Thursday, April 6, 2017

Building Your Street Team -- Interview with Cora Carmack

Unapologetic fan girl moment -- Cora Carmack is on ACROSS THE BOARD, you guys!!! My first Cora book was her New Adult romance, LOSING IT. I then devoured FAKING IT, and the third book in the series, FINDING IT, remains one of my favorite books, period. Then I heard Cora was releasing a YA Fantasy called ROAR. And I started seeing posts all over social media from her "Stormlings" -- as well as some awesome teasers -- and, besides adding on Goodreads (which you can do, too!), I started thinking about how Cora is amazing at building a street team (show of hands -- who was part of the Carmcats, her street team for her Rusk University series?) and I bet there are a lot of authors who would love to know how the heck she does it!

So, I asked. And Cora was generous enough to share the secrets of her success with us. I know I'm going to be taking some serious notes here and I hope you find something helpful, too!

1. So, let’s start with the application process for your street team(s) — The Carmcats and The Stormlings. What kinds of questions do you ask? Are you looking for certain “qualifications” that help you pick Person A over Person B? 

That’s a great question. I think you can frame the questions based on you and your book and your street team needs. My application process is a bit more stringent than what I would normally recommend, but that’s because I usually have to weed out a lot of people, and the application itself does some of that work for me. Some of the questions are specifically about me—what’s their favorite Cora book, favorite Cora character, favorite quote, etc. Those questions help me pick out my most loyal readers rather than perhaps people who have only read a book or two. It also helps me guess who might like my upcoming book best. Because they usually apply to the team before it’s available to read, I have to hope that everyone I pick actually likes the book. So if my upcoming book has a similar feel to a previous book, that might help me pick between people. 

The rest of the questions are focused on the applicant and their interests. We have them list various social media pages and their stats. It’s not always the best move to just pick the applicants with the biggest online reach. Sometimes those people are busier and you’ll only get a fraction of their attention. Whereas, newer and smaller blogs will glad throw themselves into your team full steam ahead. We ask them what their favorite social media network is? That way we can get a mix of people who prefer different sites, so we can divide and conquer. We ask them about any skills that might be helpful—everything from photography and graphics-making skills to fan art or swag-making. Others are good at organization and planning. 

When we’re narrowing names down, I use a color-coded system for yes, no’s, and maybe’s. I make several passes through the spreadsheet with all the applications. I make the first pass with my heart, picking the people whose applications grab hold of me, the people who are so passionate that they’ll be the heart of the rest of the team (regardless of what their social media stats look like). I make the next pass with my head, filling in the gaps and making sure we get diversified interests and skillsets. Then the last pass, I usually hand off to my assistant and publicist. There’s usually only a handful of spots left for too many well-qualified applicants, and I find myself unable to choose. So they then take on the bad guy role for me. 

It’s tough. I had people apply for every Carmcat team and just miss the cut off each time (Happy to report that several of those applicants made the Roar team and are doing fabulous). But I do know, something about being chosen, about being wanted really bonds the team together from the start.

2. You said you want to foster a sense of friendship within your street team. What does that look like from an author perspective? Can you give some specific examples of what you do or have done to make that happen? 

It’s really just about treating them like you would treat friends. We don’t ask friends to do us favors without showing them tremendous gratitude in both word and deed. So don’t treat your street team like workhorses. Show interest in them and their lives. But more than that, you have to be willing to open up yourself. Any time I start a new street team, I make it clear that the group is a safe, understanding place. I tell them things about me and my life that I wouldn’t generally tell the masses. Sometimes this is serious stuff like when I’m suffering from anxiety or depression. Other times I let them into my life in sillier ways. I tell them about the horrific date I just went on. Or I’ll post funny pictures just for them of me hanging out with author friends at signings and conferences. 

I was so excited when we started the Stormlings, because some of my former street team members opened up automatically during intros, and new members followed their lead, just being super open and honest. From moment one, they were already supporting and championing each other. Sure, the end goal is to promote my books. But that’s only a minor part of what our group shares on a daily basis. We share about our lives, we talk books besides mine, we help each other learn new things. A time or two, we’ve even had an international movie date where we all synced up a movie and watched it together in our various homes around the world. Truthfully, we just really did become friends.

3. Related to question 2: In your Carmcats recruitment video, you have “testimonials” from bloggers and members of your street team who obviously LOVE you and love being a part of your team. They all mention how much FUN it’s been and what an amazing experience this has been for them, which is awesome. 

Have you found that your street team members want to move from series to series with you? How, if at all, are your requirements different for promoting ROAR, which is YA fantasy, than promoting the Rusk University series, which is New Adult?

Haha. I was really puzzled at first because I couldn’t remember making a recruitment video. Then I remembered, the Carmcats did that on their own without any guidance from me. I believe that was the second group of Carmcats (for the release of All Broke Down). I’d told them that for the All Played Out team, I wanted them to act as mentors. The team would be half old Carmcats, half new, and we’d pair them up big-little style. They really took ownership over it and set out to recruit the best littles they could find. I suppose that sort of answers the question about members moving on, doesn’t it? 

Yes, typically, I take a rather large contingent of previous groups into the next group. Which is why my groups keep increasing in size. I went from 25 to 30 to 35 to 50 on the Roar team. Some people pass on moving on because they’re busy or stepping back from the book world for a bit. And there’s always a few that will sort of fade into the background and stop participating as time goes on. That’s normal. But usually there’s a core group of close, committed members that stick with me. 

Things were slightly different with Roar. In the application process, we focused less on my past books and more on who loves YA and Fantasy. With the Carmcats that carried over to the new team, we had the romance side of the market pretty well covered, so I was looking for mostly YA-based applicants in my newbies. We also increased the size of the team because we really wanted my first foray into YA to have the best shot possible.

4. For those of us still building our street teams/launch teams — what do you think is the most important thing an author can/should do to begin building a street team? 

By the time I started my first street team, I already had a healthy online following. So, unfortunately, I can’t provide advice on how to build your teams completely from scratch. But my best piece of advice is still: Go for quality over quantity. You’d rather have 5 super fans than 50 sorta fans. And if you’re spending time getting to know those five people on a personal basis, they’re going to love you so much that you’ll see them start pulling people in on their own. 

To me, I tackle my street teams very much like I tackle in-person signings. If you’re an author who’s ever paid your own way to a signing, you know you’d need to sell hundreds upon hundreds of books to even break even with your trip expenses. So why do authors continue to do signings if we lose money on them every time? I can’t speak for everyone else, but my main goal at signings is to take casual readers and turn them into fans, and take fans and turn them into superfans. Because those people are priceless. Every time someone asks them for a book rec, your name is going to be on the tip of their tongue. So at signings, I talk… A LOT. (Ask my publicist. It stresses her out). I ask readers questions. I try to get them talking. Because I’ve never been a shy person, but when I first started going to signings as a reader, I would freeze up when I got in front of my favorite authors. I would think that I couldn’t possibly say anything they hadn’t heard a thousand times that day. So, if loud-mouth me struggled that much, I know there are so many readers who walk away at signings disappointed that they didn’t say as much as they wanted. So I try to make sure each reader gets their moment. 

All that to say—if you don’t yet have enough super fans to be on your street team, you can fix that! Genuinely listen and talk to your readers. Get to know them. Show them they are appreciated. And I think over time, you’ll find that the love and respect you pour out comes back tenfold.

5.  And, conversely, what’s the number one “DON’T” for you as an author managing a street team? 

Don’t be a(n) [insert expletive here]. It’s simple, bloggers work HARD. I was a blogger before I was an author, so I know pretty intimately how stressful it is, and how thankless it can be. It’s a full-time job on top of your real job. Then a street team commitment is a huge time commitment on top of keeping up with your blog or Instagram or what have you. And sure we dole out giveaways and swag and deleted scenes as reward for hard work, but gratitude will go a lot farther than gifts. 

I find that I draw a lot on skills I utilized when I was a teacher. Some students thrive on competition, others on encouragement. Some need clear tasks, some need out of the box creativity. It’s about reading your “class” and figuring out how best to get them all to succeed together. Now that I think about it, it also reminds me a lot of my time in theatre and directing. It was about taking individuals—actors, crew members, designers—and creating the best possible overall performance. And the way I approach picking my team, is very similar to how I used to approach casting. Take that everyone who says theatre degrees are useless. You know nothing. :D


Kimberly G. Giarratano said...

This is a resource all authors should save! Thanks Cora for stopping by!

Carrie Beckort said...

Such a great interview! I don't have a street team, but it's something I've considered. Thanks so much for sharing your advice with us, Cora!

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