Don’t talk to me about street teams

Instead, let me rant about them to you.

Anyone heard that phrase recently? I’d be surprised if you hadn’t. Many authors have or want a ‘street team’. What do they do?

Unpaid publicity.

Okay, financially unpaid. But usually these contracted fangirls are paid in ‘swag'; i.e. books, bookmarks, keyrings and so on. For this, they’re encouraged by authors to review their books on Amazon and Goodreads and similar sites, to spread the word about ‘their’ author’s latest releases.

In ye olden days, we had fan clubs, where authors earned admirers. They wrote books which inspired people to tell others “You have to read this great book I just read!” Using talent and well-written books to entertain people, thereby causing them to spread the word about your books, is the exact opposite of giving people stuff in return for them telling folks about your work. One is natural word of mouth, the other is bribery.

I’ve often ranted about people who insist on only reviewing books to which they can give 4 or 5 stars. “How can I be expected to believe their reviews are genuine?” That sort of thing. Now, if someone is a member of a street team (and many authors name members on their blogs) and they review a book by their sponsor/patron/whatever, how are we supposed to believe it’s genuine?

I’d be wondering, “Are you writing this review because you love the book, or because the author sent you some bookmarks and a keyring?”

Street teams smack of authors expecting readers to do stuff for them. That is, expecting readers to do their promo for them. They prompt readers to write reviews, to whore their books on social media and yes, even in some cases front-face their books in bricks and mortar book shops.

Not only that, but I’ve just been informed on Twitter that there are now authors mobilising street teams to attack reviewers who say nasty, mean things about ‘their’ authors’ books.

Okay, such instances are a rarity, although I suspect they’ll become more common in the future. But the bottom line is, readers are there to read books. The clue is in the name, people. You buy one of my books, I get the royalties. Fair’s fair, even Stevens, everyone’s happy. If I start asking you to post a review of one of my books, I’m skewing the transaction in my favour. You shell out for a book, and I get two things – royalties and a review you probably feel obligated to make positive.

As I’ve said before, it is the publisher’s job to publicise books they…wait for it…publish. Writing is an art, publishing is a business, and one would bloody well hope your publisher wants to make money too, right? Right. Your job is to write the next book. Do some promo if you want. But not so much that you a) take so much time away from writing that your next book is delayed and/or b) antagonise potential readers by making them feel talked at rather than engaged with and/or c) treat people as a means to an end by using folks as free promo and calling them your street team.

If word of mouth happens naturally? Great. But cobbling together a list of people who’ve read your books and slapping the label of ‘street team’ on them smacks of asking your readers to do a publicist’s job.

I’m going to quote someone here who shall remain nameless:

The truth about street teams…

It’s another way authors think they are making a difference. If they get a Twitter account. If they get a Facebook account. If they get a street team. They can affect sales, become a best-seller, have some control over their careers, their destiny.

It’s all a big lie. Sometimes, you write a piece of shit and become a bestseller. And sometimes you write a gem and no one ever reads it. It’s tough to accept the lack of control here. So, we cling to concepts like “street teams” thinking we can change the outcome of this game.

Look at it this way – if you’re big enough to gather enough followers to call a ‘street team’…at this point, obviously your books and/or your online persona have earned you a following, yes? So why not continue in that vein? Crazy idea, but I have more respect for writers who let their writing earn them followers- actually, readers. The whole ‘street team’ thing feels forced. Artificial. I’d rather someone mention my books because they liked them. Anything else is just bribery.

Oh, and if you think I’m being too harsh, and readers are allowed to be enthusiastic about books they like? Yes. Yes, they are. As long as liking is what makes them talk about books. Not cheap tat like keyrings, bookmarks and pens, and having their name mentioned on the website of some author most of us have never heard of.

13 thoughts on “Don’t talk to me about street teams

    1. Ah, but the point is – authors don’t manage street teams. The street teams do all the work. Which is why I object to them so strongly. That and their air of “you scratch my back and I’ll scratch yours…actually, I won’t. Just scratch my back”.

  1. It’s the easiest way to sponsor somebody to write reviews then wait for organic ones. Though it helps to increase the presence these reviews are usually obvious.

    1. I’ve always been incredibly lazy with promo. I just tell people “Hey, I have a book out. Read it if you want. If not, meh.” I’d rather have one genuine review than ten from a street team. Because of the proliferation of ego-wank reviews now, I doubt ALL that come from known associates of the author.

  2. Interesting and refreshing. I have been recruited to a street team and I felt very pressured and bullied to ‘get the word out’. I left after 2 days. I am currently on a street team for another author. However, she knows I detest them. I march to my own promoting drum and she is fine with that.

    I do, however, support a book blogger by doing reviews for her. My job – read, review, next. No payment other than the free book. No promoting and near to zero interactions with the author. And yes…I will be doing one of your books. I will share books I enjoy with other BBFs. Which, hey, is word of mouth! As how it should be. :)

    1. If I may ask…if you detest street teams, what made you join one? I’ve never been tempted myself, because they all seem a bit “LEAVE ME 5-STAR REVIEWS OR FEEL MY WRATH!”

      If I enjoy books, I talk about them. Free of charge. Feels more genuine that way.

      (And I hope you enjoy whichever of my smutbooks you read. ;) )

  3. Followed you from the Musa thread–couldn’t agree more.

    Everyone’s got these stories now, but as someone who remembers when Amazon used to give you free stuff when you ordered from them, it had never happened to me before: I left a three star review for a novel (we’re supposed to call it literary fiction, but I hate that term) I was sent in exchange for an honest review. I praised the author’s lyric writing but pointed out flaws. I was immediately jumped on via unhelpful votes and someone commented that since the NYT had given it a great review I didn’t know what I was talking about. (Truth be told, I don’t read many NYT book reviews. I read the LRB instead.)


    I figured if the author’s posse really wanted to play this game…fine. I told *my* friends about it, who immediately up voted my review, commented on the thread, and the last I looked, my review was the second or third most helpful review (unmerited entirely, for I’m not a great reviewer–maybe one in ten is good IMHO), and Amazon hid the author’s/publisher’s/mom’s hack critique.

    Moral: don’t fuck with the system.

    1. Sorry for taking so long to reply – this comment went to my spam folder.

      Yeah, gaming the system. Oh for honest reviews we can trust. As times passes, I trust reviews less and less, because I know what goes on behind the scenes. :(

  4. Also followed you over here from the Musa promo thread and LOVE this post. I don’t have a street team and feel no inclination to recruit one (even if I had enough readers to contact). Feels forced, foolish, and middle-school cliquey to me. And I second your thoughts on how ‘merit’ has nothing to do with sales. I happen to think author promo doesn’t have much to do with sales either. I created a new pen name a month before my first book with it came out, created the FB page, webpage, and then BOOM. Within a month of release, that book was a Kindle bestseller in its category. I did NO promo aside from four guest blog posts I managed to fit in because my son was diagnosed with diabetes the day before that book released. No promo other than what my PUBLISHER did, that is. My second book with them is now number five in its Kindle category, a week after its release. My efforts at promo? About four guest blog posts, a couple of Twitter posts, and setting up the links on Goodreads and Amazon. I’m getting sales and writing my third book for them.

    1. I reckon any publisher who puts it all on authors re: promo does so because it puts the focus on “What am I doing?” as opposed to “What is my publisher doing?” I agree that author promo makes very little distance, and the best thing we can do is write the next book.

      Street teams? Artificial. Forced. Like hothouse flowers that wilt within a few hours.

      Oh, the poetry… :D

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