I had a request to make today’s topic about outsourcing. I’ve been doing a lot of it this year, so I’ll tell you what I’ve learned. And I’ll start by saying this post is predicated on the assumption you absolutely outsource your covers and editing. If not, that’s a whole separate topic. I’ll summarize by saying: Every business requires a startup investment. Covers and editing are yours.
Moving on from that, let’s talk about outsourcing things like admin duties and marketing. First of all, there is no easy answer (you’ll hear me say that a lot in this series). Paying to have someone else do portions of your job isn’t as easy to quantify for ROI as advertising is. You pay Y dollars to advertise a book, it sells X copies which earns Z dollars, if Z is greater than Y you know the ad had value. Hiring a PA or a publicist isn’t quite the same thing.
So, here are the fundamental questions to ask when you’re considering outsourcing:
- Is it something you can’t do? — you don’t have the technical skills or time.
- Is it something you hate to do? — you’re likely to skip it or do it poorly.
If you answered “yes” to either of those, outsourcing is worth considering.
Personal Assistants. Something I was taught early in my Indie career is: there’s only one part of your job no one else can do–write the books. If the other parts of the job are seriously impacting your ability to do that–write books–then you need to consider getting some help (this is an “I can’t do it” scenario). There are a lot of ways to hire a PA. Virtual Assistant companies are professional, skilled, and offer specific services. But they’re expensive, and may not do the specific tasks you want them to. There is also the option of hiring a blogger or avid reader you know. This can be a great stop gap option when you’re starting out and funds are short. I’ve even had assistants that I paid in Amazon gift cards!
You can also look for assistants in your local writing group if you belong to one (RWA chapter or a fiction writers’ group). Often there are newer writers who would like the chance to learn about the business while they work a few hours for you. Ultimately, most people hire assistants to do the little things that can take up so much of your valuable time, but don’t require a sophisticated skill set. I’m a firm believer in getting creative and finding ways to take low grade admin tasks off your plate. If you use the time saved well, you can produce more and you’ll end up earning more too.
[ProTip: when hiring an assistant, write up a job description like you’d see in a corporate job posting. It forces you to get clear on what skills you need an assistant to have, and what tasks you’re going to give them. Know what you’re going to have them do, treat them as an employee, be the kind of boss you’d like to have, and remember that it’s a business expense, make it work for your bottom line.]
Publicists. It’s easy to see all the biggest names with their equally big named publicity firms. It can appear that publicists are the ones that put those big names where they are. And the answer is, yes…and no. Good publicists can help you make the climb to a higher level, but you have to remember most authors don’t hire a publicist until they’re making a decent amount of money. That means they’re selling a lot of books, have a strong following, and have been around for a while. It’s not quite what you might think at first glance if a publicist helps an already successful author get from the top 80% in the profession to the top 95%. That author already climbed the first 80% themselves. A whole bunch of the authors you see using publicists were already super successful. Remember, publicists can be a great asset, but they can’t perform magic.
So, how do you know when you’re to the point you need a publicist? One thing is simple economics. To become a full-time client of a publicist costs several hundred dollars a month. This will usually get you 20ish hours a month of their time. With those twenty hours they’ll do things like manage your releases, set up ads for you, design graphics, manage social media, pitch you to big blogs and review sites, help you grow your mailing list, strategize with you on pricing, advertising and release details. But, I’ll remind you: several hundred dollars a month. You have to put covers and editing first. If you can’t afford the covers and the edits, you sure as hell can’t afford the publicist, and if you can’t afford some ads in addition to a publicist, you’ve just tied their hands. Remember this: If you’re a savvy Indie writer, publicists may not have any special knowledge beyond yours. They can just do things you don’t have time to. Publicists really are for mid-career writers who are ready to break out and have a production schedule so intense they simply can’t manage things like releases and ads by themselves anymore. OR for top of the game writers who are so big that $500-1000/mo on a publicist isn’t even noticeable.
[ProTip] Don’t hire a publicist until you have a significant Indie backlist that will benefit from the new exposure you get. Don’t hire a publicist if you can’t/aren’t producing four or more books per year–they can’t promote what isn’t there. Don’t hire a publicist if you can’t turn a profit of at least $1,000/mo for six months consecutively (that means after ALL your expenses have been paid, taxes included). Don’t hire a publicist if you’re counting on them to send your sales skyrocketing. DO hire a publicist if you have a backlist of 10 or more books. DO hire a publicist if you’re working as a writer full-time and producing six or more books a year. DO hire a publicist if your bottom line is so good their fees won’t be a big sacrifice to you. DO hire a publicist if you want to work with a team to take your game to the next level, and you understand it’s not a magic fix, but rather one more tool in your toolbox.
Only YOU can write your books, but other people can do the other parts of your job.
Outsourcing covers and editing is an essential investment in your business.
There are several creative ways to get admin help at low cost.
Publicists are a great resource, but not magic makers.
Before you consider hiring a publicist look at your production levels, backlist, goals, and income.
Do you have any great recommendations for where to find/hire assistants? Put them in the comments so everyone can benefit!
I’m still debating next week’s topic, so you’ll have to keep an eye out or follow the blog to find out what it’ll be! 😉
If you want to see last week’s post on Production Schedules, you can find it here.