Is it time to hire an author virtual assistant (VA)?

Ever wish there were two of you?

There’s so much more to being an author than writing and publishing a book. The behind-the-scenes work – getting books out to reviewers, sending and tracking blurb requests, creating a regular email newsletter, and so on – all takes time.

So that they can spend less time on the business of being an author and more on writing that next book, many writers get outside help. Like me, they hire a virtual assistant (VA), an independent contractor in another location who does specific tasks.

The VA’s assignments are often things the author:
• Doesn’t want to do
• Doesn’t know how to do
• Doesn’t have time to do

Typical author virtual assistant tasks

The right virtual assistant can do whatever you need her to do.

author virtual assistant 2
Emilie Rabitoy

For her author clients, Emilie Rabitoy, The Rural Virtual Assistant, usually handles social media, but she also helps with the author’s website and blog.

Because Kelly Johnson of Cornerstone Virtual Assistance is known as the “Geek Girl,” she often takes on the technology component of an author’s business.

This includes setting up and maintaining websites, handling e-commerce, managing newsletters, and assisting with audio and video projects and files.

The right VA can do other tasks, including identifying beta readers or reviewers, finding guest bloggers, creating social media graphics, and researching blogs where you can contribute guest posts.

I hired my first VA more than a decade ago when I realized that I couldn’t accomplish everything I wanted to without outside help. (I now work with, and love, Crystal McLeod.)

Just as importantly, I wanted to add certain elements to my business that included an email newsletter, but didn’t want to spend the time needed to learn how to do every piece of it myself.

I started the process by deciding what I wanted someone else to do. That’s where you should start, too.

What do you need help with?

Johnson recommends using a specific process.

author virtual assistant 3
Kelly Johnson

“Define a period of time – for example, three to five days – and record all tasks you conducted for your business. This includes calls, working on blog posts, creating a newsletter, website updates, and so on.

Then rate each task on the list a 1, 2 or 3,” she says.

Use this rating structure:
1. I love to do this task.
2. This isn’t my favorite thing to do, but it’s okay.
3. If I never had to do this again, I would do a happy dance.

Then look at the tasks rated “3.” They’re probably the source of most of your procrastination.

Johnson says the 3s are the ones you probably want to think about turning over to a VA to handle.

Finding the right VA

Once you know what to delegate, you need to find the right VA. Anastacia Brice, founder of, advises moving slowly.

“Spend more time on the front end than you imagined you would,” she cautions, adding that it’s not “too much” to have several calls and many emails with an individual you’re seriously considering as your assistant.

author virtual assistant 4
Anastacia Brice

Brice recommends assessing work style and culture – do you want someone with a relaxed approach or someone who needs everything on a chart or to-do list?

Do you feel more comfortable with someone who comes across as a Type A personality than someone who isn’t?

“Choose for fit,” she says.

Rabitoy says that persistence will help.

“Don’t settle for a VA who ‘kind of’ works for you,” she advises, referring to fit. “Keep looking for that perfect match.”

Know what “fit” means for you

Be thoughtful about what “fit” means to you, also. I once worked with a VA who only worked on my projects in the afternoon. As I later learned, she had a part-time job she hadn’t disclosed that made her unavailable in the morning.

It wasn’t much of a problem until she made a mistake that created a significant amount of trouble, but wasn’t available to fix it.

In addition, some VAs will only communicate via email – they won’t talk by phone, ever. Email works fine for me 95 percent of the time, but sometimes a situation is complicated enough that I need to know my assistant will be able to discuss it over the phone.

Where to look for the perfect match

Johnson and Rabitoy get most of their author clients through recommendations and word of mouth, so start by asking authors who they recommend. Rabitoy says your author social media connections can be especially helpful.

I found my first VA through Brice’s, so I recommend looking at that option, too. VAs in that network have been professionally trained, follow the organization’s standards of excellence and ethics policies, and are connected to a VA community.

That last piece – being plugged into other VAs – helped me when I needed assistance with my e-commerce program that my then-VA couldn’t provide. She tapped the network to find Johnson, who was able to solve the problem.

What do VAs charge?

You’ll also want to make sure you can afford this assistance. Rates vary depending on factors that include the skill required for the tasks, so I’m reluctant to quote a range.

What’s important to understand, though, is that you aren’t hiring a college intern. You’re hiring a professional who adds value to your business. Your VA is also usually self-employed, so she has overhead expenses to cover. This is not minimum-wage work.

Be sure you understand the terms and how and when you will pay your assistant. Mine tracks her time and bills me for hours spent. She invoices me twice a month. I’ve also worked with people who require clients to purchase a block of hours upfront that they bill against.

Do a few test projects together

Before committing, consider Johnson’s advice to take your potential assistant for a test drive.

“See if the VA has an hourly rate and delegate one to two projects to her. This allows you to begin working together and see if your work and communication styles are a good match,” she says.

The right assistant can make a significant difference in what you accomplish — and your anxiety level. If you feel like the business of running a business is holding you back, it’s time to consider outside help.

Do you work with a VA? What tasks does your VA handle for you? Please tell us in a comment.

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  1. Hi Sandy,

    This post is right on time for me. Due to family obligations, my long-time VA is not as available as she once was. Until I find another VA that means many tasks are going undone for now.

    I’ve been asking and looking around, but your post makes it easier to get quality tips and prospective VAs all in one place.

    Thanks again for your timely help.

  2. Great post, Sandy! Thank you so much for including me and Work With a VA (the sister site to AssistU, in case people know that name!).

    The only thing I’d add is that I am 100% against the test run that Kelly suggests. Chances are, no biz owner reading this would ever do a test or trial for a prospective client…or ask another professional to do one. It seems out of integrity to ask a VA, and it’s insulting, in my view.

    You know that I liken the interview/consultation process to business dating. The reason I suggest investing significant time/energy up front is to keep from having the business version of a quickie-Vegas wedding, where people get married fast, but then want to annul it the next day, horrified with the choices they made.

    Likewise, no good marriage ever started with someone walking down the aisle saying, “Huh.. if I don’t end up liking him, I can get a divorce.”
    And no great client/VA relationship ever started with the client thinking, “Huh…if I don’t end up liking her, I can end the relationship.”

    While we all KNOW we can get out of any relationship at any time, I say if people have done due diligence in choosing their VAs, they should go all-in from day one to really see what happens.

    When they behave as if the relationship is going to be long-term, make the necessary investments, help the VA learn the biz owner and the business, chances are they’ll see exactly what they hope to see.

    Thanks for letting me share 🙂

    1. Thanks, Anastacia! I appreciate your thoughtful observation about the trial run idea, and see your point about how investing the time upfront to find the best match might eliminate the need for a “try me out” project.

      As for your comment that “no biz owner reading this would ever do a test or trial for a prospective client,” though, when a prospect contacts me about editing a book, I need to do a test edit of a few pages before I can provide a project estimate. When I send my estimate, I also include the test edit because I want the author to see how I’d approach the project. I don’t want there to be any surprises later. If they don’t like what I’ve done with those few pages, they shouldn’t hire me. It’s a mini-trial, but it’s a trial.

      From my view, a trial run with any two professionals can also keep the consultant from making a mistake. We’ve all had clients who did their best to make us nuts, right? Using your marriage analogy, many people who live together first say their spouse became a different person immediately after they married and made it legal. Clients do the same thing.

      Thanks again for this bonus contribution and your help with the post! I appreciate it and I know our readers do, too!


  3. Sandy,

    Thanks for sharing that.

    The difference I see is that your doing it is part of your process. The client isn’t requiring it of you. And, although editing a book is no small project, it is still a project with a start and end; I can see the value in it for anything project-related.

    But when I created the profession, one of the ways we differentiated ourselves (VAs) from the old home-based secretarial service model was in the long-term relationships we form with clients. It’s not unheard of for a VA and client to work together for a decade or longer. We actually think of them as sidekicks—the right-hand person.

    We find most people want that kind of relationship with a VA, but don’t know how to approach looking for it. Its in the context of this that I wrote my answer.

    From 20+ years of working with clients looking for VAs, I can absolutely say that most of them come to the table with only an employment model/mindset available to them. You know, the model where the person with the “job” is 100% in control, and the person interested in the “job,” jumps through whatever hoops to try to prove herself worthy and the best candidate.

    It’s the only thing they know about interviewing. In my view, that model has no place between professionals and equals in a relationship. And that’s what VAs often see, and what I clearly rail against.

    1. Ah, I see your point about project vs. the long-term relationship you’d see with employment. Thanks for pointing that out. I am officially educated!

      And I appreciate your comment about professional equals, too. I think that’s so important. My VA is absolutely my peer — and even that doesn’t do her justice. I have enormous respect for her knowledge, skill, and resources, and ask her advice all the time. It’s not a “here’s your list of tasks” relationships, it’s a partnership. I’ll say, “Here’s where I’d like to end up. Let’s talk about the best way to get there” and she adds value 100% of the time.

      Thank you!


  4. Dear Sandra,
    Wow! Opening my g-mail this morning was like watching the sun suddenly break through the clouds.
    The realization that hit me is, I need a VA. But is there somewhere I can go to get a list of those close by maybe, in West Palm Beach, Florida, for instance. Or some whose interest is in a particular genre of book, Historical western drama with a real-life adult theme.
    Maybe that isn’t even necessary to scope down that far, but just asking here. I just know after reading all of the above, I need a good, and capable Va to help me with my website, the marketing of my books and getting me out there, which I am terrible at doing myself.
    Thank you in advance for your response.

    1. I’m glad the article was helpful, Donald.

      Google could help you find a VA who’s nearby, but I’m wondering why that’s important to you. If you hire someone local and insist on meeting in person regularly, it will cost you more, as your VA will need to charge you not only for that meeting time, but for the travel time as well. You can meet face-to-face with Skype or Zoom or other tools with a VA located anywhere.

      I think that finding a VA with an interest in the specific book category will be a fluke. You’d be better off looking for someone with experience working with novelists rather than nonfiction authors, for example, but I’m not sure that even matters. You don’t hire a VA for strategy. You hire them to do tasks that you direct. If you want someone to, for example, create a social media strategy for your books, you would want to consult with a social media strategist first to get a plan and structure, then turn the execution over to a VA.

      Good luck!


  5. Donald,

    I’ll second what Sandy said about location, and add that VAs are virtual for a reason 😉 While someone would likely be interested in meeting you if/when you both happened to be in the same location at the same time, they aren’t so interested in in-person work (a sweeping generality, there, but a fair one). Not to mention, when you lock down the geography, you restrict the available talent pool. Why do that unnecessarily? What if the most perfect VA for you was in California, or Minneapolis? Would you truly rather work with someone where the fit wasn’t as great just to have her nearby? 🙂

    And as to the genre, it’s unlikely to me that a VA who didn’t have an interest in your genre would be interested in working with you; I know that our VAs at AssistU feel that life’s way too short to work with clients whose work bores them to tears because they partner so closely with their clients, diving deep into what’s going on with them. Having said that, I would look for someone who has experience helping fiction authors, as she’s likely to have seen what’s worked for them that you may find helpful. Let her experience with other authors be part of what supports you well.

    1. Good afternoon, Anastacia;
      I attempted to write a note to you before and it went into a completely other box, I guess because the note was becoming a letter. But in any case, you never got the letter, so it is still floating around in space somewhere. This note is shorter, so we can establish a more direct line of communication and see if we have a fit. And then we will go from there.
      I do agree with everything you say above.


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