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.