Street Teams and How to Use Them (Part 2)

Posted by: Kevin Tumlinson 4 weeks ago

In Part 1 of this two-part series, we talked about why street teams are a nutritious part of your healthy author strategy. In Part 2, we’re going to dive into some best practices for putting your street team to work on your behalf. 

How to Use Your Street Team

Now that you have a street team, it’s time to put them to good work.

There are basically two schools of thought about the best way to utilize a street team:

  • The developmental approach—You might bring your bunch in from day one, sharing your book chapter by chapter with them, asking for feedback in shaping the book as it progresses. This is how break-out authors such as Hugh Howey (Wool) and Andy Weir (The Martian) shaped their blockbusters from the ground up, sharing the story in blog posts that were beloved by their readers. The readers were able to contribute to the shape and growth of the book, which made them loyal fans, who later bought copies of the book when it was released. This helped with sales, and with triggering certain promotions and algorithms, and resulted in phenomenal success*. So … that’s a way to go. *Phenomenal success not guaranteed.
  • The bulk approach—You could wait until the manuscript is completed, and all associated resources with it (cover, description, marketing email, etc.), and give your street team all the various pieces at once or bit by bit, to get both edits and feedback. This approach lets you shape the story all on your own, so that you don’t get sidetracked with outside ideas or opinions. It does have the effect of “dumping everything at once” on your street team, though. This isn’t that big of a deal, most of the time. Having a complete book to read can be somewhat gratifying for the beta readers. They get a sense of the entire story, rather than seeing it developed, tweaked, and modified as you go. They also get to see the whole package, cover and all, and can let you know if something doesn’t gel.

The approach you take is up to you, obviously, and will depend entirely on your own sensibilities and work style. Both have their advantages and disadvantages. And, of course, you could combine elements of the two—maybe send readers a chapter at a time, but only after you’ve completed the manuscript, and follow with the cover, the book description, etc. Or maybe all they ever see is the manuscript itself. It’s up to you.

Once you know how you want to work with your street team, you can use them in some specific ways. Following are some best practices for getting the most out of your street team. 

Editing

This is the first and most obvious use for the street team, and we’ve talked about it quite a bit already. But one of the biggest values of beta readers is the fact that you have multiple sets of eyes on your work, looking for every little typo or goof. That’s incredibly helpful. But unless you’re organized about it, things can also get a little overwhelming.

A best practice is to give your beta readers some rules and guidelines for exactly how to report errors to you.

First, you’ll want to make sure you’re sending your readers a converted eBook version of your book, rather than the raw manuscript for you to edit. There are a few reasons for this, but the biggest are:

  • Avoid multiple versions of your manuscript—If you have a hundred people on your street team, and each gets an editable copy of your manuscript, you’re going to be inundated with files before it’s all said and done. That means hundreds of opportunities for you to accidentally start working from the wrong file. And even with the “merge document” features of certain word processors, it’s just too gnarled a mess to deal with. Give your street team an epub or mobi file, and have them make a separate list of edits.
  • Keep notes consolidated into an easy-to-scan list—You’ll want to have your street team use the same format across the board, so that it’s easy for you to scan through. The simplest and best method is to simply have them make a straight list of errors for you to correct. A bullet list will usually work best. Have them make a very linear and clean list of every typo and goof, and send it to you as a separate file.
  • Make all edits as uniform as possible—Again, if you give readers the unformatted manuscript to edit, you’ll be at the whim of hundreds of different editing styles and preferences. Readers will use everything from bolded in-line comments to different fonts and colors to commenting tools in the margins. Some may print your manuscript, mark it up by hand, and mail it to you in a Mead folder that has a kitten on the front of it (this happened to me). This becomes a nightmare. So rather than give the reader that control, you’ll give them guidelines and a process to follow, and make your life easier.
  • Avoid plagiarism and other weirdness—This rarely happens. I know … you know at least one guy who had this happen, and someone in China copied his book and put a new cover on it and is selling millions of copies around the world. But no, that probably isn’t true. And if it is true, it’s incredibly rare. But rare doesn’t equal impossible, and so to avoid making it easier for someone to do this, we’ll only send formatted manuscripts. In fact, using a service like Bookfunnel, you can actually embed secret little watermarks throughout the ebook, so that if someone does swipe it, you can track down exactly who it was. So the moral is, always send a formatted ebook, and never send the actual manuscript.

I’ve hinted at the idea of using a process for this, so let’s break that out a bit. To make life easier on you, and on your street team, you can outline exactly how edits are to be complied and presented to you. I recommend the following, and I’ve formatted it as an email you can cut and paste (and modify to taste):

Dear Street Team Member,

Thank you for agreeing to help me make this book the best it can be! Just a quick reminder: By accepting this book, you are agreeing to read it and return a list of edits and typos over the next two weeks.

To help make things easier on you and on me, here’s the process for finding and reporting typos:

  1. 1.    Copy the phrase surrounding the typo (including the typo itself), and paste it into a separate document. You can drop it into a text editor, such as Notepad, or paste it straight into an email that you can send to me later.
  2. 2.    If you’re just reporting a typo, you don’t have to worry about writing a correction. I’ll usually spot the typo in context, and then I can search for the phrase in my manuscript and fix it.
  3. 3.    If you are pointing out some other error (such as me accidentally spelling a character’s name in two different ways, or using a word incorrectly), you can jot a quick note to accompany your copied-and-pasted phrase. Keep this down to a sentence! If I have a question about it, I’ll reach out!
  4. 4.    Email your edits to me@someemailaddress.com, with the subject line: “Errata: [Book Title]”

That’s it!

I really appreciate your help. Once the book goes live, you’ll get another email, asking for reviews. You can be as honest as you like—but I hope you enjoy the book!

Thanks again,

Me

You can modify that process to add or subtract anything you like. You might also consider alternatives to the “email me a list” idea. For example, you might create a form, using Google Forms, and have your street team report errors that way. This is a bit of an extra step, but it can be very useful and convenient for everyone.

Reviews

Aside from polishing your book to perfection, street teams can give you a leg up when it comes to reviews. And while you always want to avoid offering any sort of compensation in exchange for a positive review, its ok to ask people who have read your book to go and review it.

The best approach for this is (wait for) … to simply ask.

If you’ll notice, we’ve been talking about reviews from the start, in the first email and onward. We even made it one of the requirements for being on the street team. And while we do not require the reader to purchase the book, we’ve made it pretty clear that we expect (nay, demand!) that they review their freebie once it goes live.

The key here, of course, is to ask for honest reviews. And this can be a double-edged sword. Because your street team may be more likely to love your work, but there are no guarantees. And there’s every possibility that they may not jive with what you’ve written.

If you get a negative review from a street team member, roll with it. Accept it, and do nothing to retaliate. Don’t ask them to take it down. Don’t even comment about it.

You’re a professional. Bad reviews are part of the gig. And yes, you gave that person a free copy, just to have them trash it. But that’s life for you—you take the good with the bad.

You are free to quietly remove them from the street team, and add someone who might be more appreciative of your genius. Just don’t make a thing of it.

But the moral: Always ask for reviews. If you have a hundred people on your street team, that can mean a hundred reviews just as the book launches. That can help boost your position, and increase sales, which can lead to greater success for the book.

Pre-sales (99 cents)

Speaking of sales, you might want to consider offering your street team a special low price, prior to announcing the book’s release to the general public.

Pre-orders can have their own unique and complex role in your marketing strategy, but one good way to put them to work is to set a low price and ask your street team to go buy the book. You’ll frame this as a reward of sorts, and also as a way to help in the success of the book they just aided into the world.

Be clear: This is not a demand or a requirement. You shouldn’t hold any expectation that anyone on your street team will actually pay for the book. They signed up to get that freebie, after all.

But it doesn’t hurt to tug at their heart strings a little.

“Buying a copy of the book will help to bump it up in rankings. So I’ve set the price very low, at 99 cents, and I’m only telling people on my street team. You can share that price with anyone you like, of course. It’s kind of a gift to you. But if you buy the book and review, it counts as a ‘verified purchase,’ which helps me a lot!”

Set the pre-order price to 99 cents, and tell your street team that you’re going to raise it to something else after X days. You can bump the price up to whatever you want, once time has elapsed, and continue on with any marketing plans you had in mind.

You’re all in this together

Writing can be a lonely business. And even if you’re an active part of a healthy author community, sometimes you need more than the comfort of others in the trenches. Every now and then you need a furlough. You need to head into town and kick it up with the civilians. Having a street team is a way for you to interact with actual readers, to stay in touch with their sensibilities and their likes and dislikes.

Street teams are a great way to take care of a large chunk of your own needs, as a writer. Just keep in mind, these are people you’re dealing with, and they have needs of their own. Take care of them, like good friends and close family, and you’ll build a group of loyal followers who will support you throughout your career.