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!

Sunday Smatterings

Morning, gentle readers, welcome to Sunday! Did you have a good week? I'm a bit under the weather (more on that here) and have lost my voice. Which is going to be fun., considering all the talking upcoming this week. Regardless, I'm looking forward to a fun-filled week in NYC with Catherine as we start Brit #5, hang out with publishers, eat delicious food, and cause all kinds of tomfoolery.

Lots of links this week, so without further ado...


Here's what happened on the internets this week:
 

9 Real Life Places That Inspired Classic NovelsSummer's almost here! Time for a literary road trip, yes?
 

[VIDEO] Shades of Writing. Great advice (and a superb new video series) from one seriously smart author, V.E. Schwab. V's the one who saved my latest manuscript by suggesting a tense change was in order. If I listen to her, shouldn't you?
 

Why Lady Gaga Is Our Mental Health Hero. An incredible artist who uses her platform to share her struggle, help others feel accepted, and spread kindness. What's not to love about Lady Gaga? This is too important a subject to be silent on.
 

How Jane Austen Continues to Inspire Romance Authors. Lady Jane is Queen of Everything forever and ever, amen. She inspires thriller writers, too. Just saying...
 

What I've Learned After 5 Years and 20 Books: 25 Lessons. Chuck Wendig may have a salty tongue (very salty, so be warned), but the lessons in this essay are good ones. I've preached many of these things on the Tao, especially #3 and #4. 
 

Three Powerful Questions that Lift the Weight of “Too Much” and Anchor Us in PeaceBecause learning to say no is so vital. Its a word I despise using, but the more I do, the easier my life is. 


And Closer to Home:

A WORD ON WORDS with Adam Haslett. A fascinating discussion of writing the interior life, writing about hard things, and Adam's unconventional journey to the craft. Adam Haslett is a down-to-earth genius. Seriously.
 

Author Assistant 101: The Best Tool I Use To Collaborate With My AuthorAmy's latest in her series for Author Assistants—or anyone looking to organize and communicate with others more effectively. This week she talks about the godsend of a program we use more than any other.
 

Daily Writing Tao 5.4.17. I missed writing my little daily vignettes, and according to a very nonscientific Facebook poll, you guys did too. So to keep me accountable as I get started on Novel #20, off we go again! Think of these as a logbook, a way to get my day and lingering thought beasties onto the page. I started up again on Thursday and haven't looked back. Weekends off, natch, to accommodate this blog (and really, who wants to hear that I took a nap on the porch?)


Bonus Section: Contests!

Book Giveaway For Lie to Me. You have 200 chances to win an ARC of my new book, LIE TO MEWith odds like that, how could you not enter?
 

Enter to Win 50+ Crime Fiction & Thrillers PLUS a New Kindle Fire! Including ALL THE PRETTY GIRLS!
 

Enter to Win 50 Paranormal, Sci-Fi, and Fantasy Romances, 1 of 4 $25 Bookstore Gift Cards, PLUS a Kindle Fire or Nook Tablet! Including WHERE ALL THE DEAD LIE!


That's it from me! Y'all be good this week, go pick some flowers for your neighbor, take a long walk with a friend or the dog, and we'll talk again soon.

xo,
J.T.

 

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!

Sunday Smatterings

Happy Sunday, my lovely chickens! How's it going? It's exciting times here in the Ellison house. This week I had the pleasure of wearing my old, battered, torn, Harvard T-shirt— the T-shirt I wear for a particular special occasion.

Wearing Mah Finishing Shirt 

Wearing Mah Finishing Shirt 

What's that, you ask? I FINISHED A NEW BOOK!!! ✨🎉🙌😎 My 19th novel. I can hardly believe it. This is the 19th time I've hauled that shirt out of the chest, and it worked again. I admit, it's tradition. This shirt is my lucky charm, seriously. If I'm not wearing it, I simply can't finish! There was much rejoicing and tears and queso post-finish. But. The very next day, I was back at it, editing my 18th novel, LIE TO ME, coming to your hot little hands September 5. 

No rest for the weary, folks. Even when you have the best job in the world.


 

Here's what happened on the Internets this week:

Okay, y'all, here's one of the most important things you'll read: fix the internet by writing good stuff and being nice to people. This is a wonderful, thought-provoking clarion call to get away from posts with only 140 characters, hostile trolls, and video ads that play unprovoked (WHY??) and back the days of thoughtful discourse, long blogs, and creative/independently-owned content.

Every time I read a post from Modern Mrs. Darcy (and look at her gorgeous photos), I take a deep breath and sigh. She always has a lovely thought with the pictures to match. This post is no different: 6 mini-resolutions keeping me healthy and happy and sane this spring. (ranunculus! 🌸)

Some food for thought for your money today: 7 Pieces of Financial Advice That Forever Changed My Life (the advice about the car is particularly insightful)

This is what I looked for when I hired #TheKerr: someone who knew different things from me. Together, we have a wider breadth of knowledge and skill set. Win.

If you need a good cry today, I give you 37 of the most heartbreakingly beautiful lines in literature. You're welcome. 😭

And if you need something to pick you up from the depths of sorrow from the previous post, here are a few mistitled books and pitches imagined for them (I mean, who could argue with Harry Potter & the Sorcerer's Scone? I'd read that... if it were gluten-free.)

I swear to you, if you saw Jack Kerouac's house in St. Petersburg, FL, you would never believe he lived there (or maybe you would). In any case, it's up for sale—but fans are trying to turn it into a museum.
 

And closer to home:

Gardeners, I need your help! I'm doing something different in the gardening realm this year and would relish your expertise in the comments.

We debuted a new episode of A WORD ON WORDS this week! I talked to local author Robert Hicks about his poignant historical novel, THE ORPHAN MOTHER. 

Did you get the April newsletter this month? No? Sign up here, and get all whole inside scoop: fun news, exclusive contests (newsletter chickens got their own LIE TO ME ARC giveaway this month...), yummy recipes, and all kinds of tomfoolery. You even get a free ebook as a thank-you gift!


That's it from me! Y'all have a nice week, open the windows, put some flowers in a vase, and we'll talk again soon.


xo,
J.T.

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 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