The Most Powerful Weapon in Your Book Marketing Arsenal
By Sabrina York
Nothing is more powerful.
Nothing has greater potential to launch your platform into the stratosphere.
Nothing can get you where you want to go faster than this one tool.
What is it?
No matter who you are, or what you write, or where you sell, relationships are the secret to success in this business…and every other. In a world where millions of books are fighting for reader dollars and thousands of authors are shouting to be heard over the fray, often the strongest voice is the whisper of a friend.
In a recent poll I took on Facebook, readers overwhelmingly reported that they rely on book referrals from friends, favorite blogs or reader networks (such as book clubs) when they choose their next read.
There are many ways an author can leverage this trend, but they all boil down to cultivating, fostering and maintaining quality relationships.
One tool—and a very powerful one, if used right—is having a street team.
What is a Street Team?
Simply put, your biggest fans. Readers, friends, bloggers, reviewers, fellow authors and others who love your books so much, they want to share them with their corner of the universe.
I started my street team about a year ago (note from ELF…this is probably a little dated, as Sabrina graciously shared this article with me, so I suspect it’s more like three years by now!) and it was one of the smartest moves I’ve ever made—simply because of the amazing connections that have come from it. I decided to keep it small at first, while I figured it all out, sending out a call to my newsletter subscribers only. I did not do a social media blast. I was shocked at the response I received.
Many of the charter members of the Royal Street Team (RST) were readers who had found me on Facebook, whom I considered friends because of our interaction there. But what surprised me was the response from bloggers and reviewers and other authors. I had assumed they were far too busy to promote my books. On the contrary, they are delighted to do so. In fact, they have become some of my most influential supporters.
While street teams do not come without cost or perils, the benefits can be gold. Author Cassandra Carr agrees. “I have a dedicated group of fans who are out there talking up my books. That’s invaluable in today’s world of a million books. There is a cost involved, but I like to think it pays off in the form of increased awareness and sales.” Author Cerise Deland loves that she gets to talk about her books in an intimate fashion to an engaged audience. As a bonus, many will write reviews for the books they’ve read because of this relationship with her.
And as we all know, reviews sell books.
How Does it Work?
Ask a hundred authors and you will get a hundred answers. But in short, I recommend following these steps:
FIRST: Develop a set of guidelines for your street team, including what you will be expecting them to do and how you plan to thank them. My street team guidelines include a section on the difference between erotic romance and porn (because I write erotic romance, I want my street team members to understand the difference). I also have a section on Push vs Pull Promotion—the difference between a hard and a soft sell. Because I want a relationship with my reader, I do not want them alienated by a hard sell.
Beyond that, know what kinds of things you will require of your team, and what the terms of your agreement will be. For example, some authors will eject members for not being active enough or not making benchmarks. If you plan to do that, ask yourself if you are okay with the damage that might cause to your relationship with that reader.
Tip: You should have your expectations firmly in mind—and in writing—before you put out a call.
SECOND: Decide how large a team you want. Some authors have hundreds of members. But if your goal is to create relationships and manage the team well, you may want to keep it small. I decided to start with a dozen or so members and let my team grow organically. I have discovered some members are much more active than others—which is fine with me, as it is the relationship that’s important to me.
Some of my team members have quit other teams that became too large—and unruly. And when the author didn’t step in to put the kibosh on bullying or unhealthy competition, the relationship with that reader was irreparably damaged—along with the author’s reputation.
THIRD: Once you know what you want your team to look like, craft your call. Anything from private emails to a full-fledged blitz on social media. When Cassandra Carr first started up her team, she posted about it on Facebook and Twitter and included it in her newsletters. She also has a sign-up tool on her website. Following a similar method, Cerise DeLand put out a call on Facebook. She immediately had 15 people join, and within days had over 40. This is an excellent example of how building relationships with readers via social media can pay off when you need it to.
FOURTH: Manage your team. I keep a data base with email addresses, home addresses, preferences for prizes should they win (with t-shirt sizes, ebook formats, favorite color, etc.). I also track what, if anything, I have sent them as well as any review they write for me so I can thank them.
When a new member joins, it helps to have a boiler plate welcome with your guidelines and expectations ready to go. In her book, Street Team Smarts, Sara Humphreys recommends sending a welcome package to new members, including promo materials for them to share, instructions and a thank you gift with the street team logo. Sara’s book has more ideas on networking with booksellers through your street team.
Once your members are active, remember to stay engaged. I like to send regular updates about my books, or things I need to have shared. I never require any member do anything. But I ask that they share when they can. See—my preference for a soft sell at work. You may get a better response by barking demands and issuing commands, but only for a while. These are volunteers you are dealing with, after all. And THEY CAN QUIT!
How Can You Use A Street Team?
Many print authors use street teams to reach out to brick and mortar bookstores or take promo materials to libraries. In a digital world, such sharing is still useful, but our focus turns more to social networking. Regardless, your team can reach outlets you may not have access to like book clubs, blogs, and an audience of their own on Facebook, Twitter, Pintrest and other popular sites.
Beyond this power of promo and reach, I have street team members who are excellent editors and are willing to beta read chapters or excerpts. This also gets them excited about the book’s release. As an example of this, Cassandra Carr told me: “I just started a new book, and as soon as I wrote the prologue, I posted it for my team. Right now they’re helping me name characters. They like to feel involved—invested—in their favorite authors’ careers.”
What do you think? Are those readers going to rush out and buy that book when it comes out? Are they going to share the news with their friends and contacts? Are they going to blog about a book for which they feel ownership?
Well, first of all, I dislike the term ‘assignments’ and so do some of my RST members. As busy people with their own responsibilities, I ask them only do to what they are comfortable with and have the capacity for. And thank them regardless of the amount of work they do. Very active members, however, do receive “Princess Points” which are entries into special street team only drawings.
But here are some examples of tasks you could offer your team:
- Deliver promo material to booksellers
- Ask local librarians to order books
- Post a blog for a new release, author interview or contest
- Share information/ links for a new release or promo opportunity
- Give honest reviews
- Follow on Facebook, Twitter, Pintrest, Google+, Goodreads, Shelfari etc.
- Refer a friend
- Review sharing—One of the most powerful sales tools nowadays is a good (and sometimes a poor) review. Vanessa Romano, the Jeep Diva, a blogger, reviewer and street team member reflects, “I’m more prone to buy a book based on a review vs. seeing 50 buy links to it on my Facebook feed. On one of the street teams I put together, we’ve been sharing reviews from blogs, retailers, Goodreads, Shelfari, Library Thing and more.” Asking street team members to share links from various places helps avoid the dreaded Spamalot.
Be conscious of how much you are asking of your team, and how easy you are making it for them to share your work. I recommend producing a media kit for a new release with a blurb, excerpt, sample tweets and sample facebook post with links and covers.
Consider providing a list of tasks and asking your team to pick one or two—or more if they have time. Remember, they have a life of their own, and they may be on many other teams!
Benefits You May Offer Your Team
- Exclusive access to information about coming books
- First looks at covers, ARC’s or excerpts
- Gift certificates
- Swag, including autographed items, mugs, t-shirts, pens
- Use their names in books—I do this occasionally, but try to limit myself to last names, on account of my subject matter.
- Bestselling author and Golden Heart and Daphne du Maurier winner, Ann Charles has a “street team only” page on Facebook. It’s a place for her die hard fans to hang out and chat amongst themselves. I have one as well, which I keep “Secret,” so members feel safe talking about whatever they like.
- Drawings for exclusive prizes— Cassandra Carr has a point system for monthly drawings. She also holds special contests just for street team members.
- Free books— Cerise DeLand gives away occasional copies of certain books, requesting a review in return. “Not everyone who asks for a free book follows through,” she warns. “It pays to keep lists and reiterate the agreement.” She also has contests for reviewers only.
But there is a benefit to a street team member beyond all this. Something far more powerful than a peek at what your favorite author is working on or a t-shirt no one else has… A sense of belonging, of being part of something exciting, something they love.
One of my loyal street team members is on 4 teams. Why? Because she loves the “relationships you can develop with the authors and other readers. You have an inside track to information on what’s coming, which is very fun.”
One of my star RST members, Gaele, a reviewer and blogger with I am Indeed, is on six street teams. “I enjoy interacting with the authors but I’m not there for the swag or the giveaways,” she says. “Those are nice bonuses, but if it’s an author I enjoy I like being able to help promote and support. It’s really about the interaction for me.” She only stays in the teams that amuse her. “Make me smile – let me help you promote when I can. That’s good for me.”
With all the benefits, there can be pitfalls as well. Here are some danger zones to watch out for.
Attention Fatigue. If you have 200 members on your street team and the assignment is “share the buy link to this book from this retailer on Facebook,” the result can be a flood of something that looks an awful lot like spam. Nothing can make a reader shake her head and murmur, “Oh, her again?” like spam.
A Heavy Load. Gaele cringes at incessant requests for promotion. “I’m busy,” she says. “If others on the team have more time to share and promote, that’s great. But for me, a laundry list of mandatory shares /posts is not feasible.” After all, she has her own business to promote. And be careful of mandatory anything. As I think I mentioned, these are volunteers.
Negative Attention. Encourage positive, professional behavior from your team. Remind your members this is your business. There have been examples of street team members flaming a bad review of their author’s book. Not only does this create bad press for the author, many people in the business will assume the author encouraged it. If the review is from a professional review site, this kind of negative karma could really backfire.
Inappropriate or Offensive Requests. Be careful what you ask of your team. One of my RST members, who is a professional reviewer, objects to assignments to vote down bad reviews. The problem here is, what constitutes a bad review is subjective. Professional reviewers will tell you a 3-star review is not a bad review. But even if it is a 1-star review, asking members to vote it down can have unintended impacts.
Professional reviewers are ranked on Amazon. Being voted down because they gave an honest review is not fair to them and will annoy them. Consider this: If you are sending out a blanket assignment to your team (some of whom may be reviewers), are you asking them to shoot themselves in the foot? What’s that going to do to your relationship with them? And do you really want to annoy a reviewer? On purpose?
Beyond that, Gaele tells me, “voting down a review on Amazon does little but give it more weight and play—and sticks it to the front page.” Her team has tested this hypothesis–repeatedly. She also declines requests to add a street team button or badge to her blog because, while she only writes honest reviews, a badge or button could give the impression she has been influenced by the author.
And another thought on requesting 5-star reviews (rather than an honest review), one of my RST members who is a blogger reports, “I hear readers say they disregard all 5 star reviews because they are certain they are coming from the street teams.” Aside from that, word that an author is asking for 5-star reviews will get around. Either way, the practice is counterproductive.
Ask yourself, if you were relying on a review to make a purchase decision, would you want the review padded if the book was not a satisfying read? And if you were a reviewer, would you be willing to put your sterling reputation on the line for an author? Or anyone?
Poor Management. When asked why they’ve quit teams in the past, nearly all my survey respondents said the same thing: poor management by the author. And even when the problem was caused by other team members, the general consensus is that poor author management lies at the root. Here are some examples from my RST members about other teams that turned sour:
When asked why she quit one team, one of my loyal street team members said she didn’t like “being called out by other team members when she gave an honest review.”
Other members I polled reported leaving teams because some of the members criticized others for not doing enough. “I don’t believe any fan should feel that they aren’t ‘enough’ because they don’t hand-sell as much as others,” one told me.
Yet another comment: “I would like to see fans spread the word that their favorite author has something out, but not turn into a lynch mob. In my opinion, this tone is set by the author.”
And: “Ultimately, the author needs to be involved 100% in her street team for it to be well run and effective. Sadly, I find some authors aren’t willing to risk the wrath of one ‘super fan’ by keeping them in line.”
I believe effective management of a street team—including “problem children”—lies in the first step of this process. Formulating a thoughtful and thorough set of guidelines and expectations for your team members to follow.
When to Just Say No to Street Teams
When should you avoid street teams like the plague?
When you don’t have time or the interest to foster these valuable connections. Cassandra Carr sums it up nicely when she says, “If you’re going to do it, do it right.” And that means giving them your time and attention. If you don’t think you can spare that…don’t. Just don’t.
Because that’s what a street team is all about. The precious, potent bond between an author and her readers.
The Bottom Line
Be careful and present when you request things of your street team. Treat them with the respect they deserve. Protect their gentle hearts. And treasure that relationship. Honor an honest review. Be appreciative for whatever they can do.
And thank them for it.
They are volunteers after all.
They can always quit.
About Sabrina York
Her Royal Hotness, Sabrina York, is the New York Times and USA Today Bestselling author of hot, humorous stories for smart and sexy readers. Her titles range from sweet & sexy to scorching romance. Connect with her on twitter @sabrina_york, on Facebook or on Pintrest. Visit her webpage to check out her books, excerpts and contests. Free Teaser Book. And don’t forget to enter to win the royal tiara!
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