Wednesday, November 14, 2012

How Street Teams Can Hurt Authors

by Mindy McGinnis

First off, I want to be quite clear that it's very possible to be drunk and not rude, and also to be rude and not drunk. I have nothing against drunk people, but I do dislike rude people. This is just a general, for the record comment before I get to my point. Ahem...

There's been a lot of talk among authors lately about about the usefulness of street teams as a form of marketing and promotion. In theory, I like this idea. It's grassroots, it's out-of-the-box, it's people telling people about books, and hey—that's what I do for a living in the 40/wk.

But there's a drawback to street teams that I want to mention here, as it's relevant to our nation in general at the moment.

I live in a swing state. Anyone in Ohio will tell you that if we took all the political ads in our mailboxes alone and mashed them into paper mache we could have a decent facsimile of the Trojan Horse. It goes without saying that the TV, radio, billboards and yard signs are as clogged with political yeas and nays and Vote This Way Not That Way information than the nose of the average person with a sinus infection.

And then there's the people—the campaign teams of citizens who are donating their time to promote the ideals of someone they believe in, to raise the awareness of their candidate and platform. And good for them, I applaud the people out there who have that kind of conviction and selflessness to do that.

Except for the ones who are kind of assholes about it.

Not that long ago I went out to eat and as I was walking through the parking lot a carload of young political types came roaring through, a big fat sticker on the passenger door of their car loudly proclaiming who they supported. They drove too fast in the parking lot and parked crooked so that whoever was next to them had to slide through about two inches of space in order to get into their own car (no doubt noticing the sticker as they did so). Then the group went into the restaurant, drawing attention to themselves even as they walked by nature of how loud and abrasive they were, particularly their laughter, clearly designed to broadcast exactly how much fun they were having and precisely how clever they all were.

And trust me, they weren't.

And then the behavior continued inside, where they got nice and drunk and everything went up a notch, except of course the cleverness which continued to degrade.

Here's the thing. I'm not a prude. I get drunk. I can be loud. I know that in their minds these people were off the clock and just out being young and awesome. Their goal of having fun had no political agenda—but the car they were driving automatically associated them with someone who needed to make a good impression on the public, and the connections being made by that particular group on that particular night with that particular candidate were not so positive.

I think for authors street teams are open to the same connotations. Especially as debuts, we're excited to have people who want to promote us. It has so many attractions—free labor, word-of-mouth for audiences beyond or below your age range, no geographic limitations, etc. But you can't control the actions of your volunteers. Even your most enthusiastic reader and supporter might make a side comment to her friend that a pedestrian overhears and dislikes. What will they remember? The face of the girl, or her words in connection with the shiny swag with your name on it?

I'm still split on the idea of street teams for this reason.

What are your thoughts?

Mindy McGinnis is a YA author and librarian. Her debut, a post-apocalyptic survival tale, Not a Drop to Drink, will be available from Katherine Tegen / Harper Collins in Fall 2013. She blogs at Writer, Writer Pants on Fire and contributes to the group blogs Book PregnantFriday the Thirteeners and The Lucky 13s. You can also find her on Twitter & Facebook.


  1. Such a good point. So important to connect with people who you feel will represent you well, and represent your "brand" appropriately. There have been several examples of overly enthusiastic supporters getting authors in trouble by defending them against reviewers, or in other ways. It's a little scary, as it reflects on you but you can't control it. Very interesting post!

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