When author Tina Folsom’s recent book, Quinn’s Undying Rose, flew up the bestseller list, it wasn’t merely good luck and good writing that got it there.
Folsom is one of the many indie authors who has the benefit of a secret weapon – a street team of ardent fans who are devoted to her and, perhaps more importantly, to her ongoing success as a writer.
This clandestine group of about 120 of her readers work hard at ensuring every possible means of promoting her work is exploited. They read her latest books first and fast, and then post reviews and ratings on influential websites and blogs. They write their own blogs about her. They talk about her books to total strangers in bookstores, and give away her “swag” such as bookmarks and trading cards as incentives for downloading her eBooks at events like swap meets, all for the love of her work. No money changes hands; they do it for the sheer love of her work and the satisfaction of seeing their efforts move the dial.
Recently their efforts in spreading reviews and ratings helped move Quinn’s Undying Rose from the middle of the pack, around #500 on bestsellers lists, to the top 100 where the natural velocity of a book’s popularity takes over and will mean lucrative sales for an author.
Powerful a weapon as it is, Folsom’s street team developed by chance.
“One of my Facebook fans asked if I had a street team. I didn’t know what it was at first but learned it can be a really powerful way to help sell my books,” says Folsom. She had an active Facebook fan page, and invited some of the more avid participants if they wanted to become part of an inner circle. They did, and now work out their tactics to help Folsom via a secret and private Facebook page – it’s an invitation -only area where they spell out their weekly “missions” and share notes on successes in promoting Folsom.
The street team is a phenomenon rooted in the music world, where fans are so committed that for nothing more than the love of the band they will gladly do the grassroots marketing that big companies have to pay even bigger money for – leveraging social media, word of mouth “advertising”, postering or even the mundane chores of helping the band set up or sell tickets. The pay-back is being in the trusted inner circle for a beloved band.
That street teams have moved into the publishing world is relatively new. Folsom’s team is not even a year old.
How do street teams work, and how can you create one? Start with a Facebook fan page or place where readers can congregate. Watch carefully, and then invite the most active participants to join the team.
“There is a leader who defines the mission for the week, which can be anything, such as trying to move a book up a certain number of places on a bestseller list, and then the whole group gets behind that,” says Folsom.
A street team may convene in secret but the effect of their work is obvious. Typically they are very busy – they post reviews and cross post reviews on their own blogs and FB sites; they drive sales of a new release, or raise interest in a book they think should have done better. As a result of that they focus their efforts on reviewing, recommending, and talking about that mission until it is mission accomplished.
“I love helping my authors,” says Amanda Brown, a stay-at-home mother of two who lives in West Virginia. She’s a member of three street teams including Folsom’s, which has cut into her reading time – whereas she used to read at least a book a day, now she’s down to about three a week. Instead of reading, she’s now writing reviews and posting them on online bookstores plus referral sites like Goodreads; she’s working on her own blog which refers people to free or inexpensive books, plus she spends a lot of time in libraries and bookstores effectively hand-selling her authors’ work. “If someone is looking around the romance section and seems open to it I’ll start a conversation and talk about my authors,” says Brown. “It never hurts to try.”
When she’s watching cartoons with her 2-year-old she will repeatedly search the author’s name on key websites to bump search results.
Foslom rewards her team with bookmarks, occasional book giveaways, prizes for friendly raffles, such as an eReader if they were able to move a book to the top 100. They did.
The team also has access to their favourite author. For an avid group like this, being in the inner circle is perhaps the richest reward.
“They tell me what character they might want to see a book of next, and if enough people want to see a specific character get his or her own book, I’ll consider that when I work on the next one,” says Folsom.
Plus, knowing that they’re keeping their favourite authors in the game is also a big part of why team members devote so much time and imagination to their work.
“I want my authors to do well so they can keep writing. I’m sitting on the edge of my seat waiting for one of my authors to publish a new book,” says Brown. “A new book coming out by one of my authors – that’s my reward.”