Street teams, beta readers, first readers—there are a lot of names for this group of loyal followers who volunteer to help authors do their work better and faster. Regardless of what you call them, though, a street team can be an invaluable part of your author strategy. In Part 1 of this two-part series, let’s take a look at how to build your street team. In Part 2, we’ll dive into how best to use your street team for world domination.
What is a Street Team?
To make things simple, we’re going to define a street team as:
“A group of loyal readers, already on your mailing list or already connected to you on social media, with whom you have an established relationship, and who have volunteered to read, edit, and review your work.”
That’s kind of a beefy definition, but it covers all the angles.
Essentially, a street team is comprised of readers, and particularly readers who already love you and your books. And it’s important that these are loyal readers, because what you’re asking of them takes a certain amount of work on their part.
Street teams have been a part of the internet marketing landscape almost since the start. In large part, the concept of a street team seems to have evolved from “beta testers.” In the software development and technology world, a beta tester is someone who volunteers to be a guinea pig of sorts, trying out some unproven and untried version of a commercial product before it goes live, reporting bugs and problems as they encounter them so the developer can fix those and make the product better.
The benefit for a beta tester is that the product they’re trying out is theirs for free. The “price” they pay, really, comes down to the fact that they’ll have to put up with some bugs and glitches and other undesirables while testing, and they’re asked to document those bugs and report them to the makers of the product.
That’s handy for the beta tester, because they get free stuff. It’s handy for the product developer, too, because they get valuable data and feedback from real users, with very low (or no) financial investment or overhead. The users tell the makers what’s right and what’s wrong with the product, and the maker fine-tunes things based on this feedback, eventually releasing a better and more refined product to the public.
For authors, the process is the same. The author can write their book, and then give it to their street team (beta readers in this case), and solicit feedback on everything from the pacing and style to typos and grammar gaffs. Street teams can even provide valuable feedback on the cover design, the book description, and the marketing messaging for advertisements and promotions. And, as we’ll discuss in a bit, they can provide early reviews to help on launch day for the book.
How to Build a Street Team
Building a street team isn’t difficult, but it does take a bit of pre-work. For this exercise, you’ll need the following:
- A mailing list that can be segmented (divided) by groups OR …
- A private Facebook group or other online community where your street team can congregate and communicate with you (and in this case with each other)
- A number of subscribers to your mailing list or members in your group who have demonstrated their willingness to help (more on this in a second)
- A book for your street team to review (naturally)—you can also give the street team a sneak peek at your cover, the book description, your author photo, and/or anything else associated with your book
If you have a mailing list of any size, you can start by inviting some of them to participate in your street team. You’ll want to be very selective, of course—choosing only street team members who have shown that they are willing to support you. The easiest way to do this is to ask them to email you a review that they’ve posted online—for one of your books, or for any other book, preferably in the same genre as yours.
You’ll also want to make it known that you’re only accepting a limited number of street team members. After all, it doesn’t do you much good to have a mailing list of, say, five-thousand readers, and all five-thousand are getting your books for free. When you ask for volunteers, make it clear from the start that not everyone will be selected.
A Sample Email
You might send an email like this one:
I currently have a limited number of slots for new Street Team readers! This team will get copies of my books for free, prior to their release, in exchange for helping me to edit the book and find typos, grammar errors, and any other issues. You’ll also be expected to leave an honest review of the book on Amazon and elsewhere, once it releases.
I only have room for 20 more Street Team members, so not everyone will be able to join. But if you’d like to be on the team, here’s how to apply:
- 1. Reply to this email
- 2. Include a link to a recent review that you’ve written for one of my books, or for a book similar to mine, on Amazon, Goodreads, and elsewhere
- 3. Write the phrase “I promise to read your book within two weeks of receiving it, to send you a list of errors and mistakes I find, and to review the book when it goes live”
That last part is just to make sure we’re clear on your part in this!
I’m opening this up to anyone who has shown that they’ve reviewed my work in the past, so feel free to run out and leave me a review if you still need to catch up! A limited number of readers will be selected, so hurry!
Once that email goes out, you’ll want to be ready. The larger your list, the more responses you’ll get, so it could become time consuming. This, among other reasons, is why you’ll want to ask them to send you a review from online. Many of your readers will likely have never reviewed your books, or any other author’s work, online. Those who haven’t will (hopefully) decline from responding.
Those who have, however, should make it easy on you. You can decide, up front, to reject street team applicants based on certain criteria. For example, if their reply is full of typos, is all lowercase, or indicates that they have a poor grasp of English, you can put those in the “reject” pile. I recommend having a stock response, written in advance, that you can cut and paste into a reply email, to let them down gently:
Thanks for applying to be part of my street team!
I’ve received a lot of emails from people who wanted to be on the team, and I’ve made my decisions about who to add. I’m sorry that you didn’t make the team, this time around!
I’m sure to add new team members in the future, so I hope you’ll try again.
It’s never fun to reject people (or to be rejected), but be polite and understanding, and if anyone gets irate (it happens), just continue to be diplomatic about it. This, too, shall pass.
As for who to add to your team, this is the time to get extremely picky. Look for people who showed exceptional care in not only the reviews they wrote, but in how they presented those reviews to you.
For example, someone who sent you a simple one-line email with a link to a review they posted on Amazon, dated the same day the email was sent, probably isn’t as good a choice as the person who crafted a kind email, professing that they’d love to be a part of your team, and sharing a link to a review they posted months earlier.
Add the gems, in other words, and let the others down gently.
Stick around for Part 2!
Now that we’ve looked at how to build your street team, next time we’ll dig in a bit to discuss best practices for putting your street team to work, on your behalf. Be sure to swing by for this next part, because this is where we really start seeing results!