If you’ve read this blog for long, you already know that a bunch of reviews is one of the best ways to make your book stand out on Amazon – both in the search algorithms and for people considering a purchase. Having a lot of reviews already there on day one can increase your initial sales and rocket your book up the bestseller ranks. From there it can become a tsunami of effective sales that lasts weeks or even months.
But how do you make that happen? How do you get a lot of readers in those all-important early hours of your book’s launch?
You do it with an ARC team. ARC stands for Advance Reader Copy, and has been a part of publishing publicity strategy since the 20th century. Think of those blurbs from reviewers and authors in the genre you find on the cover of every paperback? They come from issuing a pre-publication Advance Reader Copy to key individuals, who read the book and either provide reviews or make advance orders based on what they read.
Funny story: a friend of ours who works in publishing once had a colleague who thought it stood for Advanced Reader Copy, and was looking forward to getting these more challenging, deeper versions of books she loved. LOL.
But seriously folks, your ARC team will do much of the same, only modified for the realities of modern self-publishing. You won’t send it out to a bunch of near-strangers and thought leaders in hopes of getting a great review. You won’t create a specially bound version and mail it out. But you will leverage them to build buzz and improve early metrics for your book.
What An ARC Team Is
An ARC team is a group of people you have on tap, ready to read your books before your official release day. Ideally, you would have between 20 and 30 on the team and expect around half of them to pull through. Their job is to read your book and provide an honest, unbiased review. It’s totally legit to choose your ARC team from among people who are inclined to like you and your book, but even then they must be honest.
What an ARC Team Isn’t
There are two ways to answer this question. The first comes with describing two similar, but different, ARC team options.
- An ARC team is not your beta reader team. Beta readers dig into your second-to-last draft and make suggestions. Those suggestions aren’t part of the ARC team’s job. You’re too far along in the production process to make major changes now. Also, your ARC team shouldn’t include people from your beta reader team. You need fresh eyes here.
- An ARC team is not your street team. Your street team consists of a bunch of people poised to promote your book just before, during, and for a while after the launch. They’ll attend your signing party, push the book on social media, and harass their friends until they buy. These people are not capable of giving an unbiased review, because they’re either your superfans or you’re paying them. They might give reviews on their own, but they’re not part of the ARC team.
The other way has to do with Amazon’s rules for reviews. As you know, the Big A has been cracking down on biased, paid, and otherwise spoofed reviews. It’s against the rules to review a book if you’re being paid (or given gifts) for the review, if you’re part of the project that created the book, or related to the author.
Your ARC team is none of those. They get a free book from you (maybe, see below), but receiving a copy in exchange for an honest review is explicitly permitted under Amazon’s terms of service. That’s why you want their honest opinion, not a promise of a good review. In many cases, your ARC team members might agree to leave a three-star or higher honest review, but to give you two-star level feedback privately.
ARC Team, Assemble!
The first step in getting an ARC team is to gather readers to join. As things progress, you will be surprised by how many people are willing to become part of this – and from how many different places you'll get them. In the beginning, though, try some of the following techniques: