Street Team, n. : A group of people who are personally invested in the success of you and your book.
One of the questions I ask people who are thinking about self-publishing is, “Who are your people?” In other words,
Who are the people who would do anything for you and your book?
The answer to this question will become the first tier of your street team – your inner circle. These are the people who will be the representatives of you and your work to people you have never met, and have no personal relationship to, and those people will become your street team.
The ideal street team, to me, is made up mostly of people you don’t really know before they join, for two reasons:
1. They know different people than you do. The goal of a street team is to increase your reach.
2. They have no direct investment in you at the outset, so their enthusiasm for your book stems from the book itself – this isn’t nepotism.
In other words, this is about your book bringing people to you so that they can help you bring people to your book.
So, how do you build this street team? One circle at a time, inner to outer.
Step 1: The work of building a street team begins the day you decide to self-publish. On that day, pull together “your people” – via text, phone, or in person – and ask if they’re willing to help you. (They will say yes.)
Step 2: Next, pull together close friends – people you trust to keep a secret, and who think you’re awesome and brave. Tell them about your decision in private, and ask if they’ll support you. (They will say yes.)
They will build buzz about your book before you even make an announcement. If you’re on Twitter a lot, this will happen naturally. Their excitement and little tweets about secrets and something exciting happening soon will pique everyone’s interest. All eyes will be on you.
Step 3: In your announcement, tell the story of how you came to your decision. All the emotional-writer things that our thick skin has kept bottled up and tamped down for so long? Let them all out. Be classy, be gracious, but be REAL. Include a query-length summary of the book and an excerpt, to show everyone how legit you are – you’ve prepared for this.
Let people know, right up front, why you and your project deserve to be loved and supported.
Step 4: Shortly after that, gather up your inner circle and your close friends, and ask them to be ready to be your representatives to people you don’t yet really know – bloggers, random readers, other writers. Then make the call for a street team. Your inner circle and close friends will retweet and promo your call, and get people you don’t know yet interested.
Explain in the call (probably a blog post) what you’d like people to do for you, whether it’s to lend you blog space, to help you with a blog tour or cover reveal, to hand sell your book to local indies – and make sure you know what you expect before you even gather the team. (Take care that your expectations are not too lofty – they’re volunteer representatives, not slaves or even employees.)
Have a plan for how you will gather information, so that it’s easy for people to sign up. (Google forms and wufoo.com are both great tools for this.)
This may be an unpopular opinion, but for God’s sake, don’t make people apply, and then reject candidates you don’t like. If there’s someone who wants to be on your street team who you think won’t have great reach or do a good job, first get off your high horse – you don’t know all the connections that person has. And then just smile, say thank you, and try to get other people with more connections on your team. That’s it.
Step 5: After you’ve gathered your street team – you decide when it’s full – send them a welcome email thanking them, telling them how excited and honored you are that they wanted to be on the team, and thanking them again.
Give every member of your street team the opportunity to read your book. How can you expect someone to genuinely promote a book she hasn’t read? If you can’t afford paper ARCs, that’s fine, but explain that to the team and have digital formats of your book ready to send them – .mobi, .epub, .pdf, and Word. (Yes, your street team deserves legit e-reader files. It will show them that you are prepared and serious about this. That will carry over to how they view – and tell others about – you and your book.)
Step 6: Treat your team like a team, not an army. Teams work together to accomplish something. Armies blindly follow the direction of a general.
Ask your street team for real input and help in the process of creating and marketing your book. My street team members have helped me with proofreading, cover design, e-file checking, postcard creation, information on local indies, passing out swag, distributing ARCs to high school students, and a big final promotion blast on their blogs in the two weeks before release. Asking them for minor help from time to time not only makes them a real and invaluable part of production, but reminds them that they are part of the team and that they are excited.
Step 7: Acknowledge your street team’s work with words and actions. Say “thank you” many times, every step of the way.
Remember, you should be fangirling your street team, not the other way around. You are not a celebrity. They are helping you, you are not bestowing gifts upon them by letting them read your book early and talk to you. No. Stop that thinking right now.
Make sure there are real, tangible benefits to being a member of the team. This begins with the ARC, and should also include as much public acknowledgement as possible, including the acknowledgements in the back of your book. I’m not kidding. Every single team member’s name should be in your acknowledgements. You’re self published, and those acknowledgements can take up as many pages as you want. Just put them in.
A final word: At the end of the day, it costs nothing but love and openness to build a street team. No one cares about stupid swag, they just care about being part of something big. Give them the chance to be part of that amazing book of yours, and they will take it and run with it.
And before you even think about starting a street team, watch this video by Amanda Palmer. In it, she tells you exactly how it’s done. Most importantly, at about nine minutes in. She says, “I fell into those connections that I’d made and I asked the crowd to catch me.”
THAT’s how you make a street team.