Jenel Looney on being a Writer’s Assistant

- by Lina Gardiner

WELCOME JENEL!  Thank you for joining us and popping in throughout the day to answer questions.

How did you become a virtual assistant? (What interested you in this job, etc.) It’d also be interesting to hear about your Masters in Writing.

I had a lot of weird and seemingly unrelated skills I’d picked up over the years in various jobs and schools. I had a Bachelor’s in Spanish, a Masters in Writing Popular Fiction, a paralegal certificate, a real estate degree. I knew a little graphic design and basic HTML from my time as a curriculum assistant in Saudi Arabia, working on the school system’s internal website, but I didn’t know enough to be a graphic designer or a website designer.

When I first started as a VA in 2008, I marketed myself to small businesses. But then Susan Mallery, a classmate and friend from Seton Hill University, hired me for a small project, and then for another, and soon, she committed to me as her assistant and recommended me to two of her friends, Kate Carlisle and Maureen Child. I am thrilled to specialize in author assistance. I couldn’t be happier.

Can you give us an overview of what virtual assistants do for their clients?

Every VA has different skills and expertise, so it will vary greatly. A good VA will help with all of those time-consuming extras that keep you from writing. Here are a few of the things I do for my clients:

Contest Coordination
Street Team Management
Graphic Design (posters, swag, ebook covers)
Website Content Creation (bonus content for series, etc.)
Social Media Support
Ebook Formatting
Simple Website Updates
Beta Reader Services
Blog Tour Coordination
Press Releases

How do you usually manage your day?

Triage. I always have more on my to-do list than I can accomplish in a day, which is great because I love being busy, and the variety keeps me entertained. Some tasks take less brain power, such as mailing prizes to readers, so I save those for the end of the day. I do the thought-heavy tasks when my brain is fresh.

Is there a limit to the number of authors you can accommodate?

There’s a limit to the amount of work I can handle, and the three authors for whom I currently work keep me very busy, I’m happy to say. Susan Mallery, in particular, has four new books plus an ebook exclusive coming out this year, beginning with the incredible EVENING STARS in March.

What aspect of being a virtual assistant keeps you most busy?

Right now, I’m getting organized to attend the RT Convention with Susan Mallery, so I’m designing and ordering all of the goodies that will be in the fabulous goodie bags she’s giving away.

I’m also designing some fun bonus content for Kate Carlisle to give away at upcoming mystery conferences. We’re doing a Time Killer booklet for Kate with a word search for each book in her Bibliophile Mystery series, plus a “Find 12 Changes” puzzle with two versions of the cover of her next book, THE BOOK STOPS HERE.

What, would you say, are the most requested tasks for your authors?

Social media support is a biggie because the need for new content is relentless. More importantly, though, we strategize ways to drive those fans and followers to join the author’s mailing list, which is the most powerful tool an author can have to impact early sales, and the only tool that is completely in the author’s control. We don’t know what changes Facebook and the other social media sites will make in the future, but we know we’ll be able to stay in touch with readers on an author’s mailing list.

Without being personal, can you share what the average cost/hr is for a virtual assistant?
(Not necessarily your wage, but virtual assistants on average).

I don’t know that I can speak to the average hourly rate. A few years ago, I wrote an article for the Romance Writers Report about VAs, and I asked a few about their rates. One was as low as $5 per hour, and one was as high as $50. My rate is $40 per hour. I’ve even connected with a couple of women online who identify themselves as VAs but who do the work on a volunteer basis for authors they love. I think the chances of finding someone who has the skills you need—and the commitment, and the work ethic—for $5 per hour are pretty slim. You want a professional in your corner, someone you can trust to do an excellent job and someone who will represent you in the best way possible.

What do you like most about being a Virtual Assistant?

I love the variety of work I get to do, and the opportunity for creativity. I’ll give you an example… Susan Mallery writes an ongoing series set in Fool’s Gold, California, which has been wildly popular with readers. I create all of the bonus content on the Fool’s Gold website, I write little between-the-books updates on the characters. I design logos for all of the local businesses. I designed a map of Fool’s Gold. At the moment, I’m designing a more detailed map of downtown Fool’s Gold, which will be included as a trifold brochure in the goodie bag Susan will give out at the RT Convention in New Orleans this May.

Do you attend any of the industry conferences? (Just curious) 

I haven’t, but I don’t rule out the possibility. I’m sure I could learn a lot!


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Jenel Looney has been an Author’s Virtual Assistant since 2008. She lives in Central Texas with her husband and a very spoiled little dog. Connect with her online at


  1. Hey, Jenel! Just had to pop in and say howdy and that Susan is SO very lucky to have you. VAs are a godsend, but you should sit and preen at the top of the totem pole!

  2. Aw, thanks, Jean! I don’t know if you remember this, but we live in the same town. I met you once when you spoke at a Chamber Lunch and Learn. You were so entertaining!

  3. Hi Jenel. Thanks for the 411 on being a VA. Very interesting. I love your background and I didn’t know you did EVERYTHING on Susan Mallery’s website. I love the bonus content! I know they appreciate all you do.

  4. Just have to say, one of Jenel’s greatest gifts is her ability to connect with readers. We are a diverse group and Jenel makes us all feel important and eager to help the authors we love. That’s so important to authors….when we write reviews and share with others about the books we love. Jenel makes it so easy to do what we love to do.

  5. Very interesting Jenel. You are so very good at your job, passionate about promoting your authors in various ways. You take “being the authors right hand” to a whole new level, finding new and exciting ways to help them connect with their readers and promote their books. Well done!

  6. Hi, Perrin. I definitely don’t do everything on Susan’s website. :) Susan has a fabulous webmaster, Shelley Kaye with Webcrafters Design. I create the content for the Fool’s Gold website, such as the logos and the stories, but Shelley is the one who makes the site both function and look beautiful.

  7. Aw, Brenda, you’re sweet! Honestly, it all comes back to the author. Their books make readers love them. I simply manage the promotional activities, but nothing I did would do any good, if not for the authors writing books that readers love.

  8. Thanks, Darla! It really is fun to come up with new ideas and to implement them. We never know what’s going to catch readers’ attention, though. And what works one month might not work the next. We have to continually adapt and evolve.

  9. Great blog!

    Don’t know what I’d do without you, Jenel!

  10. Jenel,

    I love learning what you do for each of your authors you work for. Of course, you know which one is my favorite. Great interview!!

  11. Thank you, Maureen! It’s a pleasure to work for you, especially because I get to read all the amazing books you’ve written over the years!

  12. LOL, Melissa! Yeah, it’s been fun seeing Susan Mallery’s cheerleaders here this morning. You make my job FUN!

  13. Wow Jenel, having gotten to be on the receiving end of all your awesomeness, it’s very cool to learn about all that encompasses your time. You’re the best!!

  14. What a wonderful article. You are one busy lady, but I already knew that from last summer. I am sure the authors would not know how to handle everything extra and not be able to write as much without you. I read all three of your authors. I think they are very lucky to have you. Looking forward to meeting you in May at RT.

  15. Wow, I gotta say, I had no idea my fan club would turn up today. LOL Thanks so much, Molly. That’s great to hear.

    Shari, I look forward to meeting you, too! Susan did tell me once that she figured she could write one extra book per year because she had me on her team. That was very nice to hear.

  16. Jenel,

    What a great overview of what a VA does. You are a great asset to your clients – and a great resource for other VAs. You rock!

    - from another member of your fan club and fellow VA.

  17. Hi Jenel,

    I loved getting to read about what you do. I know how valuable you are to your authors. I just want to thank you for helping them to connect with their readers, and for putting up with so many of us :)

  18. you do it well!

  19. Today, I’ve been trying to create a newsletter with Mail Chimp, working on my webpage, and doing a GoodReads giveaway…. honestly I’ve spent most of my time on non-writing chores today. I can certainly see how someone with your abilities, Jenel, can make it possible for your authors to write an extra book a year. Your authors are very lucky, and by the comments on here today, they know it. :)

  20. For anyone who’s wondering, Sheridan is one of the VAs I admire the most! :) She’s excellent and has top-notch creative and technical skills. (We are each other’s fan club.)

  21. Thank you, Jayme! I love readers… without you, I wouldn’t have the joy of doing what I do. :)

  22. Thanks, Denise!

    Lina, yes, exactly! Those are the kinds of tasks that you can turn over to an assistant. They’re time-consuming, nit-picky, and they drain your creativity. And yet, they’re very important because if a book falls in the forest but no one is there…

  23. I really enjoyed this interview and found it very thought-provoking. I’m just starting to farm out jobs and even the few hours a month has been helpful. VAs rock!

  24. I do remember that Chamber meeting, Jenel! We should have lunch–without all those other folks.;) Assuming either of us ever takes time for lunch… ;(

  25. Jenel, you are amazing!! Thank you for sharing with us what you do. I know how much Susan, Maureen and Kate appreciate you. It’s wonderful to get a little peek into what you do for them. And hopefully encourage someone else out there to pursue a dream. Thank you!

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