Building a Community of Beta Readers

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? 

“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”

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!

“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.”

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?

By trying something and failing, you now have useful data.

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.

*Read our other industry interviews here.

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Pre-Publication Launch Schedule for Authors

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. 

For more  from the NetGalley team, check out our Proven Strategies series, plus our Author Case Studies. And be sure to subscribe to the NetGalley Insights newsletter!

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The Snapshot PDF: Actionable Insights for Every Title

NetGalley provides every publisher with a wealth of early data and analytics about each of your titles to bolster your marketing efforts and inform your overall strategy, including easy ways to follow up with approved members using the Detailed Activity Report and Feedback Report

Today we’re focusing in on the Snapshot PDF Report, which is available for every title listed on NetGalley. It contains data points that can assist publicists, library marketers, social media teams, and others, as well as high-level decision-makers looking at overall trends. 

The Statistics section of the Snapshot PDF shows a title’s general performance (Impressions, Reviews) as well how members are following through. You can look at the relationship between Impressions, Clicked to Read, and Feedback to see how your pipeline is working. And if you aren’t converting as much Feedback as you’d like, consider how you are communicating with those members who Clicked to Read. Are you following up with them and enticing them to read and review? Or, if your conversion rates are high, analyze what you are doing right and apply that method to other titles. 

Reasons for Request provides early indicators about what aspects of your books are resonating with readers. You can use this information in two ways – both to see what is working, and to see where there is room to try a new strategy. If, for example, most NetGalley members are requesting access to a book based on the description, you know that copy is effective and catchy. If most members are requesting based on the author, you can capitalize on that personal connection in your ongoing marketing and outreach. On the flip side, if only a few NetGalley members are telling you that they’re requesting a book because they keep hearing about it, you can tell that you might need to be showing that book in more places and more proactively building word-of-mouth buzz. 

NetGalley members can express an opinion about a book’s cover design, whether or not they request it. If you see plenty of thumbs up in the Cover Rating in your Snapshot PDF, you know that you have an especially compelling cover. Consider using it – rather than, say, author photos – in marketing campaigns and social media posts. If a NetGalley member is only lukewarm on a cover design, they won’t usually downvote it, so consider downvotes to be strongly held opinions. If you find yourself receiving more downvotes for a cover than you’d prefer, consider repackaging the book if there’s time. If you don’t have time to redesign your book’s cover, you can still take that intel into your design meetings for future books. 

The Opinions section of the Snapshot PDF, downloadable as the Opinions Report, can guide your targeted followup and help you curate a list of the NetGalley members who are most engaged in your books. When members submit feedback for books on NetGalley, they are asked questions specific to their member type. For example, booksellers are asked if they are likely to handsell the title, if they would suggest that their store purchase the title, if they are interested in the author visiting their store, plus given the opportunity to nominate the book for the Indie Next list. You can read all about our member-specific questions here. After looking at this information, you might consider reaching out to interested booksellers to arrange author visits, or offer to connect media to the author for an interview. You might Auto-Approve every librarian or bookseller who nominates your book for LibraryReads or the Indie Next List. 

For more ideas about how to use NetGalley data and reports, reach out to us at concierge@netgalley.com. We’d be happy to chat! 

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Authentic Interactions with Reddit AMAs

Reddit, the self-described front page of the internet is a powerful platform for connecting with enthusiastic and vocal readers. For a primer on Reddit and some ideas for engaging with its communities, check out our recent introductory article. Like any online community, Reddit has its own norms, its own lingo, and its own unique forms of communication. One of the most influential forms of Reddit-specific communication is the AMA. 

AMA, which stands for Ask Me Anything, has its roots in early online forums like AOL chatrooms, Slashdot, Something Awful, and others. But it was on Reddit that the form was codified, popularized, and brought into the mainstream.

To conduct an AMA, a user will offer a brief description of themselves, and then open themselves up to a barrage of questions by writing “AMA.” Then, the floodgates open for any user to ask a question. One of the most commented-on AMAs from 2018 was from a Reddit user receiving Universal Basic Income. (UBI is a guaranteed stipend given to every citizen within a governed population.) They wrote “I am receiving Universal Basic Income payments as part of a pilot project being tested in Ontario, Canada. AMA!” 

Unlike other forms of interviewing, AMAs tend to have an informal tone, giving Redditors a peek behind the curtain into the lives of either very famous people, or people with unusual lives. They can let authors and fans relax around one another, giving conversations a more casual tone, as opposed to a formal book talk Q&A.  For example, in Bill Gates’s 2018 AMA, he answered Redditor questions from “What’s your favorite prime number?” to “What’s the most “treat yo self” rich guy thing that you do?” The answers were “2” and “having a nice house with a trampoline.” The thread contains over 10k comments. 

To date, Barack Obama, Keanu Reeves, Andy Weir, and Chuck Tingle have all done popular AMAs. 

 Redditors discover these on dedicated AMA subreddits like r/IAmA or r/AMA, or as a feature on a subreddit dedicated to a different topic. For publishers and authors, relevant places to look for AMAs are r/books, r/writing, or genre-specific subreddits like r/fantasy or r/unresolvedmysteries.

AMAs let authors connect with readers to talk about a new book, answer questions about an older book, or talk about favorite characters. Plus, they are more convenient and less costly than a traditional book tour. For shy authors, an AMA can offer a way to speak authentically with fans while remaining in their own homes. They are not only more intimate than other kinds of interviews, but also more democratic. Readers don’t have to live in a major city or buy an advance ticket. All they have to do is be online at the right time to get a chance to talk to an author whose work they love. 

There are a number of ways that publishers and authors can use AMAs to connect with Redditors.

Inspiration and Fan Appreciation

Beloved YA fantasy writer, Tamora Pierce went on Reddit to do an AMA under the r/books subreddit, answering questions about the inspiration behind favorite characters and listening to Redditors who have been reading her work for years. This AMA happened a few months after the US release of Pierce’s most recent book, Tempests and Slaughter

Demonstrating Subject Expertise

Another way to use AMAs is to focus on yourself as an industry expert, to grow your own brand presence by offering advice. Eric Smith, literary agent and YA author took to Reddit to answer questions about everything from querying to MFA courses, to balancing his “agent brain” and his “writer brain.” While offering up some free advice, he was able to successfully position himself in front of Redditors as an expert in the industry, raising both his own profile and that of his agency, P.S. Literary. 

Similarly, Lori Gottlieb, bestselling author of Maybe You Should Talk To Someone hosted a recent AMA on r/books, answering questions about psychotherapy and relationship patterns. 

Writing Tips

Authors can also give writing tips during an AMA, both giving a behind-the-scenes look at their own process, and letting them give aspiring writers useful tips.

USA Today bestselling author Penelope Bloom answered questions about her writing process, in addition to book-specific questions during a 2018 AMA. She gave advice about balancing romance and plot, writing a sex scene, and how she manages her prolific career alongside parenthood. 

Redditor, moderator of r/fantasy, and NetGalley member MikeOfThePalace describes the benefit of AMAs to authors. “We [are] offering them a chance to talk about their books to thousands of potential new readers, and they could do it at home in their pajamas instead of having to go traveling to a convention or a book tour. It made for an easy sell…As long as they’re ready to answer questions, it’s fine. If they come into it ready to have fun, it’s great.”

MikeOfThePalace also notes that AMAs are best used with authors who already have an established presence. If an author’s platform isn’t strong enough to have a fan base eager to ask them questions, an AMA risks getting very little traction. 

Before hosting an AMA, make sure to promote it so that your audience will see it. Unless your author is so famous that they will immediately go viral if spotted on Reddit, make sure to tell the fans to be on Reddit at the appointed time  so that they can join in on the limited-time conversation.

For authors and publishers interested in hosting an AMA, the first step is to contact AMA@reddit.com and send a short pitch about the author and the book. The Reddit team will be able to help you figure out which subreddit is the best fit for a potential AMA and help prep for it. You can learn what you need to set up an AMA and use this sign as a template for a proof photo to demonstrate that you’ll be doing an AMA. Then, once you’ve contacted Reddit to help schedule your AMA, they recommend getting in touch with the community moderators of the subreddit where the AMA will take place. 

Cassidy Good, Reddit community manager told NetGalley Insights, “The most important factor in having a successful AMA is good prep work. This includes crafting a good title and thoughtful introductory text, which will encourage people to join in and ask questions. It also includes considering the best placement for the AMA. For example, an author who writes true crime would be very popular in r/UnresolvedMysteries as the community is already devoted to discussing crime. The more aligned the AMA topics is with the discussion themes of the community, the more successful it will be. This is why niche and specific communities often have very thoughtful AMAs.”

While Reddit AMAs might not be the right fit for every author, their success represent the ways that author reader interactions are being reshaped in the digital age. These interactions are increasingly happening on digital platforms, through social media, and with the expectation of deeper intimacy or honesty than a reader might expect to find in a traditional reading and Q&A. Whether or not AMAs are a good fit for your authors or your goals, it’s important to remember what makes AMAs resonate, and to take those lessons into your marketing strategy sessions. 

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Proven Strategies: Compelling eBlast Copy and Design

Tips and success stories from NetGalley’s marketing experts

The NetGalley marketing team loves collaborating closely with our clients.  We’re working with publishers and authors every day to help put their books directly in front of the NetGalley members who are most likely to read, review, and advocate for them. Since our clients are so diverse (from the “Big 5” houses to self-published authors, and publishers of all kinds of books—bestselling fiction to nonfiction and academic, religious, graphic novels, children’s and YA, cookbooks, and beyond) our marketing team has seen first-hand which strategies have worked to engage many different kinds of readers. 

Our first Proven Strategies post covered how to grab a reader’s attention with a strategic subject line. Now, our marketing team is sharing tips for the next step: optimizing the design and content of a dedicated eBlast, one of NetGalley’s most popular marketing programs. 

Design

Not every publisher or author has the budget or bandwidth to create unique eBlast designs in-house. That’s ok! You don’t have to design an eBlast in order for an eBlast to succeed. NetGalley’s marketing team has a standard eBlast template that can easily incorporate any art or assets. For example,  images you’ve used as Facebook or Twitter covers (like The Bromance Book Club), or graphics from your website or from the jacket art itself, to match the book’s overall branding and achieve a more cohesive look.

The call to action (CTA) should clearly tell the recipient what to do next—and should fit your goal for that campaign. Before creating your eBlast, think about what you want from the recipient: requests, limited-time downloads, wishes, reviews, pre-orders, purchases? Highlight the CTA with color, placement and text treatment. We use standard “button” images that mirror the recognizable action buttons of the NetGalley site, so that recipients can easily spot where to click in the email. 

Plus, make sure to preview your email design across multiple devices and email clients, so you know how it will render for recipients who are reading your email on mobile devices, on their computers, or elsewhere. Our team will help test, too!

Content

Remember that, like all of us, the recipients of your eBlast  are busy and have short attention spans. It is highly likely that they won’t spend very long on your email, so it’s key to design that email with efficiency and readability in mind. Keep the CTA “above the fold” so the recipient can see it without having to scroll too much. Can the recipient answer what, why, and how after just a few seconds of looking at the email? 

And, be sure to include the book’s pub date prominently so they know the best time to submit and post their review. Bookish’s Executive Editor Kelly Gallucci told NetGalley Insights: “My pet peeve is definitely when emails don’t contain enough information. It’s most helpful for me when the author, book title, genre, and pub date are as up-front and clear as possible.”

When writing the content of your eBlast, keep in mind that less is more. Including an entire book description will likely overwhelm a reader, or increase the chance they will lose interest before taking action. Readers scan emails quickly for info that is relevant to them, so divide text into short paragraphs. And remember that a prominent headline (at the top or center of your eBlast) is your second chance at a strong first impression (after the email subject line). Is your headline clear, impactful, intriguing?

Don’t forget to leverage high-profile relationships. Highlight if your author is already a bestseller, or if there are any exciting crossovers into television or film. And if you have quotes from industry professionals or big-name authors, include those but keep blurbs brief

We also recommend considering your secondary goals for the campaign, in addition to the main CTA. For instance, in addition to driving requests on NetGalley, do you also want the book to get more nominations for LibraryReads and the Indie Next List? Include a nomination reminder with deadlines (but only if the eBlast is being targeted to librarians and booksellers). Or, in addition to driving Pre-Orders, do you also want to build an author’s brand and social following? Consider including a short author bio, plus a photo and social media links. Do you want to increase brand awareness for your company or imprint? Make sure to highlight your logo and link to your publisher page on NetGalley so members can “favorite” you. 


Have questions or need advice? Ask NetGalley’s marketing team – marketing@netgalley.com! We’re here to help, and want to help your book succeed. And, be sure to subscribe to NetGalley Insights so that you don’t miss our next Proven Strategies post.

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Maximizing Category Interest on NetGalley

You already know that NetGalley is a data-driven service. But did you know that in addition to giving publishers access to book-specific information about performance and member interest, we are also working with our own data scientist to dig into site-wide activity? We’re looking at data across publishers, categories, and years to examine trends and help publishers capture NetGalley members’ attention.

In this article, you’ll learn about opportunities you may be overlooking to reach readers interested in some underserved categories on NetGalley.

As a general rule, NetGalley functions as a microcosm of the book retail market. The titles and categories that perform strongly on NetGalley tend to also sell the most once they go on sale. This means that publishers can use NetGalley as an early indicator of success. The top 5 most popular categories on NetGalley are Teens & YA, Mystery & Thrillers, General Fiction, Romance, and Sci Fi & Fantasy. But there are plenty of other categories where you’ll find an enthusiastic readership on NetGalley!

While looking at this data, we discovered several categories with high median impressions (lots of views), but a relatively low number of books in the category. This means that there is less competition for more views!

Our data scientist helped us compare median impressions versus number of titles in each category on NetGalley, and we were able to discover which categories have a hungry audience and opportunity to expand the number of available books. 

The data set includes all books on NetGalley.com that were published between January 1 – December 31, 2018. We looked at the median impressions (views of the title details page) to ensure that extreme outliers of activity would not skew the data too much in one direction or another. The median number refers to the midpoint of the observed values, meaning that there is an equal probability of falling above or below it.

While looking at this data, we discovered several categories with high median impressions (lots of views), but a relatively low number of books in the category. This means that there is less competition for more views! Here are a few examples:

By comparison, some of the very popular categories like Romance and Mystery & Thrillers included many more titles, making the competitive field more challenging. (Romance: 706 median impressions and 2,224 titles. Mystery & Thrillers: 748 median impressions and 1,523 titles).

Keep in mind that some of the highest performing titles within these underserved categories are cross-listed in a second category. While this does mean that some of the impressions for these titles likely came from members browsing other categories, the success of cross-listed titles indicates the effectiveness of the strategy. Publishers can assign two different categories for each book on NetGalley, which we always recommend for increasing discoverability. 

For example, Bad Man (which was one of the top-performing Horror titles of 2018) is listed in both Horror and General Fiction. This means that members who were browsing in either Horror or General Fiction were able to discover Bad Man, and request it if it piqued their interest. If they browsed in both categories, they saw it twice! In total, only 13 books were cross-listed in these two particular categories in 2018. Similarly, Honeybee was one of the top-performing New Adult titles in 2018, and was cross-listed with Poetry. Some of the most common category combinations include General Fiction + Mystery & Thrillers, Romance + LGBTQIA, and Teens & YA + Sci Fi & Fantasy. 

Publishers also took advantage of on-site marketing to give their titles a boost in these categories. For example, The Kill Jar benefited from Category Spotlights in both Nonfiction and True Crime while it was active for requests, as well as a Dedicated eBlast targeted to members interested in True Crime and a list of comp titles—all of which helped it to become one of the most successful True Crime books on NetGalley in 2018. 

If you ever have questions about how to best position your titles on NetGalley in order to connect with readers who are most likely to advocate for your books, email concierge@netgalley.com

We are continually working with our data scientist to delve deeper into publisher and member activity, and will be sharing more of our findings here on NetGalley Insights. Subscribe to our weekly newsletter so that you don’t miss any upcoming data-driven strategies.

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Sourcebooks Shares 7 Strategies for Successfully Redesigning Books

Repackaging books with new covers, new back cover copy, or even a new titles is  one of the tools in a publisher’s arsenal to give a book more life. Whether making decisions about the trade paperback design after the hardcover has been on sale, or discussing changes to a backlist title that’s been acquired from another publisher, Sourcebooks uses a lot of data to support their repackaging efforts. 

Sarah Cardillo, Director of Publishing Operations at Sourcebooks shares how she and her team use sales numbers, comp titles, and audience responses to guide their redesign strategy.

1. Consider a book’s total positioning, in addition to sales

When we are looking at the trade paper edition of a hardcover release, we start by looking at sales – how many [books] did we actually sell, what percentage of the inventory sold through within the first 6-8 weeks, and did it sell at the level we had expected it to sell? We look at retail sales [as well as] library sales. Sometimes a book might not sell at our expectations at retail, but may have landed very strongly with the library markets.

If we are looking at the cover for a book that was previously published by another publisher, or perhaps self-published, we look at how the book was positioned as a whole. So, we start even further back than the cover. We think about the title, the story hook, or positioning, and the category the book will be shelved in. Even if the book had relatively strong sales, some of these other factors may give us insight into how to launch the book at a new level for Sourcebooks.

Hardcover
Repackaged as a trade paperback

2. Involve everyone in the process

Since we start by looking at sales, the decision begins with the sales department and the marketing team. The marketing team weighs in with what they were seeing at the point of launch. Did they get the reviews they’d hoped for, the media placement they’d planned? Do they think the media had an impact on the sales (or lack thereof)? We may also discuss what the consumer reviews look like. Sometimes we see that consumers are most excited about a particular aspect of the book that we did not position against – that we didn’t address on the cover or with the back cover copy. 

If this was a previously published book by another publisher or self-published, then the conversation may start with editorial – again though the editorial team starts with how they want to publish the book for their list – once they determine that positioning, the art director will review and make a recommendation on the cover direction.

In most instances, the design team is brought into the conversation when there’s already a recommendation on the table to repackage.

3. Pay attention to comp title performance 

We rely heavily on data – and comp titles provide data. We may see that a design trend has faded or taken off and so we rethink our packaging to fit into that trend. We research the categories and subcategories in depth to provide expertise on what works (and what doesn’t) when positioning a book into a certain category. We want to make sure that the consumer who reads a particular type of book knows at immediate glance that this book is for him or her. We want to make sure that our cover fits within the design space of similar books, but also stands out or stands above the other books. That the consumer sees it and knows it’s what they like to read, and that they care enough to pick it up.

4. Listen to your audience

I would say most repackages are driven by external market considerations. If we believe the current cover didn’t help sell the book, a new cover has the chance to reach a different audience – where your hardcover may have been packaged more like a romance, but your reviewers really like the mystery in the story – a repackage could lean toward the mystery aspect. So it’s still based on content, but now external factors are telling us to reposition against other aspects of the content.

A good example within the romance space was a repackage we did for a book that we published as a trade paperback title – The Curl Up & Dye by Sharon Sala.  Sharon Sala is a New York Times bestselling author in the romance space, but this trade paperback did not land the way we had hoped. But when we released her second Blessings, Georgia book, I’ll Stand By You as a mass market romance, we saw that her numbers were very strong in the mass market space and that people really loved her Blessings, Georgia setting. So we then repackaged The Curl Up & Dye as a mass market romance with a new title, You & Only You. It was already set in Blessings, Georgia, but we did not market it that way for the original trade paperback release. When we put it in mass market we made sure to communicate to the consumer via the packaging that this was set in Blessings. The one thing about mass market books and authors is that they often write within a “world” and the consumer is trained to look for copy on the cover (or in online metadata) that indicates a particular book is part of a particular series, or world. The success of I’ll Stand By You showed opportunity and a market – but more specifically that her customers were in that space already – she had success with other publishers in the mass market space, and keeping her where her customers were but then also packaging her new titles in a cheaper format allowed her to grow her reach both with existing customers but also with customers who read similar mass market titles by other authors. Plus, the lower price presented less of a barrier for entry for new customers. 

Trade paperback
Mass market romance

5. Remember your deep backlist

Sometimes we look at titles that were published 5-10 years ago (or more) and think about bringing them back out with new covers as a way to boost sales.  Especially in the young adult and the romance space. Since those audiences (especially Young Adult) turn over to new people so regularly and trends change so quickly, a successful book with a fresh cover can easily find new readers, and the accounts are happy to take the book because it was successful in the past with the previous audience. We are seeing a lot of illustrated covers in the young adult space right now. 10 years ago covers were all photographic. So we are looking at our backlist right now and seeing what books sold well but could get new life with an illustrated cover direction.

Photographic cover
Illustrated cover

6. Capitalize on the success of a repackaging campaign

If the sales increase, we can attribute part of that to the cover, of course, but we know other factors may play a part, too. The change to a more affordable format and the repositioning of the back cover copy are also important. When we see a repackage working really well, we’ll consider what we did and if there were elements that we can use from that repackage to guide the cover for the author’s next book or similar books in the same genre.

7. Think about repackaging at all stages of the publishing lifecycle, including acquisitions

Our goal in repackaging the Poisoned Pen Press backlist titles [which Sourcebooks acquired in 2018] was to give them a more cohesive look across authors and series and to have more immediate recognition for consumers.  We wanted to make sure that the consumers who devour mystery titles but have never heard of Poisoned Pen would recognize the books as mysteries that they’d want to read. We felt that, while there were many strong covers on the books, there was room to help drive consumer awareness even more. To use our experience designing for this market to increase sales.


Sarah Cardillo is the Director of Publishing Operations at Sourcebooks, one of the 10th largest publishers and the largest woman-owned trade book publisher in North America. She began her career as a production editor with Publications International (now Phoenix International Publications) but since joining Sourcebooks twelve years ago, she has grown her professional reach exponentially. As director of publishing operations, Sarah oversees numerous key departments, including the award-winning art and design department, and the production, manufacturing, and editorial production departments. She utilizes her project management and change management knowledge to build workflows and increase efficiencies across publishing operations. At the onset of the digital transformation, she rebuilt the standard bookmaking process to seamlessly integrate ebook production into the workflow. Her passion for organization and process has transformed the way departments communicate within Sourcebooks. Sarah has both a bachelor’s degree in written communication and a master’s degree in corporate communication and change management. 

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How Authors Budget for Their Books

Results from a NetGalley & IBPA joint survey

For independent authors who are publishing your own work, it can be hard to know how much to spend, and where to spend. Can you publish a book using only free tools and services? Do you need to make a serious dent in your savings account to get your book into the world? 

NetGalley and the IBPA worked together to gather information from an engaged and thoughtful group of authors about how much they budget for their books, where that budget gets allocated, and where they find the most value. We hope that this information can help other authors strategize for their own books, getting the most value out of their budgets.

These authors understand that they need to invest in their book, and that the biggest and most valuable expenses will be editing, design, and advertising & marketing in order to give their books the most professional launch possible. 

Thank you to the thoughtful authors who shared their budgets, strategies, and lessons learned about the finances of independent book publishing. 

Only 11% of respondents reported spending less than $1,000 on their books, indicating that the most active authors understand that they need to invest at least a bit in their books. The majority of authors spent between $1,000 – $6,000 on their books, with the $1,000 – $3,000 bracket accounting for 28% of the overall responses. 

Across budgets, most authors spend the bulk of their budgets on a combination of marketing & advertising, editing, and design. 

You can see how authors allocated budgets within different budgeting ranges here: 

As authors’ budgets went up, they increased the amount that they spent on marketing and advertising. Other line items – print distribution, proofreading, and ebook distribution – stayed relatively stable across budget brackets. 

Editing was the most valuable line item to 41% of respondents, followed by marketing and advertising (26%), then design (21%). We’ve broken down how they valued these three categories by budget spend below. 

Editing was the most valuable line item to 41% of respondents, followed by marketing and advertising (26%), then design (21%). We’ve broken down how they valued these three categories by budget spend below. 

As an author’s budget goes up, marketing & advertising became more valuable to them. And for the respondents with more limited budgets, they found the most value in first editing, then design

We also asked how authors determined what made a line item valuable to them. Surprisingly, it wasn’t always sales. Only 17% of respondents used sales as their primary marker of value. Instead, 31% of respondents found value when they could see that an expense had made their book a higher quality product. We can see this correlated to the value found in design and editing. Authors were most interested in making their book look – both inside and out – professional and polished, and then putting eyes on it. 

When asked what they would spend less money on in the future, 17% or respondents said marketing & advertising and 15% said printing. But, even in a question about spending less, 12% responded to a question about lowering their budget by saying it would stay the same, 7% said they would spend more. We see again that authors understand that they will need to invest in their books in order to make them the best product that they can be, and to then help their books find readers.   

NetGalley and the IBPA are both dedicated to helping author-publishers. Through NetGalley’s partnership with the IBPA, as well as through direct work with independent authors, we help author-publishers reach our engaged NetGalley community. Plus, authors find many tips and author-focused case studies here on NetGalley Insights. The IBPA has programs, events, webinars, and resources for author-publishers, as well as other segments of the industry. Learn more about the IBPA here, including special NetGalley packages available to IBPA members.

Survey collection: NetGalley and the IBPA collected survey responses from 137 author-publishers between May-June 2019. 

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Inform Timing and Strategy with Google Trends

During Tech Forum in Toronto this spring, we were thrilled to hear Jordyn Martinez of Simon & Schuster Canada encouraging the audience to dig into data available to them to drive their sales tactics. One of the tools she recommended is Google Trends, a free service that allows anyone to look at Google search trends over time. 

Google Trends plots search interest over time on a graph with the x-axis as time and the y-axis as overall interest.* In this example, we can see that most people are searching for summer reading in early June. A marketer looking at this data might see that she should use “summer reading” as an advertising hook beginning in late spring, and tapering off as summer continues. 

Google Trends also allows you to compare search terms against one another. 

You can see how many people are searching for different genres, and when. 

In this example, you can see that people are searching for romance novels and nonfiction titles at mostly comparable rates – they have similar same peaks and valleys, except for a spike in nonfiction searches in mid-December. This is likely a result of last-minute holiday shopping. Romance searches are fairly steady, with small peaks around the holidays and in late summer. When compared to one another, this shows us that interest in nonfiction fluctuates more seasonally, while romance remains steady. It also might indicate that people are buying romances for themselves and nonfiction for others. 

Google Trends also allows you to look at top locations for searches, showing publishers where interest is, in addition to when. 

Google Trends’ location map can help you learn where your target audiences really are. In this search for “Best Romance Novels,” we can see that most searches are in Massachusetts, Colorado, Minnesota, Tennessee, and Virginia. You can also drill down to find the metro areas where your chosen search terms are most popular. Publishers looking to make a splash with a new and steamy debut romance novel should make sure to target these states and cities with advertising and/or book tour stops. This tool can help publishers break out of a static approach to regional marketing, where the same roster of cities and states get standard amounts of marketing energy. Instead, publishers can start to develop a more dynamic and data-driven regional strategy. 

Some advertisers use Google Trends to capitalize on brief viral spikes in public interest by creating of-the-moment ad campaigns. In this example, we can see a sharp increase in interest for “Old Town Road,” the viral song originally by Lil Nas X featuring Billy Ray Cyrus. An advertiser might note during the uptick that they can tie in a product to the hit song, or the flash of interest in cowboys. We recommend using this strategy sparingly. It is time consuming to chase trends effectively, plus audiences can tell if a company is more interested in riding waves of buzz than in building lasting, trusting relationships with consumers.

For publishers, Google Trends is best thought of in the long-term. It can show you whether your genres are getting seasonal, cyclical attention or a steady thrum throughout the year. You’ll know whether you should be pitching your books as holiday picks if interest in their genre spike around December. Plus, you’ll be able to better focus your attention beyond the major markets; how to truly cater to your audience wherever they are. 

Jordyn Martinez of Simon & Schuster Canada told NetGalley Insights, “Google Trends is really useful for any department, particularly acquisitions, sales, and marketing. In terms of sales, I use it to see what the Canadian population is searching for, to see if there’s room for growth or if what I’m selling is tapping into a trend. It’s especially useful if I want to know whether a trend has shifted at all, whether there seems to be more or less demand. It’s information that I can bring to my buyers, so that we can make educated decisions on how to position the book.”

*The data in GoogleTrends is all indexed to 100, meaning that whenever the line reaches 100, it represents the moment in time when there were the most people searching for that term. It does not refer to a percentage of overall Google searches or number of users. This also means that the max interest will represent numbers of people. The peak for “Game of Thrones” searches will cover a wider swath of the population than the peak for “Spring Book Club Picks,” although both will be indexed to 100. Google News Lab gave a nice overview here.

Check out more tips and news for data-driven decision making from NetGalley Insights here.

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The 7 Best Marketing Strategies from BookExpo and BookCon

In the midst of a very busy week full of meetings, parties, and panels, we got a chance to see how publishers were engaging audiences at BookExpo and BookCon. In addition to the many totes, pins, bookmarks, and ARC drops, we saw some unique marketing strategies, including quizzes, photo opportunities, and even live animals! Here were some of our favorite creative ways that exhibitors got the attention of BookExpo and BookCon attendees.

Adorable, Adoptable Pets – National Geographic

To promote Dr. Gary Weitzman’s The National Geographic Complete Guide to Pet Health, National Geographic partnered with a local animal shelter to bring pets to the show floor. Attendees cuddled well-behaved kittens and puppies, who were handling the stresses of BookExpo better than many attendees! The dogs and cats were available for adoption, which only added to the warm and fuzzy feelings at the National Geographic booth.

Sharing Author Love – Penguin Teen

Penguin Teen tapped into the resonant emotional connections that readers build with authors to promote Looking For Alaska, the upcoming Hulu show based on John Green’s 2005 novel. Attendees filled up the “Share your love for John Green’s books” display with heartfelt and vulnerable notes about Green’s books and his advocacy around mental health, grateful for the chance to share their experiences with an author who had impacted their lives. The Penguin Teen wall was a great break from branded swag, and place for readers to remember how powerful it is to be seen by an author who helps you understand yourself, and be more understood in the wider world.

Live Illustration – Scholastic

To promote Elisha Cooper’s upcoming children’s book about a canoe trip, River, Scholastic sat Cooper down at their booth with pen and paper. He worked on an illustration of the New York skyline while attendees watched. They could even get a closer look at Cooper’s illustration process via a camera and a monitor that projected his detailed work. The Scholastic team told NetGalley Insights that they wanted to give attendees a more intimate glimpse into Cooper’s work process, rather than simply providing an opportunity to meet the author and illustrator. We certainly appreciated the inside look!

Testing Audiobook Knowledge – Penguin Random House Audio

PRH Audio engaged audiobook listeners with audio themed quizzes during BookCon. Attendees listened to audio clips and answered questions about Harry Potter, movie tie-ins, Stranger Things, and fierce female characters for their chance to win a free button. Many other booths didn’t make their visitors work as hard to get a button, but judging by the PRH line, attendees enjoyed this chance to test their expertise.

Totes on Demand – Riveted by Simon Teen

Tote bags are some of the most standard swag items at any book-related event. After all, everyone needs something to put their new books in! Riveted, Simon Teen’s online platform for YA fiction, partnered with local independent screen print shop Bushwick Print Lab to give attendees a unique, high-quality tote. After braving a very long line, the attendee could choose between several different design options for their free on-the-spot screen printed tote bag. The Jenny Han quote, “It’s the imperfections that make things beautiful” (pictured here) was a particularly popular option.

Recommendation Quizzes – Penguin Random House

In addition to their audio quizzes, Penguin Random House used a short quiz to help recommend their new books to BookCon attendees. Readers filled out a short quiz that resulted in a recommendation for an upcoming PRH book, which they then received as a free giveaway. Audiences loved the Buzzfeed-style quiz and, of course, getting to walk away with the recommended book!

Book Wings Photo Wall – Bookish

Bookish gave readers a chance to spread their literary wings with a photo opportunity. They created giant wings out of books both beloved and not yet published. While they waited in line, readers talked to each other about which books in the wings they had read, which were their favorites, and which were on their TBR list. Plus, authors and publicists stopped by to find themselves or their authors in the wings. Check out some of the tagged photos here!


We left BookExpo and BookCon exhausted but inspired by the new ways that publishers are engaging readers, and the enthusiasm of attendees who will break into a run for a new book and wait for hours to meet their favorite authors. Until next year!

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