This is the first in a series of articles designed to offer a transparent look at a new fiction author’s journey in the world of independent publishing.
Over the next several weeks, I’ll be writing a series of articles about my return to book publishing. It’s a completely different world today than in 2005, when I published “Darknet” and needed an agent (Deirdre Mullane), a publishing house (John Wiley & Sons) and had to wait a full year to see it published.
This time around, I’ll be publishing independently without an agent (initially) or a publishing house and it’ll be live on Amazon next month.
Let’s begin our indie author journey with a look at launch teams, also called advance teams, street teams or ARC teams (for Advance Reading Copy) in some places.
The idea is pretty simple: When your title hits Amazon, whether it’s an indie title or from a traditional publisher, you’re up against 7 million other ebooks. So in addition to making sure it’s the best damn book you can write, you also need to put considerable time into getting it seen by other readers. You need that escape velocity.
That requires a few things — a great cover, a compelling title, the right description, the proper metatags and categories, which we’ll discuss later in this series — but it all starts with an all-star Book Launch Team.
These folks are the tip of the spear — readers, often friends, who’ll take time to read your work and, at the proper time, leave an honest review on Amazon, Kobo, iTunes or your platform of choice.
Reviews are by far the most effective way of providing social proof and getting visibility for your book. Even a smattering of one-, two- and three-star reviews are better than no reviews at all.
I’ve seen launch teams range in size from three people to more than 600 people. What they seem to have in common is an empathetic streak, a love of reading and a desire to see the author succeed.
Best practices for book launch teams
I just launched a book launch program on Saturday at the Tri-Valley Writers, a community of authors here in the East Bay/Tri-Valley region and a part of the California Writers Club. We got 15 people to volunteer using these guidelines, and they agreed to take this short survey (thank you, Google Forms).
That’s a bit more elaborate than most launch teams, which just consist of an author reaching out to her social network and then creating an email list and perhaps a Facebook group to get the conversation going. (I have a private Launch Team group; let me know if you want in!)
If you’re a first-time author, here are some tips for creating and managing a launch team:
Be clear on what you want from your team members
1Set down clear expectations right from the start. If there’s confusion, or your members have no intention of leaving a review (it’s not something you can enforce anyway), then what’s the point? It’s a waste of bandwidth for everyone involved, especially when you have 40 other things to do before your launch. Just keep the initial outreach short and simple. Here’s what I did.
Be communicative, but don’t overwhelm your team
2Don’t swamp your team members with emails every other day. A periodic check-in — say, once a week — makes sense to ensure they haven’t forgotten about you. If you have more than a handful of members, after they initially sign up you really need to get them onto a group list using a service like MailChimp.
Make it easy for them to get your book
3Nine out of 10 times you’ll be sending around an ebook rather than a paperback at this stage. Trust me, you don’t want to have to deal with formatting issues on your readers’ mobile devices. Bookfunnel is a godsend. You can point your readers to a download page where they can select the manuscript based on the device they’re using, without having to know what a .mobi, .epub or pdf file is. And their customer support will handle any issues that crop up. All for $20 a year.
Ask them to help polish the manuscript
4Don’t ask your launch team members to be your copy editors or proofreader. You should have already made use of beta readers, who’ll spot lots of mistakes, holes in your plot, wooden dialogue, POV problems and characters who don’t stay true to their character. And if you aspire to the top of the charts, you should have an editor and perhaps a proofreader — all that should be done already. At this point, your launch team members are your last line of defense, your vanguard against putting something out there that you’ll regret. That means they should look for any mistakes that remain and perhaps offer suggestions on any aspect of your manuscript that doesn’t require an extensive rewrite.
Give them time to read it
5Everybody’s super-busy these days, so try to get them your manuscript at least four weeks in advance of the publication date. Five or six weeks if possible.
Ask them to leave a review with more upside
6Amazon is getting slammed with tens of thousands of fake reviews every day, leading to a running gun battle where thousands of legitimate reviews are removed every day. Don’t take that chance. Be aware of the rules regarding reviews — you can’t require a review from your team members. If they do leave a review, ask them to buy the Kindle version of your book so that they’ll have a “Verified purchase” tag affixed to their review, with less chance of it being removed. “Verified reviews help push books higher up in the rankings” because of Amazon’s algorithm rules, says Kindlepreneur expert Dave Chesson.
Indie author Mark Dawson advises new authors to make their team members aware of the benefits of Amazon reviews. For example, if you don’t have at least 50 reviews, it’s difficult to make it onto high-visibility platforms like BookBub. Note: Amazon keeps changing the rules, but at the moment the reviewer must have purchased at least $50 worth of goods with a valid credit or debit card to post a book review. Second note: If the reader doesn’t have an Amazon account, GoodReads is another valuable platform for gaining visibility for a new book. And a final note: Make sure your team knows you want an honest, genuine review.
Leverage the power of the crowd
7Ask your team members who are active on social media to spread the word after it’s published. Make it easy for them to share by using a tool like hrefshare. The tool is free.
Show your gratitude
8Today I’m emailing my team members to let them know I’ll be sending a bottle of wine to the person who spots the most errors or makes the best suggestions that find their way into the final published version of the book. Alternatively, you may want to send a signed copy of your paperback to all team members or to the contest winner.
Kite image at top: Victoria Pickering / Creative Commons BY NC ND
- Epic Guide to launch teams (Karen Dimmick at Bookthority)
- Here’s everything I did to launch a bestselling book (Nick Loper case study)