Author Assistant 101: The Best Tool I Use to Create Images

Hey, peeps! It’s me, The Kerr. Welcome to June. (yes, June—I’m not sure how it happened, either)

Today we continue my Best Tools series for author assistants and other communicators. So buckle up, buttercup!

Since we spoke last, I bet you’ve organized your life into beautiful To-Do lists. Perhaps you went a step further and transcribed your To-Do lists onto color-coded Google Calendars. Maybe you’ve gone to the full organizational dark side and are now the proud owner of a label maker. 😱

Or maybe you thought Wunderlist was for the birds. That’s okay, too. We can still be friends.

At any rate, let’s grab a cup of coffee and talk about . . . images.

o rly sloth is fascinated with my post

We all have social media accounts (or at least 94% of Internet users do). You may have noticed that almost every post has an image attached—a photo, some words, a combination of both. There’s good reason for this: we humans process images in 13 milliseconds, which is much faster than we can process text. As much as we humans love words (because if you’re on this blog, you undoubtedly do), there’s no denying at heart (at brain?) we are visual creatures.

This is good for you, fellow communicator. Why? 

Because it’s never been easier to create beautiful, shareable images for your author’s social media platforms.

For this I thank you, Canva.

 

Canva is a (free!) tool that helps anyone create a beautiful, shareable image in just seconds.

Seconds, I say. I’m not even joking.
 

Why do I use Canva?

1. It's easy. The Adobe Creative Suite is daunting—I don’t know the jargon and capabilities of each program. Do I have time to learn them? Not at 10:37 a.m. on a Thursday, when I learn one of J.T.'s books is having a flash sale and I want to shout it from the rooftops ASAP. I want an image with all the details her readers need—and quickly. With Canva, I can do just that. 

Don’t overthink it, y’all. This is coming from a classic over thinker.
 

2. It's fast. Canva is intuitive—it has a clean interface with drag-and-drop capabilities. This means you can create a fabulous social image in thirty seconds. Maybe even fifteen. Ten, probably, though don’t get crazy.
 

3. It's fun! Because making images on Canva is easy and fast, this also means Canva is fairly stress-free (aka you won’t say many four-letter words when you’re using the program). 

Stress-free = you can play around with features. 

And play = fun.

Ergo, by law of the transitive property, Canva = fun.
 

These are my favorite Canva features:

1. Templates! Savior of busy assistants and social media marketers everywhere, Canva has templates for each social platform (correctly sized, dear reader! 😭), and then some. Can you say game changer?

even more templates below!


 

2. Magic Resize! Full disclosure: Magic Resize is a paid feature. But if you’re juggling a variety of social platforms, this will save you oodles of time. With the click of a button, you can create correctly-sized images for each platform. 

more magical than Hogwarts!


 

3. Image library! Canva stores each design draft, and all of the images you upload into its database (don’t quote me on this, but I don’t think there’s a data limit). This is super convenient if you’re creating a variety of images for a book campaign, of if you’re creating branded content for a series (like this one!).

Visual Image Library FTW!


 

4. Save images in different formats! Whether you need a low-res or print-quality image, Canva’s got your back. I haven’t tried making a gif in Canva, but I'll play around with that soon!

save an image in different formats!


 

Bottom line: Canva has saved me countless hours. Once upon a time in 2015, I was still using Microsoft Publisher to make images and memes, and softly weeping each time I did. 

Not so with Canva. It’ll stay in my toolbox for a while.
 

How do you create social images? Let’s chat about it in the Comments!
 

P.S. Looking for royalty-free stock images? Check out Pablo by Buffer!

Author Assistant 101: The Best Tool I Use to Collaborate with My Author

Hi, guys! Amy here, dreaming of all the tacos I'll be eating tomorrow on Cinco de Mayo. 🌮

Like I’ve said before, I spend most of my days in the elastic waistband heaven of yoga pants.

It’s a great time to be alive, folks.

As an author assistant (or a “virtual assistant” as some might say), I can work remotely as long as I have a Wi-Fi/4G connection. My office has been a coffee shop, countless waiting rooms, lake shores, mountain tops, and even the beautiful parking lot of a 7-Eleven (glamorous is the life I lead). 

“But, Amy,” you ask, “how do you and J.T. stay on the same page if you’re working in the parking lot of a 7-Eleven and she’s (hopefully) not?”

Fair question, dear reader. The simple answer is: the Internet is a magical thing. 

The long answer? 

During our tenure, J.T. and I have tried several organization tools and project management systems, programs of all sizes and stripes. Some were bare bones, some super robust. There's only one we still use.

 Look at kate spencer! She's organized on all of her platforms and winning at life. 

Look at kate spencer! She's organized on all of her platforms and winning at life. 

I ❤️ you, Wunderlist.

Wunderlist is a cloud-based task manager that keeps our entire business running. Thankfully, it's not too robust—we’re not spending all our time organizing tasks without doing them (a problem with other platforms we’ve used).
 

So why do J.T. and I use Wunderlist? A few reasons:
 

1. Wunderlist gives a bird’s-eye view of every single project. At a glance, we can see each of our weekly and monthly to-do’s, look at each project’s workflow, or refer to our database of easy-to-access team information.

2. It updates in real time. When J.T. or I add to the list, Wunderlist will send a notification to the other user so everybody stays on the same page.

3. It doesn’t give us data fatigue. Wunderlist has three levels of organization, which mirrors our workflow setup: Project —> Tasks —> Sub-tasks. After two years of working together, we’ve discovered three levels of organization is perfect for us. Anything more, and we lose things.
 

This is how J.T. and I use Wunderlist as Author and Author Assistant.
 

We divide our business like so:

1. Weekly tasks (for each of us)

2. Monthly tasks (for each of us)

3. Reminders/Database (good for information to keep handy) 

4. Staff Meeting Agenda

5. Project To-Do’s and Workflows
 

As we go through our weeks, J.T. and I will dump items that aren’t time-sensitive and would be easier to discuss in person at our next Staff Meeting. During our Staff Meeting, J.T. and I go through the agenda we’ve curated in Wunderlist. As we talk through each bullet, we can drag the item to the appropriate person’s task list. After we plow through our agenda, we go through each task list and workflow, ensuring we’re on track to reach our deadlines.

 Behold, our organizational glory! This is one of our task lists. See? Robust, but not overwhelming. (and can you tell we love emojis? ❤️ 🙌 🌈 )

Behold, our organizational glory! This is one of our task lists. See? Robust, but not overwhelming.
(and can you tell we love emojis? ❤️ 🙌 🌈 )

Since we put our meeting agenda in Wunderlist, fewer things slip through the cracks. If one of us is traveling and we have to meet via FaceTime, the format of our meetings is the same. And if either of us moves to a villa in Europe (a girl can dream 🏰), J.T. and I can still conduct business the same way. Again I say: the Internet is magic.

Here are a few of my favorite Wunderlist features (I sound like a used car salesman, but I don’t care—this is how much I love this thing):

1. The notifications I mentioned earlier—you can receive an alert when someone else has added or changed an item

2. Star your high-priority items so they don’t get lost in the shuffle

3. See your starred tasks and projects due today or this week—all at once.
 

Bottom line, folks—Wunderlist is flexible, provides a birds-eye or granular view of your business, whichever you need. J.T. and I plan to keep this in our arsenal forever and ever.
 

Do you use Wunderlist? Which organizational tools are your favorites? Which ones should we try? Tell us in the comments!

Save Time and Be More Productive with Workflows

This post first appeared on RT Book Reviews. If you missed it there, today's your lucky day!
 

Workflow. It’s a common business term that describes how a project moves from inception to completion. It is a simple, powerful way to get things done. For writers, the concept of workflow is intrinsic—we start a novel, we finish a novel. We start a short story, blog post, interview, we finish and submit. But if you think in broader terms, workflows can be applied to all aspects of your writing business.

Business. That pesky word again. Writing is a business. Those who treat it as such reap the rewards and build their readership. We can’t escape it—marketing and PR falls partially (sometimes fully) on the authors now. If you find ways to automate the most mundane tasks, you free up time to write.  

This is probably old news to established writers, but for the ones who are getting their start, establishing this kind of organizational structure to your writing business now will save you so many headaches down the line.

Though we act in the art of creation, there are still hundreds of moving parts that can be wrestled into some semblance of order to make your life run easier and smoother. 

Do you blog? Find a service that will deliver your blog directly to your social media accounts so you don’t need to post directly. Dlvr.it is superb for this. Want to post to Twitter at regular times, but don’t want to log in four times a day? (because hello, time suck!) My team uses Buffer, which allows us to automate and schedule well in advance. Even Facebook now has scheduling in advance, so you can sit down once a week and populate your feed with great content. Set it and forget it, which allows you to spend the time doing what social media is supposed to do for you—engage. When you’re done writing for the day, talk to your readers. Chat with them. Get to know them. Build a community. Your content is only as good as your relationships with the people in your networks.

But workflow can be much more robust than simply automating your posting to social media. Let’s take a book, for example. For every book you write, you already know the actions that have to take place. Develop your idea, create a synopsis, outline the book (or pants it, like me, based on the general idea of what’s happening) finish the book, edit the book, edit it again, deliver to beta readers, edit again, deliver to agent/editor, line edit, copy edit, last pass pages. Meanwhile, the business side kicks in—cover art is developed, sales get underway, marketing plans are written, PR begins, then you have release day, promotional tours, etc. 

For those of you who are indie, the process is similar, but you’re the one doing the work, hiring the art and editing, establishing the marketing, setting up the PR, deciding on sale price and release time. Plus doing all of the backlist promotion you do, scheduling discount sales, etc. 

As I’m writing this, I’m thinking through our process.

When I hired my author assistant, The Kerr, in 2015, one of the things we worked on first was automation and workflow. We try not to reinvent the wheel every time a new book comes out. Add in we’re self-publishing through our own press and juggling multiple houses on the traditional side, and believe me, the established workflows have saved our bacon more than once. 

Here’s a typical workflow we use when we’re looking at scheduling a book launch. It’s very top-line, because each project is slightly different, but you’ll get the gist.

As you can see, the step-by-step process makes it easy on us both. We know once the book is listed on Amazon, we put the cover up on the website. We know when to change our Facebook, Twitter and website banners to announce on-sale dates. We plan what information goes into which newsletter. We break everything down across the board as such: 

Project → Tasks → Subtasks. 

Once you build the workflow, it’s there, and you don’t need to think about anything but content creation. 

We have to be flexible, of course, because every project is its own beast. New opportunities arise. A blog that normally features us goes defunct. Contacts move on. But in general, this flow takes us through, making it easier on both of us. We apply this basic structure to every project, putting in place a general workflow the moment a deal is done. 

Now to the other side of the coin. I believe very deeply in this concept: your art is your business. At the same time, you have to create your art in order to have a business. That means finding pockets of deep work time which allow you to focus on nothing but writing. 

For some of you, the business side comes naturally. For others, it doesn’t. And that’s perfectly okay. There’s an easy solution for both writing brains: help. There are amazing author assistants out there who are trained to help you manage the business side of things. I think it’s very important to find people to work with who are fun, flexible, and dedicated to helping you be your best.

For those who think the cost of hiring help is insurmountable, let me say this: words equal money. The more time you spend writing and creating, the faster your business will grow. An author assistant can help you automate, create workflows, and in general free up your precious time so you can write. They can do as much or as little as you need. Even in only an hour a week, they can draft a monthly newsletter and program your social media for the week, and you can spend that time writing. It adds up. Say you can write 1,000 words in an uninterrupted hour. That hour a week you offload some business on an author assistant can add up to 52,000 words in a year. I think that’s worth $25 a week, don’t you?

Even if you don’t have the extra money to spend, you can get help. Contact your local college English department. They are always looking to place interns. These incredible young adults are tech savvy, social media aware, and bring so much to the table. They get first-hand experience in writing and publishing, and you get that extra hour a week for your deep work.

We all want to be more productive. Proactive planning, comprehensive workflows, and finding deep work time will get you there.

Here are some tools to get you started:

Freedom – the gold standard for tuning out distractions by shutting down your internet

Dlvr.it – automating social media feed systems from your blog

Author Rx – Mel Jolly has a ton of resources on finding author assistants

Cal Newport – The author of DEEP WORK, a book you must read

Asana and Wunderlist – Workflow task managers

Buffer – The best service for scheduling and sending links out to the world

3 Ways an Author Assistant Can Help You Stay Sane

3 Ways an Author Assistant Can Help

(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.
 

1. Anticipate

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

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. 
 

2. Delegate

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?

What Does An Author Assistant Do? (besides wear yoga pants)

Hi, guys! Amy here.

You may have seen my name floating around here for the past couple of years. I know I seem like the Phantom of the Opera, creeping around the rafters while J.T. shines brilliantly on the stage. Maybe you’ve found yourself wondering, Who is this Amy person, and what does she even do?

That’s a fair question, dear reader. 

Simply put, I’m J.T.’s assistant/business manager/right-hand/co-publisher.

See. I told you it was simple.

Long story short, my job is to make sure J.T. has as writing much time as possible, so she can continue to flood our bookshelves with thick, fat novels. I think it’s a noble calling, don’t you?

Okay, Amy, so how do you make sure J.T. writes all the books we love to devour? What does that look like?

I could make this metaphor with yoga pants, because I love them. And I wear them all the time. But for ease of visualization, let’s stick with hats, shall we?

Honestly, my job looks like a closetful of hats. Throughout my day, I wear about three or four of them, just take one off and put another on, for whatever the day entails.

Ever owned a small business? Are you a mom? You know what I’m talking about.
 

Here are a few of my most Frequently Worn Hats:

  1. Website Builder/Maintenance/I.T. Support
    In college, I majored in English. I minored in French. Nothing really prepared me to be in web design or maintenance, but here I am, captain of J.T.’s web properties! When J.T. asked me to build web pages for Two Tales Press and The Wine Vixen, I said, “Sure!” And then I sat at my computer and got my master’s degree in Google Searching, which I still use to this day. Thank goodness for Squarespace, savior of non-techies who need websites. If I can use Squarespace, anybody can use Squarespace.

     
  2. Social Media Scheduler/Meme Maker
    J.T. and I like you people a lot. And we enjoy talking to you! A big chunk of my job is to take the cool stuff we find online and make a home for it on Facebook, Twitter, and Instagram. Pretty pictures, funny pictures, inspirational quotes, nerdy book articles, Q&As on Wednesday: we talk about our favorite things, then I put them online for you to enjoy along with us.

     
  3. Idea Bouncer Off-er/Editor/Proofreader
    This is one of the most fun parts of my job. I get to be one of J.T.’s first readers on just about everything: books, blog posts, fun little pieces she writes around book launches. When I was four years old, I used to climb into my box of books and sit there and read for hours, dreaming of my favorite characters and wondering how I could read books for a living. Four-year-old Amy? She loves this part of the job. It’s as fun as it sounds.

     
  4. Co-Publisher
    In a past life, I was an editor for a Big 5 Publisher, and I still enjoy putting books together. Thankfully, I still get to do that in my current job. While I worked in a variety of roles at said-publisher, nothing could’ve prepared me for playing all of a publisher’s roles at the same time: acquiring editor, numbers-cruncher, content editor, production coordinator, salesperson, and marketer. There are unique skills to each of a publisher’s jobs, so it’s been fun to try my hand at everything.

     
  5. Media/Events/Marketing Coordinator
    If someone wants to book J.T. for an event, their first stop is yours truly. And as the resident Rain Man when it comes to dates, I make sure all of our five calendars (yes, five) are up to date, and that we’re on track to hit our target goals and deadlines (a consummate professional, J.T. needs no help with staying on deadline—that one’s for me).

     
  6. Frequent Post Office Visitor
    Oh, if you only knew how much mail book people send. I’m serious. When I was a publicist for said-Big 5 Publisher, I had at least one huge mailing (I’m talking 100+ books at a time) a week. While (thankfully) J.T. and I don’t send that kind of volume at once, I’m still at the P.O. a couple times a week. I wish they had punch cards; I could’ve had a dozen free sandwiches by now. 

     
  7. New Gadgets Tester
    There are a few personality traits I’m glad J.T. and I share: we both keep honing the way we work, we’re never completely satisfied with our status quo, and we enjoy being early adopters. This leads to us testing a new program or gadget at least a couple times a month, something we think may help us do our work better. Most of what we try gets rejected, but every once in a while we come across a diamond in the rough that makes our lives easier. I still think the best one we ever found was Vellum. What used to take days now only takes ten (!) minutes.

     
  8. Fellow Wine Enthusiast
    I owe my burgeoning wine obsession to J.T. Before I met her, I could point to a Moscato and say, “I like that because it tastes like Kool-Aid,” but that was about the extent of my wine knowledge. My boss has opened my eyes to all kinds of varietals and vintages, and how wonderfully wine can pair with food and company.

     
  9. Cat Wrangler
    I only wore this hat one time, over Christmas 2015, when Jameson the Silver Mackerel Tabby decided to eat, what is to this day, a mystery piece of green plastic. J.T. the Mama Cat was traveling and much to Jameson’s chagrin, I had to catch her, put her into cat carrier (which she despises more than anything), and take her to the vet. She didn’t speak to me for a while, but we’re okay now.

     
  10. It’s a Secret
    Sorry, I’m sworn not to talk about this one just yet . . . but it’s pretty freaking cool.



Thus ends my tour of the hat closet. And before you say it, I know: I hit the job lottery. 

I’m going to start shedding my Phantom persona, and you may see me a bit more often around here, talking about life behind the scenes (shelves?) as an author assistant, my favorite tools, and maybe even TV (because, y’all, I love TV—I love it so much). If you’ve got something you want to ask, feel free! Leave me a comment below, and I’ll take a blog post and answer it sometime.

See you later!
Amy/The Kerr