate Tilton's author assistant resource page (for more information about assistants).
  • Getting connected with a free mentor through MicroMentor.
  • Getting free small business coaching through the SBA. Check out the Small Business Administration for more.

Please note, hiring a team is a process and can take time. Professionals, depending on experience, will have different price points and hourly/weekly rates, retainers, and billing. Be sure to discuss each before hiring.