NetGalley’s team is based across six countries and three continents, without a centralized office. As more and more publishers implement a work-from-home policy, we want to share our experiences as a virtual team. Over the years, we’ve had our fair share of trials with technology, the odd dropped conference call, and dodgy Wi-Fi connections, but we all love working from home and hope we can offer you some insights into how to work from home effectively.
Today we’ve gathered recommendations, hints and tips from the NetGalley team – but the important thing is to find a rhythm and routine that works for you. After all, working from home should never be more stressful than working from the office.
Make your own dedicated workspace
When we surveyed NetGalley staff, setting up your own dedicated workspace was by far the most common piece of advice. Amanda, for example, says “It helps me get in the mindset that I’m at work. For me, I have to make sure I have a door, too, that I can shut when I really need to focus on what I’m doing without any outside distractions.”
The same sentiment is shared by Alyce: “I set aside a small space in my home that I use only for work (a little desk by a window). When I sit down at my little work station in the morning, it helps me mentally focus on the work part of my day, and when my work time is done, it’s nice to be able to physically step away from my ‘work place’ and focus on other parts of my life.”
We know this isn’t always easy – as Katie points out, “Not all of us are blessed with a home office, but this doesn’t mean you should be working from your bed” – but we think you will certainly feel the benefit.
Give yourself time to adjust
For those who do not often work from home, the move can be quite disconcerting. Tarah acknowledges, “Working from home isn’t going to feel completely natural overnight – you’ve now merged your personal life with your work life, so you need to learn how to create (and maintain) boundaries.”
In those first few days, make a to-do list and look at what you’ve achieved at the end of each day. Try to think what worked and what didn’t and try to address these the following day.
Maintain a positive routine
As Brianna suggests, “Keep a routine and stick with your regular work hours.” Something echoed by Amanda:
“It’s so easy to overwork when you don’t have to worry about train schedules or beating traffic in and out of the office, and there have been many nights my husband has carried dinner up to my desk without me even realizing how late it got while I was nose-down in work.”
Dana, along with other NetGalley staff members, also notes the importance of having time before starting work. “I always aim to wake up, get ready for the day, and get that first cup of coffee in before the work day begins,” she writes. “It’s easy to fall into the routine of wake-up-and-start-work because there is no commute. Waking up and logging on immediately makes early meetings very difficult and it takes longer for me to be fully productive.
Communication is Key – (also, Don’t Fear the Phone!)
Regardless of which apps you use, make sure that everyone is using the same ones – you will be relying on them more than you’re used to. With this comes a tendency to rely solely on text-based communications. But don’t come to fear the phone, says Lindsey:
“We’re fortunate that virtual communication is easier than ever but the power of a real human voice cannot be overstated. Occasionally, email chains have the tendency to drag out longer than necessary when an issue or question could’ve been resolved quickly with a short phone call. Consider picking up the phone if it appears your words/tone/intent have been misinterpreted or can be easily clarified. Plus, talking through ideas verbally can really help to flesh them out in a way that is different than typing.”
In addition to business communications, Karina suggests that we don’t forget our working friendships. “Try to not only have business emails and work-related online conversations with your colleagues. It’s easy to just stick to those when you’re trying to work efficiently and you don’t run into each other in the office kitchen when grabbing a coffee. But it’s really important not to neglect those types of office-kitchen conversations when working remotely. It can get your mind off a current problem, lift your mood and maybe even bring you the solution to a problem from where you least expected it.”
Fran adds, “While schools are closing and major entertainment and social gatherings are being shut down, we still are human and need social interaction.”
It’s called Working from Home for a Reason…
Just because you’re at home, doesn’t mean that you are there to do all the chores. As Tarah says, “Sure, working from home has a lot of perks, including making lunch in your own kitchen, but when you’re just starting out I recommend putting on your blinders so that your work routine looks very different from your usual at-home routine.”
Israel agrees, “If there are other people in the house, they have to behave as if you were gone to the office. No interruptions, no ’quick questions’, etc. Send an email. If you’re not strict with this rule it quickly fails, so no exceptions.”
…But there’s more than one of us working at home!
If you are living with a partner, housemate or parent who is also working from home (or usually stays at home), there are all kinds of possible flashpoints. As everyone works differently at home, it is a good idea to talk about the kinds of routines you are likely to have. Designate areas, and agree on times that you can talk, perhaps having a run-down of times that you absolutely cannot be disturbed. Sharing your calendars is a good idea.
As Stuart suggests, “Do not comment on other people’s methods of working from home, and don’t be disappointed or upset if you suggest lunch together and the other person says no. You are both at work, and must try to maintain the idea that you are not working at the same office.”
Take Proper, Meaningful Breaks
This is one of the most important things to remember about working from home. It’s usual to feel that you need to be at work at all times, but just as you’re not ‘working’ every minute of the time you’re in the office, neither should you feel that you need to at home.
As Maria says, “I find it helpful to go outside (taking a walk, quick grocery shopping, walking the dog, etc.)”
And Alicia focuses on ways to stay healthy: “It’s very easy to slip into a routine that is less than healthy, but there are plenty of easy things you can do… some days I work on either an exercise ball (which is great for the back) or a standing desk. Many days I even add 5 minutes of chair yoga to my workday. Some days it is essential to take just a few minutes to recharge. Work hard, but don’t forget you can not pour from an empty cup!”
At the office, all the equipment is set up for business – ergonomically designed chairs, desks at a recommended height, big monitors – but at home, it’s a bit make-do-and-mend. Be sure you take care of yourself during the working day.
Tarah says, “Use the best chair in the house while working and make sure your laptop screen is at eye level (utilize the books you aren’t currently reading) and use a wireless keyboard and mouse. This will help your line of sight, and decrease the stress in your back. If you happen to have another monitor around, plug it into your laptop to increase your screen space – you’ll feel so much more organized.”
Organization is absolutely critical when working from home. “Get even more organized than you need to when you’re in the office,” Kristina writes. “There will be fewer people checking in on your progress, so take responsibility for prioritizing your efforts and reporting to your team – no matter your job title! Everyone will appreciate a quick head’s up about the status of your projects, especially when multiple people are working on the same project. Come to an agreement with your team about what this looks like. For my team, it’s a quick end-of-day message on Slack.”
Try to enjoy yourself
At the moment it’s an unsettling time and for your own mental health, it’s best to be as positive as you can. Try to stay away from news websites for a good proportion of the day, and don’t let your social media usage increase compared to your usual day in the office. Trust us, this can be important!
Kristina also suggests looking for new opportunities. “Once you log off for the day, consider new ways to be social with friends and loved ones! I have friends who host a Facetime D&D game monthly, for instance. Or consider honing new skills–look around and you may find that there are many music and dance instructors who are offering virtual lessons if you want to get up and move. These types of gig-economists are struggling right now.”
We hope this has been a useful insight into the way we work! Please feel free to contact us at email@example.com if there are any issues raised in this article which you would like to discuss with us. If there is anything we can do to help, just let us know.
Thanks to the NetGalley team quoted throughout!
Amanda Delatorre – QA Manager
Alyce Reese – Marketing Specialist
Katie Versluis – Client Relationship Associate
Tarah Theoret – Director, Community Engagement
Brianna Paulino – Email Marketing Specialist
Dana Cuadrado – Social Media & Administrative Assistant
Lindsey Lochner – VP, Marketing Engagement
Karina Elm – Managing Director (Germany)
Fran Toolan – CEO
Israel Carberry – Engineering Manager
Stuart Evers – Assistant Director (UK)
Maria Bodmer – Managing Director (France)
Alicia Schaefer – Customer Service & Community Assistant
Kristina Radke – VP, Business Growth & Engagement
Why a self-published, New York Times bestselling author didn’t tell her audience her latest book was on NetGalley
Author of the New York Times bestselling Hearts series, Claire Contreras, had never considered using NetGalley until she was getting ready to share the first book of her new series, Half Truths. When most authors use NetGalley, they use it to broaden their reach to new audiences and engage more deeply with the readers who are already following their work. Claire Contreras did something completely different. She didn’t make any announcements to her social following or newsletter subscribers about her latest book being on NetGalley – instead, she’s using it exclusively to find new readers.
In this case study, Contreras shares her unique NetGalley strategy, plus her perspectives on self-publishing versus traditional publishing and how she uses social media to connect with her audience.
I’d seen my friends who are published traditionally on NetGalley in the past and figured the publishing houses must have a good reason for using NetGalley, I just didn’t think it was something available to me. I spoke to a friend of mine who’s hybrid (traditionally and self-published) and she told me a lot of librarians read her books via NetGalley and that sold me on it. Before that conversation, I didn’t know how to reach librarians. Once I got on [NetGalley], I realized it wasn’t only librarians, but also media and educators as well as bloggers I wouldn’t normally have reached. That was when I realized NetGalley was a brilliant concept.
How did you get the word out to your audience about your NetGalley listing?
I didn’t. I used NetGalley solely for people I couldn’t reach myself. I feel it really puts the book in front of people who otherwise wouldn’t have seen it. I wanted to get more attention from librarians, media specialists, editors, and [other] people who don’t normally read me.
One of the reasons I didn’t announce to my readers that my book was on NetGalley was that I wanted to see how many new readers I would gain from the site. I was pleasantly surprised that a lot of the members had never read me before, as that was one of my initial reasons for turning to NetGalley. I have incredible readers, but there’s always room for more. I think in this particular case, the cover drew a lot of attention.
[I was most surprised by] the amount of people that requested the book. I was in complete shock to see Half Truths on the front page of most requested for weeks!
Half Truths is going to be part of a series. How are you using NetGalley to build anticipation?
With Half Truths specifically, I knew from the start that I would turn it into a series of standalones (standalone books in the same “world” – academia, different secret societies).
Because I’m using it as a promotion tool for the series, I’m approving a specific group of people. When I get closer to releasing information about book two, I’ll give away a lot more copies to readers (non-librarians/media) for reviews. I like to test things out and give it time to settle so I can see what’s working and what’s not.
I [also] have a mailing list – a snail mail list – that I put together when I was promoting the first book and I fully intend to use it again to send clues out in the mail to my readers as to what they can expect.
I believe pre-marketing and post-marketing are both powerful. However, I hope to have my next book in this series up on NetGalley a lot sooner than the first.
You are both a self-published and a NYT-bestselling author. Tell us a bit about why self-publishing is right for you.
When I first decided to publish, I fully intended to go the traditional route. My college professors and mentors were completely against me self-publishing, and I understood why. It was frowned upon and not something we completely understood. I decided to take a chance and self-publish my first book on a whim, just to see what happened. I figured if no one read the book, I could always take it down and query agents. The book did better than I anticipated and I gained a pretty steady readership, so I stuck to it. It was unexpected, but so far the control and freedom [I’ve gotten from] being self-published has been great. That’s not to say I wouldn’t go the traditional route. I would definitely love to work with traditional editors and be with a traditional publisher when the time is right.
I use social media as a get-to-know-me tool. I find that a lot of people follow me there because they want to know what I’m doing or what my thoughts are on certain things (as random as they may be). I’ve also built a following from my cancer journey, which I shared from the time I was diagnosed in 2014 to today. I keep them up to date with my health and some of my personal life because I think it’s important for people to know that they’re not alone. Sometimes it’s hard to conceive that others are going through struggles when you see them smiling all the time in pictures, so I keep it real with them.
What (or who) are the resources you go to to keep up with industry trends and to make your books as polished and professional as possible without the infrastructure of a traditional publishing house?
I don’t follow trends. I write things that I can’t stop thinking about and try to package them in a way that’s appealing to the masses, but as far as trends go, they are constantly changing and I can’t keep up with most of them so I try not to pay attention to them. I pay attention to the things I can control, which means making sure I have good editors, proofreaders, and cover designers.
When can members expect to see the next book in the series on NetGalley?
I don’t want to say much because I don’t want to spoil it, but I will say . . . You’ve been summoned 😉
Claire Contreras is a New York Times bestselling author who
traded her psychology degree to write fiction. Don’t worry, she still
uses her knowledge on every single one of her characters. She’s a breast
cancer survivor (x2), who was born in the Dominican Republic, raised in
Florida, and currently resides in Charlotte, NC with her husband, two
adorable boys, and French bulldog.
*Interviews have been edited for clarity and length.
NetGalley members are always curious about how they can get publishers to approve more of their requests. That’s why We Are Bookish’s Kelly Gallucci interviewed Estelle Hallick, Publicity and Marketing Manager at Forever, about her process for managing requests, and her advice to members looking to improve their profiles. In addition to giving members an inside look at how a publicist is looking at their profiles and their NetGalley activity, Hallick also provides other publicists and marketers with a template for managing requests systemically.
In this interview, Hallick shares the metrics she considers when approving Reviewer requests, how she treats new NetGalley members, and why a critical review doesn’t mean that she won’t approve another request from that same member.
Read the interview below! Plus, if you have a book or an author that you think would be a great fit for We Are Bookish, pitch them here.
Take us behind the curtain: What does the NetGalley request approval process look like for Forever?
I always start by looking at the Feedback Ratio; I sort the reviewer requests and start the approval process with the highest numbers. Since we get so many requests every day, 80% Feedback Ratio is a benchmark number for me.
When I start to get below 80%, I begin reading through bios. I tend to give more attention to the people under 80% because I’m genuinely interested to know why they are requesting the title or what brings them to NetGalley. I hope to see that bios are updated recently, or within a year (to me, it’s an indication that they are active reviewers) and to see if they have a list of authors they enjoy. This helps me decide if they are a good fit for our titles. While Feedback Ratio is important to me, I remember what it’s like to be a new reviewer and try to consider newer members whenever I can–but it starts with a detailed Profile.
What are three common missteps that can lead to a declined request?
I look for Feedback Ratio, correct member type, and updated bio with working links. I see so many Profiles with inspirational quotes or information that feels a little like a dating profile. I love personal details, but, in order to catch my eye, the combination of personal and professional information is important.
Do you look for different information in NetGalley Profiles based on member type?
Every member type should be as detailed as possible.
Bookseller: Where do you work? Are there book clubs at your store?
Librarian: What department do you work in? Are there any programs you run that would be of interest to publishers?
Traditional reviewer: What outlets have you written for?
Blogger: What street teams are you on? Do you organize any annual events on your platform? Do you cross-post? What are your stats?
Traditional reviewers and bloggers should absolutely include links to recent reviews or author interviews that they’ve done.
How often should members be updating their Profiles?
My hope is that reviewers are seeing continual growth on their platforms and want to communicate those updated stats with us. A good rule of thumb is to update whenever there’s something new to add–think of it a bit like a resume in that you want to provide your best and most up-to-date information. Put your best and most accurate foot forward.
We know publishers rely on member stats included in NetGalley Profiles when making approval decisions. Are there any specific stats you personally look for? (Psst, members: To find a publisher’s approval preferences, visit theirPublisher page!)
For bloggers, I do look at social media platform growth. While I look at follower count, someone with a following of less than 500 (just as an example) won’t deter me from approving them. To me, it’s about engagement on the platform and how well posts perform.
Let’s talk about review etiquette. In your opinion, what are three important things members should think about when writing reviews? What do you recommend members do when faced with reviewing a book they didn’t enjoy?
First, I want our reviewers to be honest. Giving a book a critical review won’t mean you aren’t qualified to receive other books for review; if anything it makes it easier for us to understand what kind of books you do enjoy. (Reading is an extremely personal experience.)
Second, the most helpful reviews give a sense of the story but do not give away the entire plot. As a bonus, I love when you share if you personally identified with something in the story.
Third, timing. As a NetGalley member, you’re often able to read books well before they’re in stores or libraries. If you love something, don’t wait to share it! Early buzz is so important to authors and publishers. It also alerts other reviewers about the book. The one thing we ask you to keep in mind is remembering to share again on release day.
As an added note, please do not tag authors in critical reviews. Reviews are for other readers, and authors do not need to be alerted of them by a tag.
What can newer members, who may not have a high Feedback Ratio or strong blog/social stats yet, do to stand out to publishers?
New members should take advantage of “Read Now” books to grow their Feedback Ratio, and also give us a better idea of the books you like. Listing authors you enjoy (so we can think about comparable authors we have) and not overdoing the category/genre options would be a great help. I’d also love to see new reviewers share where they read reviews and their hopes for their review life–all great places to start.
Is there anything we didn’t cover here that you’d like to add?
As a NetGalley member, please be sure to read over the decline email you receive before contacting the publisher. A good letter will tell you why you didn’t meet the qualifications for this particular book. If you are still unsure, definitely reach out for specifics.
At NetGalley, we think a lot about how to work more efficiently — how we can help publicity, marketing, and production teams minimize manual effort and maximize output, and how we can do the same for ourselves. Like our publishing partners, we are working on multiple projects, involving different teams coordinating with one another. We just launched We Are Bookish, are building backend support for full audiobooks, and working on some big changes to making accessing books on NetGalley even easier.
As a fully remote team, we can’t just peek our heads into someone’s office to ask a quick question. Instead, we rely heavily on cloud-based shared tools to help us stay on the same page, on track with our roadmap, and in line with what our publishers need.
Here are some of the tools and programs that let us stay connected and on track with our goals. We hope that by sharing these tools, you might see something that can help you and your team work together even more efficiently in the new year.
The NetGalley team uses Smartsheet’s customizable spreadsheets and forms in a number of different ways. We use its spreadsheets to create our editorial, communications, and promotional calendars, to keep track of our own internal metrics, and to plan for conferences and events. We generate forms through Smartsheet to let publishers schedule marketing opportunities, as well as to log our own hours and expenses, and submit new ideas for feature developments. Because it is cloud-based, we never have to worry that we didn’t get emailed the most recent copy of a spreadsheet. We always know that we’re all using the most up-to-date information.
As a remote team, scheduled weekly and monthly calls help us stay connected to one another. We use Zoom meetings for our weekly all-team conversations, our communications and sales calls, our data calls, development calls, one-on-one meetings, and more. We also use Zoom to hold training and strategy calls with publishers and conduct webinars. Zoom lets you record any call or webinar, so we can save development and planning calls for posterity or in case anyone is out of office so that we can share webinars for anyone who wants a recording. One interesting fact about how NetGalley uses Zoom, though, is that we never use the video functionality! Plenty of teams, especially remote teams, rely on video conferencing to see each other’s faces, but we find that we’re able to get that same collegial energy with audio alone.
Like 150k other companies in over 190 countries, NetGalley uses tools from software developers, Atlassian. We use Jira and Confluence for project management and for sharing internal documentation, respectively. Amanda Delatorre, QA Manager, works with the development team as well as the member- and publisher-facing teams to prioritize our development schedule, test new features, and document any issues along the way. Jira and Confluence are crucial to her work. “We use Jira to keep track of technical requirements, to schedule and assign the work to developers, and to show what phase the feature is in (up next, in development, ready for testing, completed). The scheduling is useful for keeping new feature development on track, but it is also an excellent way to keep the entire development process transparent for everyone else at the company who may find technical requirements intimidating. We use Confluence in conjunction with Jira in many ways, but, for me, it is most useful as a documentation repository. When a new feature is being developed and tested, we keep detailed notes around the rules and suggestions on how to use the feature, which we publish to Confluence for the rest of the team so there is never any question about how something is intended to work or what the rules are around the feature, and there is always a place to refer back to.”
Because we share access to websites, platforms, and tools across teams, we need to have a secure place to store shared passwords. Passpack allows us to share passwords with each other securely, and to generate new strong passwords whenever we make new accounts or profiles. Plus, having a shared password manager lets us cut down on emails or Slacks asking one another for login information. If you don’t already use a password manager for your professional or personal life, this article from Wirecutter might change your mind.
We are big fans of this instant messaging service. Having an instantaneous way to chat with one another cuts down on our inbox clutter and speeds up communication. With Slack, we can direct-message one another, create topic channels with multiple team members, and group chat to brainstorm with one another. Also, as a remote team we do sometimes miss the water cooler conversations that happen in physical offices. That’s why we have channels dedicated to non-work talk within Slack!
SugarCRM is how we keep track of our relationships with current and prospective clients. We can see which of our contacts work for which publisher, what their roles are, who our point people are, and what our communication histories are with them. We can archive email conversations to SugarCRM, which lets the team understand any relevant historical background to our relationships with publishers. For Katie Versluis, Sales Associate, SugarCRM is essential. “It is an absolute lifeline for me, as someone whose job is focused primarily on customer management. I look at it as a relationship building tool, since it allows us to easily and effectively stay in touch with our clients in meaningful ways. The email archiving system and the ability to collect notes about each account is crucial for us a team– we can sort through years of history with a client at the click of a button, which helps us do our jobs much more effectively. It also allows us to set reminders for ourselves to check in with a publisher we haven’t heard from in a while, or to send a friendly email to a prospective client who expressed interest in our service. It’s important to us to deliver a high level of customer service, and SugarCRM helps us do that.”
Online To-Do lists
The NetGalley team loves a list. And while a few of our team members use physical calendars and paper to-do lists, most of us are deeply devoted to one online to-do list or another. Several of us are fans of TeuxDeux, which lets you set recurring tasks and create ongoing project lists in addition to daily task lists. Others swear by Todoist. Dana Cuadrado, Social Media & Administrative Assistant, is a Todoist devotee. “The productivity nerd in me loves Todolist for all of the options it gives users. I can nest different items on my list, especially helpful when I have a specific idea for upcoming social content. I love that it tracks how many items you check off via specific date so you can see what days you’re most busy on. There are even more options that I don’t specifically use like setting high priority items or sending to-do agenda items to other team members.”
We use Zendesk to communicate with our communities. On Zendesk, we host Knowledge Bases for both our members and our publishers. These Knowledge Bases have our FAQs about everything from which devices members can use to read books from their NetGalley accounts to how publishers can get the most out of the reports available to them. We also use Zendesk to conduct member support. One major benefit for publishers and authors listing their books on NetGalley is that we handle all troubleshooting and support inquiries from members accessing their books.
Alicia Schaefer, Customer Service and Community Assistant, uses Zendesk to conduct that support. ”Our goal is to make sure any question or concern is solved in a manner that is quick and efficient but is also satisfactory for the person writing in and for the support member. Zendesk helps us accomplish these goals by providing a versatile platform that allows customizable, time-saving automation options as well as advanced reporting features and member and publisher-facing knowledge bases. My favorite feature is the ability to create ‘Problems’ and ‘Incidents’ where all tickets relating to one type of issue can be grouped together easily. This can be a huge time-saver when it comes to locating and following-up with members in a timely manner!”
Camtasia: Create instructional and strategy-based videos
Canva: Generate images and infographics for social media, email, blog posts
VP of Podcasting at Macmillan Kathy Doyle shares an inside look
2019 marked a watershed moment for spoken-word audio. For the first time ever, more than 50% of the U.S. population reported listening to podcasts and 50% reported listening to audiobooks*. Macmillan has spent years developing a robust podcast network to build and then capture that interest in audio content. On their podcast network Macmillan Podcasts they feature podcasts hosted by their authors like Astro Poets, companion podcasts to books like The Girls: Find Sadie, or as completely unique content like Steal the Stars.
That’s why we asked Kathy Doyle, VP of Podcasting at Macmillan, to share her perspective on audio in publishing. She describes Macmillan’s podcasting content strategy – how they design podcasts to best support their authors as well as the collaborative process that brings those podcasts to life. She pulls back the curtain on how Macmillan works with distribution platforms, as well as how she and her team think about creating mutually beneficial advertising relationships.
Plus, whether indie publishers or self-published authors should get in the podcasting game, and what big changes in the industry she’s excited to see in 2020.
What is your history with audio and podcasting?
I joined Macmillan at the end of 2011. I was hired as the director of what was already a podcasting network at that time – called Quick and Dirty Tips. QDT had already been around for 3 or 4 years by the time I joined, but it was a dual platform. It had this major website, which it still has today, and it had a podcasting arm. I was hired to run the collective – the entire network. I have run websites almost my entire career. I started in digital at the Wall Street Journal back when the internet was emerging as a format and already had some familiarity with podcasting in 2011, so I was hired by Mary Beth Roche to take on the entire business unit as its director.
Tell about your role in developing audio strategy at Macmillan
I’m primarily responsible for the podcast networks. We now have two networks, [one of which is] QDT. From QDT we learned a lot about format and what we were finding was that we were trying to put authors of all types into that “quick and dirty” format of providing actionable, interesting information in 8 mins or less. We were finding that we had an opportunity because podcasting was starting to emerge as a bigger, bolder format for media consumption. We had the opportunity to start a second network, which we called Macmillan Podcasts. That really enabled us to strategically use authors of all types from some of the best imprints in the world – Henry Holt, St. Martin’s Press, Flatiron Books – and allow those authors to come onto the platform. We worked with them to develop various types of programming, which was not as contained as the QDT model. We’ve been able to do some fiction, some audio drama, we’ve done a lot of interview format. We’ve really expanded our capabilities from a strategic standpoint on the podcasting side.
What do you think about the relationship between podcasts and audiobooks? Are you both competing for the same ear time?
There’s definitely some crossover. APA came out with a study earlier this year that said 55% of people who had listened to an audiobook have also listened to podcasts. We’ve just seen an absolute explosion in audio as a form of consumption for media. It’s shifting paradigms. It’s really powerful. We don’t feel as though it’s competitive in nature at all. It’s strategic for us. We used to say that podcasts were audiobooks-lite — they were for someone who wanted to dabble in the format or hadn’t listened to spoken word audio before and this gave them a free and somewhat frictionless way to dabble in that media. But I think what we’re seeing is that people who want information via audio want all kinds of information via audio whether it’s short format or long format, book or podcast. Whether it’s because they’re driving or they’re exercising or making dinner, whatever it is, they can do other things while they’re consuming spoken word audio.
So you’re seeing this audio boom as a result of multi-tasking from the listener standpoint?
It can be. It’s not always. I mean, some people are very content to just listen and absorb the content the way they would if they were nose-deep in a book. I can just speak to the fact that we see a lot of research and hear from our listeners very specifically about how they listen to podcasts and audiobooks — what they’re doing at the time of consumption. I had an Uber driver in L.A. say something to me that I hear all the time, “I listen to podcasts to learn. I don’t always listen to podcasts when I’m in the gym. I want music to give me motivation, but when I’m doing housework or when I’m driving my Uber and I don’t have a patron in the car, I want to learn. And that’s when I turn to podcasting.” I hear that all the time.
Let’s turn to Macmillan podcasting specifically. Macmillan Podcasts are divided into two groups – Bold Voices and Addictive Stories. Tell me more about how you developed those two areas of focus.
It definitely happened organically. What happened was we found that we were being approached by editors, we were identifying talent on our own, and it just felt like the right way to start the process early on of developing a catalog — a podcast catalog — in ways that we could define categories.
The Bold Voices really are author-hosted shows where there’s someone with authority — who has something to say — typically nonfiction. All the QDT shows fall into that format to some extent. We have shows like I Love You, But I Hate Your Politics which is [hosted by] Jeanne Safer who wrote a book about how to navigate politically troubled times when you have a partner, a colleague, a family member who you don’t see eye to eye with.
The Addictive Stories, that’s the very elusive driveway moment we’re all looking for. [A driveway moment describes audio that keeps you in your car to listen, even after you’ve arrived at your destination.]
Those are stories that capture you emotionally and you don’t want to let go. So that’s Steal the Stars, our audio drama which we described as Arrival meets Ocean’s Eleven. It had everything – it had heist, it had romance, it had crime, it had all kinds of elements that comprised a very engaging, richly entertaining story that you wanted to binge. But That’s Another Story is our narrative book podcast hosted by Will Schwalbe who is an executive here and also a bestselling author. He talks to people in a very powerful way about a book that changed their life. He’s spoken to everyone from Jodi Foster to Min Jin Lee. he just had the hilarious macmillan author Gary Janetti.
How do you learn about your audience?
There’s a variety of things that we can do. Podcasting is a deeply engaged medium, so we get a lot of listener feedback. We have voice mailboxes set up for every show where people can call in and leave feedback or, in the case of some of the Bold Voices shows or QDT shows, leave a comment or question. We very carefully monitor ratings and reviews, we can learn a lot there. We’ve done some work with little focus groups where we bring people together and do listening parties to see what kind of reaction we get. We’ll get some from our ad broker; that helps give us demographic and other details about the listeners. The other thing we can do is on the backend of some of the distributor platforms, we can actually see things like what we call retention. If you have a 40 minute episode and you see that 60% or higher are dropping off after 20 minutes, [you can learn] about what listeners are staying tuned for, what adjustments we might need to make to the format or the approach to better serve the listening community. The platforms do not have the same consistent information from platform to platform but we sort of know what elements we want to look for.
What factors are you keeping in mind when developing a new podcast?
There’s still this perception that I think is shifting as competition increases and the industry learns more about podcasting, but there’s definitely this perception that it’s really easy to pull off a podcast. And it is incredibly difficult and challenging work. It takes a lot of different people in the mix. We look at talent holistically. We want to make sure that we’re making choices that serve our publishers, that serve our talent, that serve the listening community for our podcasts. It’s all of those things. We get together with potential talent, we talk about an arc or a creative approach to the show. Then, we’ll do a creative brief where we talk about who the audience is just like a book – what are the comps that are out there that we can use as comparisons for how the show might do or the kind of approach we might take? We talk about the creative process, we talk about the workflow and make sure everybody’s on the same page. We talk about the schedule, which is really important. We talk about the business arrangement, which is also really important. We sort of work all that through and then we might do a pilot or a trailer or talk to our distributors about relationships for the show. It’s a really elongated process. It doesn’t happen overnight and it’s very collaborative.
Who makes up the team that brings a podcast together?
One of the best things about working at Macmillan is how incredibly collaborative we are. Everyone from the marketers to the publicists to the editors, we’re all involved in the decision-making process. This is an organization that cares deeply about its authors and takes very good care of their authors. so we want to make sure that we’re making the best possible decisions both for our organization and for the talent.
We will work with the editor to develop the relationship with the author or the host. When we get ready to launch the podcast, we’ll work with the marketer and the publicist from the imprint to make sure we’re all in sync in terms of who we’re pitching to, what kind of work we’re going to do on the marketing side. And then we just make sure that the editors get to listen to stuff before it goes out. We stay in very close touch throughout the entire process. Most communication happens up front but it is a true collaborative effort from start to finish.
Are you proactively approaching talent?
It’s all over the place. We do spend some time identifying talent. We [also] work within our imprints to try and find talent who would make good podcast hosts or guests. On the QDT side we will often bring up an emerging talent who is starting to grow a platform. We will work with them to grow their podcast and then work to help them secure a book.
What makes for a good podcast host?
I think it has to be someone who listens to podcasts — someone who embraces and understands the medium and what the pros and cons of the medium are. I think it’s someone who has to be willing to work and not just sit in a studio and read a script that they just wrote. For us, it’s about the collaborative nature of podcasting, and making sure that everyone is in tune and in sync with the goals and the objectives that we work toward in terms of developing and launching a podcast.
[For new hosts] we will do some training. We had a conversation this morning about one of the QDT hosts who was interrupting a guest with “uh huh” and making auditory affirmations as you would in a normal conversation. In podcasting we tell our hosts, “Tell your guest up front that you won’t be acknowledging them because you might not be in the same room.” If it’s a Skype interview or done via the studio, they can’t always see the person they’re communicating with. So it feels very natural to want to say “uh huh” or “yes, I agree” but you’re interrupting the flow of your guest’s statement in a way that’s going to make it difficult for the producer to put it out there as great-quality content.
That’s just one kind of small example but I think people who aren’t used to working in an audio format definitely need to be trained and educated on what suits the format best in terms of developing and creating and releasing the best possible experience for the listener — the highest quality for the listener.
We have such incredible guests — a lot of them are authors also, sometimes they’re outside experts. [Hosts] get involved in these really deep, interesting, engaging conversations and they’re so excited about the content they’re getting they forget that they have to be mindful of the format and the experience.
What about distribution? Which platforms do you use, and what benefits do you see from distributing your podcasts on multiple platforms?
I would say one of the advantages we bring to the table is our longevity because we’ve been podcasting for over a decade, we have great relationships with the long-standing distributors like Stitchers, Apple Podcasts and the new players that have come into the space. We’ve worked hard to develop those relationships over time — Spotify, Pandora, iHeart. We have great relationships with all of those teams. We’re not one-off shows just looking to boost our downloads. We are looking to build sustainable, long-term relationships with these partners.
One of the distributors came in recently with some back-end features and functionality that they wanted to test. They wanted to get our opinion; how would we use this data and how would we use these features. So our team got together in a conference room and we went through it with them step by step and we provided them with feedback about how we would use those features. It’s a two way street. Every conversation we have with our partners, we always make an ask — we might be asking for something whether it’s a promotion or for them to entertain a pitch, but we will not get off that call or leave that meeting without saying “How can we better serve you as well?”
What about podcast advertising? How is advertising on the medium changing?
There are two different camps on the ad side. There are branded campaigns which are general awareness and brand lift, so there’s nothing specific the listener has to do except retain that information the next time they’re in the drug store and need to buy moisturizer. There’s also what we call direct response which is really what grew the industry. The Squarespaces and the Mailchimps — they built this space for many podcasters.
Direct response is really labor intensive on our end because we have to make sure the talking points are correct, we have to make sure the promo code works, we have to make sure the URL works. A lot of the times [a promo code will be] mailchimp.com/grammar. Well we have to make sure that page exists before we have our host record that ad and put it out in the feed because we’re protecting our listeners. We want to make sure the ads are as accurate and as compelling and as engaging as the rest of the content. It’s hard work to deliver an ad well and sound genuine.
We also have requirements. A lot of times we turn away from advertisers if our host can’t support their product in a way that is genuine and viable and will make for a good ad read. I hear a lot of hosts on other shows — you can tell they just have the ad points in front of them and they’re literally just reading them with no emphasis with no personal experience with no integrity. We strive to make sure that doesn’t happen. As a result we leave some money on the table. If you’re a big listener, you know.
Not everyone obviously has the capacity of Macmillan or a big publisher to develop such a robust audio strategy. Do you recommend that indie presses or indie authors get in the game of podcasting or audio content?
There’s a lot of debate in the industry right now. I was just on a panel at Digital Hollywood and this was one of the premises of the panel – Do you need a network? Networks bring a lot of great support. They bring resources, they bring manpower, they bring history and experience. All of that said, it’s very competitive.
But if you are someone who has a story to tell, who has an experience to share, who has an expertise that will benefit, I’m all for developing an independent podcast. There are incredible resources out there to teach you how to do just that and the cost point — there’s very little barrier to entry. You need to buy a microphone; you need to buy some software. People can do it independently and some of the best and longest-running podcasts out there started out this way. It’s not as easy as it used to be to make that success happen. But, it’s also a great way to train and to test yourself on the medium before you have a big team behind you. You can try things out on your own that you wouldn’t be able to do if you were a part of a distribution platform or a big network. And I’m really impressed with some of the companies and people in the industry who have come forward to develop incredible training resources for anyone who independently wants to start a podcast. It is doable.
So it sounds like what you’re saying with the indies is that not everyone needs a podcast, but if you feel strongly that you have a unique perspective that fits in audio, and you have the bandwidth, you should learn how to do this and do it right.
Write it down, develop a plan — a full-blown plan that includes what you’d cover in the first 5-6 episodes. A plan that covers the format of the episode, how long you want them to be, how many voices will there be? Will it be just you behind a microphone or will you be having guests? you really need to think through strategically. Treat each episode as if it’s a separate project. Intertwined, but a separate project. And figure out how you want to approach those episodes so that you’re developing a curated collection of your best work.
What new developments are you excited for in audio?
Some of the platforms are developing really interesting social sharing and other kinds of features. Spotify, for example, has developed customized playlists which can be done in a variety of different ways. You can actually integrate a playlist that has music and podcast episodes and then you can share it to your audience. That’s really powerful. We’ve been having a lot of fun with that. QDT has so much great New Year, New You content, so we’ll be developing a variety of playlists that will tackle that topic in ways that nobody else can.
The other thing that I’m watching closely is data attribution. You often hear podcasting referred to as the wild west, which it’s not anymore.That may have been true five years ago but now I think it’s really grown up a lot. Ensuring that we are all reporting our listens accurately is critically important because we all want to monetize with advertisers and they need to be able to trust the data they are getting from us. The Interactive Advisory Bureau has gotten involved. They have developed standards and compliance [for podcasting]. We are compliant on the platforms that we’re on, but not all podcasters and not all platforms are yet compliant with these standards. [We want to be sure] that 500k downloads on this platform is the same as 500k downloads on that platform. There were a lot of discrepancies in the data. So that’s all being resolved and I think 2020 will be a big year in terms of seeing that into fruition.
As people have shifted to the compliant standards, and as the hosting platforms that these podcasts reside on have made changes on their backend to bring those systems up to full compliance, people have seen shifts in their download numbers. Sometimes quite dramatic! Consistency across the board is key and I think we’ll see that by the end of 2020.
One of the challenges on the content side is that of the top 200 podcasts on the Apple platform, 32% are now hosted by major celebrities or influencers. That’s huge. And it makes it really hard for the rest of us. That trend will continue – big name celebrities getting into the space. I think we’re going to see continued consolidation of some of the content providers as it makes sense for businesses to evolve and join forces together. We just saw Wondery and NBC strike a joint partnership. A year or two years ago, [a big trend] was VC money entering the space. That’s what everyone was following really closely. Now I think that’s shifting a little bit towards other kinds of partnerships.
In terms of genres, there’s opportunity and room for YA content. That’s changing a little bit, but there’s still opportunity there. And travel.
What podcasts are you listening to?
I love Dolly Parton’s America. It’s a brilliant new podcast that’s been getting a lot of buzz. I’ve also been listening to a show called The City which is from Wondery. This season focuses on the city of Reno and some aging strip clubs that are causing some issues with the city. I’ve only listened to one episode but it’s really interesting and I will definitely be continuing. There’s another season ofthe Jet Propulsion Lab’s podcast. My son is in aerospace so I follow that closely. And I’ve just become addicted to the daily news shows. I listen to Up First from NPR and I listen to The Daily religiously. I find that especially because I have a long commute those are great ways to stay informed.
At least two distribution platforms now have daily drive playlists that they are curating for listeners based on their listening habits. A lot of our shows are falling into those categories as well. The recognition that podcasting can be used as a means of entertainment and information for your full commute end to end is really becoming reality.
Kathy Doyle is the Vice President of Podcasts for Macmillan Publishers.
She runs the Macmillan Podcast Network, which produces popular podcasts
with the organization’s bestselling authors and book imprints. Current
podcasts range from sci-fi and true crime to literature and self-help.
She also oversees one of Macmillan’s largest digital networks, Quick and
Dirty Tips. QDT produces a dozen weekly award-winning audio podcasts
hosted by subject matter experts on a wide range of topics. Podcasts
include the long-running Grammar Girl and Savvy Psychologist. The
network has a large web presence, too, which features content from the
podcast hosts and a large variety of Macmillan authors.
How University of Nebraska Press uses NetGalley for their trade titles
Academic presses face unique challenges and opportunities in the publishing landscape. Their connection to universities, university funding, and grant funding is a great support as they often publish in more niche areas, but because of this they can’t always count on a built-in audience the way a big romance or YA publisher can. Plus, their books target a range of readers – from academics researching incredibly specific topics to a general trade audience. Because of the particularities of academic publishing, the way that they market books is slightly different from general trade marketing.
Here, University of Nebraska Press shares their NetGalley strategy – from how they decide which of their titles to make available to the NetGalley community, to how they help authors promote their own books, and how they capitalized on a surprise cultural zeitgeist months ahead of the publication of the memoir From Chernobyl with Love.
As an academic publisher, what is your overall NetGalley strategy?
We are an academic publisher and university press. However, we are lucky to have two trade imprints (Bison Books and Potomac Books) as well as a robust list of Nebraska books that are truly for general readers, i.e. creative nonfiction, poetry, sports history, and much more. Because of our unique list, and limited profile on NetGalley, we tend to make books available that we feel appeal to the larger NetGalley audience or books with authors who are well-connected, active on social media, and ready to promote their forthcoming book.
NetGalley widgets have been most helpful when a contact is overseas or they need the book asap for an interview or short deadline. I also love the feedback activity snapshot, along with the reviews. It’s so encouraging to see a cover that’s been “liked” 52 times or that a description is really resonating with readers.
How do you think about promoting titles to both academic audiences and to commercial ones? How do you encourage your authors to promote their books?
Each of our books are important, but not every book has the luxury of multiple audiences. The fact is, some academic books are meant for scholars in their respective fields and not for the casual reader interested in the subject. And that’s ok! NetGalley users can expect our digital review copies to be readable, different, and occupying an area where perhaps larger publishers wouldn’t publish. Those who Favorite our page will see trade books of Western fiction, memoir, poetry, and sports (usually baseball!).
I always encourage authors to talk about their book in public spaces. Whether that’s online or at a bookstore or library event; if an author is engaging with their potential audience their book will likely have more success. My advice for academic publishers is to know your authors’ strengths (and weaknesses). If an author isn’t comfortable doing speaking engagements, set them up for success with an op-ed opportunity to share their expertise with a larger readership that normally wouldn’t come across their book.
What are some of the unique challenges you face as an academic press competing with big trade publishers for reader attention?
It is a challenge going “up against” the big houses. I can’t count the amount of times we’ve had a very similar book set to publish and then a big house announces their title publishing right before ours. Usually their book will drown out our own because of the sheer volume of resources they have compared to ours. But on the other hand, sometimes those situations benefit us because our book will get grouped in with a bigger title’s national review. We also offer books that bigger houses are simply not publishing. That fact alone makes our list unique and hopefully intriguing to our readers.
How do you engage your authors in the pre-publication process?
Katya Cengel is a repeat author of ours. She’s a journalist and no stranger to how difficult it is to promote a new book. We wanted to give her the tools she needed when promoting her work and having the digital galley available [via NetGalley] was a part of that plan.
Katya’s previous books are Bluegrass Baseball: A Year in the Minor League Life (Nebraska, 2012) and Exiled: From the Killing Fields of Cambodia to California and Back (Potomac Books, 2018). The former was published just as I was beginning my career at Nebraska but the book’s topic came up years after when one of the baseball players, Jose Altuve, was named the American League MVP in 2017. For the latter, the focus for Exiled began as regional California but soon became a more national story as immigration and refugees dominated national headlines. She writes about that experience here. For her Chernobyl book, we knew there was interest surrounding the show, so even though it wasn’t to be published until November 2019 – we worked together to get coverage beforehand (Cengel wrote an essay called “Doing Homebrew Vodka Shots in the Shadow of Chernobyl” for the Daily Beast in May 2019, for example).
It seems like there’s a big surge of interest in Chernobyl lately, in part due to the HBO show, Chernobyl. And maybe a general anxiety about climate disasters. How does From Chernobyl with Love fit into this trend?
The interest in Chernobyl and the publication of Katya Cengel’s book was sort of fortuitous. She writes about it eloquently in a blog post here.
She writes, “I was counting on interest in Russia and the region [after the 2016 election] to help sales of my next book,From Chernobyl with Love: Reporting from the Ruins of the Soviet Union, but I didn’t expect the younger crowd to recognize Chernobyl. I had learned this the hard way while lecturing college students about Chernobyl—considered the world’s worst nuclear accident—and being met with blank stares.
Then the summer beforeFrom Chernobyl with Love [published], HBO released Chernobyl, a television miniseries starring Emily Watson that dramatizes the 1986 nuclear plant disaster. Suddenly Chernobyl was all over the news. There were stories in USA Today, the New York Times and Vanity Fair. A generation born after the explosion suddenly was interested in what happened more than three decades ago.”
You left From Chernobyl with Love on NetGalley through its publication date and into its post-pub phase for a month. Why is that the right timing for you?
We left the book available through its publication month because often times, that is when interview requests come in. It gives us and the author a bit more time to provide quick and easy access to the book. The extra time also gives NetGalley readers a chance to finish the book and post a review if they haven’t already.
How do you grant access to your books?
We tend to be pretty liberal when accepting requests to download our books. If you’re a reviewer for a widely known media outlet, ALA librarian, or a bookstore owner or employee, you’ll likely be Auto-Approved. But we love to see readers with blogs or book clubs as well. Some of the best reviews have been from dedicated readers and I’ll try to share those with the authors when we receive them. It’s always nice to hear someone has read and enjoyed your book whether they work for the New York Times or are an avid reader.
How important are consumer reviews to your trade books?
Speaking only for myself here, I think consumer reviews are so important for our books! With all the never-ending-online chatter thanks to social media, it makes it more difficult to promote a book. I think a lot of people are more likely to get a book from a friend’s recommendation. So when I see a bunch of Goodreads reviews that came from NetGalley users, it makes me happy! We normally wouldn’t see that kind of response without engaging in a readerly community.
We love that so many NetGalley members are posting to Goodreads! [As of Jan 28, 2020 52% of the reviews on Goodreads mentioned that they received the book via NetGalley.] Typically those are all organic reviews. For From Chernobyl with Love, I did follow up with users who hadn’t posted a review yet to let them know that the digital galley would be archived by the end of the month. And for users who did, I simply thanked them for their reviews, whether they enjoyed the book or not. All feedback is useful.
What advice do you have for academic presses on NetGalley? How can they get the most out of their title listings?
Any academic press wanting to utilize NetGalley should! My advice is to be honest and realistic about your books – what titles cross into the trade market? If you are promoting a book on NetGalley, have a purpose or plan behind it. Maybe the author is well connected and willing to share widgets often, maybe you expect a ton of review copy requests and can’t send physical review copies, or maybe you want to experiment and see what the NetGalley community is interested in. Whatever the reason, just have one!
Rosemary Sekora is the publicity manager at the University of Nebraska Press. She is on the board of the Nebraska Literary Heritage Association and coordinated the Nebraska Book Festival for four years. She holds a Bachelor of Journalism from the University of Nebraska-Lincoln and is currently working on her masters in creative writing. You can follow her on Twitter at @rasekora.
Upcoming conferences, panels, webinars, and networking opportunities
In February, the publishing industry really gets into the swing of the new year. We’ve caught up on our inboxes, recovered from our holiday breaks, and have hit the ground running! At NetGalley Insights, we’re looking forward to learning more about production and accessibility (including audio production!), marketing, and overall industry innovation.
If you are hosting or attending an event in March or after, email firstname.lastname@example.org so we can feature it.
“The conference, hosted by the Book Manufacturing Institute, will bring together publishers, manufacturers, printers, binders and other pieces of the value chain to help educate those involved in making the printed book. This conference is for anyone involved in the creation of the printed book. Publishers, manufacturers, binders, distributors and others will learn the foundations as well as current trends in book manufacturing. Session Topics will cover the following areas: Pre-press and workflow, paper and other materials, print processes (Offset, Toner, Inkjet), finishing and binding, distribution and logistics, as well as other trends and issues facing the book industry today.“
“The marketplace for short-run and on-demand printing solutions has expanded significantly in the past several years. This program will address where the industry is, how it may evolve, and what you can do now to take advantage of this important manufacturing option. This event is co-located with the Book Manufacturers’ Institute’s “Book Manufacturing Mastered” event, for which a separate registration is available.”
“Please join us to hear four bestselling authors talk about the importance of genre fiction and connecting with readers through unique vantage points. Whether you love reading mysteries, romance, dystopian fiction, or sci-fi, or simply enjoy exploring literary styles and categories, this will be a night to remember. Learn how Sarah MacLean, described as the “queen of historical romance,” links gender and cultural studies in works translated into more than 20 languages. Find out how current events inspire Tochi Onyebuchi (War Girls, Beasts Made of Night) to write science fiction and fantasy for teens and adults. Get the inside story on how Veronica Roth, author of the Divergent series and Carve the Mark duology, weaves her cautionary tales. Hear internationally acclaimed mystery writer Karin Slaughter discuss her latest bestseller, The Last Widow. Moderator Pamela Paul, editor of the New York Times Book Review and all book coverage at the paper, will guide the conversation into exciting new directions.”
“Join professionals in kids comics for this presentation and informal networking event. We will start by chatting with entrepreneur Manuel Godoy about how he started publishing company Black Sands Entertainment from scratch, and has grown it to more than 25,000 books sold, 10,0000 customers, and $500K in gross revenue in less than three years. Then we’ll hang out and talk comics together while enjoying Resobox’s tea and Japanese snacks.Anyone who works in children’s graphic novel publishing or promotion is invited to attend, including artists, writers, editors, librarians, agents, book designers, booksellers, reviewers, etc.”
“Redefining what love looks like. A panel discussion featuring Adriana Herrera, Author and President of NYC chapter of Romance Writers of America, Cindy Hwang, VP and Editorial Director of Berkley Publishing Group, Kim Lionetti, Senior Literary Agent at BookEnds Literary Agency, Kristine Swartz, Senior Editor at Berkley Publishing Group.”
“The theme for this year’s conference is “Publishing in the Clouds: Practical Solutions for Big Ideas” PubWest 2020 will feature keynotes by Charlotte Abbott, founder and director of FutureProof Content Strategy; Laura Brief, CEO of 826 National; Guy LeCharles Gonzalez, project lead, Panorama Project; and Andrew Proctor, executive director, Literary. Pre-conference intensive sessions include (now included free for PubWest members with conference registration): “From Start-Up to a Sustainable Business” and “The Art of Literary Publishing.” The PubWest 2020 Conference will include: Intensive sessions with leading industry experts, lively panel discussions that present new perspectives, informative peer-to-peer seminars, inspiring keynote speakers, fun and valuable social and networking opportunities.”
“Most book publishers are still producing books in the same way they did five or even ten years ago. Anyone starting a new publishing company in 2020 could do well to challenge how things are done by not simply accepting ‘this is the way we’ve always done it.’ But what can established publishers learn from this fresh approach? Ken Jones invites us to rethink how we work by looking at some of the new and emerging tools and services that can help book publishers today. From cloud storage and better communication to ideas and new methods for document creation; from page layout to image manipulation and illustration though to proofing and commenting. Even sharing of advance copies, exporting and publishing can be refreshed.”
Currently less than 8% of the world’s books ever make it into accessible formats. Making our books, ebooks and other content accessible is crucial, both from an ethical standpoint and as a legal requirement. This presentation is aimed at digital publishing professionals wanting to improve their publishing practices using EPUB in 2020. The training plan: Adding accessibility within InDesign, extra Recommend tools (Sigil, Brackets, GreenLight), EPUB types, ARIA Roles & semantics, image descriptions and alt text -Structure, TOCs, Page Lists, Landmarks and supplemental lists, language declarations and shifts, adding Schema.org Metadata, checking accessibility with ACE, modern ebook reading software for accessible EPUB content, Stop Press! Also to include a look at the brand new format recommended by W3C for Audiobooks.
By Sarah Miniaci – Senior Publicity Consultant at Smith Publicity, Inc.
With a brand new year (and for that matter, new decade) now upon us, why not bring the spirit of New Year’s resolutions into your NetGalley practices to create even better outcomes for your books in the months ahead?
At Smith Publicity, we’ve had the pleasure of working with NetGalley and its amazing community of members since 2012. We have discovered that one of the best ways of uncovering opportunities and opening doors for our authors and their books is through the careful and strategic use of NetGalley activity reports — or more specifically, careful and strategic follow ups and engagement with the contacts on your NetGalley reports, which provide you with all of the information and tools you need to get started.
Before we dive into the nitty-gritty of tips and tricks for making 2020 your best year on NetGalley yet, here are some examples of how we use NetGalley reporting to build relationships, boost pre-orders, and build buzz.
While looking at the NetGalley history for an upcoming nonfiction title, we discovered a librarian whose bio noted that she books authors and events for her library’s prestigious author talks program. Using that information, we were able to secure a sold-out ticketed book launch event for the author, generating hundreds of pre-order hardcover sales in the process.
For fiction releases — particularly genre fiction, i.e. romance, sci-fi, horror, and crime/thriller — identifying contacts on the Feedback Report who are consistently active and influential on Bookstagram and in the blogger community and reaching out to them to build rapport, offer physical ARCs or final copies (if/when applicable), and establish a plan for release-window coverage can make all the difference in setting the stage for a ‘splashy’ launch and building strong consumer market visibility for a new title. Check out these gorgeous #Bookstagram posts from our friends — and active NetGalley members! — @bookishbellee, @watchmereadingnerdy, @abduliacoffeebookaddict23, @booksandchinooks and @candice_reads in support of the fall 2019 release of Katherine Kayne’s debut novel Bound in Flame (The Hawaiian Ladies’ Riding Society, Book #1).
Keeping track of the NetGalley members who leave positive reviews for a title can pay off in the long-term. Near the end of 2019, we went back to a list of NetGalley contacts who had left passionately positive reviews for Dutch Girl: Audrey Hepburn and World War IIby Robert Matzen — a historical biography title released in spring 2019 — to advise that the Goodreads Choice Awards had just begun accepting nominations and encouraging them to vote, if they felt so inclined. As a direct result of this effort, the book – which had not previously been listed among Goodreads’ category selections – made it to the Semi-Finalist round in the ‘History & Biography’ category of the Goodreads Choice Awards.
And so, without further ado, here are six NetGalley Resolutions for 2020:
Look at member profiles during periods of especially high activity. Carve out the time to take a look through not just your Detailed Activity Report, but also the Member Profiles that pop out when you click on a name within the Approval History > Members with Access section. These periods will typically be when you’ve recently uploaded a title to NetGalley, or you’ve nominated and it’s been selected by the NetGalley editorial team for a Homepage Feature or Category Spotlight. Often, you’ll find useful background information and secondary links in this section which will signal that it would be smart to make a personal connection with this contact beyond the automated Approval Email they got when they were given access to the book. And remember, you don’t need to make your first point of contact a robust pitch — a simple “Thanks for your interest and please feel free to contact me with any questions or requests!” will absolutely suffice if you’re still deciding how you want to maximize interest and what you’re able to offer to requesters.
Think about ‘extras’ or bonus content you can offer to NetGalley members whose interest in the book you want to make the most of. If you have extra paperback ARCs or even final copies on hand and are keen to drive early reviews on NetGalley, Goodreads, and Amazon, or to see the book gain traction with the #Bookstagram community, Facebook book club groups, etc., it may not be a bad idea to send an email around to the contacts on your Members with Access list who haven’t yet left a review, asking them if they’d be interested in receiving a physical copy or running a giveaway for their followers, which can be a great way to create exposure when the contact is interested in the book but doesn’t yet have the time to read and review it. Depending on the book, other ‘extras’ and bonus content you can include might be Q&As with or guest posts from the author, special ‘swag’ related to the book, and the list goes on. Ultimately this all serves as a way to build connections and rapport with your “warm leads” and make the most of the organic interest you received on NetGalley.
Target outreach by member type. Depending on the author’s location, and their ability and willingness to travel and attend events, do signings and speaking engagements, etc., consider fragmenting out relevant Bookseller and Librarian member types on NetGalley. You can easily sort the Members with Access page to this effect by clicking the little up/down arrow next to the ‘Member Type’ column. Make a dedicated outreach effort to open the door to conversation about opportunities for appearances and other collaborations.
Include helpful info in your follow ups. When following up with NetGalley members — especially Librarians and Booksellers — remember that it is essential that you include ISBN, publisher/publication date, and sales/distribution (i.e. how they can order the book) details in your pitch. Also: please don’t solely reference Amazon as the preferred retailer for purchases! As a general rule of thumb in any pitch you’re sending out, anywhere you have an Amazon link should also have Barnes & Noble and IndieBound links.
Keep track of the NetGalley contacts who leave passionately positive reviews While it’s something of a Golden Rule to not engage with or try to debate negative reviews (!!!), we have seen many benefits come from corresponding with NetGalley’s highly engaged, book-loving community of readers who have really enjoyed titles we’ve been able to provide. Some follow ups you might consider conducting with positive NetGalley reviewers include encouraging review cross-posts to Amazon, B&N, and other online retail sites after the book has officially released, advising of any special deals or promos (a reader who absolutely loved a book may be inclined to share news of a deal with their network), offering to send a special signed final copy of the book as a thank-you, establishing that they want to be on the ARC pitch list for the next book in the series, and more. This is as much about building relationships as it is about building visibility for your book! Which brings me to our next and final resolution…
Be gracious, be kind, be generous, and always try to give more than you get. In every area of life, it’s so important to recognize and appreciate that everyone is doing their best and while things aren’t always going to work out exactly the way you’ve planned for or anticipated, you’ll get a lot farther and feel a lot better by treating others with respect and kindness, and being generous of spirit wherever possible. Not everyone who requests and receives access to your book on NetGalley is going to be able to carve out the time in their busy life and TBR stack to read and review it — and that’s OK ! Not everyone who does so is going to love it (also completely OK, and to be expected)! Resolve to follow the ultimate Golden Rule when it comes to NetGalley etiquette and in any follow-ups or engagement you conduct, treat others as you would want to be treated. I will go so far as to guarantee that this, above all, will help to make 2020 your most productive, positive, and fun year on NetGalley yet.
And now for our own resolution! Now that we are using NetGalley Advanced, we have access to new tools and reports to help us look at our overall NetGalley usage. Firstly, we want to get more comfortable using all of our new capabilities, incorporating them into our NetGalley workflow. But beyond that, we want to carve out dedicated time every season to look at our overall NetGalley usage. We will make dedicated time to look at charts like the New Titles Created chart, the Types of Access Over Time chart, the Types of Access pie chart, and the Activity by Member Type chart to make sure that we are consistently uploading new titles, using all appropriate approval tools at our disposal, and engaging successfully with different member types.
Sarah Miniaci is a Senior Publicity Consultant at Smith Publicity – one of the leading book publicity agencies in the world, with offices in Toronto and New Jersey. Founded in 1997, Smith Publicity has worked with more than 3,000 authors and publishers, from New York Times bestsellers to first time, self-published authors.
Darkly gothic and brightly illustrated book covers ruled 2019
Competition is tough to catch a reader’s eye as they browse at their local bookstore or library, or as they click through pages from an online retailer. A compelling cover can make a huge difference for drawing in new readers.
In 2019, we saw book publishers lean into both moody, nature-inspired covers as well as bright and graphic covers for their books. To inspire you and your design team in 2020, we’ve rounded up some of the biggest book design trends we saw in 2019.
Snakes were top-of-mind for design teams in 2019. Snakes give these book covers an eerie sensibility, an association with forbidden knowledge, the natural world, and, in the case of The Undying, a medical edge.
Pastel Color Blocks
Pastel purples, oranges, yellows, greens, and blues drew attention when they appeared on bookshelves in 2019. Téa Obreht and Jacqueline Woodson hit bestseller lists with Inland and Red at the Bone, respectively. The pastel colors are bright and engaging without being overwhelming and the collage aesthetic gives the books an intimate feeling.
Moody, Overgrown Vegetation
In 2019, books across genres looked more and more like gothic gardens.The lush, overgrown look could indicate a dense plot, full of secrets and mysteries like Tell No One or sprawling fantasies like The Ten Thousand Doors of January.
Repetitive Geometric Shapes
Some of the buzziest books of the year incorporated geometric repetition, including You Know You Want This, the debut short story collection from “Cat Person” author Kristen Roupenian and Miriam Toews’ Women Talking, inspired by real-life events. The repetition of these shapes suggests behaviors repeating, shared experiences, and a hypnotic reading experience.
Brightly Illustrated Romances
Some of the biggest romance novels in 2018 had illustrated covers (The Kiss Quotient, The Proposal) and we still saw that trend on the rise through 2019. Compared to the traditional, photo-realistic covers of historical romances and mass market romances, these illustrated romances tend to appeal to readers who might not consider themselves romance readers. Berkley is at the center of this trend.
Cindy Hwang, Vice President and Editorial Director at Berkley told NetGalley Insights, “We wanted to showcase the modern, fun quality of some of our new contemporary romances, and the illustrated approach really stood out for its versatility and vibrancy. We keep things fresh by playing with different ideas and colors to suit the story and characters. We’ve now branched out into illustrating historical romance covers, something that hadn’t been widely done in the genre, and we’re thrilled by the positive early response.
Overlapping Words and Design
Like the gothic garden cover trend, we saw book covers where the design was integrated with the text – under waves for The Water Dancer and licked by flames in Who Are You, Calvin Bledsoe? In addition to making a strong visual impression, overlapping words and text lets readers know that they can expect an immersive reading experience.
Titles were shaved into, braided into, and intertwined with hair on book covers in 2019. How we style our hair is one way that we express our unique personalities. Hairstyles, colors, and textures also have deep cultural resonances – cornrows, locs, buzzcuts, long braids, and bobs, to name a few. Books like Queenie and Juliet Takes a Breath used hair in their cover art to signify intimacy and the mix of personal and cultural.