Negative Reviews

Late yesterday, in checking my emails after a late client call, I found a Google Alert in my inbox.  I hope you use Google Alerts to let you know that your name or your book title is being mentioned somewhere online.  I clicked on the link and there, for the first time, was a negative review – not of a book or article, but of a course I’ve created for Virtual Author’s Assistants.  It wasn’t just a brief mention but an entire blog post on the subject, very suspicious of the whole idea of the author’s assistant.

I chose to write the author an email rather than posting a comment because I wanted to connect with the author and offer her the opportunity to take an unlimited look at any and all aspects of the course (which she can easily do online) rather than deciding it looked suspiciously like a scam from the sales page for the course alone.  I haven’t heard back from her yet, but I hope to.

Bloggers aren’t journalists and there are no ethical standards that require them to be fair, accurate or to do any investigation into the truth of what they are saying. But I will feel better if I set the record straight here about the virtual author’s assistant training program.

Not every author will need or should use an author’s assistant or virtual author’s assistant.  The authors I work with are nonfiction authors who are subject matter experts and have businesses or solo practices to run.  It is less likely that an author of a fiction book would need an author’s assistant, something we go out of our way to make very clear in the course.  Subject matter experts often self publish because they have a ready sales avenue for their books such as speaking engagements, seminars and corporate volume sales.  Many don’t want to handle the administrative aspects of book publishing (ISBN, bar code, LCCN, coordinating with the printer, copyright registration, social media, Amazon listings and content, virtual book tours, customer service, fulfilling orders and more) and have the kind of budget for their books that makes it possible for them to hire some help to get this done.

I developed the program to train individuals, and mostly people already working as virtual assistants, on the administrative skills they might need in working with author clients.  Another point we strive to make in the course is that this is a team effort.  The author’s assistant plays the role of what used to be called the “production coordinator” when I ran a publishing company, handling certain tasks but generally making sure everything got done on time and on budget.  They are not publishing experts, but they do have expertise in their particular portion of the process.

I highly recommend people use book coaches, and this is much of the work I do myself.  But at $140 an hour, most of my author clients would rather work with a $50 an hour person to execute the plans we’ve made and I’m not interested in explaining (again) to an author how to get an ISBN, whether they need a series, whether they need a new one with a new edition, etc., etc., etc.  It has been wonderful for me, reminding me of my old days as an editor, to hand off this work to someone who knows just where to go and what to do.

Ironically, my adventure in creating a course to train author’s assistants was an effort to help as many self published authors as possible keep their intellectual property and all the proceeds from their books.  Publishing strategy is hard – creating a marketable book, getting appropriate distribution, getting media attention are all things that need to be handled by publishing experts.  Author’s assistants aren’t trained to do these things – they are trained to do the things that aren’t so hard, but are time consuming and they provide that service just for people who want it. Do most author’s assistants think they know all about book publishing?  No, they don’t, but they know a lot more than most.  They do know how to get specific things done that authors need and they are reliable and resourceful members of some authors’ teams.  Do they make an important contribution?  I think they do, for those who want to use them.

The number of new trade books published in the U.S. last year was approximately 500,000 with about half self published.  If even 5% of these self published authors wanted to use an author’s assistant, that would be 12,500.  Considering the number of virtual author’s assistants is in the hundreds, not thousands, I think demand for these people is high.  Since the program is international, we have trained author’s assistants in Canada, the UK and Australia as well as in the U.S. to work with authors anywhere.

The price of the course is $597.  Working at only $30 an hour, an individual could make back the price of the course in three days of work. I think the information in the course is worth far more than that, but we’ve intentionally kept it affordable, not for all, but for most.  But more than just the course itself, what author’s assistants get is my expertise since they can talk to me about any challenges their authors face for the life of their businesses -as long as I’m around to answer the questions, I will be supporting their efforts and giving additional classes at no additional charge.  There is no membership, no annual fee, just an affiliate program for those who choose to use it.

The certification includes a not-so-easy final exam and practice work along the way.  The Master Virtual Author’s Assistant certification includes a list of things that must be accomplished including taking additional classes (not mine), writing, an ethics requirement, actual client recommendations and more.  It isn’t as easy as paying $85.  I am well aware that creating a certification program is a controversial thing, particularly in this industry where even literary agents don’t have any certification, competency or licensing requirements although they deal with authors’ money every day.

I am grateful for this opportunity and reminder to take another look at our marketing materials.  The blogger cast light on things that might seem shady to some and because of that we will be making some changes in our language.  There is always a fine line between proactive marketing and intentionally giving a false impression.  If anything said in the sales material about your book doesn’t feel right to you, even if it was a copywriter’s effort to help you sell books, I urge you to change it. You don’t want to be in the position of having to defend something you weren’t 100% sure of in the first place.  We’ve got a new web space for the course that I think will better describe it at www.AuthorsAssistantTraining.com and we will continue to hone it as time goes on.

Because the blogger specifically said she was open to hearing from author’s assistants or authors who had worked with them, I sent out a message last night with a link to the blog and encouraging comment.  I can’t thank those of you enough who did that. And thanks to the many authors and author’s assistants who took time to send me an encouraging email, thanking me for the course and the opportunity to do what you love,  working virtually and working with authors.  While I think it is productive to continue this important discussion and raise awareness of this field within the larger world of book publishing, please don’t feel the need to defend yourselves.  Your clients appreciate what you do and not everyone is the right client for you.

I’m mad, as the blogger is, about the number of scams taking place in book publishing today.  There are many people who prey on the fears of authors and offer them “book deals” by getting them to pay for their own publication.  I applaud any effort to keep an eye on these kinds of practices and expose them.  Many POD publishers pay authors royalty percentages on their own books, make them buy their own books after marking up the printing, and keep them from owning the art files for their books, preventing them from changing to a better way of publishing.

From time to time I’ve worked with authors who have been completely devastated by reviews of their books that had the slightest bit of criticism and until yesterday I can’t say I was very sympathetic.  I heard my own advice which I’ve given so many times: “Everyone who puts himself out there gets negative reviews from time to time.  The key is not to overreact and certainly not to argue the point. Just work on getting more positive reviews than negative and eventually it will not seem that important.” And of course, this advice: “Any publicity is good publicity.  Controversy sells books!”

Apparently it does.  All this attention to virtual author’s assistants has resulted in a great sales day.

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Comments

  • Donna Cravotta  On November 5, 2009 at 4:52 pm

    Good for you Jan. As you know I am a proud graduate of your course, which was a natural addition to my 25 years of administrative skills and my VA practice. I have had author clients for years and have just added a new one to the roster. This course is totally ethical and Jan and her business partner Tanya are amazingly supportive during and after the course. They both share their knowledge and resources and truly want every one of their students to make a positive impact with their work. Months after completing the course Jan still answers my questions and although I do not have years of experience in the publishing industry I feel that in addition to my own credentials I also bring Jan and Tanya’s knowledge to the table for my author clients.

    I had the pleasure of meeting Jan and Tanya in NYC this Spring and helped them at BEA – I saw them in action with the authors they coach – they are smart, caring professionals and very well respected. I encourage any naysayers to take Jan up on her offer, please take a closer look at her service to authors and training for authors assistants.

  • Cassandra Cooper  On November 5, 2009 at 5:33 pm

    Dear Jan,

    Good answer. And, truly if this woman had interviewed any of the VA’s that you have so ably trained, she would have been able to see the counterpoint to her very one sided story line.

    Please don’t stop!
    blessing on you work
    Cassandra

  • Jen Scoggins  On November 5, 2009 at 9:19 pm

    Class act Jan! Very well done and pleased to be associated.

  • Yvonne  On November 6, 2009 at 7:25 am

    I recently took a flash course at the local run government funded college. If I had a problem during the course and I did not understand something there was no one to help. Once the course was done there was no after sales services. I attended one day a week for almost 3 months the cost was close to Jan Kings Author Assistant course.

    The Author Assistant course gives me the skills I need to give quality service to Authors. There is great after sales service. The price is comparable.

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