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
Using NetGalley tools as a centralized hub for your data
We believe in the power of data. Publishers tell us all the time that they’re looking for more ways to use the data that’s at their fingertips, and we are always happy to work with publishers to help you develop your own unique strategies to use data to target followup, track where reviews are being shared, and to build an even more engaged community on NetGalley. But it’s also important to take a step back and look at the big picture. Early data across titles, imprints, and time can give you real wisdom about what’s working, how you can expect your books to perform, and how to give every book its greatest chance of success.
So, we’re reinforcing that bigger picture–why you should be looking at your early data, plus some ways that you can use both NetGalley Classic and NetGalley Advanced as a centralized hub for data collection and analysis.
Understanding likely results is a crucial part of setting expectations and creating new goals. In NetGalley, you can compare historical data to see how other similar titles have performed in the past, helping you more easily develop those benchmarks and expectations.
“There is never a one-size-fits all marketing plan,” says Kristina Radke, VP, Business Growth at NetGalley. “Publishers have a lot of considerations when building their strategy — genre of book, debut versus established author, marketing budget, pub season, etc. — and they should also be thinking specifically about what they’ve learned from past performances.”
The Title Summary Report shows side-by-side NetGalley activity for a custom group of titles to help you understand standard performance as you’re setting new goals. The report includes Impressions, Requests, Approvals, Downloads, and amount of Feedback, among other data points. You can choose to view a list of titles based on pub date and category, and even narrow based on imprint or whether the books are still active on NetGalley.
For instance: If you’re curious how your Science Fiction titles performed this year compared to last year, use this report to see all of those titles together to understand how that category is trending. Or, if you have a forthcoming book from an established author, you can use this report to find all of your titles from that author in order to see how the previous books performed on NetGalley. This report helps you to more easily set expectations for the new book, or come up with a plan to outperform the previous titles.
One of the important ways that publishers are setting benchmarks is by looking at an author’s previous books or relevant comp titles. The Title Summary Report makes this research easier for you. You can generate NetGalley reports based on specific authors or ISBNs.
This type of reporting centralizes a number of different data points that you can use when planning acquisitions or identifying new market trends. For instance, if activity for a book series is decreasing with each new title, a publisher might consider updating the cover design or re-engaging fans with a promotion. If cookbooks are consistently outperforming expectations, you might bring that information to your acquisitions team looking for the next big thing.
Set your goals before looking at data
Once you have a good understanding of the expectations for a particular type of book, the next step is to clarify your specific goals for the new title. After identifying which metrics are most important to you and what kinds of numbers you’re looking to achieve, you have a better framework for engaging with the data you’ll receive from a new promotion.
Success on NetGalley looks different for different publishers, different authors, different books. It might mean a specific conversion rate from Impressions to Feedback, number of nominations for LibraryReads and Indie Next, or reaching a certain threshold of reviews on retail platforms around the pub date.
Valerie Pierce, marketing director, retail marketing and creative services, at Sourcebooks told NetGalley Insights that when she and her team measure success, they look at a number of different factors. She said, “We have a few key lists that we look at to determine how the pre-publication promotions for a book are performing.” This includes NetGalley requests, cover votes, Indie Next and LibraryReads nominations. She and her team set goals based on past performance of in-house comp titles. “If the number is [below target], we know we have to stop what we’re doing and completely re-strategize. If the number is average, then we look at ways that we can improve them. And if the number is higher than we anticipate, then it not only means that we’ve got a winning strategy – it also means that this might be a title to pour additional resources into. This could include going back to the sales team and asking them to go back out to their accounts, reallocating budget money so that we can fund more advertising, and going back out to media.”
NetGalley reporting provides relevant information for a variety of different metrics and goals to help you get the information you are looking for in a streamlined way.
Measure ROI on marketing and publicity efforts
We know that when you invest time, energy, and marketing dollars into a promotion, you want to know whether that investment was effective. By looking at the Title Activity Chart, you can see spikes in impressions, requests, and other activity, and easily correlate them to campaigns both on and off NetGalley. This line chart visualizes information to show you the impact of your marketing.
“Why wonder, when we can know without a shadow of a doubt, how a campaign performed?” asks Lindsey Lochner, VP, Marketing Engagement at NetGalley. “Having the Open Rate for an eBlast is valuable, but actually seeing the direct result that eBlast had on your book’s overall activity, over the course of its life on NetGalley — that’s powerful. Experimenting with various promotional tools and tracking the results will allow you to determine which efforts are worthwhile for particular types of books and goals.”
Here are some real-life examples of how the Title Activity Chart shows the effects of publishers’ marketing and publicity efforts on and off NetGalley:
Coordinated NetGalley marketing opportunities boosted activity for this Nonfiction book several months after the book initially went live on NetGalley.
The spikes of activity in August for this Fiction book were not coordinated through NetGalley’s email or on-site promotions, showing that the publisher successfully increased activity through their own efforts.
Inclusion in a NetGalley Newsletter boosted activity for this YA book, far exceeding even the initial excitement when it first went live for members to request.
Small spikes of activity throughout this timeline demonstrate consistent successful efforts to drive audiences to this Children’s book on NetGalley.
Be willing to pivot
Data can show you when you should abandon your current path and pivot to something new. If you’re disappointed with the response you’ve gotten, whether that’s a low number of requests, critical feedback about the cover image, or poor reviews of the book, use that information to adjust your strategy.
Look at the Reason for Request section (on the Title Feedback page, or the downloadable Snapshot PDF report) to understand if your book description is effective. This area can also demonstrate if your overall brand and author awareness is high, depending on how many members respond that they “keep hearing about this book.” You might boost your social media efforts, or encourage your author to pitch essays related to their book to news outlets to increase word-of-mouth if the responses are lower than you expected.
Also consider the Cover Ratings on this page to understand how early readers are reacting to the cover art.
We all know the old adage, but it’s impossible to ignore the fact that people DO judge books by their covers. The NetGalley community is overall very positive: when it comes to covers – they rarely click the thumbs down button unless they feel particularly strongly. So if you notice a lot of dislikes on a cover, it’s a good idea to have a conversation with the design team about reworking the art.
Cover Ratings are also an indicator when strategies are working. Brian Ulicky, publicity and marketing director for The New Press uses feedback from the NetGalley community to confirm that he and his design team are on the right path. “Covers are one of the most important pieces of marketing any book gets, and if the NetGalley community loves our designs, we must be doing something right. It’s helpful to have early feedback inform and confirm our very involved, iterative process of designing and choosing covers.”
The Top Performers chart is an easy way to see comparative performance for any active titles on NetGalley, filtered by type of activity and by category. For example, publishers can compare performance across all of their Nonfiction titles, based on which have the highest star ratings. This will help you predict what will happen with these books once they go on sale, or indicate where you need to boost your efforts.
When considering the Top Performers, take note of the conversion rate. First filter to view books with highest Impressions, and then switch to view books with the highest number of Requests. This can be extremelytelling! If you have a book with a lot of Impressions, but comparatively low Requests, you’ll know that members decided against requesting the book after reading the description and looking at the cover. The question then becomes: Why?
You might try to optimize this conversion by revising the book description, or adding any missing information to the title record. If you can identify these necessary changes pre-publication and work to increase the NetGalley conversion rate before pub date, you can expect that the conversion from impression to sale will be easier to get once the book hits shelves.
The NetGalley Advanced Word Cloud can help you identify the strongest ways to talk about your book. Publishers already look at reviews to see what is resonating with readers, but the Word Cloud makes the process less manual and more visual. It’s created from the actual reviews that members submit for that book, making it a powerful tool to quickly identify readers’ sentiment beyond a star rating, and give you a better idea of what words are most relevant for the book’s marketing efforts.
“Audience language has been proven to be the most effective source of keywords for titles,” says Joshua Tallent, Director of Sales and Marketing at Firebrand Technologies. “How your reviewers think about your books, and the language they use when describing them, will correlate well with how new customers search for your books.” The NetGalley Word Cloud is a great way to understand your audience better, supplement your book description for SEO, or add keywords to your metadata. Plus, if you’re looking for even more quality keywords for your books, Firebrand’s Keywords service uses artificial intelligence and machine learning to generate keywords from multiple sources of audience language. (Including NetGalley!)
Understand your audience and how you connect with them
Are you reaching your target audience on NetGalley? If you’re working to connect with librarians or booksellers specifically, the Activity By Member Type chart will show you how well you’re doing. Not only can you see how approvals for these members compare to others, you’ll also see their follow-through, including whether they downloaded the book and if they provided Feedback.
On NetGalley.com in 2019, NetGalley members provided nearly 612,000 Reviews and Feedback! Reviewers provided Feedback for 41% of the titles they were approved to download, while Educators shared Feedback for 30%, Librarians shared for 23%, Booksellers for 20%, and Media for 19%.
It’s natural that Reviewers submit the most Feedback, whereas Educators, Booksellers, and Librarians tend to use NetGalley to consider new books to purchase for their classrooms, stores, or libraries, and Media use NetGalley to prepare for interviews and to be better informed about which new books are forthcoming.
When looking at these charts, remember to consider your benchmarks as you set expectations.Determine how many new Bookseller requests you are hoping to receive, and then look to see if you reached that goal after the promotion. If you didn’t hit your mark, adjust your strategy as necessary.
Early Data in Action
In our case studies, publishers and authors tell us about how they use the early data from their NetGalley accounts to drive their actions.
Jess Bonet from Random House
uses NetGalley reviews to see what is resonating with readers and to
adjust her marketing language accordingly. She said, “The Feedback
Report is the tool we most commonly use. It’s so helpful to see what’s
resonating with readers before a book goes on sale, so we can adjust our
messaging accordingly. Around 3 months before a book goes on sale, our
team will meet and discuss review feedback, largely from NetGalley, and
adjust copy as necessary. We came to realize that readers were really
responding to Taffy’s raw honesty about dating and marriage in the 21st century, so we played that up in our ad copy and our copy feeding to retailers.”
Laura Gianino at Harlequin looks at who is downloading their books so she can pay attention to what types of members are interested, and to drive very targeted follow-ups for reviews and media coverage. She said, “The data was one of the first indications about who was interested in the book.” It helped her to identify the media she pitched, and who followed through to access the book, indicating that they may be planning coverage of this title.
Cynthia Shannon from Chronicle
shared early reviews with her sales team so they could show them to
book buyers and make the case for carrying in-store. She said, “This
helped shed insights into how customers were responding to the book.”
We want to hear which data points are most important to you and how you are using NetGalley to access that data. We’re also always here to help you strategize about developing benchmarks and data-driven goals. Drop us a line at firstname.lastname@example.org.
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.
NetGalley’s new promotions support publishers’ goals throughout a book’s lifecycle, including backlist and audio
At NetGalley we always strive to meet publishers where they need us. We love listening to our customers and learning from their ever-evolving needs–from secure digital galley files, to marketing promotions that reach targeted audiences, to a desire for more data and reporting, and even into new formats like audiobooks.
Publishers often adapt NetGalley’s tools for their unique goals and, based on trends we see across all of our clients, we work to expand the breadth of the NetGalley service. In 2020 you’ll notice greater emphasis on a holistic approach to promoting books, across formats and beyond the pub date. As we continue to expand our offerings, we’re emphasizing a more comprehensive approach to book promotions across format and lifecycle.
NetGalley was originally designed to predominantly support books in the pre-publication stage, but our tools and promotions are flexible enough to help publishers and authors achieve a variety of goals throughout a book’s lifecycle. Publishers are increasingly taking advantage of that flexibility! While 44% of titles on NetGalley in 2019 were archived within 1 week of their pub date, 29% were available on NetGalley for at least 2 months after pub.
Lately, our marketing team has received more questions and interest from publishers about promoting their books to members in new ways–and during new times: close to on-sale to drive pre-orders specifically, or post-pub to reignite activity for backlist titles.
We’re supporting this pivot by launching brand-new marketing promotions in our 2020 Media Kit, flexible enough to encompass a variety of goals, timelines, and formats.
Book Club Kits
Book clubs are a crucial audience for publishers, as they are often interested in backlist titles (especially when available in paperback, or have a movie tie-in). We’ve heard from many clients that they wish to interact more directly with book clubs, but don’t always have the bandwidth to create marketing assets in-house. That’s why we’re introducing custom Book Club Kits: created especially for your book and promoted directly to book club members in the NetGalley community.
Each bespoke kit is crafted by our editorial team to be unique and fitting for the particular book. Book Club Kits contain, at a minimum, an Author Interview, Discussion Guide, Readalikes, Printables (such as bookmarks, decorations, etc.). Possible additions include quizzes, food and drink recipes, playlists, and more. See page 17 in our Media Kit for more info.
The NetGalley member Dashboard receives an average of over 36,000 unique impressions each week, offering huge exposure for your book! Publishers can now showcase their books on all member Dashboards with the new Dashboard Spotlight promotion. The CTA is up to you, so consider using this placement to drive pre-orders, promote retail offers, or to boost a backlist title. See page 5 in our Media Kit for more info.
Our community engagement team has built a loyal and engaged following of book advocates across social media platforms: Instagram, Twitter, Facebook, and Pinterest. We are now offering publishers the opportunity take advantage of NetGalley’s influence to promote your book in a relevant, valuable way to our social audience.
With the introduction of Audio Excerpts on NetGalley, there are many opportunities to showcase these clips to our community across the site. Members will see a new, additional Featured carousel on the main Find Titles landing page which will highlight books with Audio Excerpts–free for publishers! Our marketing team can also include the audio icon in NetGalley Newsletters and Category Spotlights for books with Audio Excerpts.
And this is just the beginning: by BookExpo 2020, we will support full audiobooks in addition to Audio Excerpts! We’re thrilled to help audio publishers benefit from early feedback from the NetGalley community, and we aren’t the only ones… NetGalley members are already excited! We asked, they answered: check out hundreds of comments on our Twitter, Facebook, and Instagram posts.
As publishers start experimenting with these new promotions, we’ll be sharing their successes here on NetGalley Insights. Stay tuned!
If you’re looking for more detail about post-pub strategies, check out our Case Studies on NetGalley Insights. Jayne Allen shared how listing Black Girls Must Die Exhausted on NetGalley after its pub date actually improved its sales numbers. She said, “Allowing the book to be offered for sale during the NetGalley window worked best for me because it allowed NetGalley reviewers to post directly on the Amazon sales page as a consumer review…At first, I was concerned that being on NetGalley might somehow erode sales, but the simultaneous window actually served to increase sales and start Black Girls moving up the charts much more quickly.”
If you want to discuss your own campaigns, please email email@example.com. Our dedicated marketing team would be happy to help you strategize and find the right plan for your timing, budget, and goals.
The lifecycle of a book, taking advantage of Firebrand and NetGalley
In every department in a publishing house, teams are working as hard as they can to publish books that they believe in. But sometimes we can get lost in the day-to-day and lose sight of the big picture. It can be hard to connect your daily work to the work your colleagues are doing, and to see yourselves as fitting into the same overall efforts.
The goal of this workflow is to demonstrate departmental interconnectedness; how acquisitions, production, and promotion are linked — how one informs the other.
Tallent told the audience that he sees clients come to NetGalley and Firebrand to solve specific problems: To help them send metadata more effectively, to get more control over printing specs, to track P&Ls, to build pre-publication buzz. And while NetGalley and Firebrand can certainly provide tools and processes to fix these pain points, focusing on the individual issues can be limiting.
“I’ve seen many clients lose the institutional awareness over time about the many ways we can help them solve new problems. That has led to companies looking at other solutions, not even knowing that the software they’re already using can do what they need.”
Using Simon & Schuster imprint Gallery Books’s The Book Charmer by Karen Hawkins, Radke and Tallent showed how a title might move through Firebrand and NetGalley services most effectively, from acquisition through publication, and even rejuvenate the backlist. Gallery used a number of these tools in their actual launch of The Book Charmer, and graciously allowed us to use their book to demonstrate how all of the Firebrand services can link together. This example includes recommended use of the Firebrand and NetGalley tools.
During the Acquisition phase of a project, Title Management provides publishers with robust tracking functionality, helping them manage submissions and ideas and plan for each project’s success. Title Management can help with budget planning utilizing a powerful Profit & Loss system and production planning templates.
For The Book Charmer, the Gallery team could create contracts and contract templates within Title Management and, once the acquisition was complete, use Title Management to start collecting metadata and assigning tasks across various teams. Getting the details right in Title Management is critical to everything that follows!
Around 5-6 months in advance of pub date, the team could send initial metadata feeds through Eloquence on Demand.
Before the data was sent, Eloquence Verification ensured that the metadata met industry requirements. These metadata feeds ensure that the details consumers see about the book are consistent and correct.
Once the book was a few months away from its pub date, Gallery Books made it active on NetGalley, using metadata sent through Eloquence on Demand. This made title setup a breeze. NetGalley was used to garner early reviews and buzz, and generally raise the visibility of the book before it went on sale. Gallery Books could add NetGalley as a Marketing Campaign in Title Management, too, allowing them to keep track of this among the other efforts they were putting forth for this book.
Once the book was live in NetGalley, Gallery Books received requests and feedback, plus early data. To get the most out of NetGalley, Gallery Books used targeted marketing to drive requests. They made particular efforts to target librarians and booksellers through inclusion in the ABA Digital Whitebox and the Librarian newsletter.
The Gallery team used consumer-facing platform, BookishFirst, to entice avid readers with a First Look at The Book Charmer, building pre-publication excitement through the use of a giveaway and gaining access to in-depth reporting through BookishFirst.
Through the launch process, the Gallery team updated their metadata and their keywords in Title Management, ensuring that the feedback they were receiving through NetGalley and Bookish First was informing the marketing copy.
Both Firebrand’s Keywords service and the NetGalley Advanced Word Cloud allow them to add keywords that repeatedly pop up in reviews on NetGalley and beyond. These keywords are important to discoverability across all retailer platforms, and using real audience-generated words ensures they’re as effective as possible.
At the same time as publicity and marketing teams were promoting The Book Charmer on NetGalley and BookishFirst, feeding the data they learned back into metadata, the production team was hard at work. Using Title Management, they managed printing specs, planned production costs, and handled inventory management, sending out purchase orders to their printer—all very critical details that affect the finished product and the publisher’s bottom line.
As the ebook file approached completion, the production team could load the file into FlightDeck through the Title Management interface. FlightDeck lets publishers check for any lingering issues with their ebook files before they send them to retail partners for fulfillment.
As The Book Charmer grew closer to its pub date, the Gallery team could continue to track marketing promotions, including social media campaigns and printed promotional postcards, within Title Management. They kept track of tasks, specs, and design details.
Once The Book Charmer hit its pub date, the Gallery team could use the contact information they had gathered in the pre-pub phase from NetGalley and BookishFirst to re-engage their audiences on those platforms. Letting people know that the book they reviewed is now on sale is a great way to get these early fans talking about the book and to boost sales and reviews.
Plus, in addition to using Eloquence on Demand to distribute their metadata, Gallery could take advantage of Eloquence on Alert to track changes happening to their titles across retailer sites, including alerts if cover images don’t match across different retailers, if list prices or sale prices change, if a title’s sales rank increases, if the number of reviews or star rankings change, or if they lose their buy button to a third party seller on Amazon.
Through the journey from pub date to the backlist, the Gallery team can continue to update The Book Charmer’s metadata and feed it out to retailers, ensuring that the data is always relevant. They can create new or updated Keywords to see how that might impact sales for a backlist title, and test updated EPUB files in FlightDeck. They can use Express Purchase Orders within Title Management to create a single purchase order for an entire list of reprints. They can re-activate its NetGalley listing for a limited time when they publish a sequel.
Every tool can be used in different parts of the publishing process, and the insights gathered in each stage and through each tool can be used to inform the others.
Addison works with both individuals and companies to help them get the most out of LinkedIn and shared some of her best practices with the members and guests of Women’s Media Group. And we’re happy to pass along a few of her tips!
Find the right photo
If you don’t currently have a photo associated with your LinkedIn, now is the time to change that! According to Addison, LinkedIn members with photos on their profile receive 9x more connection requests, 21x more profile views, and 36x more messages. And for everyone wondering exactly what kind of photo they should be using, it depends on your industry and your role. An investment banker will need to present a very different kind of professional image than a freelance children’s book illustrator. It also depends on your role. If your work is creative or visual in nature, let that shine through in your photo. And, finally, it depends on the kind of company that you work for or want to work for. Do you work for a fully remote tech company or a traditional corporation with over 100 years of storied history? Match the tone of your photo to the tone of the company you work for (or are hoping to work for).
If you’re not sure exactly what kind of photo is best for your industry or your position, you can always search for other people in your same industry or in your same role on LinkedIn to see how they are presenting themselves.
Profile photos should show the human behind the resume. Use discretion, but don’t be afraid to be a bit playful. And, of course, make sure it actually looks like you!
Tell your story
LinkedIn allows you to fill in a brief “About” section in your profile. Second only to having a picture in your profile, Addison told the WMG audience that this section is the most important part of your profile. It is your opportunity to weave together your experience and interests into a coherent narrative; an elevator pitch for yourself. It’s where you can show off your individuality. If you’re actively searching for a new job or looking to change industries, the About section is the place to say so. And, especially important for the publishing industry, it’s where you prove your writing chops. Can you condense your whole work experience – plus indicate how you want to grow – into a handful of sentences?
Addison suggested a length of 1-2 short paragraphs and using the STAR format: Situation, Task, Action, Result. Be sure to hit what industries you’ve worked in (Situation), your responsibilities in those industries (Task), how you get your work accomplished (Action), and your successes (Result). She recommended including relevant metrics for your roles. For example, if you worked on the publicity team for 10+ bestsellers in the past 2 years, if you are a publishing industry veteran with over 15 years of experience, if you exceeded your growth goals for 5 consecutive quarters, etc. She did, however, note that while many industries value years of experience, ageism in the workplace is real and advised discretion when talking about how many years you’ve been in a field.
Make it media rich
There are several opportunities within a LinkedIn profile to add media like photos, videos, articles, or your portfolio. After encouraging the audience to add in a profile photo, Addison also recommended adding in any other relevant links to make your profile more engaging and to give anyone looking at it a fuller picture of your work. This is most intuitive for professionals whose work is already visual; graphic designers, illustrators, etc. But, Addison reminded the audience that all kinds of professionals have materials that they can – and should! – add to their LinkedIn profile. For example, articles you’ve written, links to presentations you’ve given, big media coverage that you earned for a project, and more.
If you are sharing articles or writing articles on LinkedIn, include images or videos when applicable.
Give endorsements and recommendations to get them
LinkedIn connections can endorse one another for relevant skills, plus provide written recommendations that are available on their profile. Recommendations and endorsements are great ways to demonstrate that, not only do you think you’re a whiz at developing strategic partnerships, for example, but your peers and colleagues think so, too. The best way to encourage your contacts to endorse you or give you a recommendation is to first endorse or recommend them. Addison suggested first making your recommendation or endorsement for a contact, then reaching out to them to ask if they would be willing to do the same for you. She told the audience not to be shy about asking colleagues to cover specific topics or skills in a recommendation, especially if they are in a more senior position.
But, you’ll need to keep these skill endorsements fresh. Your skillset when you first got a LinkedIn account might have changed as your career has grown and changed. You’ll want these endorsements to reflect your current skills. Addison recommended going through your LinkedIn connections every six months or so to endorse them for the most relevant skills to their current positions and asking them to do the same for you.
Share your voice, build your audience
LinkedIn is a powerful platform for building your voice as a thought leader in your chosen field. The simplest way to start sharing your perspective on LinkedIn is to share articles, links, or quotes on your profile as status updates. But, whenever you do post content you find elsewhere, make sure that you’re making it clear to your followers exactly why you’re posting it. Frame any shared quote, or article, or tip with your own viewpoint and your own voice so that everything you share becomes a part of your own branding on the site. The other option for sharing your opinions and building an audience on LinkedIn is through their in-site publishing platform. You can publish an article on LinkedIn directly, which will then be promoted to your followers as an update, rather than just as an item in their newsfeed if they happen to be scrolling. These articles are opportunities for you to reflect more deeply on something you’re interested in. For example, Addison wrote an article called “Silent Reflection” about losing her voice. It was more personal than professional, but positioned her as someone who thinks deeply about communication, accessibility, and interpersonal skills needed to succeed at work.
Use your posts to start conversations – if someone comments, respond! This is how you demonstrate that you are engaged in a conversation and invested in moving discussions forward. Engaging actively in the comments on posts – yours or others – creates an opportunity for reciprocity between you and whoever you are in communication with.
Use hashtags to reach a broader audience. Hashtagging is still relatively new on the platform, so some of the more general hashtags (#marketing, #professionaldevelopment, etc.) are able to broaden your reach without getting entirely lost in the shuffle. Once you’ve started to share content on your profile, start to think about scheduling it so that your followers know when to expect regular updates from you. For example, every Tuesday afternoon. It’s best to stay away from posting on Fridays, but a surprising number of people are active on LinkedIn during the weekend, so feel free to post on Saturday or Sunday! The whole audience was surprised to learn that LinkedIn is not just for Monday-Friday, but Addison explained that because so many people are using LinkedIn to find a new job, they might not want to be on it while at their current job.
Check in on your security preferences in case you want to be able to look at other members’ profiles without them being notified. Check this by going to your Account, then Privacy, then How Others See Your LinkedIn Activity.
Unless you are in a very public-facing role or give lots of workshops or talks where you are meeting new people and inviting them to connect with you, Addison recommends keeping your LinkedIn contacts just to people you’ve actually met or corresponded with.
Include your Volunteer experience. It’s a great way to show who you are holistically. Plus, you might find that you share non-career interests with a hiring manager or recruiter.
Use the first person in your profile. Third person tends to read as awkward and too formal for the platform.
How Janna Morishima and Misako Rocks! turned rejections from editors into an opportunity and an experiment
Publishing is a challenging industry. In order to be successful, you need to be able to take changing trends in stride, turn failures into opportunities, and be brave enough to try new approaches. Publishing strategist Janna Morishima and manga author Misako Rocks! have been able to do just that with Misako’s newest manga project, Bounce Back.
Both Morishima and Misako have had winding paths in publishing, pivoting when their own interests or the market dictated.
Morishima began as an assistant to Scholastic trade publishing’s Creative Director, David Saylor. After reading about graphic novel Blankets by Craig Thompson, she saw an opportunity for children’s books to be graphic novels. She and Saylor created a proposal for a new imprint and began Scholastic’s Graphix for children’s graphic novels. Next, she moved to Diamond Book Distributors, to cut her teeth on the business side of the industry as Director of the Kids Group during the financial crisis in 2008. But, after a few years, she missed working directly with creatives, and ended up walking away from publishing altogether to help her husband run his photography business. Several years ago, Morishima combined her experience in editorial, in corporate publishing, and in the world of freelance art to start Janna Co. Now, she works as a consultant, helping visual storytellers like Misako to build their careers and navigate the publishing industry.
When Misako moved from Japan to the United States, she got a job working at the Madison Children’s Museum. She became a manga artist once she saw how interested kids were in manga and anime. After sending around her portfolio to publishers, she published three middle grade graphic novels in 2007 and 2008. Unfortunately, the financial crash plus disappointing sales meant that she wasn’t able to get a new contract. So she changed her focus. She wrote books for a Japanese audience about learning English and finding an American boyfriend and started to teach manga to students, both in the classroom and in private lessons.
Now, she’s getting back to the world of middle grade manga with Bounce Back with Morishima’s help.
They sent out their first round of proposals, but frustratingly only received rejections or nothing at all. Instead of shelving Bounce Back, they took that failure and used it to re-strategize. The pair enlisted the help of beta readers and found themselves with a stronger story and a community of readers who are invested in the project – in part because they helped shape it!
What is the origin story between you and Misako?
I met Misako for the first time soon after I started working at Scholastic. One of my tasks, as assistant to the Creative Director, was to review artist portfolios. In those days, we had a certain day every month when artists could drop off their portfolios for review. This was in the time before Dropbox and online portfolios!
One day, a young Japanese artist who was living in Wisconsin called me to ask about our portfolio review procedures.
She dropped off her work and I wrote her a detailed editorial letter, explaining how she could improve it. Whenever I thought an artist had potential, I tried to give them some concrete tips on how to keep making progress with their work. The surprising thing is how few artists actually followed up and reached out to me a second time with revised work.
Misako was one of the exceptions. About a year after I met her for the first time, she reappeared on another portfolio day, with brand new sample art. I was impressed with her enthusiasm and persistence. I gave her the names of some other people in the industry she could talk to — and before long, she had a book contract with Henry Holt!
Misako eventually moved to NYC and we became friends. She would ask me for advice about her publishing career, and I always enjoyed helping her out.
When I started my consulting business a couple of years ago, it took me a few months before I asked her if she wanted to work with me formally. In my head, I was thinking, “What is she going to say? I’ve been giving her advice as a friend for so long — is she going to think it’s weird when I suggest that we start a business relationship?”
Once I did finally ask her, though, she didn’t bat an eyelash. “Let’s DO IT!” she said with her usual exuberance.
How did you arrive at your beta reader project for Bounce Back?
The first thing that Misako and I worked on together was a book proposal for Bounce Back. I helped her write a detailed synopsis and develop several pages of sample art. Then I submitted it to a handful of publishers.
Four editors got back to us with rejections. We didn’t hear from the rest of the people I had submitted it to.
In the past, those rejections might have stopped me in my tracks. But being older and wiser, I knew I should listen to my gut instinct. I still had a good feeling about the project. I decided that we should keep moving forward with the intention of self-publishing, maybe doing a Kickstarter campaign. So I said to Misako, “Write the first book in full. I’ll edit it, and we’ll see where it goes.”
Misako went right to work and churned out the first draft in record time. I edited the first draft and she revised it. Once we had a revised second draft, I wanted to get feedback from the target audience before deciding on our next step. I just had a strong intuition that showing the manuscript to outside readers would provide the compass we needed to determine the next step in our path.
That meant that we needed to find beta readers.
Who are your beta readers? How did you find that group and determine the right mix of students, librarians, and educators?
Luckily, both Misako and I had plenty of people we could ask in order to find beta readers.
First of all, Misako teaches manga art to kids all over New York City. She knows their teachers and parents. And I was working as a consultant with the NYC Department of Education School Library System, so I knew school librarians.
Both of us made a list of everyone we could think of who works with or might know kids between the ages of 10 and 13 who like manga and graphic novels. Then we emailed them to describe our project, and included the link to a Google Form where people could apply to be a beta reader. Misako also posted a call for beta readers on her Instagram page.
(We made a sample beta reader application form based on the form we used; you can find it at http://bit.ly/sample-beta-form. Feel free to make a copy of the Google Form and adapt it for any project!)
We didn’t have any “right number” of beta readers in mind. We honestly had no idea how people would respond. We were a bit shocked by the number of people who submitted applications! It ended up being more than 100 people – about half kids and half grown-ups (mainly teachers and librarians).
What have you learned from the beta readers?
When I mentioned to a few industry friends that we were sending the manuscript as a Google Doc to about 100 beta readers, some of them thought we were crazy. “You’re going to have 100 people leaving comments in the same manuscript?!” they said. “It’s going to be a mess!”
They might be right, I thought to myself, but we’ll never know until we try! I was also encouraged by Guy Kawasaki’s description of the beta reader process he used for writing APE: Author, Publisher, Entrepreneur. [Kawasaki used NetGalley when launching APE, and wrote about it as a publicity and marketing tool in the book itself.] He also let a very large number of people read his manuscript and writes in detail about what a significant contribution they made to the development of the book.
After sending the Google Doc link to our full list of beta readers, about 65 of them actually read the manuscript and left comments (more than 700 comments, to be exact!). We were thrilled with that follow-through rate.
The first thing we learned was that following your gut instinct and experimenting is a very good thing! We got so much useful feedback and Misako significantly revised the manuscript based on specific suggestions from beta readers. For instance, she amped up the budding romance between main character Lilico and her love interest Noah — apparently middle graders like a little romance almost as much as young adults!
One point which many people asked about was how we would differentiate between times when Lilico is speaking Japanese (with her parents and when she’s alone with her cat Nicco, for instance), and when she’s speaking English. After that, Misako did a lot of research to find specific fonts to use in the lettering of the graphic novels: one for English, and a different one for Japanese.
We were also surprised by how strongly people reacted to “mean girl” Emma. They thought she was terrible, but at the same time they seemed to be fascinated by her, and couldn’t get enough of her obnoxious behavior. This made us happy… because the sequel to volume 1 is all about Emma.
At its heart, though, the experience with beta readers underscored a basic principle of 21st century marketing: the more you let people behind the scenes and get them involved in the creative process, the more invested they are and the more they want to help you succeed. We were amazed by how carefully our beta readers read the manuscript and by the level of detail in their comments — and even by the back-and-forth discussions that they had with each other!
As one beta reader commented at the end, “Hope all of this feedback will turn this book from an amazing book to an AWESOME book!” The help they gave us was invaluable.
What other benefits have you gotten from your beta reader experiment?
Simply that it gave us confidence in the project! Before showing the manuscript to beta readers, I had a feeling that it would appeal to middle grade readers — but of course, I’m not 11 years old myself anymore, so I couldn’t be sure! Once we got the comments from the beta readers, we knew that they had become thoroughly emotionally involved in the story.
That was a huge relief.
How are you planning on keeping beta readers engaged throughout the publication process?
Misako is launching a brand new website for Bounce Back, and on that website people can sign up to get updates about the process of getting Bounce Back published and other behind-the-scenes details. Our beta readers are the first people to be on that mailing list!
We’ve tried some Instagram Live and Skype “Ask Us Anything” sessions to keep Misako’s fans in the loop. But we haven’t started doing that sort of thing on a regular basis yet — we want to!
What’s next for Bounce Back?
We’re in search of a publishing deal. I just submitted Bounce Back to a new round of editors and we’re waiting to hear back from them. If we can’t find a traditional publisher for the book, we will consider self-publishing. But our first choice would be a traditional publishing deal, because full-color middle grade graphic novels are very expensive to produce.
Misako is also going to be a special guest at several comics and book shows this fall. October 19-20 we attended Baltimore Comic-con, and on November 15-17 we’ll be at Anime NYC. January 25th, 2020, Misako will be at Teen Bookfest by the Bay in Corpus Christi, TX.
Those shows are another chance for us to speak directly with fans and learn what they’re most excited about.
You’ve said that you think that traditional publishing has a lot to learn from self-publishing, and vice versa. Can you give a few examples?
I think they are learning from each other now. The stigma attached to self-publishing is eroding a little bit because of some high profile successes.
I think the biggest thing that traditional publishers can learn from self-publishers is the importance of connecting directly with your audience rather than relying on intermediaries to sell the book. The publishing ecosystem is complex, so there are always going to be intermediaries — reviewers and booksellers and librarians, etc. — but now it’s possible to build strong relationships both with those influencers and your actual readers.
What I think self-publishers can learn from traditional publishing is the importance of having a well-rounded team contribute to the final book. All writers need editors. All books benefit from great design. All books, no matter how good they are, need strong marketing and sales plans in order to get found. If you’re going to publish on your own, it’s important that you find the right people to help you.
It seems like the story of you and Misako and the story of Bounce Back are stories where you were able to turn failures into opportunities. How do you think about the relationship between failure and the creative process?
Yes, I certainly felt a bit like a failure when I initially left publishing. I know Misako was very disappointed when her first graphic novels didn’t sell very well in the early 2000s.
But I think failure is critical to growth for any human being. The key is to be clear-eyed about the reasons for your failure, while at the same time forgiving. Any time you try something and it doesn’t work out the way you wanted or the way you expected, give yourself a high five. Because you tried it! That’s huge! By trying something and failing, you now have useful data. You can review what happened and find the things to improve or do differently next time.
Basically, failure is inextricably involved in the creative process. If you really want to get better and achieve something big, you’ve got to embrace the fact that there will be failure along the way.
Developing the right mindset to be able to use your failure rather than get paralyzed by it is critical. I read tons of self-help books, started practicing meditation, and have given a lot of dedicated thought to this subject! One of my favorite people who writes about failure is Seth Godin. He sums up everything you need to know about failure in 372 words.
Janna Morishima is a publishing strategist and literary agent specializing in graphic novels and visual storytelling for kids. She was one of the co-founders of Scholastic’s Graphix imprint and the director of Diamond Book Distributors’ Kids Group and has worn almost every hat in publishing, from art and editorial to marketing and sales. Find out more at http://jannaco.co.
*Interviews have been edited for clarity and length.
As a self-published author, you might think that the hardest part is over once the book is complete. But once a book is ready to go out into the world, it still deserves the same level of attention and care that you gave it throughout the writing, revising, proofreading, and design process. As an author, you might not have formal marketing or publicity training, or the budget to hire someone who does have that kind of experience. But you can still give your book a professional launch.
While every book is unique and will have slightly different goals and timelines, we’ve used our experience working with everyone from indie authors to the largest publishing houses to develop a framework that you can use to guide your own unique launch strategy. You can also download this launch schedule.
The most important takeaway from this timeline is to plan your promotions a few months before your pub date to create ongoing and increasing excitement for your book.
Different contacts should be given access to your book at different times, according to their needs. For example, any major media contacts will need a much longer lead time than a Goodreads reviewer or BookTuber. Plus, if you can secure early media attention, it’ll be easier to get interest from those consumer reviewers. Work towards getting some early blurbs, and then use those blurbs to bring in new readers, on NetGalley or elsewhere.
And once you have made initial contact with these different kinds of readers – consumer reviewers, digital influencers, librarians, media, and booksellers – be sure to follow up with them right before pub date. Put your book back on their radar, encourage them to share their reviews on retail sites and with their audience, where applicable.