(Written by my own assistant, Amy, otherwise known as "The Kerr." Because nicknames are fun.)
I've had the privilege (and infinite pleasure!) of working with J.T. for two years, and I'd say we have a pretty good relationship. Sure, our Type-A personalities jive (confession: our first bonding moment was a joke about nesting folders—yes, we are nerds). But maybe there's a little more to maintaining a good working relationship than a shared love of hyper-organization.
The "author assistant" job title is still fairly new. In the past ten years, along with the rise social media and brand presence on the Internetz, authors have worn more hats than ever before—honestly, a more appropriate term for author these days would be Chief Content Officer of their own small businesses.
As I discussed the last time I was here, the crux of my job is increase the amount of time J.T. has to write. I've noticed a few ways we author assistants can successfully make that happen.
I've been in the book business for the better part of a decade, so I'm pretty familiar with the life cycle of a book, from the murky idea stage to the pure ecstasy of holding the finished product in your hands.
But you know what?
There are a. lot. of. steps. in making a book come to life. So many that it's easy to forget a few, even if you've done it a frillion times.
Publishing is the ultimate plate-spinning job. At any given moment, J.T. is writing a book, editing another, and promoting yet another, so it's crucial we keep all the plates a-spinning, even when we're tired.
How do we do it? We, fellow author assistant, can anticipate.
It's crucial to anticipate every part of the book-making process because books aren't created in a vacuum. Authors, project editors, managing editors, copy editors, proofreaders, production managers, cover artists, printers, shippers, sales people, distributors, store owners: it takes a huge network of folks to pull everything together by release date. Any snag in the process means that someone else down the line is delayed in doing their job, which results in a Lucy-and-Ethel-at-the-Chocolate-Factory kind of moment.
This is the opposite of what you want in book-making.
And in order to anticipate properly, J.T. and I are constantly referring to our workflows.
Y'all. Workflows have saved my hide more than once. Not even kidding.
When we decided workflows would be part of our lives, J.T. and I sat down and outlined our mosts common tasks: book tasks, weekly business tasks, monthly business tasks. At our staff meeting each week, we review where we are in each workflow and adjust accordingly (they're great accountability tools, for sure).
Workflows ensure we're on the right track. They take the guesswork out of where we need to go. And they help us decide how to pace ourselves and how to fill our calendars so we're not running around with our hair on fire.
Before I showed up, J.T. did everything by herself: write books, edit books, promote books, schedule interviews, design newsletters, curate social media, coordinate travel, and more. She wrote twelve books doing all the things before she handed off some of it to me.
When did she sleep? I don't know. It still blows my mind.
And J.T. is good at everything—I'm serious. I'm not just saying this because she's going to read it later. She has a Midas-like touch, and she is just good at stuff.
But just because she's good at something doesn't mean she should be doing it.
Delegation is a tricky thing. It takes trust to do it well, and I'm grateful to have hers (again, Type-A girl understands it's not easy to relinquish control). Because in order to make this work, in order for me to have a job, in order for J.T. to have more writing time, she has to let go of some things. I've taken over the design work and the website. I coordinate media inquiries and her appearances.
Would it be easier for J.T. to answer one of those media inquiries herself? Sure. But that could lead her down the rabbit hole of "Oh, this will just take a minute" and an hour later find herself on Wikipedia reading about Vlad the Impaler (Has this happened? I'll never tell...).
Bottom line: when everyone is clear on what the author's job is and what the assistant's job is, and sticks to it, the machine runs more smoothly.
3. (over) Communicate
At some point, you've probably wished for the ability to read minds. (and other times have been grateful no one can!)
Human beings are wired differently, and we've all had different experiences. What's obvious to some wouldn't occur to others in a million years.
The foundation of any good relationship is communication, ensuring both parties are on the same wavelength, and that includes author and author assistant. On a weekly basis, I guarantee J.T. and I will have at least one "Who's on First" moment because someone is only partially explaining what's going on in her head. When this happens, the other will say "USE YOUR WORDS!" as a nicer code for:
For the small things, for the big things, for the things you don't understand, or even for the ones you do—say something. It's better than saying nothing and being confused.
Or duplicating work. 😑
Or doing the wrong thing. 😡
Your author has limited time. Clearly say what you mean, and outline what you're working on or how to reach a goal. Everyone will thank you.
How do you maintain positive relationships, creative or otherwise? Any wisdom to share?