The majority of emerging authors and a hefty percentage of established authors have day jobs. They’re also expected to do most, if not all, of the marketing for their novels. When you’re short on time and energy, outsourcing can provide a much-needed lifeline.
If you’re ambitious, you may aspire to publish a weekly blog, multiple social media posts per day, a monthly newsletter, and perhaps a podcast or vlog. It can be hard to also carve out time for SEO, paid advertising, applying to BookBub, and trying out new digital platforms. Now factor in the time needed to learn how to do each of these things well.
Are you feeling overwhelmed?
We’re not sure how anyone can take on digital and in-person marketing, do them well, keep their day job, write more novels, and not burn out without either cutting back on marketing tactics or hiring people who can help.
We’re not suggesting you outsource everything, but some activities lend well to delegation.
Choosing What to Outsource
Contractors can be fabulous people to work with. Chances are, you’ve already worked with a contractor and didn’t know it. Many publishers outsource cover design, developmental editing, and copyediting. Self-published authors also should outsource cover design, developmental editing, and copyediting. Beta readers are typically not paid, although it’s a great idea to outsource a sensitivity reader.
Contractors get called in when a high level of expertise is needed. This outsourced expertise can come in very handy when it comes to marketing.
When considering your digital marketing strategy
, there will be some things that are harder to outsource than others. On the flip side, there will be marketing activities that take a lot of time to master and should be outsourced. We recommend that you become somewhat familiar with each marketing strategy so you can judge whether or not a freelancer is qualified. Don’t go overboard. It doesn’t make sense to spend weeks learning the ins and outs of SEO, including the latest updates to Google’s algorithms.
You shouldn’t outsource content that’s unique to you or the fictional worlds you’ve created. For example, it doesn’t make sense to outsource a blog post going in-depth about an aspect of your fictional world. You’ll know your world better than anyone else. Similarly, social media posts about work in progress or anything that veers into a personal domain shouldn’t be outsourced either.
However, there are aspects of blogging and social media that you can outsource. For example, authors often collaborate and share posts from other authors in the same genre. The posts link back to the contributing author’s website to promote their work, which makes the time spent on a blog post worthwhile. Guest posts can be a great way to keep your readers entertained while you take a break - or develop a post for another blog or publication.
It’s easy to outsource the bulk of your social media activity if you write brand guidelines for the company or contractor you outsource to. Contractors can post related articles, humorous images, and calls to action like asking your reader base if they’ve watched or read anything interesting lately. You won’t want to forget to post from time to time. The posts with the highest engagement will be posts you create with unique content. Many authors find it’s worth paying a contractor a small weekly fee to keep their social media presence consistent.
Ideal tasks for outsourcing include SEO work on your website to improve search rankings, paid search advertising, book trailers, help with Amazon advertising, and graphic design for logos and paid advertising. These are all examples of marketing activities that are nuanced and difficult to perfect without training. That’s not to say you can’t learn how with the right tools (such as our handy guide on book trailers
), but you probably won’t produce something better than someone with a lot of expertise.
Email marketing is something we recommend learning. We believe that a good email marketing strategy involves writing your copy, even if you outsource the tactical pieces such as list building and email design. Similarly, if you decide to have a vlog or podcast, outsourcing video/audio editing and pitching/scheduling guests makes sense, but you’ll need to brainstorm the topics and interview guests.
Develop Brand Guidelines
Before outsourcing work, we recommend developing brand guidelines to educate contractors about what you do and don’t want to be represented in your content. For example, you may wish to encourage seasonal or trending topics but avoid politics, religion, and spiders. If you’re a horror writer, avoid cheery colors and stick to a gothic palette. If you’re a romance writer, stick to cheery colors and avoid the gothic palette (unless you write gothic romance).
A useful brand document will include the following components:
- Short description of your author persona
- Links to your website & social media
- Ideal topics
- Banned topics
- Your preferred color palette
- Preferred fonts (if you have them)
- Examples of “on brand” images (go to Pixabay, Pexels, Unsplash, or similar free sites to browse and select images that are reflective of your characters/stories)
A good brand guidelines document changes as needed. For example, if your readers had an adverse reaction to a post, consider adding details about how a specific topic should be approached or add it to your “banned topic” list.
Where Do I Find Contractors?
There are many web platforms dedicated to connecting freelancers with people who need a service. Upwork
are two common catch-all freelancer websites. 99 Designs
are platforms specializing in graphic designers and voice-over actors, respectively.
Asking your author friends who they’ve contracted with is also a fantastic place to start. Chances are they know of a small agency or freelancer who specializes in supporting authors.
How Do I Hire the Right Person?
The great thing about personal references is the freelancer has done excellent work for someone you know. If you’re hiring off of a freelance platform, you’ll need to carefully read reviews of the person’s work and read through their work history. When you post a request for work, ask for examples of similar jobs.
Interviews are a common practice on freelance platforms. Upwork
offers in-app video conferencing to facilitate these interviews. We also recommend starting with a small amount of work or a week-long trial. It’s an opportunity to test the person’s work before committing to an extended contract.
We mentioned earlier that you should become somewhat familiar with the marketing tactic you’re outsourcing. This knowledge will come in handy when you interview a new contractor or review examples of their work.
Writing a Job Description
Whether you’re reaching out to a recommended freelancer or posting to a job site, design a job description with clear project guidelines. You’ll want to describe:
- Required expertise
- Project deliverables
- Duration of the project
- Next steps
I’m looking for a social media expert with experience managing fiction author accounts. Ideally, you have experience working for crime thriller writers. I need someone to create seven posts (1 per 7 calendar days) with the potential for a long-term engagement if we both decide we’re a good fit. I’ll provide you with detailed brand guidelines.
For the purpose of this project, I’m looking for someone who can create engaging posts with accompanying graphics. I expect to receive a document with post content for my review by the Thursday before the week the posts go live.
You must have experience with Hootsuite or a similar platform and know about social media advertising. Please link to relevant examples when you apply.
Following our outline:
- Required expertise: Social media expertise. Experience with Hootsuite and social media advertising. Prior experience with authors strongly preferred.
- Project deliverables: 7 social media posts with images, 1 each for 7 calendar days.
- Duration of the project: The time it takes to create 7 posts with images.
- Next steps: Provide examples.
A short project, such as the one in this example, allows you to run a brief trial with a freelancer to make sure you both like working with each other.
What Should I Expect?
The ideal contractor will be courteous, punctual, and skilled. They should always be polite and will expect the same from you. Their application should provide how long it will take to complete the first project and whether or not they are open to continuing work provided the engagement goes well.
If the contractor can’t hit their original deadline, they should give you plenty of warning. You should expect the work to be of adequate quality, although you’ll likely need at least one round of revisions. If the work is unacceptable, most freelance platforms have guidelines for refunds or issuing a negative review.
If your contractor does good work, we recommend leaving them a positive review. Most freelance sites reward high performers and penalize people who can’t accumulate a minimum number of positive reviews.
Gotchas & Warnings
As the saying goes, you get what you pay for. If you insist on the lowest fee possible and don’t vet the candidate properly, you can’t expect stellar quality work.
During a short social media engagement, it makes sense to ask for content rather than have the contractor post directly to your accounts. Even if you have a long-term engagement, don’t share your usernames and passwords. Most platforms offer free business accounts that allow you to add administrative users, or you may want to create a Hootsuite account and provide that single login as opposed to all of your accounts.
If you’re located in the United States, note that working with a freelancer (unless you go through an online service) often requires that you obtain a W9 and submit an I-9
The key to a positive engagement with a freelancer is clear communication. Set expectations early, ask for a project timeline, and require weekly check-ins to review progress on longer projects. With the right contractors, you’ll have a great deal more time to dedicate to what you love to do.