An Indie Author’s Secret Weapon

When author Tina Folsom’s title, 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 around 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.

In Folsom’s case, the efforts of her street team in spreading reviews and ratings helped move Quinn’s Undying Rose from the middle of the pack (around #500 on bestsellers lists) into the top one hundred, where the natural velocity of a book’s popularity takes over and will practically guarantee 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 have since 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.

Street teams originated in the music world, where fans used to take to the streets for nothing more than the love of the band do the grassroots marketing that big companies have to pay even bigger money for—leveraging social media, handing out flyers, postering or even helping the band set up or selling tickets. The reward is being in the trusted inner circle for a beloved band.

Nowadays street teams are more likely to be working online than on the streets—and they’ve become a big part of the publishing world too!

How do you build you own street team and start using the power of your existing fanbase to grow your readership? 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 a goal for the week -for example, trying to move a book up a certain number of places on a bestseller list. Then the whole group gets behind that and works together to make it happen,” says Folsom.

A street team may convene in secret but the effect of their work is obvious. Typically they are very busy—they post and cross-post reviews on their own blogs and FB sites; they help drive sales of a new release, or stir up 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.

Folsom rewards her team with bookmarks, occasional book giveaways, and raffle prizes. She offered to give away an eReader if her team could move a book to the top 100 on the bestseller lists. They did. It’s a great way of forging meaningful connections with readers and establishing mutually beneficial relationships.

Street team members have insider access to their favourite author. For an avid group like this, being in the inner circle is perhaps the richest reward. They also have the chance to give their feedback directly to their favourite author and may even have some influence on that author’s writing.

“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.”

Do you have a street team? How did you find yours, and how has that been beneficial? Tell us about it in the comments!

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