Today, let's talk about "Street Teams" or "ARC Groups."
An ARC Group is a group of dedicated readers who receive advance review copies (ARCs) of your books in exchange for an honest review when your book is released.
I like the term "street team" because an effective group does more than just review your book; they "take to the streets" upon release and spread the word about your book, and talk you and your work up in general. They're your grassroots marketers. They help provide the essential "word of mouth" buzz that helps you reach new readers.
What are the advantages of a street team?-Your book has reviews right out of the gate. Because your team will be comprised of people who enjoy your work, the reviews will likely tend toward the positive. Don't buy into all the "algorithm voodoo" you hear claiming that "after your book gets ____ reviews, Amazon's recommendations kick in." While confirmed purchase reviews play a part in recommendations, the greatest factor by far (and I mean far) is sales. What reviews give you is social proof. A book with a decent number of reviews and a good average rating is going to have a lot more appeal to a potential buyer than a book with no reviews.
-Word of mouth advertising. As mentioned above, having your Street Team members spread the word about your book to other readers is invaluable. And if you treat them well, they'll likely spread the word about you in general, not just when you have a new release. Some will blog about your books, others will post on social media, still others will talk you up on book clubs.
-An added layer of editorial feedback. Some of my team members love catching typos. Some have specialized knowledge and will catch factual errors. Others will give you general feedback about the story. Your team shouldn't take the place of editors and proofreaders, but their help is invaluable none the less.
-Cultivating relationships with readers. We've discussed the importance of this before. Ideally, your team becomes your "insiders." I've gotten to know some of my best readers much better through my street team and have met some truly delightful people in the process!
When am I ready to form a street team?Ultimately, you'll have to trust your instincts. It's not something I'd recommend doing right off the bat, but you can take it in steps from the outset. Begin by asking your beta readers to leave reviews. As your Facebook author page grows, you can give away a limited number of review copies upon release, and eventually work up to a full-blown street team.
How do I set up my street team?Start by creating a signup form on your website.
-Clearly state your expectations. Make it clear the subscriber must read and review all the books you send.
-Ask for a link to where the person currently leaves reviews. (Amazon or Goodreads profile, Audible listener profile, blog...)
-Ask why the person believes (s)he would be a good member.
-You might want to make it clear that you are only sharing advance ebooks, and that the reader must know how to side-load or open the ebook file on their device.
Decide how you will send out advance reader copies. Some authors keep a list of email addresses, and simply send out a mass email (be sure to put the team members' addresses in the "blind copy" section.) Others use an automated system like you might use for a newsletter.
Create a "special access" point for your team. Your team deserves more than the occasional $3 ebook in thanks for what they do. I have created a secret Facebook group for my street team. They get direct access to me, I can bounce ideas off of them, we can interact, but also the group gives me an opportunity to give them special treatment by sharing things like news, previews, and book cover reveals.
Decide how to recruit your first members. Since I started out by giving away review copies in my Facebook author group, that was the natural spot for me to begin. Once I reached a target number, I deleted the post, stopped actively seeking new members, but left the signup form on my site for a while. Once I reached the next benchmark, I removed the form from my site. I'll re-post it from time to time to add new team members. Some authors like to start small, then let it be known that new members will be added in X months, and acceptance will be based on the applicants' review history.
Other tips, questions, and concernsIs there a limit to how many readers I should have on my team? That's your call. The number of reviewers you accept will likely be a reflection of how well your books sell. Some highly successful authors have ARC lists of over 1,000 while others cap the number at a much, much lower total. Do what's comfortable for you.
Should I periodically cull my list of readers who aren't reviewing? Again, your call. Some authors aren't worried about it, others check from time-to-time. One effective tool is simply to send out a group email, BCC'ing those who haven't been reviewing, and asking if they still wish to be on the list. Sometimes life legitimately gets away, so you might wish to take that into consideration.
Should I worry about people scamming me? It's something to at least be aware of. Definitely beware of people who want paperbacks, people who tell you all the reasons they "can't afford" your $3 ebook, people who get on as many ARC lists as possible just to get the free books... I'm not suggesting that many of those who are interested in being on your team are grifters, but it's a reality in the industry. I wouldn't lose any sleep over it, but keep it in mind.
Parting thoughts--Know your expectations at the start and stick with them.
-Some authors suggest that reviewers not use language like "I received an ARC for an honest review" in their Amazon/Goodreads reviews, or else Amazon will remove the review. Use something like, 'I voluntarily read an early copy of this title.'
-Don't fret that giving away a few books will cost you money. A well-managed team will more than pay for itself through reviews, promo, and positive reader relationships. Some will still purchase the book when it comes out as a way of supporting you.
-Don't feel bad about cutting a member loose if you feel it's warranted.
-Remember, the above is simply an example of a "starter" team. Some authors take it to the next level, with point systems, rewards, and challenges. Remain open to ideas and possibilities.
-Don't be afraid to ask your team for help, but never miss an opportunity to thank them and tell them how awesome they are!