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Street Team: Great Idea, or Kind of Silly?

I’ve heard a lot about author street teams lately. The concept (for those who haven’t heard of it) involves a group of fans of an author’s work who are excited about promoting it. Those special readers hand out bookmarks, leave honest reviews, maybe request or donate library copies in their town, recommend the books to friends, or mention the titles in relevant Facebook posts. In exchange, they might get advance copies of books, paperbacks, or other swag. Maybe they become the author’s inner circle, the devoted fans who the author asks to beta read new work, or who have the author’s ear when they have questions about the stories.

And, of course, they get the author’s eternal gratitude. It’s about connection, not bribery.

Ideally, it’s a win-win situation. As an author, I wouldn’t be comfortable asking people to help out with promotions if they weren’t getting anything but warm, fuzzy feelings in return…

…but then, people do that anyway, don’t they? I know I do, when I read a book that I love. All of Bound‘s early sales came from word-of-mouth promotion. People read advance copies and reviewed on their blogs, or bought copies and recommended the book to their friends. A few people suggested it to their wine-drinking clubs book clubs, and they all bought it and read it together. And that led to enough sales that Amazon started recommending it.

It continues now. People will write and say they loved the book and are recommending it to everyone, and I just want to hug them. But I don’t. Because that would be uncomfortable for everyone.

Also, internet hugs get weird.

But I’m starting to think that a street team could be fun. I know there are people out there who are reviewing and recommending, and darn it, I want to give them stuff to make that easier. I want to send them postcards with book covers on them. I want them to be the first to know when a limited number of advance review copies are available. I want to wish them happy birthday (from their favourite character, if that’s what they want).

I want to thank them.

IMG_5663

Like… all the swag. I should get more.

 

So, how to do it?

A Facebook group seems like the obvious answer. This would be better than a page, as it would ensure that people actually see my posts (unlike my page, where posts reach very few of the people who have signed up and said they want to see them). It would allow people to interact with each other and share ideas, and I’d get to know them a little better, too, as I’ve done with a few readers through my Facebook page.

Or would it just be a time-suck? I’d love to do fun things like awarding points for achievements (sharing promo posts on Facebook and elsewhere, recommending the book or nominating it for things like readers’ choice awards, leaving reviews, etc.), and then send out prizes like book charms, exclusive bookmarks, paperbacks, etc.

But that could get complicated. I mean, I can’t even use Excel to track this stuff, because I’m no good with computer… thing. And I kind of need to use my “spare” time for writing. This isn’t something I’d take time away from writing to do, but I could definitely set it up and maintain it on days like today, when the kids are home and I can’t do my “real” work.

And there’s the expense. Mailing anything bigger than a few postcards gets really expensive when it’s coming from Canada.

So my questions for all y’all: 

AUTHORS: Do you use a street team? How do you keep in touch with them? What do they do? Is it what you hoped it would be? How do you make it worthwhile for your readers, those wonderful people who make your professional world go ’round?

READERS: Would you be interested in something like this? Say, a closed Facebook group where you’d be the first to learn about my new books and promotions, see things like teasers and new covers, and have first dibs on advance review copies? Would you be willing to help out with occasional promos in exchange for these things, or do you prefer to recommend books for no reason other than the fact that the moment seems right? If you were on a street team, what would make it fun for you? Points? Raffles?  Just-for-fun, random party games a few times a month? Group chats? Constant AMA author access?

And also: What would my team be called? “You Guys” is probably taken. O.o

And P.S: I am so grateful to those of you who are already doing this stuff. Those who are sharing Bound with people, writing reviews, tweeting about books, recommending to your book clubs, clicking “helpful” on positive Amazon reviews, commenting on Facebook… the one teacher I know of who stuck a copy in her classroom… I appreciate it, and you, so much.

 

 

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Parental Guidance Suggested

(Or: Sex, Violence, and Writing a Good Story)

So there I was at church a while back, thumbing through some magazines while I waited for the hand-shaking and chit-chat to conclude so we could get home for lunch. Lo and behold, book reviews! “Thriving Family” magazine had a few listed; I think there was a “popular” category with one review (“Matched”), some other category, and a “Christian book” category. I didn’t take the magazine, so I had to look it up online later. Isn’t technology wonderful?

To their credit, they don’t issue pass/fail verdicts on these things at their site. What they do is go through and, in the case of books at least, offer a full plot synopsis so parents can decide whether they think it’s appropriate for their kids; they break it down into categories like “Belief systems,” “Nudity and Sex,” “Profanity,” etc., and outline what’s present in the book; and they offer discussion questions at the end for parents to think about talking about with their kids.*

This got me thinking (you knew it would). I took a look at a few online reviews to see what they put into these things and do you know what I realized?

If they did give pass/fail grades on these things, Bound would fail. Hard. In almost every category.

These reviews are rife with spoilers. I don’t want to do that here, but without giving everything away, here’s some of what I came up with in their regular categories:

Authority Roles

– going against societal expectations, parents’ wishes and the will of government, fight with mother ends in storming out and not returning, disobeying parents’ wishes re: banned books (ha!)… all in chapter one

Other Belief Systems

-Tyreans are polytheistic (further explained in book 2). Does magic count as a belief system? Because that’s kind of huge. Magic is everywhere, and different beliefs about it are causing tension between nations. Ancient fertility statues mentioned (gasp!)

Profanity/Graphic Violence

-H— (the place and as a curse) used several times, d—, s—. Thank g–, oh my g–, etc. also used in dialogue (Yes, they use dashes like that in their reviews. Yes, I find it confusing). Death threats. Name-calling is frequent in thought and speech. But hey, at least no one says fuck!

-Violence… well, it could be worse. There’s a lot of blood. Self-mutilation (for a cause!), somewhat-graphic descriptions of wounds/injuries, violent attacks, slapping, people burn to death.

Kissing/Sex/Homosexuality (I know, I know…)

-Yes/ yes/subtly implied. Oh, hey, they forgot nudity… we have that, too! In terms of “graphic description” we’re not talking “insert tab A into slot B,” but a few of these things are kind of major plot points, and there’s a bit of tension surrounding these situations. Or a lot.

And in the “notes” section…

Alcohol: Wine is consumed several times. Oooooh….

Lying/deception: at every turn

Smoking: Hey, we don’t have that… wait, no, someone smokes a pipe, and we don’t even know what’s in it. Never mind.

Criminal activity: theft, infanticide (discussed), several murders, abduction, breaking and entering…

Suicide: Mentioned in passing, sort of attempted (see: self-mutilation)

Anger: HAHAHAHAHA… yeah. A bit. Jealousy, too.

I’m done for now. You see what I’m getting at, though? And I haven’t read enough of their reviews to even know where magic actually fits into all of this (though their sister site, PluggedIn, doesn’t think very highly of Harry Potter, and over there they do caution parents against these books)

Do I care? Not so much, actually. I have nothing against books with positive messages. I love leaving a story feeling happy. But I really dislike books that set the moral above the story, and I think perfect characters or slightly-imperfect characters who always make the right decision in the end make for boring stories. Are my characters flawed? H— yes! Damaged, even. Do they do things wrong? Of course they do, that’s what makes the story interesting.

And that’s what I set out to do: to tell a good story. An entertaining story. An honest story, in that people’s actions make sense in the context of their world and their surroundings. Should people let their 12-year-olds read it? I wouldn’t**. But I don’t think that makes it a “bad” story. There are a lot of great things there, too; there’s love, there’s loyalty, there’s self-sacrifice and generosity and yes, magic, which I do consider that a wonderful thing.

I didn’t set out to be provocative, and for the most part, I don’t think Bound reads as a story that’s pushing some dark agenda or promoting immoral behaviour. I think most books would do at least as poorly, even MG titles. It’s just funny how it looks when you categorize everyone’s sins like that. 😉

So tell me: How do your favourite books stack up? If you’re a writer, how would your work do in a review like this? Does either result surprise you? Do you think books can be all rainbows and unicorns and making good choices and still be worth reading?

*Just for the record, I think this is a useful resource. It’s not those crazy people who were burning Harry Potter books (because, y’know, witchcraft). It’s just putting information out there so parents can guide their kids’ choices and help them process the media messages that they’re being exposed to. No doubt there are parents who use this to tell their kids that they can’t read anything because it’s all evil, but for those of us who are sane about these things, it’s good information to have available.

**But then, there are people letting their kids that age read 50 Shades of Grey, so…


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