Before we get started on today's post about building an ARC team, let's cover some basics.
What IS an ARC? It stands for Advanced Reader Copy. Typically, it means an author gives a copy of their book away to a select group of readers in exchange for early feedback and reviews PRIOR to release day.
On Amazon especially, having reviews is critically important to your book getting seen–it's a huge part of what the algorithm looks for. If you can go into release day with a handful of reviews already, it can be a game changer for visibility.
Having a solid ARC team is a great way to generate excitement about your upcoming releases, and guarantee a nice stream of reviews in those first few days after launch. I'm lucky that my friend Erica recommended I build a solid ARC team early on, and my group is so freaking great. I thank the universe for them every day.
I can't really speak to alllll the possible ways you can manage ARC teams, but I can share what I've done (and things I've seen other authors do that I loved!).
Today we'll cover
finding your ARC team
building your team
how to keep in touch
tools and best practices for managing your team
best practices for ARC reviews on Amazon
sample ARC schedule
FINDING YOUR ARC TEAM
I see questions about this super regularly on facebook and IG, but here's what I did. For my first book, I worked with a PA and she had about 3800 IG followers. We put together a plan to blast both our socials for a couple days about my first book with teasers and quotes and a link to a google sheet where we could grab interested peoples' information.
I've seen most authors set up a google form for ARC signups, and that works well. The key is making it easy for interested ARC folx to sign up and have clear expectations of what being an ARC reader for you means. Typically, signup forms include their name, email, links to their reviewer accounts, the ability to decide what type of ARCs they're signing up for (if you do multiple genres or pens), and a blurb about your expectation of when they'll review.
Our goal was to get about 25 people on my first ARC team, and we were able to do that. It's my opinion that 25 or so people is a good number to start with. Some of those folks will get busy or be unable to follow through on that commitment. In a perfect world, I would have loved to start with 40-50 ARC team members to really get the word out, but I we got 28 or so, and I was honestly thrilled.
If you don't work with a PA (Personal Assistant) already, building an ARC team is a great reason to invest in a PA. Many PAs will offer the option to just have them manage your ARC team. That's how I ended up working with Erica and building that ARC team from the beginning. A great PA has their own social reach and can really help to amplify what you're able to do on your own.
Search Facebook and Goodreads for ARC groups in your genre. I did this and was able to post in some large Omegaverse groups that I was looking for ARC readers, and that worked really well too! An author buddy also sent me the list below in the very early days. It's a list of online groups where you can look for ARC readers. I truly can't take credit for this list since someone sent it to me last year, but it's a great resource!
As you generate relationships with people online, ask them directly to join your team. This can be really hard for some authors, who feel it's a sales pitch. But here's the thing–it's NOT.
What you've got to keep in mind is that most readers and bookstagrammers are thrilled to be asked to be on your ARC team. I asked my own network and here's what I heard from readers and bookstagrammers alike.
What To Do:
Generate a relationship first by commenting on their posts, sharing their posts, sliding into their DMs.
Let them know you've got openings on your ARC team and based on their content, you think they'd be a great fit
Take to your own socials and post a call for ARC readers. This one is kind of hit and miss depending on your social reach, but you may meet some new folks this way!
What Not To Do:
Don't ask people out of the blue, that DOES feel like a sales pitch. Get to know them first
Don't be upset if they can't/won't/don't want to be part of your team. There could be a million reasons for this. Don't take it personally, just move on.
Don't spam or DM large groups of people asking for this. Don't create huge group messages to just ask for ARC readers. When this works, it's because you're developing good personal relationships with folks on social
Still feeling iffy on approaching people directly? Here's how I say it, once I've decided it makes sense to invite someone to join the team....
Hey friend! I've got a couple open spots on my ARC team, and I think your style and aesthetic would be a wonderful match. I'd love to have you join if you're up for it!
Just remember to be kind if they decline, and to make sure their profile doesn't say they're closed for ARCs.
BUILDING ON YOUR TEAM
My team has changed a little over time, although the core group who loved book one has remained. In fact, I think I've only had a couple people drop off who had other commitments or who learned my genre/writing wasn't really their jam.
With every book I release, I do a new call for ARC members through the same google sheet. I check that they regularly review books in my genre, that they're active on social media, that we seem like a good "fit" in terms of what they like to read and review. If they are, I welcome them to the team.
I'm making one change to my ARC team this year, something I'm working on right now actually. In the future when I add ARC members to the team, they'll get a welcome email with info about my typical schedule, how I run my ARCs, my expectations of my ARC team and a list of benefits. This is something I just decided to do, so I haven't tried it out yet, but I'm hoping it'll be useful for those folks to understand what it means to work with me!
KEEPING IN TOUCH
I do think it's important to remember that your ARC team probably reads for other authors, and they've got their own lives and all that jazz. I look at my ARC team like a mutually beneficial business relationship, so I keep communication to what's necessary and helpful–and that's it.
I keep in touch with my ARC team through email as well as a private Instagram group where we chat. I know some authors do this on Facebook too, I just hate Facebook and I keep myself off there as much as possible.
6-8 weeks before a book is scheduled to release, I email my ARC team with a timeline of when to expect ARCs. Typically I include teasers and the blurb so they know what they're getting into. I ask them to let me know if they can't or don't want to review that particular book. I also remind them that the Instagram chat group is there and available if they want to join. My lovely PA, Rosie, keeps track of who isn't in for that round so that we don't bug them with copies of the book when they've said they're not down for it.
TOOLS AND BEST PRACTICES FOR MANAGING YOUR TEAM
Rosie manages an ARC signup form and a Google Doc with everyone's emails on it. We've also now got a spreadsheet that tracks who from the ARC team is actually downloading and reviewing the books. If they're unable or unwilling to download three or four books in a row, I reach out about removing them from the team. I've actually only done this once, and it's absolutely not a negative conversation. It's more of a hey, you're so busy or maybe this isn't your jam, and that's totally fine. Let me know if you have time to come back to the team in the future!
When it's time for ARCs I create a google drive folder with all the graphics I have ready for them to use. Many of my ARC folks prefer to craft their own edits, but I'll typically include countdown graphics, the book cover, a png of the title image, now available graphics and anything else I've got that's related (like sale ads etc if I'm doing a sale).
I use BookFunnel to host and deliver my actual files, so folks get an email from BookFunnel with their link, and then one email a week after release reminding them to fill out their reviews.
I use Instagram to make sure that I'm supporting my ARC people outside of release time. My ARC team Google doc is open at least once a week making sure that I'm commenting on their posts or sharing them. Something to show the love so that they know I'm not just coming to them when I need something for a release.
As a result, I'm lucky to have an ARC team that's like a ride or die group of friends. They're super honest with me about their feedback, and I do my best to encourage that. I've gotten some of the best feedback on needed changes in my books from my ARC team.
I've seen some authors get really wild with their ARC teams, demanding super tight schedules and turnarounds and kicking people off the team for all sorts of "infractions". I can't imagine a worse experience, so I don't do that with my folks. I'm grateful for their support, and I do my best to nurture a beneficial relationship for us both.
My friend Eleanor totally inspired me with how she manages her ARC team, so I'm going to be changing up a little bit of how I interact with mine.
Within my chat group, I ask for help naming characters and getting suggestions for what to put in the free bonus epilogues. I'll usually put up a bunch of ideas and then everyone riffs off those. It's been really fun for the ARC team to give me ideas and see those come to life in those spinoffs. I do make sure to credit them for help with the ideation, and that's worked really well to keep everyone excited.
In the future I'll also be doing ARC-team specific swag as a thank you for those folks for being such great supporters of my work.
BEST PRACTICES FOR ARC REVIEWS ON AMAZON
There's a ton of misinformation out there about how to get your reviews approved on Amazon, and Amazon is famous for not allowing ARC readers to post their reviews. My PA, Rosie, used to be a professional reviewer, so I asked her what the secret sauce is for getting ARC reviews approved. Here's a quick rundown from her perspective. I like to share this with my ARC team so everyone is aware of how to most likely get their reviews approved.
Amazon can and will block your account from leaving too many reviews for books or products you haven't bought or borrowed from them. So in an ideal world you get the ARC but preorder the book too
You should read the whole book on Amazon before leaving a review, if you can. It looks suspicious to them if you just open it and then give it five stars.
Reviews can be very simple, but be careful not to have a bunch of spelling errors because Amazon sees this as potentially fake
Amazon grades reviewers based on the number of reviews they've left and are voted helpful. It prioritizes which reviews are seen based on the reviewer's history
It's a great practice to upvote as helpful the good reviews on a book you loved
Authors need reviews on Amazon to get better placement in the algorithms
Avoid referencing the name of the author, other authors, and other non-series relevant books or shows in your post. It is fine to speak in general terms about those subjects; however, direct references can imply personal or paid relationship
Leave the adult language for your blog posts. Swearing (expletives), specific anatomy, and excessive references to spicy scenes put your review above the PG guidelines and will stop your review from posting
SAMPLE ARC SCHEDULE
These are by no means hard and fast rules, but this is what I've done with my team. It's worked really well for us!
6-8 weeks out email with timeline reminder asking if anyone is out for this round
2 weeks out email reminding them ARCs are coming up soon
Once ARCs are out I send an email with timelines for release day, when I'd like to have reviews due, links to where they can review on all platforms, a link to the google drive folder, and a reminder that they can come join the Instagram chat group if they'd like to!
A week after release day, I let Bookfunnel send out the automated email reminding them it's time to submit their reviews
During this time I keep up with the Instagram chat group, although I try not to bug them. We're usually busiest right around ARC delivery time and then on release day.
Sheesh! This is a beast of a post, but it's a topic that's super near and dear to my heart. I hope you enjoyed it, and as always feel free to comment below if you've got any questions...