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:
- Contact your fellow authors and see who’s willing to exchange a review for a review
- Go into the forums and Facebook groups about your genre and see who’s interested
- Do the same for author groups and forums
- Put out a call on Instagram, Facebook, or Twitter that you’re seeking some ARC participants
- Go to one of the several services that connect authors with reviewers, like NetGalley, Booksprout, Book Funnel, or Story Origin.
Be systematic and consistent about this. You won’t get many ARC team members if you post once in each of a dozen places, but you’ll get plenty if you post in five places one week, five the next, then go back to the first five the week after that. Like writing your book in the first place, you get more from slow, steady progress than from trying to do everything all at once.
Tracking and Communication
I recommend keeping track of your ARC team using a spreadsheet, because I’m a huge nerd. You can use whatever system you want, but it should include the following information for each member of your team.
Name: What this is and why you need it should be obvious.
Email: This should be your primary mode of contact.
Mailing Address: For sending them physical books or other thank you gifts, when you think that’s appropriate.
Birthday: Always tell your ARC team members happy birthday. Perhaps with a card you send to their mailing address.
Last Contact: The date and a note about the last time you communicated. Try not to let this go more than three months.
Notes: Any information about this person you think would be relevant, to help you fine-tune communication.
Status: How reliable and excited is this individual? I use a stoplight color code system: red for unreliable, yellow for reliable but untested, green for those who have come through in the past.
If you keep track of all these points, you’ll have the information you need to leverage your team easily with each book. Your launch sequence (see below) will be busy enough without trying to track down everybody who ever once suggested they’d do a review for you.
Okay. You have your ARC team. You have your manuscript. You have your tracking sheet in order. It’s time to launch your book. Here’s your timeline and tasklist.
Step Zero: Maintenance
Communicate often with your ARC team in the months before the launch. Interact with them in social media, wish them happy birthday, share book recommendations, like and share their posts. Anything at all that builds connection and tells them you think of them even when they’re not doing you a favor. That’s the best way to encourage their participation when the ARCs come out.
Step One: Send a Notice Email
Two weeks prior to launch
Email your ARC team with a quick note that the ARCs are coming, and they should be ready. Include the dates of your timeline for launch, and when you’d like to see their reviews go live.
Step Two: Create Your ARC Copies
Twelve days prior to launch
You have a file ready to send to Amazon by now, but you’ll also want a file for ARCs. You have three basic options for this, depending on what you want:
- Just send a word doc or .pdf to them via email. This is the easiest option for you, but less easy for your readers, which might mean fewer of them actually read your book and give a review.
- Save your book as a .mobi or .epub file and send it their way. This splits the difference between easiest for you and easiest for them.
- Use an ARC delivery service. This costs you a small fee each time, but delivers the ARC with copy protection to your reviewers in a format that works for their ereaders. It’s the easiest, but the only one that costs money.
However you do it, have it ready to go by this day.
Step Three: Send the ARCs
Ten days prior to launch
Email your ARC team with their ARC (or tell the service to do it). Include in the email the date you’d like reviews in, and ask people to email you back confirming they’ve received the ARC.
Step Four: First Reminder
One week prior to launch
Send an email to the ARC team, thanking everybody for their efforts and asking if anybody has any questions or trouble. While you’re at it, send a note to anybody who didn’t confirm receipt of the first email. Your goal here is to make sure everybody is on the same page and moving forward.
Step Five: Second Reminder
Three days prior to launch
At this point, your launch timeline should mean there’s a pre-launch page up for the book and excitement is starting to build. Email your ARC team with a link to the page and an announcement that it’s ready to receive their reviews.
It often works best to send this as individual emails, rather than a large batched form letter. If your ARC team is large enough, this may not be practical, but do so if you can.
Step Six: Last Reminder
One day prior to launch
Send a group email thanking by name everybody who has already sent in their review. Include a screenshot of one or two great ones they can use for inspiration.
Then send an individual email to everybody who hasn’t left a review yet and give them a gentle nudge. It often works best to phrase the nudge in the context of offering help, rather than nagging or trying to throw blame at them.
Step Seven: Launch Day Celebration
Include your ARC team in your launch day email blast. Don’t mention the reviews, but let the announcement remind a few stragglers what’s going on.
Let Me Tell You A Secret…
Here’s a trick that some folks use with their ARC teams so they’re not giving away a few dozen copies (and resulting in less sales) and lending more credibility to their early reviews.
- Step One: Announce your official launch day.
- Step Two: Set the book to launch on Amazon 2-3 days early, with a price far below that of the regular price for the book.
- Step Three: Tell your ARC team about the deal, casting it as a secret offer just for them.
- Step Four: The ARC team buys the book and reads it, then leaves their reviews around the official launch day.
- Step Five: You raise the price to normal at midnight as launch day starts.
It’s a little technical, and you need an ARC team willing to pay something for the book in question, but it works wonders once you’ve got all the details in place.
Check out training #464 if you are interested in learning more about working with your ARC Team.