When you hear the term “Outsourcing,” what comes to mind? You are most likely familiar with the concept of hiring external talent for editing and cover design. For most indie authors, that’s as far as they go. Partly because at the beginning of their author journey, they will likely bootstrap their careers. Money is scarce, and most authors will take on admin and marketing tasks themselves.
But as you build your business, the focus shifts from saving money to making the most efficient use of your time. Burnout is a constant threat to busy authors. Each little task may seem like just a drop in the bucket, but the drops add up until soon your bucket is overflowing. Outsourcing tasks such as blogging, advertising, creating your blurbs, and organizing newsletter swaps can free up your time to do what only you can do: write a great first draft.
How do you identify areas you could outsource?
First, make a list of all the tasks that are part of your author business.
Then examine them and decide whether they are what you should spend your valuable time on. To help you, you could sort them into four buckets.
The Bucket of Lost Causes contains tasks you’re not good at. Maybe you have no talent for creating social media graphics. Maybe you would be lost without a professional cover designer or editor. These are the jobs you must outsource or risk hurting your author business.
The Bucket of Mediocrity is for jobs you can do but shouldn’t. You take too long, or your results are passable but underwhelming.
The Bucket of Competence holds tasks you enjoy doing and would hate to give up. But on closer inspection, they might not help you with your core business. For example, you are fluent in another language and love translating your books, but this comes at the cost of creating new books in your target market.
The Bucket of Writerly Bliss is for the things only you can do. Nobody can write your first draft because that is where your voice and personality shine.
Once you’ve sorted the components of your author business into the appropriate buckets, consider which ones you can outsource. The first bucket is easy. If you are short on cash, you can start with the task you dislike most and add to the list. Ideally, at the end of the process, you want to spend most of your time on the Bucket of Writerly Bliss.
Some Tasks You May Not Have Considered for Outsourcing
Alpha and Beta Readers
You’re writing a first draft in a new genre. But you aren’t sure how your audience will react. The solution? Reaching out to readers who will provide feedback, either through your newsletter and social media, or by finding websites offering this service.
Alpha Readers will look at the overall shape of your novel, much like a developmental editor would.
Beta Readers go more in depth and look for inconsistencies in character, setting, and plot. They will also find typos if they’ve got eagle eyes.
Which tasks are easy to outsource?
For many writers, marketing their work is not their favorite task. However, did you know you can outsource many elements of selling your books, freeing you up to do what you do best?
Listing your upcoming book with professional newsletters is a great way to help your book launch. You can either do this yourself, or you can hire a project manager.
A project manager will probably have negotiated a preferential rate with the newsletter sites. They can save you time by taking on the arduous task of contacting each website and completing their webforms.
Typically, you can book packages to cater to all price levels, ranging from several hundred dollars to potentially thousands if other services, such as Facebook advertising, are included.
Most authors would consider maintaining a presence on social media platforms as essential for their business. It aids discoverability and direct communication with readers. It’s a labor-intensive and often repetitive task. Extracting teaser quotes from your books, finding and formatting interesting graphics, and uploading them to your various platforms takes time.
Where do you find contractors or even permanent assistants?
Many authors, especially when they first consider outsourcing, ask their friends and other authors through social media.
According to Fantasy and LitRPG writer Tao Wong, the advantage of hiring fellow writers is that they already understand the business. They know how to upload a manuscript to the various platforms and require minimal training.
The disadvantage is that should they get busy, they will understandably prioritize their own author business and quit.
Another possibility is to go through a portal that offers outsourcing services such as Reedsy, Upwork, or Fiverr. Upwork and Fiverr list contractors who are not necessarily familiar with the author business. They may require more training, but offer the opportunity to build a long-term relationship that will grow alongside your success.
Tao has also hired full-time assistants for his author business. He cautions to research your obligations as an employer to avoid falling foul of regulations.
In the USA, the Department of Labor (DOL) will provide you with information. But do your own research as requirements differ from country to country. Seek legal advice before employing assistants on a full-time basis.
Points to consider
In his own words, Tao is “horrible at details.” That was initially the main reason he hired a Publishing Assistant. Over time, his outsourcing practice evolved. From hiring people to do his formatting, he now has full-time and contract staff who help him move his business to the next level. He calls his Hungarian contractor “a godsend.”
One of the biggest challenges for writers is the fear of losing control when tasking outsiders with their business. It is true that in order to upload a manuscript, the contractor will gain access to your earnings information.
Tao mitigates that concern by drafting employment contracts with NDAs. But he’s also keenly aware that these documents may not be easily enforceable in separate jurisdictions. To him, trust is everything in his professional relationship with contractors. His advice is, “Walk away if you feel squirrely about somebody.”
In terms of day-to-day operation, Tao uses Trello to allow his team to work through tasks and Discord for ad hoc communication. To control access to various passwords, Tao uses LastPass.
Tao trains his assistants through Zoom video recordings of previous training sessions, and he documents his business tasks meticulously. For tasks that only need to be done every few months, it’s a great idea to have the details on paper to remind contractors of the details.
As a writer, you will face this decision at some stage in your career: will you limit your growth because you sacrifice writing time for administrative, marketing, and publishing tasks? Or will you take the leap into handing off repetitive tasks to somebody else? Look at your buckets and decide what’s best for your author career.
Eventually, outsourcing may well be the engine that drives your business forward.