What are street teams? Do you have one?
That takes me back a little bit. Street teams were all the rage around 2007-2008 when Magic Bites and Magic Burns came out, and then they mostly died out. I didn’t realize people still had them. A street team is like a fan club, only with a more specific purpose of promoting the author’s work. As I understand it, each member of a street team has some territory, and the author sends them swag, promotional items such as bookmarks, postcards, etc, which they can then “push” onto their friends, book club members, and local book sellers. Sometimes they organize local fan club parties and have an organized presence at conventions. The street team members have access to goodies and in theory, they help influence their friends to purchase the books.
Back in 2008 there was a lot of controversy about them, because some street team members would go to BN or Borders and reshelve their author’s books, moving them to front tables to make them more visible. This is a bad idea for two reasons. First, the publishers of the authors on the front tables paid for placement there. Second, the employees can’t find the author’s book, because it’s not where it’s supposed to be. Annoy the booksellers enough and they will ask you to leave the store. Once the negative posts started popping up online, authors quickly discouraged reshelving.
To answer the second part of the question, no, we don’t have one. We never considered having one, for several reasons.
One, as a marketing device, a street team isn’t very effective. We owe most of our popularity, what little there may be, to the sincere recommendations of readers. We didn’t become successful because of organized marketing, but because people honestly recommended our books to their friends, and we place a lot value on the word of the mouth. It’s been argued that street teams devaluate the word of the mouth. Suppose you have a friend and she tells you, “I bought this new shampoo and it is awesome, you should try it.” Honest recommendation. Or she tells you, “Hey I sighed up with this new company and they send me free promotional stuff and made me an honorary member of their fan club. You should try their shampoo, it’s great.” You still might try it but the validity of her recommendation is slightly diluted, because the person is now affiliated with the company.
The theory behind street-teaming is rooted in teen marketing. You find a teen who is popular, give them the latest gadget, and he will show it off to his friends who will also want one. The owner’s coolness adds to the appeal of the gadget. Books are not gadgets. Besides, most “cool kids” in the book world have blogs now and we send them ARCs. Given that our sales are mostly in digital, it makes sense.
Two, once you ask people to do favors for you, you become beholden to them. We try not to do that. We still do some of it, like asking to post a negative review on Amazon when someone pirated one of our free stories, but we try not to do it as a matter of policy. The fandoms place enormous pressure on the content creators as is. Just look at the reactions to Dead Ever After. We get enough pressure already.
If an author asks readers to act as their promotional team, it is fair of the readers to expect special treatment. We try to stay away from that. We’re very anti-entourage, and in the past, if one of us realized that someone attempted to control people’s access to us, Gordon and I put a stop to that and distanced ourselves from that person. We want to be approachable to a reasonable degree. We have friends, but we don’t have a fan club or any organized structure in place.
Three, street teams require maintenance. You have to produce swag and goodies for them to give away, which costs money and time. Our “promo” time is mostly going into providing free content. I always thought that free fiction was the best advertisement. I know that a lot of people really enjoy it and hopefully they tell other people about it, which is awesome.
My point is, I’ve ball-parked our hours and we have spent about a month and a half last year on the extra content, such as fan freebies, that ultimately didn’t earn us money but, hopefully, built out fanbase. We can continue to do that or we can print batches of bookmarks and coordinate fans to hand them out. :) I’m sure that there are authors who use them very effectively. We have trouble keeping up with our mailbox, so we are not good candidates for it.
Update: I’ve been told that Darynda Jones has a street team and that’s what prompted the question. Okay, this is an official request from me to you: will you please stop obsessing over that poll? It’s not like if you win Alpha Showdown, you get a car at the end of it. We won last year, and I didn’t even remembered we did, until someone told me.