Tuesday, November 03, 2009

Wanna Be a Virtual Author's Assistant?...Maybe Not

posted by Victoria Strauss for Writer Beware

As readers of this blog know, I'm fascinated by the strange phenomena that flourish at the fringes of the publishing world. So I was thrilled recently to discover yet another example: an online course that teaches people how to become Virtual Author's Assistants.

What's a Virtual Author's Assistant, you may ask? The course website offers this explanation:

Author's Assistants are people who work behind the scenes to create, organize and coordinate all the different pieces necessary to get a book published. To writers, they are miracle workers.

The world of publishing can be frightening, overwhelming and frustrating. An author's assistant is the expert the writer turns to guide them step by step through the process.

From their homes, Virtual Author's Assistants organize the publishing process for authors around the country and around the world.


Expert? As it turns out, potential Virtual Author’s Assistants need know nothing about the publishing industry. "[D]on’t worry. We'll teach you. All you need is a love of books, a few basic business skills and a desire for fun and interesting work." (Wow. Who knew this publishing stuff was so easy and entertaining? I must have missed that nugget of wisdom in my 25+ years as a writer and writers’ advocate. And gosh, I must be awfully dense, because after all that time, I’m still learning.)

VAA course content includes such important items as how to prepare and proof a manuscript, how to get an ISBN and bar code, how to register copyright, how to put together a media kit, and how to launch an Amazon Bestseller Campaign. Aspiring VAAs will also be tutored in how to create a business website to attract author clients, and ways to identify and solicit authors as business prospects (this article offers a glimpse of how that might be done, encouraging VAAs “to know where authors and aspiring authors hide” and to “[s]ell the author on the amount of money and time you can save them over doing this work themselves”). Those who complete the course will be "a certified graduate of the only course of its kind in the country," and will receive the suitable-for-framing certificate to prove it. They’ll also be eligible to place the "Virtual Author’s Assistant Professional insignia" on their websites and business materials.

Best of all: this expertise can be yours in just 30 days, for a cost of only $597! You can also, optionally, buy a website. For $85 more, you can earn a Master Virtual Author's Assistant certification. And if you’re really enterprising, you can recoup some of your expense by becoming an Affiliate, earning 10% every time you successfully refer someone to the VAA program.

Leaving aside any questions of information quality (the course is offered by Jan B. King, a publishing and business consultant who does appear to have professional writing and publishing experience), this all sounds highly dubious to me. I don't know about you, but if I were hiring an assistant, I'd be looking for someone with real-life experience, not a made-up certification from an online coursepack. Not to mention, I'm not exactly rolling in disposable income--and I'm a commercially-published author who is getting paid for my work. From the verbiage on the Virtual Author's Assistant website (see "The 24 Services Authors Ask For Most"), it's apparent that the main consumers of VAA services are expected to be self-published writers. But what are the odds that such writers, who will have to shell out possibly substantial sums to printers or self-publishing companies, could (or should) afford to pay for an assistant, virtual or otherwise? And if they can, would it not make sense to seek out a specialist--a qualified book shepherd, for example--rather than someone with just 30 days of online training?

So how likely is it really, if you spring for VAA training, that someone will hire you? The VAA website dodges that question, citing only the "thriving" Virtual Assistant industry and alleging that more books would be published "if they had the help of an author's assistant." Another VAA website provides even more circular reasoning in its FAQ: "How competitive is the market for author's assistants? Let me answer this way: About 500,000 new trade books were published last year. At present there are fewer than 300 fully-trained professional virtual author's assistants. The demand is very high for qualified author's assistants and will be for a long time in the future."

The same website hosts a VAA Directory that lists 58 members. A spot check of their websites suggests that most primarily focus on general Virtual Assistant services, so I’m guessing that VAA certification is something most Virtual Assistants add, rather than specialize in. However, that makes it impossible to get a sense of how "high" the "demand" might actually be for VAA services. I did find the website of the International Association of Virtual Author's Assistants, but it appears to be a vehicle for selling marketing and other services to authors, rather than a professional group for VAAs.

Bottom line: this seems to me to be a program that offers little advantage either to people looking for work they can do at home--since I find it extremely unlikely that there really is a "very high," or even a "high," demand for VAAs--or to authors, who may be solicited to pay for services they can ill afford, may not need, and could likely get from more qualified providers. However, I try to keep an open mind--so I’d love it if any successful VAAs or authors who’ve happily used them would comment here.

In the meantime--caveat scriptor, and caveat emptor!

51 comments:

Jessann Burton said...

Great post! It made me think of a couple questions. Say you're fortunate enough to become published, and holy crap, your book takes off like Twilight printed on pages of pressed cocaine. Would your publisher arrange for an assistant? Perhaps someone who works directly for the publisher?

In a more likely scenario, say you achieve a comfortable midlist status with a half dozen books. Now you want an assistant to manage your website/email list/promos and help keep you organized. Would you hire that person directly or again would your publisher help you find someone?

I've always been kind of curious about author assistants as I am currently an assistant and an aspiring author. :)

Victoria Strauss said...

Only in the film world ("Stranger Than Fiction") does a publisher provide an assistant to an author. If you want to hire/pay an assistant (and many successful authors do have assistants), it's on your own initiative and your own dime.

Leslie said...

In a down economy, people are willing to spend money on training and education, so I can see why some would sign up for this. However, there's the pyramid element to this thing ("become an associate") which is no different than the way various home sales companies work.

Lynnda - Passionate for the Glory of God said...

Good afternoon Victoria,

Both terms - VAA and book shepherd - were new to me. From a cursory look, it appears to me that a book shepherd is a VAA with experience and contacts. Is that a valid conclusion?

Thanks for opening up another section of the publishing maze.

Be blessed,

Lynnda

Rebecca said...

This leads me ask two things: One why a virtual assitant? and Two: Why that much money? I suppose a website, but for someone starting out... a blog on blogger might be more needed.

But this also makes me ask teh question what about traditonal publsihers wouldn't they have this sort of person already?

Jessann Burton said...

Thanks Victoria!

Sharon Mayhew said...

Interesting post. I'd like an assistant...Someone to do all of my household chores and errands so I can focus on writing, finding an agent or a publishing house. Would I hire a virtual assistant? No way!

yarnbuck said...

The longer I write, the less I know. Keepers for bees mean honey for me, sans sting. Thanks, V!

Nicola Morgan said...

Amazing! Like Sharon, I'd like an assistant, but not the sort advertised here.

Chrystal's Corner said...

The post was interestingly informative - keep up the good work, and keep us informed.

Dennis Latham said...

I've been doing everything for my small operation for years, from ISBN numbers, proofing, format, book blocks, and covers. It's not easy to learn. I've never considered doing it for anyone else and I don't think I would want to since it's so time consuming and tedious.

nauthor said...

Dang. I've had five books published without ever even having heard of these indispensible folk.

But if they exist, what I'd want mine to do would probably involve vacuuming, scrubbies and Simple Green.

Cee said...

I too saw this on the freelance parent blog and was stunned by the price of the course. I know for a fact you can take courses for a VA certificate at some colleges now. It would seem a lot more legit than this!

P.S. This is my first time too of hearing of a book shepard. I learn so much here!

Lauren Hidden said...

First off: I am a virtual assistant, which simply means I work virtually. (Check out IVAA's definition). I do not have a certification from this group as a VAA and am not very familiar with it but I am a member of the International Virtual Assistants Association and currently serve as the marketing director, so I am familiar with the virtual assistance industry.

That said, I have worked for authors doing this kind of work, and yes, some authors are willing to pay for it. In most situations, my clients are very busy professionals (often consultants or professional speakers) who know they want to self publish their book but don't know how to assemble the various parts. And it's not worth it to them to do all the research I've done over the years to learn all this stuff on their own. Shelling out several thousand dollars to front all the costs for their book usually doesn't pose a problem for them.

I do everything from editing their book (by the way, have a BA in Comm/Journalism and lots of experience), helping coordinate cover design, layout, indexing, securing an ISBN number, bar codes, PCIP information, registering copyright, etc.

When I'm providing the soup-to-nuts services for authors, I usually call it book management services, though book shepherding or even virtual authors assistant services can all just be different names for virtually the same things.

Certification or not, authors need to evaluate the individual candidate and ask about experience and references. And of course, you have to make sure it makes sense for you, as an author, to hire someone to help with these things. It doesn't for all, but it does for some!

GoldenVA said...

It's interesting to read your thoughts on this matter. I'd like to present a view point from the Virtual Author's Assistant perspective if I may.

I am one of the original graduates of this course. As a Virtual Assistant, I brought over 20+ years experience of Marketing & Communications to my practice which has been steadily growing with speaker and author clients for the past 7 years. I took this course as I found many of my coaching clients wanting to expand their market or brand their expertise with a book or audio products. In my corporate roles I've worn the hat as writer & editor for projects including policy manuals, marketing presentations, newsletters, articles, web content and corporate communications. Through my marketing & design experience, I've assisted on cover design and managed the layout on text books developed for industry trade schools, and I've also done online marketing and promotional work for businesses of all types. How to write a book or get one published? Well, intrigued…I knew I had many dots to connect so I started reading and learning more about publishing when I found this course.

Jan King owned her own very profitable publishing company in California for several years. She has since sold that company and now heads the Publishing Division for eWomenNetwork. This course provided step-by-step instruction and reference material for VA's looking to assist self-publishing authors with stages of the publishing process. Much of what you’re paying for with this course is the resource material you keep like the step-by-step guides, forms, contacts and processes. In essence, it’s a book shepherd franchise utilizing Jan’s expertise and publishing knowledge as a foundation without the franchise. Since graduation over a year ago, I’ve now developed many of my own contacts after I learned what I was looking for through Jan’s guidance. She also helped me identify the skills and experience that I already possessed like writing, editing, research, design and marketing, and showed me a whole new audience that I never considered helping because I simply never stood in the shoes of a publisher. It also helped outline the publishing process so that I can help an author stay on track of their deadlines. I currently have several clients who pay me on a retainer basis to help them with book promotion and various book development tasks along the way. I also participate in several writing/book clubs where they ask me to present and work with newer authors. I also host an occasional workshop that fills regularly on how to get started in the self-publishing process. It's from these courses that I typically meet my clients as they’ve tried to do the work themselves and find a value in paying me to do it for them. Like a “book shepherd” I save my clients time and money so they see a value in doing business with me. My packaged rates are on my website if you’d like to compare for value reasons. Visit www.GoldenServicesGroup.com and view the information under Services, Rates & Packages.

For me, this course provided a way to elaborate on my existing skills and qualifications in a different industry. I have the experience; it just wasn’t under a publishing house. As far as the Certification goes I only see it as benefit for those already seeking to work with a VA. It helps set me apart from other VA’s and lends to the special skills I can bring a potential client.

Julie Eudy
Virtual Author's Assistant
www.GoldenServicesGroup.com

Anonymous said...

Greater fleas hath lesser fleas...

M.R.J. Le Blanc said...

Initially reading this post, it just sounded like an unnecessary middle man. Reading about Ms. Hidden's and Ms. Eudy's perspective though, I guess I could see this as having viability for the people they mention. People who do a lot of speaking events and have an obvious niche. But that's probably the ONLY value a service like this really has. I can't see this working for most of those who are self-pubbed, and definitely not for the vanity published (we all know how much cash those 'publishers' are draining from them as it is). The difference though between this course and Ms. Hidden and Ms. Eudy is they have some pretty good experience prior to becoming a VAA. I'm sure that makes a world of difference compared to someone with zero skills who takes this course. Could someone become a VAA and do well? Probably, but I doubt it from this course. This has pyramid scheme written all over.

execstress said...

I just wanted to comment on Dennis Latham's comment: "I've been doing everything for my small operation for years ... it's so time consuming and tedious."

This is precisely the reason many people - authors included - decide to partner with a VA ... just because you can, should you? Is it a valuable use of your time to do it all yourself?

I've done some work proofing an author's manuscript and as he said to me recently he was "thrilled to see how things could work" by partnering with me and that he was now able to focus on writing ... rather than "the other stuff".

Partnering with a VA is not for everyone, but those who do definitely reap the rewards.

I'd also like to respond to the comments about 'pyramid' schemes. The focus of Jan's course is NOT to get affiliate sign-ups. It is to train VAs - either already in business or those wanting to start - in a niche market: assisting authors. To focus on one tiny component of the site is unfair.

It is sad to think that we automatically view people wanting to help as having an ulterior motive. I've run my practice for 10 years with a global client base and have a total of 25 years admin/secretarial experience in a range of industries. As an assistant, that's what I do ... assist. That's my speciality. Writing is yours. Surely it makes economic sense to work within your specialty - and authors who self-publish (or want to) are the ones who would benefit most.

A Novel Space said...

Well said Execstress.

I'd like to add that an VAA can also be helpful to a traditionally published author in regards to marketing their book.

Today, it's mostly up to the author to market their book. An author's assistant can help plan & execute a Virtual Book Tour, Book Signings, Blogs, Podcasts and a much more.

~Joni Snowden
Virtual Author's Assistant

Petra Boucher said...

Sorry Victoria, I believe you have slandered this course and the participants unjustly.

I work as a general VA and took this course, in the same way that I take many other speciality courses, to improve my knowledge.

Nearly all my clients have, do, or intend to self-publish. But at the same time they are all very busy entrepreneurs. So to do it all themselves actually costs them more money than I do.

Jan B. King provided me with knowledge that I did not have before, which allows me to manage this process successfully for my clients.

I recently worked with a prolific author. My client has some 25-30 books to his name and although he could call himself an expert in self-publishing, he also recognised that doing it all himself was costly. He was looking for someone to take the reigns from him so that he could continue to focus on his writing. So he chose to work with me. One of the reasons (not the entire reason) he wanted to work with me is because of my VAA certification. Even though I had to go back to him a few times to ask questions, after all he was more of an expert than I could ever be, my knowledge of the process was invaluable in this work. He wasn't necessary looking for an expert like himself, but at least someone who has had some insight into the publishing industry.

Basically when someone decides to self-publish, if they can afford to, they will look for help, and having a VAA certificate might be attractive it might not, but at least it shows that we have an understanding of the industry. How is that a bad thing???

Victoria but I am shocked by this article. It reminded me of tabloid news, and reaked of sensationlism. There was an attack without any knowledge i.e. there was no true understanding of the VA industry as you would realise that they are many speciality training courses out there specifically for us, to assist Estate Agents, Accountants etc, and all of them are around the same price point.

The only point that you alluded to that I would marginally agree with, is that I would not call myself an expert because I have gone through this course. But then this is relative. Recently I took another one of my clients through the self-publishing process. She has been my client for some time and tried to do this herself. When the frustration and mind-field of what to do became too much, she handed it over to me, and directly using what I learnt in the VAA course, I took her through the rest of this process easily. To my client I am an expert, and a godsend.

Victoria you say at the end that you have an "open mind". I hope you do, but I wish this had been applied before writing the article.

P.S. I have to add using an affiliate promotion model is quickly establishing itself as a traditional internet marketing tool, sorry nothing more sinister than that. Actually I would argue that authors use this anyway, after all Amazon takes a percentage to promote your book or they wouldn't list it. It is really nothing more ingenious than that, just on a smaller scale.

G said...

I think I got enough headaches just being me, without adding someone or something else to the mix.

YvonneW said...

I work as a VA that specializes in internet marketing for my clients. I provide such services as podcasting, video production, blogging, web maintenance and eNewsletter maintenance.
My clients are busy individuals who want to free up time to do other things. I decided to take this course, to improve my knowledge.
Jan B King not only provided me with the knowledge needed to properly assist authors, she has provided me with excellent after sales service. I currently have a Marketing Diploma and I have completed web design courses. I am finding this background very useful as I become further involved in book promotion for authors.
Since completing the course I have been involved in services that compliment my current service offerings virtual book tours, book proposals, online media kits and such administrative tasks as coordinating live book tours.

Dianna Amorde said...

I'm disappointed that with no fact-checking, you slandered a business woman and her business. As a newly self-published author who has another business besides her book, I can attest to the value of working with a VA trained through this program.

In addition, I'm blessed to have worked with Jan King throughout the process of writing and self-pubishing. I can't think of someone with higher integrity. She has a passion for helping entrepreneurs and business executives reap the personal and professional benefits of being either a tradionally or self-published author.

While helping people become authors, she realized they had a need for assistance or support. With most of us having full time jobs in other arenas or desiring to focus on promoting or speaking about our book, we needed some help through the maze. Being a savvy businesswomen and seeing how this was a smart idea for all parties, training virtual author's assistants began.

If you have no need or desire for the tremendous benefits of a virtual assistant who has been taught the many details of book publishing and marketing, then it's obviously not for you. However, that's not a reason to slander a program others like me can't thank Jan King enough for creating.

Monika said...

Victoria I am doing the Virtual Author’s Assistant course because several of my clients are published authors and I would like to be in a position to be able to assist them further and other authors should they require my services.

I too, like some of the other commentators on this blog, am a Virtual Assistant and assist my clients with writing, proofreading and editing their letters, reports and other documentation. My background is in administration working for multinationals and major corporations where I was involved in putting together large reports and documents, from contributors and creating a finished product, usually for publication. Therefore I wouldn’t consider myself inexperienced. Not everyone would be doing the Author’s Assistant course with absolutely no background and with the view of considering themselves the expert, although over time they no doubt would become experts in their own right.

In my role as a Virtual Assistant I put together e-books for clients and my brief is to create a publishable document out of the author’s content. This would include formatting, proofreading, layout design, researching facts, follow up, project management etc. Some of the e-books I have created have been 200+ A4 pages in length. I think you will find that most people undertaking this course, especially if they are also already VAs, would be familiar with some aspects of the processes involved in being an Author’s Assistant while supporting their existing clients.

Yes Authors can more than likely undertake these tasks themselves but do they want to? Do they actually have the time or the headspace to undertake these tasks? They need to get on with their “day jobs”.

From my experience it is very hard to proofread and edit your own work and after the writing process is finished most of my clients are happy to pass it onto someone else to complete the publishing process and look over their work with a fresh perspective.

With regard to the price of the course, I don’t consider it unreasonable. There are many courses you can undertake online which cost 1,000’s of dollars with no guarantee of ROI with headings like “How to Create Huge Wealth” etc (which are very hard to research). The Author’s Assistant course does teach you practical and hands on skills.

It all comes down to choice, the Author has a choice as to whether they wish to use your services or not but they won’t know what’s available to them if it isn’t advertised. The mention of “pyramid scheme” is a little harsh. This is also a matter of choice on whether you take up this offer or not and I would think that anyone undertaking a course or for that matter making any sort of purchase would thoroughly investigate what they are buying into before making a decision.

The phrase “identify and solicit authors” makes an Author’s Assistant sound a bit like a predator (or worse) which is unfair. I know quite a few Authors who carry around a suitcase full of books everywhere they go with the hope of getting some sales and when being face to face with someone trying to sell you a book it is much harder to say no.

The world of writing and publishing is very conservative but I would suggest that this is changing along with everything else in the way we do business and we have to move forward and keep developing or get left behind in the rush.

Anonymous said...

Is it just me or are the VAA's typing a script? It's the same comment over and over again...
Slander? Not even close. In fact, Victoria specifically requested people with more knowledge to respond. The "over the top" VAA comments actually make me a lot more skeptical than anything said in the original post.
PLJ

Victoria Strauss said...

I'm crazy busy right now with writing projects but just wanted to say that I'm following the discussion.

When I invited comments from VAAs and authors who'd used them, I hoped for thoughtful responses like Lauren Hidden's and Julie Eudy's. However, I figured the word might go out, and that there might be some kind of organized angry response to this post. So I'm not surprised at the sudden influx of "slander" comments (BTW, if I were hiring an assistant, I'd hope he or she would know the difference between slander and libel, and also that critical opinion does not constitute defamation).

Briefly, my main concerns about the VAA program are, first, its claim that there's a "high demand" for VAAs, without accompanying evidence (I don't doubt that some authors want this service, but that's not the same as "high demand"); and second, that a 30-day course can provide someone with the expertise to competently direct the publishing or self-publishing process.

I accept that the course can build on already-existing expertise. But I remain skeptical that someone who knows nothing about publishing or self-publishing could become a competent author's assistant in just 30 days. With such limited exposure to the publishing/self-publishing world, I fear that VAAs might be vulnerable to the same myths and misinformation that afflict inexperienced authors--as sugggested, for instance, by Joni Snowden's comment that "Today, it's mostly up to the author to market their book." This is a common notion, but it's false. All authors these days are expected to self-promote, but marketing is the publisher's job, and commercially-published authors can expect and do receive this vital support from their publishers.

Kay said...

Victoria, publishers do NOT market for the author. Whatever support they provide is limited. Traditional publishers look for authors who can market a book. It's a skill authors need to learn, marketing.

Marissa Doyle said...

Commercially published authors promote their books, not market them. There's a big difference.

Victoria Strauss said...

Kay, commercial publishers don't always do a lot of promotion for their authors. But they DO market.

Marketing starts months before the publication date. It includes a catalog for booksellers, review copies sent out to professional venues, presence at book fairs, and, most important, direct sales representation to booksellers, which, along with a good distribution system, ensures that the books will appear in physical bookstores as well as online (getting books into bricks-and-mortar stores is not the author's job). Author blurbs may also be obtained, and there may be some trade advertising.

Commercial publishers do these things consistently, and they do them for ALL their authors, no matter how new or insignificant. They are things that authors cannot do for themselves, because authors don't have access to the sales channels of the book trade.

Websites, blogs, social media, readings and signings, podcasts, virtual author tours, etc.--the things that authors can do--are important. But without a platform of basic publisher marketing support to build on, they are much less effective, and much less likely to succeed.

This notion that there's no difference between marketing and promotion, and that authors can duplicate a publisher's efforts on their own, is incredibly widespread, but it really isn't true. The idea that publishers "used to" promote their authors, but now no longer do, is also false. Publishers never provided significant promotion for more than a handful of their authors. What's different now isn't that publishers don't promote--it's that authors have to. Authorial self-promotion was simply not an issue before about fifteen years ago.

Julie Eudy said...

Just wondering...if there were questions about the program's value and results achieved in participating in the course, would it have been better to address them directly with Jan?

She is very approachable and I'm sure would be receptive in answering questions related to the course. It might at least have given her a fair chance to address any questions or concerns.

Really, isn't that what we'd all want someone to do for us if the tables were turned?

J. Eudy

Jen Scoggins said...

I have an existing Virtual Assistance business and I prefer to work with solo-entrepreneurs, one to one, rather than small to medium sized businesses. I signed up for the VAA course being debated to expand my services so that I could market to and effectively support speakers, coaches and authors - all solo entrepreneurs. I live in Denver so reaching this niche market is quite accessible.

I have many years of business experience and my skill set is varied. For me the course was not difficult but it did provide me an insiders perspective and education on the actual steps involved in getting a book published. It also provided me with valuable forms and marketing materials. Valuable because I don't have to spend time on creating them myself.

Am I an expert in the publishing industry? No. I am however better equipped to guide and assist an author, speaker, coach or other client in the publishing process. Could I have learned this on my own or by working directly with an author who offered on the job training? Yes.
In my books (no pun intended) the time involved in learning it on my own or the author's time spent training me would far exceed the $600 price tag of the course.

There are authors who can afford this service and some that simply can't. There are authors who see the value of an assistant and those that don't. This situation exists with potential clients in every industry.

I was very realistic of the price of the course and the potential ability to gain author clients when making my decision. I am glad I took it. It is a wealth of information and I respect and appreciate the effort in developing it.

Anonymous said...

Experience or not, this person is preying on people's money. Most of the things these Assistents do is the work of agents and when you look at the course: "VAA course content includes such important items as how to prepare and proof a manuscript, how to get an ISBN and bar code, how to register copyright, how to put together a media kit, and how to launch an Amazon Bestseller Campaign." Preparing and proofing a manuscript is the author's job. Getting an ISBN, registering copyright and making a media kit are the work of the publisher and shouldn't be done before publisher has bought the work and launching a bestseller campaign is again the author's work. You don't need help from an assistent to ask readers to help you with that. All in all a whole lot of wasted money if you ask me.

If you happen to be a self-published author then ISBN's and copyright registrations might be useful, but I'd rather trust Absolutewrite.com than some money-wasting online course.

JS said...

Dear Virtual Authors' Assistants Who Are Not Ms. Hidden or Ms. Eudy:

a) "Slander" is spoken. "Libel" is written.

b) Using the phrase "traditional publishing" in the trade publishing/commercial publishing worlds brands you as a rank amateur. The only people who use the phrase "traditional publishing" are people in the self-publishing and vanity publishing worlds.

c) Lecturing multi-published authors about what publishers do and don't do makes you look silly.

There. I give you this information for free, gratis.

Polenth said...

I think some of the commenters need to read each other's comments:

Jen Scoggins said...
I have an existing Virtual Assistance business

Monika said...
I am doing the Virtual Author’s Assistant course because several of my clients are published authors

YvonneW said...
I work as a VA that specializes in internet marketing for my clients. ... I currently have a Marketing Diploma and I have completed web design courses.

Petra Boucher said...
I work as a general VA and took this course, in the same way that I take many other speciality courses, to improve my knowledge.

GoldenVA said...
As a Virtual Assistant, I brought over 20+ years experience of Marketing & Communications to my practice which has been steadily growing with speaker and author clients for the past 7 years.


Basically, you've all said that you have previous experience. You're VAs or you've taken other relevant courses. This course was an add-on for you.

That's not what the course claims to be. It says you can start a business with no previous experience. If that's true, why aren't we seeing comments from people who set up a business just using this course?

I don't think the course is the problem, but the way it's promoted. If it's an add-on for people already in the VA business, it's only fair to tell people that upfront. Or at least warn them it will hard to start a business using this course alone - they'll probably need to take other courses too.

Sally Zigmond said...

I am wide-eyed with incredulity.

Here in the UK we have a saying, 'Only in America, eh?' said with a smug, knowing wink. Then again, we also have a saying, 'Yesterday America, tomorrow the UK.

I'm only glad there are no such courses or the need for them here at the moment. But give it time, give it time.

christine tripp said...

>encouraging VAAs “to know where authors and aspiring authors hide”<

This is one of the phrases in VAA's speal that, if they wish to appear reputable, should be dropped. I mean really, we teach you how to unearth all those hidden authors? Since when has it ever been hard to find self publishing authors... they are everywhere, you can't miss them!!!
Linking self publishing and this course makes sense I suppose. They would go together in my op but not be needed by a traditionally published author. The people posting pro VAA seem to have already been fully qualified to be an author assistance without this "course". The qualifications you need to take the course... are none! I appreciate Lauren's thoughtful post, but by both Lauren with a BA and "Jo Blow" with just his love of books, having completed and graduated the same course, what does that say to an author. Is Jo as qualified now as Lauren? (just using you as an example of a qualifed ed assistant Lauren:) If an author is still to do their homework and check out the persons qualifications OTHER then their virtual diploma, then what weight does this VAA course carry in any case? It means, nothing really, as both a qualified person and a non qualified person both hold this particular diploma.

Anonymous said...

I think there are VAAs and VAAs. I do know several commercially published authors who hire people to do their on-line promotion for them--newsletters, contests, setting up mailing lists--and that seems perfectly reasonable and above-board and worthwhile assuming the VAA knows what the heck s/he's doing. I may go that route someday if it seems justified in cost vs. my time.

But helping someone self-publish their book...well, I guess. A few of the VAAs who commented mentioned helping busy professionals in other fields create their self-published book. So long as the person understands the service they're paying for, then that's their choice. But I hope VAAs are not advertising their services to fiction writers who want to self-publish and frequently have no clue about publishing vs. self-publishing. There's room for abuse there, and I hope no VAAs who have commented here would do that.

christine tripp said...

I hear you Anon 11:48, well said. I am sure the AA's posting here would not risk all their years of hard work and reputation scaming self publishing authors but not so sure that this is not some of the intention of this course (again because of that phrase of teaching the student how to find those hidding authors)
When you have a self pub author, it seems to spone an industry of sorts. Not just Vanity press's but perhaps assistants, editors, even illustrators. There are a number of them that I have seen who only work with self pub authors on their pic books. No matter if the book is good or bad, has a chance of selling or no chance in .... they will accept payment for the art. I know the author has asked for this service... but there is just something about it that seems wrong.

christine tripp said...

Victoria, I'd probably disagree with you on only one thing. Sadly, I think there IS a huge market for these VAA's. As Jan says on her website, 80% of the people have or want to write a book. These are the clients that the course will target certainly. They are also so simple to find, they are everywhere, on your street, in your family, members of any and every on-line group.
I found this page of info on why an author should self publish interesting. In it Jan mentions the costs to the author even if they are being traditionally published... hum, did not know an author, contract in hand, might shell out up to $3000

http://www.publishing-store.com/pages/article-pages/article-return-investment-non-fiction-book.html

All the courses on the site are geared toward the self publishing author... and while I know I should not be so down on SP, the problem is most of these folks (out of the 80%) will just lose their money.

Anonymous said...
This comment has been removed by a blog administrator.
christine tripp said...

>It's funny how when many of the people who disagree with her make a few typing or spelling mistakes (for instance 'shepard', she says nothing, but when someone who disagrees with her makes a slip up, then she gets sarcastic,<

Anon/anon/anon/anon, sadly the above makes no sense, though I am sure you mean to say "many of the people who "agree" with her..."

"She" as well as some others, may be expecting more from people who have taken this course to work with Authors, then from other posters who may be illustrator or not even in this industry.

I think the question isn't why would so many of us care that a naive/new author is being taken advantage of by an unscruplious agent that charges or a press like Pub America, but why wouldn't we?
The fee of almost $600 IS a lot of money for anyone for a 30 day on-line course and it's extremely hard to believe that any career can be taught in that time period.
Really, the only thing that HAS changed in the last 25 years is the easy and availability of self publishing opportunities due to the internet and with this "new" industry, come sub industries that can take advantage.

It's very hard to take seriously a course that has no prerequisits other then these few examples listed, you have expensive hobbies or habits and the credit card charges to prove it or a teacher who wants to work in the summer etc.

Since the assistance is aimed at the self publishing author, there is always the worry they will pay many people down the road to publication and never make a cent on the book (though no one along the way will tell them their work is just not good)

Victoria Strauss said...

Sorry, folks, we just had a Michele Glance Rooney attack (the deleted posts). I now return you to your regularly scheduled programming.

christine tripp said...

Great Victoria, now my post really makes a lot of sense... not!!!:)
haha, it was well worth it (and when have my posts made sense in any case) just to read about Michele! Wow, that is just really, really sad how a person could be this tormented (and tormenting)
Poor woman, no life, must invent a million of them. I did check all her blog links out, all with one posting devoted to herself, her "business" of literary agent, the posts saying nothing, just a way of promotion. Poor thing... do you think she has now taken the VAA course and become one of those too, along with an amazing author, agent, and any other career's her other personalities have???:)

Richard White said...

Ah, I'm assuming that's probably the same person who tried to tell me there was no difference between self-publishing and vanity publishing in the Author Mill thread?

Victoria Strauss said...

I don't think so, Rich. Michele addresses her love notes only to me. (I'm so lucky!) I recognize her not just from her hosting service, but because she always says how much she hates me.

Anonymous said...

The negativity in this thread is astounding.

It boils down to... if you would like an assistant, hire one. If you don't, then don't.

I don't see the need to slam VAA's or the founder of the VAA course. It's negative and petty.

You are all entitled to your opinions, but keep in mind that they are YOUR opinions.

I have a friend who is a business coach. She told me awhile ago that there is a much larger need for VAA's than there are actual VAA's...so apparently, contradictory to your esteemed opinions, there is actually a need. Other people find these services valuable.

If you don't, then do your own legwork. It makes no difference to anyone else.

David said...

Great post from the other side of the void. As a hobby writer & researcher for a few years. I've learned that it is possible to make a living as a VA without even having a typing qualification. Working as a VAA appeals to me also, not just because I am interested in books!

Would I pay $597 to learn the job? - more! if I truly believed that it would teach me to do a really good job. I have achieved many things without needing 25 years experience and a pretty certificate though.

SusanMallery said...

I'm an author, and I have a virtual assistant. I don't expect her to be an expert in the publishing process. But then, I'm not self-published, so we're talking about a different animal. I write romance and women's fiction novels. I publish several books per year, and my assistant helps me stay focused on writing.

She is my beta reader and provides excellent feedback on my first drafts. I write Dear Reader letters, and she posts them to susanmallery.com. She manages my advertising campaigns. She sets up my blog tours. She sorts through my emails and deletes the junk so I can respond to reader mail without worrying about the rest. She also created all the content for my Fool's Gold website, which promotes my latest series.

If I can help it, I will never live without a VA. But I don't need her to help me get an ISBN.

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Silke said...

I find it interesting, because there seem to be different variations of VAA.
However, 30 days to go from "Don't know" to being a "fully qualified" VAA? That smacks of a MS Certification boot camp to me.
(And I've done those. Just because you pass the test, doesn't mean you have a clue. I had the experience, but needed the certification. Most people on the course wanted the certification to get the experience...)
Then there is the "I work as a VA that specializes in internet marketing for my clients."
No.
You work as a VA WHO specializes in Internet marketing for your clients. (But then, she didn't say she's editing, so I forgive her.)
And we have "He was looking for someone to take the reigns from him so that he could continue to focus on his writing."
The reigns? Really?

One thing to do (it seems), if you choose a VAA to help you edit, is to give them a sample text to edit.

I would *never* hire a VAA for editing, period.
Marketing? Sure. If they have a proven track record.
Someone coming along with a certificate and no experience...um...no.
Unless they show me they have experience (and references I can check) I wouldn't hire them.

Anonymous said...

I am an aspiring author (of fiction, mind you) who has no intent of going the self-pub route because it's too complicated and requires too many skills that would be too time-consuming to acquire and not worth the effort or time. Things like web design, SEO, social media -- Internet buzzword/ProBlogger/Mad Men stuff that takes away from what I really want to do, which is write. Not be an advertiser or "self-marketer." I am not Don Draper and have no interest to be.

I therefore wonder if such things as author assistants/shepherds or whatever the term may be would be of use to someone who aims for trade/commercial publication. I'm sure they are, but I guess my real question is what tasks do/can they offload so that the writer has minimal responsibilities other than his/her work? One thing I dread, being an incredibly shy Introvert, is social media -- is it possible to hire someone to "manage" social media accounts and blogs, and post in the writer's stead?

From what I understand, there exist other freelancers to do many of these tasks already: copywriters, webmasters, SEO "experts" -- is a V(A)A simply someone who works as "jack of all trades" with regards to most/all of these things? What's the going rate, and is there a flexible fee schedule as well, i.e. hourly or with a monthly installment? Also, what is your opinion of the company Writer's Relief, which claims to offer a similar service?