The Author Toolbox: Build a Launch Team and Recruit Reviewers

When it comes to planning a book launch, there are a lot of moving pieces and several time sensitive factors to consider. While we’ll dive into the nitty-gritty of what you should do and when in the next section, there are two groups of people that you’ll need along the way. Apart from actually writing the book, recruiting help should be at the top of your list.

Tool #1: Build a launch team. Also called a street team or tribe or influencers, this is a group of people who agree to promote your book to their own spheres of influence, usually in exchange for a sneak peek at the advance reader copy or simply to be part of a select group with insider information and access to you, the author.

If you’re already published with a growing fan base, you might be able to “audition” prospective members or have them fill out an application for one of the limited new spots on your team. (The idea of scarcity motivates people to act and you could possibly only pick those with the biggest platforms to be part of your team. Or you could pick those with the most creative ideas. Or both.)

For debut authors, the process is a little harder and that’s why you’ll need to start early. I started by asking a few members of my local writer’s group for their help and that created a tiny beginner team. As I created buzz with peeks at my cover or quotes from the book, I occasionally offered an invitation for others to be a part of the launch team and gained a few more people that way. When I posted in a group looking for early beta readers, I not only invited those selected readers to join the team but once all of my early copies were claimed, I offered the team as an option to the rest of those who expressed interest. Never underestimate the power of a small group of people if they are properly motivated.

Once you find the first members of your team, it becomes important to organize a way to regularly communicate with them. This might be with a team-only email list but you’ll need to check your open and click through rates to see if the team members are getting and reading the information. Many authors have moved their teams into a secret or closed Facebook group because it allows communication whenever the team members have time as well as opens the door for collaboration between team members if they post their own questions or updates there. Ideally this team will continue to promote you beyond your first book launch so it’s important to continue to keep them engaged between launches as well. I know of one multi-published author who daily offers something for the members of her team to share if they want to.

Equipping your team with the tools they need is important because the easier you make it for them to participate, the better results you will have. If you share a public post from your Facebook page into the group, group members can easily share it out onto their own pages. If you paste in the URL from a specific Twitter post, members can click that link and then retweet it. I created a page on my website with all of the information they might need in a single place including back cover copy, my bio, embedded tweets and posts that were easy to share, memes to use, and even a checklist of ways team members could help. Your preferred method of promotion will depend a lot on your book topic, audience, and personality, but the important thing is to mobilize an equipped team.

Lastly, don’t forget to thank your team and even reward those who have gone above and beyond what you asked of them. While you will (or have already) benefited from their help, consider the relationship from the team member’s perspective. Did they get anything in return? Was a sneak peek at the latest manuscript from their favorite author enough of a benefit? Did they feel like they had gotten to know you and almost become friends? In the chaos of a book launch and ongoing marketing, it’s easy to forget the people involved so add a reminder to your calendar to circle back and say thanks. For my debut novel, I had book charms created as small gifts of appreciation to my editor, endorsers, and even the first reviewer.

Tool #2: Build an army of reviewers. In a day where Amazon reigns over other booksellers, it is increasingly important to unlock the power of their algorithm in order to get your book in front of as many readers as possible. One of the key factors in that mysterious book-ranking formula is the number of reviews, with 50 seeming to be some sort of magic number that opens the door for your book to be recommended to shoppers. The sooner you can reach that number after launch, the easier it is to capitalize on the pre-sales and other marketing buzz to carve out a place near the top of your genre, be seen more often, and therefore get consistent sales. The number of reviews also seems to factor in when trying to get selected for a BookBub ad for even more exposure.

If you are a new author, reviews are also important to tip the scales in your favor and cause future readers to take a chance on a previously unknown author. When faced with the decision to invest money in a book from someone they’ve never heard of or a similar book from a familiar name, the number of stars and quantity of reviews can make that buyer feel they might be missing out on something everyone else has already discovered…and therefore buy your book. While it stings a bit to give away copies of the book you want other people to buy, consider review copies as a marketing expense because the return on investment is worth it.

Reviewers come in all shapes and sizes. Some are professionals who host well-known blogs or write for the big publications like Publisher’s Weekly. Since they are in high demand, you’ll need to start early to see if they will add your book to the queue. If you are with a traditional publisher with a drawn-out timeline, there is usually plenty of time between the completion of the line edits or even proofreading and the true publication date to send multiple advance reader copies out. These are clearly labeled ARCs and reviewers won’t hold any lingering mistakes against you. If you are indie publishing, you might need to adjust your personal timeline in order to take advantage of these opportunities.

Other reviewers are avid readers with limited book-buying budgets who are eager to get their hands on the latest books and are willing to write an honest review in return. These avid readers often post reviews on their own blogs and are likely to talk about their favorite books with friends. This word-of-mouth marketing is critical both at the street level and in posted reviews on Amazon, Goodreads, and other sites. You can find these avid readers inside various groups on Facebook and recruit them with a simple post about your book and that you have a few ARCs available. There are also sites like KirkusReviews.com where you can pay upwards of $500 for one of their reviewers to review your book or the much cheaper Reading Deals where for about $80 you are guaranteed ten to fifteen reviews from true readers who are interested in your book.

When building your reviewer list, there are a few things to keep in mind. First, organization. I keep a list of their names, where I found them, email address, mailing address if appropriate, and preferred format with a place to mark when the copy is sent and when a review is posted. A larger traditional publisher may ask you for a list of reviewers and send the ARCs for you, but it’s still important to keep track for yourself.

Second, recruit more reviewers than you think you’ll need. Life happens and reviewers get busy, distracted, or overwhelmed. While most will eventually get around to reading your book, you may lose the critical timing factor of getting that review posted upon release. Also, it’s possible that a reviewer might not like your book and would prefer not to leave a review at all rather than slam you with minimal stars.

Third, communication is key. When recruiting, be clear about your expectations and the timeline. You might be recruiting months before a book will actually be sent, so make sure they know this up front. When you do send the ARC either by mail or email, thank them for volunteering to write a review (in case they forgot they had) and remind them of the launch date so they can plan ahead. I encourage my group to write their review as soon as they finish the book while the story is still fresh in their mind and then ask them to post it immediately on Goodreads. They can copy and paste the review later into Amazon and other sites once the book is published, but you can start using their words early in promotional memes. This is a good place to remind reviewers that while the FCC requires them to disclose that they got a free copy from the author or publisher, they need to clearly state in their review that all opinions are their own in order to keep Amazon happy.

At least a week before launch, I send a reminder email with the countdown date and perhaps a quote from one of the first reviews on Goodreads. This usually serves to bump your book to the top of their reading piles. As soon as reviews can be posted—sometimes on launch day but sometimes a few days early if attempted on the print version—I send another email to let my reviewers know that it’s time to copy and paste that previous Goodreads review over into Amazon. For the procrastinators in the bunch, this creates a sense of urgency to start reading. The last piece of communication comes after the launch with a heartfelt thank you, either via email or a with handwritten card.

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