Influencers vs. Street Team

Janet Grant

Blogger: Janet Kobobel Grant

One of the most common points of confusion I find among my about-to-be-published clients is the difference between influencers and a street team. Both of these groups become paramount in promoting your book, but if you don’t know the difference, it can be hard to figure out how to utilize them.

Your publisher’s marketing team will expect you to build a list for both.

Influencers…Influence

Okay, my subhead might seem obvious, but that really is how you can decide whom to put on this list. Whom do you know who can influence others to buy your book?

Let’s say you’ve written a book on your personal experience adopting four siblings from Guatemala. Who might be an influencer for your book?

  • If you happen to know a famous sports figure or actor who has adopted children from another country, that person would slip onto your influencer list.
  • You might know someone who works at World Vision or Compassion International. Add him to your list.
  • If you attend a megachurch, pop your pastor onto your list.
  • You might be a blogger who has written consistently about the adoption–and adaptation–process as the youngsters were assimilated into your family. Look around for bloggers who are writing about the same or a similar topic. Keep your eye out for those with significant influence and start making comments on their blogs and showing that person you have many points of commonality. (You probably should have been making that connection as soon as you decided to write the book; so the relationship would already be in place. Not to mention that the two of you could well benefit from getting to know each other.)
  • Consider if your friends or acquaintances have developed good-sized followings on Twitter, Facebook, or Instagram, etc., and are connected to the type of person who would enjoy your book. These individuals don’t need to have a big presence on all social media. You’re looking for people who have influence on varying sites so each can sort of “specialize” in the area where he or she is influential.

Who Qualifies for the List?

  • A person who is an authority on the subject you write on. (A psychologist for your self-help book; a historian for an era you set your novel in; a recognizable individual in a community of potential readers of your subject.)
  • A well-known figure in our society, or within the Christian community. If Dolly Parton is a distant cousin, add her to your list for your children’s book. If Max Lucado lives next door to you, onto the list he goes.
  • Anyone who regularly connects with significantly large groups and could influence others to buy your book.
  • A scholar who could add the weight of her authority to your book’s reputation.

Do You Have to Know These People?

Yup. Everyone on your influencer list will receive a free copy of the book, with a letter written by you in which you express your hopes that they will tell others about your book. If you send a book to Michelle Obama because you know she cares about the topic of your book, that’s pretty much tossing your book onto the garbage heap. Now, if you know the woman who was Mrs. Obama’s secretary during her time at the White House, you have a link that could make all the difference.

A Street Team

Also called a Launch Team, this group of readers sign on to help get the word out about your new book. You can read details about how a team works here.

An influencer is unlikely to sign up for your street team, even though he is enthusiastic about your book. Instead, an influencer will go directly to those he has influence over and mention your book to them. But a person would sign up for your street team because he or she: believes in what you’ve written; thinks it’s important for others to discover your book; wants to help you promote your book. Because anyone signing up for your street team is committing to spending some serious time and effort to the cause, that person comes to the team ready to pony up. It will take more of a commitment to be on the street team than to be an influencer. Who might offer that sort of unbridled support for a new author?

  • People from your church
  • Your family, friends, and neighbors
  • Other writers with whom you’ve developed friendships as you sought the golden ring of publishing together
  • Those individual you’ve connected with online

What questions do you have for me about influencers and street teams?

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33 Responses

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  1. I’d offer one caveat – an influencer’s stock in trade is reputation, and he or she may guard it more jealously than we commoners can imagine.
    * I worked for a Very Big Fish in the relatively small “seismic design of reinforced concrete” pond, and woe betide anyone who he even suspected “took his name in vain”. I did it once, and the resulting one-sided interview was an enlightenment. As was the size-twelve boot with which he ushered me out of his office.
    * He forgave quickly (he’s now, sadly, deceased), standing me a beer within fifteen minutes, but this introduced me to the way the Prominente think; they are indeed different fro the rest of us, and as my late mentor observed, part of that came from having to say ‘no’ far more often than most people ever do.

    • David Todd says:

      It’s not much different in the environmental side of the civil engineering profession, Andrew.

    • Janet Grant says:

      Indeed. Just because you are acquainted–or even almost-friends–with a prominent person in his or her area of influence, doesn’t guarantee that person will lend his name to your venture. They must be careful not to allow their name to be employed too often, or their “influence” will actually diminish. We’ve probably all noted an author who endorses seemingly everyone’s book who asks. That endorsement bears little weight.

  2. Do you look for a hint to these types of connections in a query letter? Is it a good idea to say in your little bio paragraph of the letter “I have relationships with several high profile authors/bloggers, such as…”?

    Or is that best saved for after the proposal after a positive response from the query?

    • Oooh, great question! I’m curious to know the answer also.

    • Janet Grant says:

      It depends on the the “weight” of the person’s name. If you’re pretty sure Max Lucado will endorse your book (or write a foreword), that’s worth gold and should be mentioned in your query. On the other hand, if you are connected to some individuals with significant blog readership, that’s probably something you want to save for the proposal because you’ll need to quantify the size of their readership to make the connection meaningful. (We can’t keep track of all the bloggers; even those with big followings.)

  3. Thank you very much for the detailed explanation, Janet. A question, please. Which is more important, influencer or street team? What is the fate of an about-to-be-published author who has a wonderful street team but no Max Lucado individual?

    • Janet Grant says:

      Michael, street teams can go a long way to get the word out about your book. If you don’t have significant connections, your team can indeed help to make up for that.
      Obviously, the agent and the publisher would prefer you can muster the troops on both your influencer list and your street team. Having influencers at the ready will probably help you to get a contract, but your street team might actually help to sell more copies of your book.

  4. David Todd says:

    Warning: I’m being negative again.
    .
    “if you happen to know a famous….”
    “You might know someone who….”
    “If you attend a megachurch….”
    “if your friends or acquaintances have developed….”
    “an authority…a well-known figure…connects with significantly large groups…a scholar….”
    “if you know the woman who was….”
    .
    And if none of these are true?
    .
    You also said, “bloggers…with significant influence…start making comments on their blog….” In my experience this is a waste of time.
    .
    As is trying to develop relationships with influencers. If chances in life gave you a relationship with someone who is now in a position to be an influencer for you, great. But if not, put influencers out of your mind.They don’t need you, don’t care about you, don’t have time for you, are bombarded already by people hat-in-hand trying to get a favor. I’ve yet to find the milk of human kindness in anyone I would consider an influencer. Or in a blogger with a significant following.
    .
    My wife is a 6th cousin, twice removed (or about that) of T.S. Eliot. Maybe I could get his great-grandchildren to be influencers for my poetry book.

    • David, I’ve developed relationship – and friendship – with people who could be influencers, but I’d never ask them for that…and they trust me not to ask. The relationships were built on shared interests and outlook outside of the writing/publishing sphere, and I value these friendships far too much to put them at risk.If an endorsement was freely offered, I’d certainly accept it, but I’d never even hint at wanting one.

      • Janet Grant says:

        I would say, David, that you believe influencers aren’t accessible to you; Andrew, you know influencers but would never ask anything of them. I think the best approach is in between these two views. I agree with Andrew that influencers are people, and people value relationships. You can meet influencers at writers conferences and often have chances to interact personally with them. Ask them if there’s anything you could to help them–be on their street team, connect them to your local bookstore if they’re ever in your community, etc. But be a person back to them; value them not for their name but for their soul.
        Most influential people I know are very open to helping newbies at the publishing venture. And they’ve learned to say no when they’ve reached the limit to which they can extend themselves. A kind request, without pressure to say yes, doesn’t hurt relationships. These people are used to being asked.

  5. Janet,

    I have to admit that my heart sank just a bit as I read through this. The list of requirements and expertise holdings for capturing the attention of an agent and/or publisher continues to grow. I understand why agents/publishers want to see these alignments, but the list is bordering on overwhelming. Long gone are the days when an author could successfully navigate the system based on the ability to write well with a modicum of expertise in a given subject area.
    Gotta run. I’m late for my cat-juggling lesson. 😉

    • Carol Ashby says:

      Hope you post a video, Damon.

    • Janet Grant says:

      Damon, these are important areas of publishing to think about. But having a fabulous influencer only helps to open doors. If you’re work isn’t up to snuff, then it’s not going to be published even with a gargantuan list of influencers. And not every project comes with such individuals attached to it. I just sold a nonfiction project (which almost always requires some massive marketing capability) from a client who had no big connections. She was willing to work very hard on marketing and had presented a strong marketing plan in her proposal. Despite no influencers, six publishers wanted the project. That’s because her idea was stellar and would have a strong appeal to potential readers regardless who wrote it. And her writing was very good.
      When we agents write blog posts, we’re telling you what generally needs to be in place to obtain an agent or a publishing contract. Every agent can point to exceptions to that rule in sales that occur every year.

  6. Carol Ashby says:

    Perhaps I’m odd, but I’ve never been very influenced in what I choose to buy by “influencers.” I lend much more credence (or not) to the opinions of people I know and have calibrated.
    Is their main value in boosting discoverability?

    • I feel this way sometimes, too. But there are a few that if they really enjoy or believe in something, I’ll look at it more closely than if just some random celebrity had endorsed it.

      These people are usually those whom I’ve interacted with online for awhile, and feel like I know to some degree. There are only a couple of those for me. But I know some people who take influencer suggestions very seriously…almost as gospel.

      • Janet Grant says:

        Jennifer, I so agree with your thoughts. Some of my favorite authors can influence me to buy a book. If they claim they loved the book, then I might well enjoy it too.
        But generally an influencer writing an endorsement won’t be enough to convince me. I have to feel strongly aligned with that person’s tastes.
        On the other hand, other readers weigh much more heavily that some famous person put their reputation on the line by connecting it to a book.
        Perhaps most importantly, publishers care. If you want to be published traditionally, it’s one of the segments of your proposal that publishers look at closely.

    • Well…I’ve seen both sides.

      Once went on a cruise trip. Cruise director mentioned at one port both a specific chocolate shop with delicious items as well as the art studio of “Yoda Guy”. Sure enough, I spotted this same woman AT that chocolate shop getting a nice little handful of chocolate. Made me think twice about such an endorsement. Lots of people were at the shop, meaning they got GOOD foot traffic.

      The art studio was different. Dude had GOBS of Star Wars artifacts and merchandise. I bought a very nice keepsake, but on the way out, spotted a sign about ALL the cruise lines recommending this guy’s shop. Talk about influencers.

      It’s a bit of a racket, but I’m glad I stopped by that shop.

      At the same time, Tom Clancy achieve fame and success over not only top notch writing in The Hunt For Red October, but because I believe either his agent or someone at his publisher had connections to a staffer in the WH that put the book in Reagan’s hands. Talk about a launch. Would he have done so well without? Who knows?

  7. Janet, it seems to me that since many influencers have agents or publicists – or both – an interagency approach might be best.
    * For example…if I were to write my memoirs and you were my agent, I’d suggest that Brandon Webb (author of “The Red Circle”, and whom I do not know) might be a good and appropriate endorser. His literary agent is Margaret McBride…so under those circumstances would it be proper for you as my agent to make contact with Ms. McBride, to pass along the request? Or would this be a complete violation of agent protocol?

    • Janet Grant says:

      Andrew, agents actually are more in the business of protecting their clients from offering endorsements rather than offering them to do so if another agent requests it. Influencers don’t lack requests but instead must carefully choose which manuscripts to endorse because they can’t possibly say yes to every request and keep up with their own work responsibilities. They’d spend all of their time reading manuscripts to endorse.

  8. This is very helpful. Thank you for laying out the distinct differences so plainly, Janet!

  9. Janet, I have an ‘influencer case study’ from another field. I hope it sheds some light from another perspective.
    * In the early 1970s, an aeronautical engineer named Pete Bartoe designed a single-seat aerobatic biplane called the Skyote. It was made to perform very well on relatively low power (due to its light weight), and is was supposed to be a lot of fun to fly – and not demanding terribly high piloting skills. The Skyote was to be marketed as a set of blueprints, for amateur builders to use in constructing their own. (There are something like 30,000 home-built aeroplanes registered in the US today…people actually DO this, though now most often from kits.)
    * Mr. Bartoe enlisted two A-list influencers; Bob Hoover and Budd Davisson. Bob Hoover was probably the most famous test and airshow pilot of the second half of the 20th century, and Budd Davisson gained fame by prolifically writing pilot reports on unusual aeroplanes for aviation magazines (you can find his pilot reports at http://www.airbum.com).
    * Both Hoover and Davisson waxed rhapsodic about Skyote. Hoover called it the best aeroplane he had ever flown, and for a man known for skill, experience, and integrity, that said a LOT.
    * And then what happened? Not much. Skyote is indeed a lovely aeroplane, but it’s fearsomely hard to build, and there was very little available in the way of prefabbed parts. A few hundred sets of plans were sold, and then Mr. Bartoe removed it from the market. It’s only now seeing a renaissance, as very much a ’boutique’ project.
    * Around the same time, a fellow named Richard Van Grunsven designed a single-seat aerobatic aeroplane that looked a bit like a scaled-down WW2 fighter. It was called the RV-3, and Budd Davisson’s report on it gave it a huge boost in popularity. Originally offered only in the form of blueprints, it was soon ‘kitted’, and gave birth to a whole line of Van Grunsven-designed aeroplanes: the RV-4, RV-6, RV-7, RV-8,RV-9, RV-10, R-12, and RV-14. Of those 30,000 homebuilt aeroplanes mentioned earlier, 10,000 of them are RVs. There are probably a couple hangared at your local airport; you will likely never see a Skyote in the flesh.
    * Why the difference? The Skyote was an evolutionary dead-end; it was useless for anything other than local recreational flying. The RV-3, on the other hand, could get you from point A to point B at close to 200 mph, and let you do aerobatics along the way. Although still only having one seat, it had room to grow; the RV-4 is a two-seater that looks like a scaled-up version of the -3. Van Grunsven also used ‘modern’ aluminum construction, which is much more amenable to prefabrication than the antediluvian methods used in Skyote. You can order a kit for, say, the RV-10, and in two years of part-time work have a finished four-seater that will easily outperform any comparable factory-built in speed and comfort.
    * The upshot, I guess, is that influencers are important but they can’t do miracles, and they can’t undo word-of-mouth. When dudes looked at Skyote and said, “Man, Bob Hoover says it’s supposed to fly great but Joe Smith over in Temecula has a set of plans, and it’s impossible to build!” that was pretty much it. The Street Team…here, in a negative sense…prevailed.
    * The Street Team for the RVs is huge and enthusiastic…and growing. If you, dear reader, decide to cause your spouse dismay, banish your cars to the driveway, and serenade your neighbours with the Serenade d’RivetGun as you build an RV, you’ll be almost forcibly taken to the bosom of a dedicated and sincere group of boosters…and if you invite them to your shop, you’ve got to be careful, otherwise they’ll build the aeroplane for you, while your back’s turned.

    • Janet Grant says:

      Andrew, this is a great example of the limitations of endorsements. If the product isn’t one potential users take to, then it doesn’t matter who says it’s an astounding item.

  10. this is great clarifying information, Janet, thank you.

  11. Mary Kay Moody says:

    Thanks, Janet, Simple enough distinction, but for newbies the changing terms can be very confusing. I’ve been on a few launch teams and wasn’t sure if street team was a new name or a new animal.

  12. Paula Richey says:

    Funny you mention megachurch pastors, because I’ve been on the Street Team for a couple of my pastor’s books. After that, I was part of the Street Team for Linda Formichelli’s How to Do It All book and just recently I was on the Launch Team for Jeff Goins’ Real Artists Don’t Starve book. (Obviously, I highly recommend these books! What they have in common are the stories about people overcoming difficulties to succeed and drawing out the lessons to be learned)
    It’s funny because I write science fiction and fantasy, but it’s so much easier to do this for nonfiction devotionals and self-improvement books because they are such a quick read and it’s easy to quantify exactly what I’m getting out of them when I write the reviews and Instagram posts, etc. I now know so much about Street Teams, too! 🙂 It’s going to come in handy when it’s time to put mine together.

    • Janet Grant says:

      Paula, receiving an education about what different authors do with their street teams is a hidden benefit of being on a few. It helps you think through what you want to do when it’s your turn to assemble your friends, family, and colleagues.

  13. Jerusha Agen says:

    Thanks for this informative post, Janet! After years of meeting and being blessed through friendships with other writers, I hope that I would be able to form a street team if needed. But influences are another matter. If one doesn’t happen to live near a celebrity or rub elbows with such in another context, how do you advise finding those influencers willing to endorse a book? Does a publisher, who perhaps publishes work by such an “influencer” already, ever supply a newly contracted author with that influencer?

    • Janet Grant says:

      Publishers don’t generally connect a new author with an influential author. It’s hard to decide which new author you’ll do this for and which you won’t–because you can’t connect each one with someone. And the best-known authors would always be receiving requests; many more than they could ever keep up with.
      I find conferences a grand place to make connections. And taking other opportunities as they come up.