Monday, June 5, 2017

Author's Virtual Assistant Jenel Looney!


Do you have a virtual assistant? If not, would you like one? If you do have one, what do you find most helpful? If you don't know what one is, keep reading!

Jenn McKinlay: I do not. I love the idea of a virtual assistant but, honestly, I am such a control freak I'd have a very hard time giving up any control of my stuff. Plus, I really love playing with apps. I do have young, hip librarian friends that step in and help with the grunt work of contests and mailings, when needed, but mostly, it's just me.

Hank Phillippi Ryan:  I’d adore to have a virtual assistant, but I always worry that it would take longer to explain to someone what to do than to do it myself. How does that work? And I’d love to have a real person come to my house to help with mailings and contests…but again, I always write personal messages and there’s no one who can do that with me. And sometimes I wind up doing that at midnight, or whatever, so that might not be the most convenient. Anyway. I’d love some advice on how to get a virtual assistant relationship to work successfully—I know there’s a lot of time I spend dong something that someone else should be able to do—but I’m not sure what that something is.   

Ingrid Thoft: Alas, I do not have a virtual assistant.  I suspect that, like Jenn, and given my self-identification as a "control enthusiast," I might have trouble letting go of the reins.  I'm still trying to make the transition from a paper calendar to a completely electronic one.  I recently went so far as to download a to-do list app to my phone, which felt pretty gutsy!  I'm curious to learn about must-have apps from Reds and readers.

Jenn: Oh, "control enthusiast" made me belly laugh, Ingrid!

Deborah Crombie: Honestly, I'm not even sure what a virtual assistant does. I have had a real part-time assistant a few times, but it only ever worked for me when it was my friend who was between jobs and was WAY overqualified to be doing stuff for me. And I have found that having someone come in and work totally blows my writing time, in which case I might as well do things (or not...) myself. 

Hallie Ephron: What I need is someone to go to the bank and post office and grocery shopping for me. Someone to buy a light for my dining room and get it installed. Clip my hedges. Please. 
The career work I need to do myself... until that happy moment when there is SUCH a clamor for my presence that I'm overwhelmed. Then virtual assistant? Bring it on!  But really, why virtual? Why not actual personal assistant?

Jenn: I hear you, Hallie! I think we need a butler or a valet or just someone named Jeeves at our beck and call.


Jenel Looney in a fetching hat!
And now to answer all of our pressing questions, here is virtual assistant extraordinaire: Jenel Looney!

True confession, I've done some amazing promotions with Jenel and invited her here mostly so I could pick her brain and now you can, too. You're welcome!

    
How did you come to be a virtual assistant? What do you love about it? What do you find most challenging?

I had gone to grad school for writing popular fiction, but had lost the dream of being a writer. I was looking for a new career, and I knew that one of my classmates and friends had a virtual assistant, my dream job. That friend was Susan Mallery, a fabulous romance and women's fiction writer. I asked Susan how much she paid her VA just so I could figure out whether I could really make a living at what sounded like a made-up job. The math worked, and as it turned out, Susan was looking for a new assistant. I've been working for her since around August 2008, and since shortly after that, for Kate Carlisle and Maureen Child, as well.

The thing I love the most about being an author's virtual assistant is also the most challenging—it's constantly changing. In book marketing (and probably all marketing), you have to keep adapting and trying new things. When something works, everyone starts doing it, and then it doesn't work anymore. I have never, not for a minute, been bored at this job.

    What do you consider your main function as a virtual assistant for authors?

Marketing. It used to be, authors were competing against other books that came out at around the same time. With the advent of ebooks, books never go away. There is no longer a limited shelf life, which means you're competing for readers' attention against an ever growing number of books. The challenge is to come up with new things to get readers excited about the book you're promoting.

For example, in ONCE UPON A SPINE, Kate Carlisle's latest Bibliophile Mystery, bookbinder Brooklyn Wainwright solves a murder linked to a rare first edition of Alice's Adventures in Wonderland, so Kate and I came up with the idea of making a custom set of ONCE UPON A SPINE playing cards. (In honor of the cards that come to life in Alice.) Every face card is holding a different Bibliophile Mystery and a different murder weapon.

Kate is doing 30 days of giveaways in the Secret Room at KateCarlisle.com, which is how we're using the cards to drive membership on her mailing list and get readers excited about the book.

     As you promote your authors on multiple platforms, I imagine you see their functionality in a different light than most people. What do you think is the most essential place for an author to build their audience? Website? Facebook? Twitter? Other?

Mailing list, 100%. That's the only method of communication over which you have any control. Any of your social media properties could be taken away from you in an instant. (They probably won't be, but they could.) Everyone with a Facebook business page knows that you often get frustratingly low reach with an important post.

Don't get me wrong, Facebook is valuable, but I recommend that authors use it in part as a tool to build their mailing list. Also, targeted Facebook advertising can be very effective. Play around with different audiences so you're not always advertising to the same people.

When a book is first released, I think the most effective advertising an author can do is to people who are already her fans. It's easier to motivate a current reader to buy your new book than it is to motivate someone who has never heard of you to buy it. So when a book is first out, I suggest targeted advertising to people who have liked you on Facebook, and to people who are on your mailing list.

Instagram gets more and more interaction all the time, and I think it's valuable. Twitter is like cocktail party conversation—if you happen to be in the right spot at the right time, you can be impacted by it, but the conversation flows so fast that I'm not sure you sell a lot of books on Twitter. An exception to this might be for live-tweeting during specific events, like when Kate Carlisle live-tweeted during the airings of her Fixer-Upper Mysteries on Hallmark Movies & Mysteries.

   What metrics do you use to determine the success of a promotion? Reader engagement? Book sales?

The most frustrating thing about marketing is that it's rare that you can draw a straight line from this promo to that sale. That said, book sales are always the ultimate metric. It's just that we can't ever really know whether they came from our promotional efforts—with traditionally published authors, at least. Self-pubbed authors have more immediate sales information at their fingertips.

I'm quite nervous about a promotion I'm coordinating right now for Susan Mallery. Susan invited her readers to sign up for three Secrets of the Tulip Sisters bookmarks to promote her summer hardcover. Thousands of readers signed up, and each of them will receive the three bookmarks. The first was mailed on June 1. The second will be mailed on June 22, and the third will be mailed to coincide with the book's July 11 release date. On the back of each bookmark, there's a secret contest, driving readers to secret pages at TulipSisters.com where they'll watch secret videos of Susan talking about the book.

This is a complete experiment. Susan is always looking for ways to connect with and reward her readers, so in terms of goodwill and brand awareness, I already consider this a win. But our hope, of course, is that it will also drive early book sales. Here's the thing: we'll never know. If sales increase over last year's hardcover, it's probably because of a number of things—the bookmark promotion, the efforts of Harlequin's marketing department, and the simple fact that Susan consistently writes books that readers love. No amount of marketing matters without a great book to back it up, because when readers discover a good book, they spread word-of-mouth.

     You create a lot of online content for your authors. Seriously, you're amazing! What are your favorite tools/apps to use? How much have you had to stretch yourself to keep up with technology?

I have a subscription to Adobe Creative Cloud, so I use Adobe products—Photoshop, Illustrator, In Design, After Effects—to create most images and videos. But there are a few free apps that I use regularly.

Spark Post – Has an extensive library of free images that you can use to create a graphic with text—a still image or a 4-second video—or you can upload your own image to use in the graphic.

Hyperlapse – Makes high-speed videos, which are very eye-catching.

Boomerang – Makes a brief, looping video based on a burst of photos. Again, catches the eye.

     For authors looking to hire help, what should they look for when hiring a virtual assistant?

That magical combination of good ideas and a killer work ethic. As with writing, ideas are worthless unless they're executed.


And now, readers, Jenel has a question for you: What apps do you love for creating social media content?

Jenn: Apps! I love apps. Seriously, it's a problem. My most favorite for easy to create promo slide shows with music is Ripl but for editing and pasting book covers onto cool backgrounds with book quotes or blurbs, I adore Pixomatic!

118 comments:

  1. I am definitely out of the loop on this one . . . I am not a big fan of social media and am totally clueless about apps for creating social media content :(

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    1. I don't know whether you're an author, Joan. (My apologies if I should.) But if you are, then I would recommend that you learn to use social media to market yourself even if you're not a fan of it. It might be a downside of the job for you, but it is still part of the job if you want to have a long career. Or, of course, you can hire a virtual assistant to handle that part of the job for you.

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  2. Sadly, I have nothing going on in my life that would even remotely come close to needing a virtual assistant.

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  3. Sorry I missed adding to this--I don't have a virtual assistant and can't imagine letting go enough to make one worthwhile.

    Except if it was Jenel! Welcome Jenel, I've worked with you on one or two of Kate's promotions and bow to your creativity and organizational skills! I've always had mixed feelings about contests, as it seems that a group of readers enjoy being involved, and other readers probably just want to read without the bells and whistles.

    I'm wondering what your sense is of the best frequency for a newsletter, and what kinds of content is most appealing?

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    1. Lucy, I like newsletters because they often let me know about an author's new book and future appearances.

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    2. Hi, Roberta! Thank you for your sweet words. :) It's been my pleasure to work with you in the past.

      I would suggest that you send out a newsletter when you have something important to say, and not until then. Release day is a must. I'm amazed by how many writers do not send out a newsletter on release day for a new book. The people who signed up for your mailing list did it specifically because they want to know when you have a new book out.

      And websites! OMG, there are soooooo many authors out there who have websites that are sadly outdated. "Coming soon" for a book that came out nine months ago. (You know who you are.) Those are the authors who need a virtual assistant for sure. (As an aside, I'm not here looking for business, so please don't take any of my advice as self-promotional. I'm as busy as I can handle with my current clients.)

      In order to work with a virtual assistant, you do have to learn to let go of the reins a bit. I completely understand how difficult that would be. I experience some of that myself, by insisting I handle a lot of my projects myself instead of farming them out. That will become easier as you build trust between you and your VA. Just as in any career field, there are levels of quality. Not everyone who calls herself a virtual assistant is going to have the skills that you need. You just have to find the right match. And I can't emphasize enough the importance of a good work ethic. You need to be able to trust that when you put something into someone else's hands, it will get done.

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    3. I love doing the newsletters. I feel like it's my opportunity to let my readers see behind the curtain of the book that I am announcing - how it came to be - or whatever else happens to be on my mind at the time. I think readers like knowing that the person who created the books they enjoy is a real person struggling with all the same life stuff.

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  4. Jenel -- you are fabulous! And I have certainly participated in promotions and you have organized for you are a lucky authors. How valuable do you think it is to collect email names at events?
    Have you ever tried anything that… Doesn't work at all?
    Thank you so much! It is a treat to have you here today… You're really giving me food for thought. And thank you for the apps!

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    1. Hank, though I am not Jenel, as someone who loves to read, I often sign up for newsletters from authors and I give my email address. It helps me plan my calendar.

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    2. Hank, it's *definitely* a good idea to collect email addresses at events--as long as the person giving you the email address understands that he or she is signing up for your mailing list. Never send a newsletter to someone who hasn't expressly given you permission to do so. But that's a BIG yes! These are people with whom you made a personal connection, and who will remember you not just as a name on a book cover, but as a personal acquaintance bordering on friend. If they ask you to add them to your mailing list, and then you don't, you are missing out on multiple sales over the course of your career. And you're missing out on all of the connections that they could help you to make with other readers.

      Bibliophile, thank you so much for weighing in from the reader's perspective. And may I just add, EXACTLY! Readers sign up for newsletters because they (we) are always looking for a good book to read.

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    3. Hank - I've never thought of this! Brilliant!

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  5. Jenn, great post! However, I have one question: What is the difference between a Personal Assistant and a Virtual Assistant?

    Jenel - I second what Hank said that you are fabulous! Though I am not an author yet, I often check my Facebook and I click "Like" on the Author pages that I either am a fan of or want to know more about. For example, Kate Carlisle was a new to me author and I started to follow her Page so that I would know when her new book was launched for example.

    Do you escort your authors to events or is your work focused on the social media aspect? I just started using Instagram, once I figured out how to set up an account. You are so right on target about Twitter. For me twitter is very iffy.

    I have not tried the other apps yet. You mentioned a new app that I never heard of!

    Thank you for joining us today.

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    1. I live in Texas. My author clients live in Washington, California, and Utah. I do anything that they want me to do for them, that I can accomplish from a distance. Some personal assistant tasks, I can handle, but not things like grocery shopping, pet sitting, or running local errands. But there's a lot I can do for them online, that helps them keep their focus on their writing.

      I do go with them to signings and events whenever they want me to. For example, Susan Mallery is planning a reader party in Fort Worth later this year (www.susanmallery.com/girlfriend-getaway/), and I will be with her for that. I've gone with her to several signings. Usually when she goes on book tour, though, she doesn't need me to accompany her. Her publisher, Harlequin/MIRA/HarperCollins coordinates her tours, and they send someone to accompany her when needed.

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    2. For me a virtual assistant would be ideal because they're not under foot. A personal assistant would be great to do all of the errand type stuff but I have Hooligans for that - one of which should be driving any day - ACK!

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  6. What a great job, Jenel! Having observed more than a few authors from the sidelines, I can see how marketing has become a much larger part of the author's job, and how it eats huge chunks of writing time. Having a marketing professional to manage your online presence would be great; being that marketing professional, managing several authors at once, would be the best kind of professional challenge. And, seriously, some of us live to keep up with platforms like Twitter, Snapchat, and Instagram, and some of us really, really don't. Having someone who loves that stuff available to work for someone who does not love that stuff, but appreciates the importance of it, would be heaven for both!

    I am frequently called on to speak to high school and college students about building careers for themselves in the arts. One of the things I tell them is that the job they eventually have may not have been invented yet. As we move more and more toward a gig economy, seeing a niche like this and figuring out how to fill it is definitely one way to keep yourself afloat. So be warned! You have just become an example for my next talk.

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    1. Gigi, I like the way you think. I even think the way you think.

      Ann

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    2. I've thought the same thing, Gigi, that more and more people are going to be self-employed as we move forward. People bemoan how technology has taken away jobs, which in a way is true, but it has also opened new avenues for jobs that never existed before.

      You could use Etsy and eBay as examples in your next talk, too, if you haven't already. You can still have a mom-and-pop business, but online. Then you're not limited to people in your local community. The trick is, you need to find or create a product that people want, and then you need to provide excellent customer service. Check out Missouri Star Quilt Company. They started online less than ten years ago, and now they have grown to such an extent that they have saved their small town. It's an amazing, inspiring story.

      Again, though, the key is that you have to be excellent. No one owes you a living. You have to earn it.

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    3. Oh, I'm aware of Missouri Star Quilt Company. In fact, the next time I visit my Kansas City relatives, I want to take a day to go up there and see the bricks and mortar side. It sounds fabulous! And you're right. Nobody owes you a living. It is the entrepreneurial and the talented who will do best in the gig economy.

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    4. It's become very interesting to watch my sons and their friends talk about their careers - several of these guys are looking at occupations that didn't exist when we were kids which makes it very difficult to advise. Interestingly, I feel like the job of author falls perfectly into the gig economy (I've never heard that term before - really dig it).

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    5. That's one of my bucket list road trips, Gigi! It would be a nightmare for the husband, though, so I need to coordinate it with something he would enjoy, too.

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    6. Gigi, great idea for the talk. (And for the road trip, lol.)

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  7. So interesting, Jenel! And I'm thinking I COULD us a personal assistant to leverage (hate that word) the social media and outreach that I do do. But sometimes I get so many newsletters and Facebook shoutouts from the same author about the same damned book that it's overkill w/me the victim. So how do you manage that? What's too much?

    AND and an aside on social media, I was at BookExpo 2017 last week and did a Facebook livestream... pretty amazing when you have Facebook behind you. It's gotten 20K views (so far). I'll post it next week in the blog. Daunting but lots of fun.

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    1. You were fabulous Hallie

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    2. I also thought you did well. The organizers might have explained the first bit better, and been more prepared for the tablet to do dark (like keeping it from doing so), but you sailed right through that sticky issue like a champ. I don't think I'd have done as well, by half.

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    3. Congratulations! 20K views is wonderful. :)

      I don't know what's too much. That's something my authors struggle with a lot. I think part of the key is to mix it up, so that not all of your posts are overtly promoting your books, but yet still connecting to it. The way Facebook works, not every reader will see every post--but some readers might see all of them. And you have no control over that. So which reader do you keep in mind as you post? If you post only once during release week about your book, and only 5% of your followers see that post, then you have missed out on the chance to connect with 98%. If you post about it every day, and each day's post reaches 5% of your followers, then the readers who fall into the overlap might see all seven posts about your book that week. Is that too much? Maybe not, if you make it interesting and different each time.

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    4. That's my concern, too, Hallie! I've marketed the heck out of the last book because it's a new genre - but good gravy - even I am sick of me at this point! Bleh!

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    5. But Jenn, you see *everything* that you post. Your followers don't. The nature of Facebook is that each post is only seen by a percentage of your followers. So while you feel like you've been talking about your book a lot, from the reader's perspective, the balance is very, very different. I think you did an excellent job with ABOUT A DOG. Your promo influenced me - it's on my Kindle!

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    6. See? This is what I keep forgetting that not everyone sees everything. I may need to print that out and tape it where I can see it to remind myself not to think about it. Aw, and thanks so much for saying the promo helped (sob of joy) and you bought a copy! You are the best!

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    7. Wow, Hallie! That's amazing!!!

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    8. Not everyone sees everything... 37 times. That's my hope, too. ;-)

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    9. It's on my kindle as well. Loved the cover.

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  8. What an interesting concept, or in your case, Jenel, reality. Thanks for 'splaining all this. I am thinking that marketing is what it's all about, at least from my viewpoint as a reader. My partner, Julie, is a marketing director at a prominent health imaging company. Having lived with her 21 years now, I have learned a whole lot about what works and what doesn't. Julie says that she who owns, controls, and uses the list is she who gets measurable results. Her particular genius is getting double digit responses. Two percent is the national average, or thereabouts.

    So my darlings, where I'm going with this is that I think any author could do with a virtual assistant. When you yourselves are doing the marketing, you aren't writing. (Grin)

    "When a book is first released, I think the most effective advertising an author can do is to people who are already her fans."

    Jenel states above the first rule of marketing: Take care of the customers you already have first. This is your base, and a base is a foundation for everything else. Let it slip away and oopsy big time!

    What a fascinating topic today. Thank you, Jenn, and Happy Monday everyone.

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    1. Thank you, Finta, for that interesting take. "Take care of the customers you already have first" is excellent advice.

      My authors have an ongoing budget for Facebook ads. When they have a new book out, that budget goes toward marketing to readers on their mailing list and/or readers who have liked them on Facebook. In other words, current fans. People who already know and like them. At other times, with no new release, we spend a portion of that budget on outreach to readers with whom they are not yet connected.

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    2. Finta - I really struggled with the marketing of the latest book and I blew that rule of taking care of the customers you already have because I was going into a new genre I targeted my FB ads to a whole new audience. *face palm* Hopefully, the people who were already reading my books got bludgeoned with some of my ads but, yeah, I admit I have no idea what I'm doing so hearing from Jenel and you and everyone with marketing common sense (I have none) is a huge help. Ugh - I should have had Jenel visit a few months ago - LOL!

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    3. Your situation was unusual, Jenn, and I'm not sure you handled it the wrong way. People who don't like romance often have a strong bias against it. It was challenging to market Kate when she was writing in both genres for this very reason. If I were you, I would try targeting ads to people who have liked your Facebook page, and then narrow that audience to include only those fans who also read romance.

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    4. Jenel is right I think, although personally, I would be interested in any book one of my "regulars" wrote. Even if it was in a genre I never read.

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    5. A lot of readers feel the same as you, Finta. I definitely read across genres.

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  9. Sadly, I have few apps for social media content. Make that none. LOL

    The challenge I've had with my self-published middle-grade series is that parents have the money, but they buy based on what kids ask for. So you've got to market to both. And kids do NOT read newsletters.

    I regret that I am totally out of the loop on what the "hot" social media is for kids these days and unfortunately my teens are no help whatsoever!

    Mary/Liz

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    1. Mary,
      Do you give book signings at the public library? I asked because I remember my library often have events with authors. We went to a book event by an author and we bought books by her. Since kids do not read newsletters, I wonder if authors visit a class or have an event at a public library? Some bookstores have kids' books events and I have seen announcements on the events calendar.

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    2. I have, but they have not panned out as I hoped. Ditto school events (which are really hard to get into so if they don't work, it's hard on both ends).

      I'm hoping to do a "back to school" event with my local indie at the end of summer when the new book is (probably) going to be out.

      Mary/Liz

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    3. Snapchat has a demographically younger following than the other social media platforms, but I don't know about middle grade readers. You might be better off putting your focus on marketing to librarians. Just a thought.

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    4. I second Jenel - Snapchat is the hot ticket for middle schoolers (one of the Hooligans has just graduated) and I've noticed that both my senator and representative use their snapchat picture (it's like a QR code reader) for their Twitter pics. I have not jumped on board yet - but if I write a YA, I will be there in a nanosecond.

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    5. Another thought on marketing to libraries--especially if your self-published book is an e-book: libraries don't order these. There are platforms out there that make e-books available to libraries--so, for example, I can go to my library account and get a 'library' copy of an e-book through Amazon.com. I would think something visual that a library could actually display would steer readers to your book.

      Also, I first saw this used by Louise Penny and loved it--a book trailer--like a movie trailer. I wanted my local library to have a screen over the circulation desk to run book trailers--I could see something like this catching a kid's eye--or a teenager--or even young parents. I'd think with some technical wizardry (see ideas here today) that it would be worth the experiment.

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    6. I might have to suck it up and learn Snapchat on my own. LOL

      Flora, once upon a time, I donated a copy of the first four books (five?) to my local library. I should check in to see if they have a video screen like you describe - and if they'd share circulation numbers! I do make the ebooks available via Overdrive, so I've gotten at least that far. Not much beyond that, though. (I constantly struggle with the "what does a middle-age woman SAY to young people?" question. Sigh.).

      Add in that I'm fairly terrible about talking about myself (aren't most writers?) and you have a recipe for almost-disaster. =)

      Mary/Liz

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    7. Mary, if you want some ideas on how to get young readers' attention--check out the YA programs at various libraries. What are they doing to get kids in this age group into the library and hands on books? It might give you some ideas that don't involve face-to-face time, necessarily. And you apparently have a lot to say, since you are writing for a YA age-group!

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    8. I hope so! I started his project with a nice publisher when The Girl was in eighth grade and I realized that while the details have changed, a lot of the issues surrounding kids in middle school haven't changed since I was that age.

      Mary/Liz

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  10. What a cool job you have as a VA for these authors, Jenel!

    I LOVE Kate Carlisle's promos and the short videos on FB. The Secret Room for members has nice things such as recipes, puzzles, maps and the playing cards giveaway for ONCE UPON A SPINE is a fun swag item.

    I am pretty new to social media, so I can't recommend any apps.

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    1. Thanks, Grace! It's nice to know that our efforts are appreciated by readers. I created a lot of the content in Kate's Secret Room, to reward readers who join Kate's mailing list. I designed the maps of Dharma and Lighthouse Cove. I create a word search puzzle for every book. Oh, and the book cover puzzles are SOOOOOO fun! I hide ten hammers on the cover of each Fixer-Upper Mystery. And I make 12 Changes to each of the Bibliophile Mystery covers. One of my favorite, favorite jobs.

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    2. I am SOOOOOOO jealous of Kate's promo. Jewel - your creativity in those contests, giveaways, the secret room - it's fantastic! Kate's actually the one who turned me on to doing giveaways, having swag, etc. When I first met her in 2010, I didn't even have bookmarks or business cards or anything. It was sad.

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    3. Jenel, it is soooo cool to learn you are the one responsible for the maps and the word search puzzles and the hidden hammers on the Fixer-Upper mystery book covers! I also got one of those cute pink tape measures from Kate when I met her (and Jenn and Hannah Dennison) at their author dinner table at a Left Coast Crime. Useful swag is always appreciated (and memorable)!

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    4. Oh you lucky girl! Those measuring tapes are highly coveted! I designed the little Fixer-Upper Mystery graphic on those, and I take care of ordering them when Kate runs low.

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  11. Jenel, you are a great example of someone who can figure out what's wrong and right for yourself and seize an opportunity (or make one) come your way! I can totally see your worth for established authors. My question is, lacking a VA, how would you advise new authors to use social media, apps, etc., to build their base readership? Because, as Ann/Finta points out, establishing your base is crucial to success (assuming that you have the writing chops to sustain that base).

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    1. Flora, I remember receiving postcards from authors about their new books.

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    2. I would advise authors to always keep their brand in mind when posting on social media. By that, I mean that you should post about things that would be interesting to the same audience of people who would enjoy your books. Kate Carlisle often posts about news from the world of rare books (which connects to the Bibliophile Mysteries), and pictures of beautiful Victorian homes (which connect to the Fixer-Upper Mysteries).

      If you can afford it, advertise on Facebook, but only if you understand targeted advertising. If you boost your post to people who like your page *and their friends,* you're wasting your money. People have very specific reading taste. For example, I have a ton of friends on Facebook who wouldn't think of picking up a romance novel. I also have a ton of romance-reading friends who wouldn't think of picking up anything BUT a romance novel. So don't spend money advertising indiscriminately to your Facebook fans' friends. Instead, target your ad to people who like to read the kind of books you write.

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    3. Flora - I feel like I've built my base by doing what Jenel said, posting about the things my readers are interested in (libraries, cupcakes, London, dogs). My professional FB page has only been up since Oct 2013, and I have over 8,000 followers. Not gonna lie, I think it's because I do a weekly giveaway and I have readers like, comment, and share the post. It's been like a pebble in the pond ripple effect. I get new followers every week and I know it's because they see "free stuff". LOL!

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    4. Great comments and ideas, thanks for sharing. I have a feeling that this blog probably has a number of lurkers who are scribbling away. There are so many books out there now, especially with the self-published e-books, that it's got to be murder (um, figuratively speaking) to figure out how to get your work noticed by readers who will appreciate it.

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    5. Sadly, yes. "If you write it, they will come" doesn't work if they don't know about it.

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  12. Cruising through the hospitality rooms at Malice and Bouchercon, it's easy to see exactly what you mean when you say everyone jumps on good ideas, Jenel. It must be fun, but nerve-wracking, to keep coming up with fresh ideas. The playing card promo sounds great.

    One of the biggest problems in this business of writing is the conundrum of needing to wear so many hats; a lot of individuals with businesses have this same issue, in any field. It's not easy to be the one who thinks up the good stories, writes them, rewrites them, then sails forth into the world to present those stories to... who? And that's in addition to needing to know the ins and outs of the tax code, and when to pay the estimated income tax, and how much to pay. Very few people can successfully do all of that, so a virtual (or any other) assistant makes perfect sense, especially for the marketing part. That's hard for most people, anyway, especially many women, who were never taught how to put themselves forward to promote their own work.

    Jenel, just so you know, Kate Carlisle's books and promos always stand out to me, so well done!

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    1. Thanks, Karen! I certainly can't take credit for Kate's books--that's all her--but I'm proud to be her partner in the promos. :) I do have the privilege of reading her and Susan's books early, which is the biggest perk of my job.

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    2. Karen- You're right! I went from being a municipal employee to self-employed. It's been quite the steep learning curve. I am still working on it.

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  13. Thanks for inviting me to join you here today, Jenn! I have admired your Ripl videos, so I'm very happy now to know what you used to make them. :) Thank you for sharing!

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    1. Thanks, Jenel! I want to get up to speed with the Adobe products you're using - thanks for sharing that! I am such a graphics/promo junkie that I am pretty sure if the writing thing hadn't worked out I would have ended being a web designer or social media content person.
      Here's a question - how often should an author post? I hear so many different numbers. Any rule of thumb out there that I should be going by?

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    2. There's no official rule, Jenn, and you'll see different advice in different places. It depends on your audience, the social media platform. On Facebook, I've noticed that a gap of less than 4 hours tends to make both posts get lower reach. But not always. On Twitter, because it's like cocktail party conversation that just keeps flowing on by, I think you can post as often as you want. But you should be writing your book, young lady, so don't do that all the time.

      Susan Mallery has upward of 112,000 likes on Facebook. She tends to post 3-4 times a day. I create her daily quotes for her, which go live at 7 am EST every day. Then she usually posts 2 or 3 additional times throughout the day, plus popping in occasionally to respond to comments. Each of her posts is only seen by a small percentage of her following, so although there is overlap, most people are probably only seeing one post per day from her, if that. About half of her posts have nothing to do with her books, but are just interesting or funny things she thinks her readers would enjoy.

      Kate usually posts once or twice a day. Her audience size is approaching 18,000.

      Maureen Child usually posts about once a day.

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    3. Oh, and Jenn, I do highly recommend the Adobe products. I especially love the Creative Cloud subscription, which makes them affordable to me. It used to be, you had to buy the whole collection, and it was prohibitively expensive for me at the time. Now, I pay around $54 per month to get access to all of their programs, and they're automatically updated all the time. It's a very worthwhile business expense for me. I regularly use Illustrator, Photoshop, InDesign, Premiere Pro, After Effects, Dreamweaver, Acrobat, and I occasionally use Audition (sound editing). They're not intuitive, so there's a steep learning curve, but if you have the time to learn, you'll love it. Lots of free tutorials at Adobe.com and on YouTube, so just learn what you need to know when you need to know it.

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    4. Oh, thanks, Jenel! It is finding the time to learn the products that has stopped me in my tracks but I did just load Spark Post onto my phone (Yay!) so I know what I'm doing today. Thanks for the rec!

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  14. I have admired Kate Carlisle for a long time, but now I am officially jealous of her. I dream of having a virtual assistant. Must check next royalty check--coming any day--to see if there is anyway. Your authors are really lucky to have someone who understands the dark art and science of book marketing. Thanks so much for visiting Jungle Reds today.

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    1. I live to make Kate's friends jealous, Barb! LOL

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    2. LOL - It is a dark art and science, Barb. BTW, I love, love, love your Maine series - which was recommended to me by Kate.

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    3. Jenn--so happy you love my Maine Clambake Mysteries, and so flattered to have Kate recommend them.

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  15. OMG! I just realized it's almost 10 am (here in Texas). Time to choose Kate Carlisle's 4 daily finalists and make a video to see who wins a deck of ONCE UPON A SPINE playing cards today. :)

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  16. Jenel is amazing! Her creativity and professionalism make her one of the best, if not the best, in the business. And she is a huge inspiration to me.

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    1. All the authors here who are thinking you might want a virtual assistant, please meet my friend Judie Bouldry, also an author's VA. Judie has been a VA for about two years now, and I'm proud to refer authors to her. Judie, please let everyone know how they can contact you if they're interested.

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    2. Thank you, Jenel. My contact email is judiebouldry@yahoo.com

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    3. Hi, Judie! When I can't ease my grip on the reins, you are on my short list. Anyone Jenel approves of is a solid bet for me!

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    4. Thank you Jenn. Easing your grip on the reins comes with time and trust. Shoot me a note when you feel you can use the help.

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  17. Jenel is AMAZING. Seriously, you do some great covers for the books from my backlist and you're always there to help with the confusion!! :) I can't imagine trying to handle writing and all of the social media stuff and the advertisements and everything else without you!

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    1. Thank you, Maureen. You're so sweet. :)

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    2. Hi, Maureen, I agree - Jenel is fantastic! I honestly don't know how you keep it all organized Jenel. Really impressive!

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  18. Jenel is amazing!! I am lucky enough to get to work with her as a Team Susan member.
    I am amazed at what she does, what she handles and how she does it with grace and professionalism at all levels.


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    1. Thanks, Jayme. I can't wait to see you in September!

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    2. Jayme - Hi! Please tell us about this Team Susan (I'm going to assume you mean Susan Mallery) what is it and what do you all do? Curious authors want to know.

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    3. For several years, Susan had a street team called the Fool's Gold Cheerleaders, who earned points and won prizes for promoting the Fool's Gold romances each summer. We started with 25 Cheerleaders and grew to I think 80. The Cheerleaders were amazing and wonderful, and Susan and I loved and appreciated everything they did. Seriously incredible women. They handed out bookmarks in their town, talked to total strangers about Susan's books, drove around with Fool's Gold car magnets on their cars... and along the way, they won some amazing prizes and made lifelong friendships with me, Susan, and the other Cheerleaders. Truly spectacular.

      But as with all marketing things, when something works, everyone starts doing it, and then it has less and less impact, so I decided we should start putting Susan's budget toward other things. But Susan really, really loved the Cheerleaders, so she asked me to choose 15 to be on Team Susan Mallery. We really don't ask TSM to do anything. We just send them goodies and books several times a year. Susan really just loves having that close, personal connection with a group of readers.

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    4. Aw, I love that. Every author should have cheerleaders. It would be a nice buffer for those readers who are vocal in their non-love of an author. LOL.

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  19. Hi Jenel! One of the things I find frustrating about social media is that there's always more I could be doing! It never feels like I'm doing enough, but as Finta noted, doing that piece of my job takes time away from the actual writing. How do you advise your clients in terms of focus? How do you decide which parts of the puzzle deserve the most attention?

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    1. By far, the best promotion any author can do is to write the next book. (And make each one as good as it can be.) Anything that takes time away from your writing has to be weighed against that.

      If I had to choose just one social media platform, it would be Facebook. I'm firmly convinced that Facebook does drive sales--or at least, awareness, and after that, it's up to your book to make the sale. In the olden days (twenty years ago), readers used to spend a lot of time browsing at the bookstore. Social media is a twist on this. We can use it to bring you book to a reader's attention, but then the book blurb and first chapter have to hook the reader into buying.

      There are authors who phrase things sometimes as though readers are doing them a favor by buying a book. Yes, of course you should be grateful and thank your readers for their enthusiasm, but I'm not crazy about authors saying things like, "Thank you for your support." In the long term, readers aren't going to keep buying an author's books to be supportive. They're going to buy them because they love to read good books, period.

      In terms of focus, writing comes first. Don't go on social media until your pages are done for the day. When readers find a book they love, they often (almost always) look to see what else that author has written. So your next book is always the best promo you can do.

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  20. Hi Jenel--waving at you from Texas! It sounds like you're not too far away from me in McKinney--in which case I hope you're not flooded!

    Thanks for all the great ideas. I know there are a lot of things I could do better (newsletter!!!!!!!!) and while I am not too bad at Facebook, I am terrible at promotions. You've given me a lot to think about today--including the possibility of a VA.

    A question, though. Do you think it's harder to promote books that are NOT cozy or romance?

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    1. Hi, Deborah. I'm in Georgetown, just north of Austin. No flooding here! I hope you're not flooded.

      No, I don't think it's harder to promote books that are not cozy or romance. Most of the bestsellers are not cozy or romance. With all books, you need to find your audience. That's harder if you're writing in a niche, but still doable. :) I'd sit down and make a list of other authors who write the same kind of books, or where there might be some audience overlap, and target readers of those authors. I'd also brainstorm keywords that have to do with the topic of the book, or the occupation of the protagonist.

      Susan Mallery has been in the business for a long time, since well before she and I met, and she has tried pretty much everything in terms of promo. She already had a large, devoted readership and a very healthy mailing list before we started working together. The lessons I take away from that are: 1) every type of promo helps a little, so just keep trying new things; and 2) write books that readers love. Build your mailing list in every way you can with people who genuinely enjoy your books.

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    2. Debs - Your covers are always fantastic. Because you have such a long running series, and you do book signing tours,I would think a bookmark listing all the titles in order would be an excellent swag starting place.

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    3. Laron at Ninth Moon designs excellent bookmarks! www.ninthmoon.com

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    4. Deb, I think we talked about this once before. Your covers are a great example of branding. Once people read one, the covers shout out to them, "buy me buy me." Kudos to whoever designs them. I can spot one a mile away, and that's what you want:

      R E C O G N I T I O N

      It is priceless. Although I'm sure it comes at a good price!

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  21. Wow! Talk about an informative post. I'm learning about all sorts of great resources that I hope to apply in some way to my reading blog. What a cool job you have, Jenel, and it sounds like you are amazing at it. I love promoting authors on my blog and elsewhere, so I can imagine getting a lot of satisfaction out of being a virtual assistant or a physical one, too. I was thrilled when Lori Rader-Day followed up on a suggestion of mine for a promotion for her latest book. I would love to do promotions for some authors at conventions like Bouchercon, where so many fans can be reached and even new readers gained.

    For now, doing the book reviews, interviews, and featuring authors' books in blog posts about upcoming hot releases is great fun for me. But, I do want to become more tech savvy about these resources you and others have mentioned here, Jenel. Thanks so much for sharing with us today!

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    1. I think a lot of authors' assistants got their start as bloggers, Kathy, so it is doable. You probably have a lot of great ideas because you've seen everything from the blogger's perspective. :)

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    2. Kathy - I see a potential new career for you... :)

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    3. It would definitely be a dream career for me.

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  22. Such an interesting topic. With my blog, I get all kinds of pitches as you can imagine, but I have found that generally speaking, the UK marketing efforts are more interesting (and I think successful) than many that we find here in the States. Do you have a sense of why that might be Jenel?

    Also, it sounds like you are doing some much more creative things that I often see in the crime fiction community. Good job!

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    1. Tell us about those UK pitches Kristopher!

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    2. Yes, if you don't mind, please do give us some examples of what makes a pitch more interesting and successful to you, Kristopher. I'd *love* to know! I really don't have anything to do with that side of things, as both Susan and Kate have publicists at their publishing houses who handle things like blog tours.

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    3. Kristopher, I second what Pat said - please share. I'd love to hear more about marketing from the U.K. a

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    4. It's not so much the pitches that are different - though there are some of those as well (they do seem to do blog tours a bit differently than we do here in the States)
      But the UK publicists are able to generate buzz long before a book is released. Things like the train tickets that were given out at the Harrogate event well in advance of the release of The Girl on the Train. And my UK contacts are tweeting out the covers of their books well in advance of the release.
      Because of this, I have to be careful not to fill my blog schedule with all UK releases, knows that US ones will get around to promoting and eventually reaching out to me. Publishers in the UK also seem to have more parties where they will launch a whole season of books from a certain publisher. Of course, that is not exactly what we are talking about here, but that splash does get social media attention.

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    5. Thanks for the details, Kristopher. I appreciate the info.

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  23. I am a reader and semi-Luddite who can deal only with email, Facebook, and instant messenger. I am amazed at how responsive authors are to readers. Really. I am thrilled and gratified to get an email from one or a reply via Facebook. I've also been in awe of the advertising and promotions and now I know how that is happening. (Just got a Tulip Sisters bookmark the other day). Keep up the good work authors and virtual assistants!

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    1. Yay for getting the bookmark, Pat! I'm expecting 16,000 more envelopes to be delivered today so I can get the second bookmark in the mail to all you wonderful readers. Did you enter the contest? Did the bookmark make you feel even more excited about the book?

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    2. I read 16,000 envelopes and now I have to go lie down. LOL! Awesome!

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    3. I know... and that's only because they rush-ordered 2,000 to arrive on Friday. Those 2,000 are stuffed and ready to go, so we're just waiting on the other 16,000.

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  24. I haven't entered yet but thanks for reminding me. Off to do that now.

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    1. No pressure! I was just wondering whether the bookmark motivated action on your part. :)

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    2. I was one of the 16K who got theirs today and loved the secret on the back. :)

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    3. Yay! I have to tell you, I was really worried that the post office would balk at me bringing so many bookmarks at once, even though we sent them first class mail. I left my name and phone number clipped to one of the boxes with a note that said, "Please call me if there's any problem with this mailing." Even when I didn't get a call, I was still nervous until readers started posting on Susan's Facebook page that they had received theirs. Whew!

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  25. Jenel,

    As a Virtual Assistant, what percentage of your work is using the phone and what percentage of your work is using the Internet?

    Thanks!

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    1. Very little of my work is on the phone. Some weeks, I don't use the phone at all for work. But that doesn't mean that 100% of my work is on the internet, either. A lot of my work is offline--stuffing envelopes, mailing prizes to readers, designing promo items, beta-reading manuscripts, etc.

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  26. Thank you, Jenn, for inviting me here today, and thank you to all of you for the warm welcome. It's been fun! Very weird for me to come out from behind the scenes.

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    1. Thank you, Jenel! You've been so informative - I learned so much! I am going to redirect more effort to my mailing list! Thanks so much for sharing your valuable time with us - I can see why your authors adore you!

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  27. So to boil it down, a "virtual assistant" is a press / publicity agent.

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