An ARC (Advance Reader or Review Copy) team is a valuable tool in an indie author’s arsenal. An engaged ARC team can help you build momentum with solid reviews on launch as well as help with marketing. If your early readers like your book, they might also post about it on social media. Free word of mouth from Bookstagrammers and BookTokers is priceless, especially on or around launch day.
If you don’t yet have an ARC team, you can put out an open call in your newsletter or on social media—TikTok, Instagram, and dedicated Facebook groups can work especially well. You could also use services such as BookSprout, BookSirens, or StoryOrigin to find ARC readers.
But how do you handle an ARC team once you have one? What’s the best way to manage your team and keep them happy and engaged?
What to Keep in Mind
Communication is key. Communicate with your ARC team often and keep them engaged. Don’t just contact your team when you need something. This is a partnership, not a one-way transaction.
You can include language like “ARC Email” in your subject line when sending an update. The reason for this is twofold. First, you’re letting them know that they’re special, and second, they’re more likely to open and read an email related to ARCs. Win-win!
That said, if you want to take it a step further, you could consider individualized communications with the members of your ARC team. Depending on the size of your team, this may be time-consuming, but readers will appreciate the personal touch. You can check in with them, ask what they’re reading, or offer updates from your own life. Communicating with members of your ARC team individually will also help keep them accountable, and they will therefore be more likely to post a review.
You can also send your ARC team opportunities to read and review advanced copies for other authors—bonus points if the books are in your subgenre. This is especially effective when you have a large gap between releases. This strategy can be really successful: You’re feeding your ARC team with exclusive content and providing value, which your team members are sure to appreciate. Furthermore, it can massively help with lining up your titles in the also-bought section on distribution sites if your team members go on to buy other books by that author.
You could also create a separate ARC and Street Team group or chat thread on Facebook or Discord. Your readers can then talk to each other and generate more buzz—even among themselves—as they discuss your latest plot twist. Additionally, you’re granting them something that readers find invaluable: exclusive access to you, the author. Once you create this kind of space for your team members, you could also ask them questions, create polls, and make them feel as if they’re part of the process. You could ask them to post links to their reviews or encourage them to create aesthetically pleasing bookish photos for Instagram or Facebook or short videos for TikTok or Instagram Reels. The more they contribute, the more invested they will be in reading your book and seeing it succeed.
Authors should be aware of several pitfalls when it comes to ARC teams.
Family and friends should not be on your ARC team. Distribution sites, such as Amazon, have been known to remove reviews they identified as left by an author’s close friends or relatives. After all, books are a product, and Amazon wants their product reviews to be unbiased, not skewed by friendly reviews.
Do not pay for reviews or offer any sort of incentives in exchange for a review. You need to be clear in your communications with your ARC team that there is no requirement for them to leave a review—it’s completely voluntary. They get to read your book, for free, before anyone else. This is their reward. Additionally, they’re supporting one of their favorite authors. In a similar vein, ask your team to avoid language such as “in exchange” in their reviews—platforms like Amazon don’t like it because it implies that the review wasn’t left voluntarily. Any transaction of this sort is against Amazon’s—and other retailers’—terms of service.
That said, you could track who leaves reviews in a spreadsheet and simply not offer an ARC for the next book to those who didn’t review. This is your prerogative, although it does require a lot of extra administrative legwork. So how do you keep track of your ARC team and who’s reviewed what?
Tracking ARCs and Reviews
When a reader signs up to receive an ARC, they likely have good intentions. They’re probably genuinely interested and excited to read your book. However, life does happen, so realistically, you can’t expect 100 percent of your ARC team to leave reviews.
If, however, you’re sending out hundreds of ARCs and only getting a handful of reviews, it might be a sign that your ARC team consists mainly of freebie seekers who want the free book but who won’t leave a review.
To remedy this, you can create a spreadsheet using a program such as Excel, Google Sheets, or Numbers, where you can track information and a number of variables about your ARC team:
- links to social media (Amazon reviewer profile, Goodreads, their book blog, Instagram, TikTok, Twitter, BookBub reader profile, etc.)
- date you last communicated
- whether you sent an ARC
- whether they published their review
- a copy of their review
- any other information, e.g., which of your books they have read, their reading preferences, or their favorite method of communication (email, Facebook Messenger, text message)
This is, of course, time-consuming, but it may help you weed out the people who consistently request ARC copies but never leave reviews. Only you can decide whether this kind of tracking is worth the time for your author business.
How Many ARC Team Members Should I Have?
This is a very individual question and depends on your author business and your goals. Some authors have as little as five or ten ARC readers and rely on organic reviews on launch day. Others have a specific amount and cap the number of ARC team members. This has the benefit of exclusivity and will encourage members to leave reviews for the chance to stay on your team. Some authors don’t have an ARC team at all, while others have hundreds or even thousands of members. One Paranormal Romance author sent out over six thousand ARCs of her latest release in April 2022, according to a post in the 20BooksTo50K® Facebook group. The sky is the limit. It’s really up to you to decide if you want to manage an ARC Team at all and, if so, how many members you should have.
Decide What Is Best For You and Your Author Business
Managing an ARC team successfully is a lot of work and takes away from the time that you could spend on other tasks, such as writing the next book in your series. If you can afford it, a personal assistant could do this for you. If you can’t, then you’ll have to weigh the pros and cons yourself. Are the potential rewards associated with successfully running an ARC team worth the time and energy required to run it? If you’re seeing little return on your investment, then you may wish to reconsider. You can simply ask for reviews in the back matter of your books. Plenty of heavy-hitter authors don’t have ARC teams and still see a lot of success. But if you can incorporate the management of your team into your day-to-day author activities and see true benefits, then go for it! You’re the only one who can figure out and decide what works best for you and your author business.
For more information on how to curate a team of ARC readers, see “Beta Readers vs. ARC Readers: The Differences, Explained” in another section of this month’s issue.