Using Data to Drive Strategy

How NetGalley uses data to frame decision-making and help books succeed

One of the core principles at NetGalley is our focus on data. We give publishers the tools to help them understand and use their data as strategically as possible, and we use data to guide the development of our service.

When we work with publishers on a strategic level, and as we continue to build new features in NetGalley, we are thinking about what data is most valuable to publishers. When we meet with publishers, we hear that you would like more ways to correlate your marketing efforts with activity, or better understand your audience. It’s important for us to know which metrics are most important to you in the pre-publication phase, and how you’re using your results to understand what’s working for your books.

As much as we are encouraging publishers to look at their own data, we are doing the same for ourselves.

And as much as we are encouraging publishers to look at their own data, we are doing the same for ourselves. 

Since early 2019, NetGalley has been working closely with Mandy Fakhoury, our on-staff data scientist, to delve into our own data. She has helped us examine how publishers are using the site, which tools are most used (and how effectively), and how industry trends are manifesting on NetGalley.

For example, with Mandy’s help, we learned which categories within the NetGalley catalog saw a lot of interest, but had relatively few titles listed. We shared the results of that research to encourage publishers in those categories to capitalize on what we learned.

Mandy shared a bit about her work as a data scientist for NetGalley and Firebrand, plus a tip about how lay people can become more comfortable using hard metrics to guide their decision-making.

What is the role of a data scientist? 

The role of a data scientist is extracting meaningful information from data. My job is focused on data management, modeling, and business analysis. The process for any data scientist is defining the problem, collecting the data, understanding and exploring the dataset, and analyzing and communicating the results and findings. Ultimately there’s a question to be answered or a problem to be solved, therefore the majority of my time is spent making sure the data is ready to be analyzed. The remainder of my time is spent on creating models or analyses that give insightful meaning or show certain trends that answer or solve the problem.

What have you observed about how publishing engages with data, compared  to other industries?

Publishers require data to make clear decisions to innovate and better serve their customers. Like  other industries, data is a crucial part of the decision-making process. As an example, most industries use historical trends which allows them to identify which areas have been successful and which ones need improvement. In the publishing world, historical trend is about identifying which genres yielded the most sales and which titles sold the most. 

Any favorite project you’ve worked on for either Firebrand or NetGalley?

I can definitely say I have learned more about natural language processing (NLP) and text analysis within both Firebrand and NetGalley. I have become more familiar with the data that goes into the publishing world. On the Firebrand side I have learned the trend of publishers owning or losing a buy button, as well as whether a sale price is different than the list price provided by a publisher among other insights. On the NetGalley side I have created a Word Cloud based on reviews from members [now live for NetGalley Advanced clients!]. Doing the Word Cloud, I got more comfortable using Flask as well creating applications in R Shiny. I have also gotten a deeper understanding of sentiment analysis as well as text classification and the quality of a text. Overall, every project teaches me something new and that is my favorite part; with data science you never stop learning.

Any advice for non-data scientists to become better at using hard metrics to guide decision-making?

An effective decision is made based on a blend of experience and data. The best approach is understanding your data, the behavior of trends, as well as your audience, and don’t let the data blindly drive your decision. 

Decision making is a critical aspect of success or failure. In this new era, data has become a key part of the decision-making process. Once a problem has been clearly defined, it’s a matter of collecting the appropriate data needed to answer our problem. Data provides us with the information that can be used and processed in different ways to make decisions. A big challenge is knowing how much to rely on the tools at your disposal and how much to rely on your instincts. An effective decision is made based on a blend of experience and data. The best approach is understanding your data, the behavior of trends, as well as your audience, and don’t let the data blindly drive your decision. 

A dedicated data scientist is invaluable to the growth of NetGalley for Kristina Radke, VP of Business Growth & Engagement. 

“Mandy is dedicated to helping us understand all of the activity on NetGalley and find real answers about the use of our site, both by publishers and members. It’s so important to how we plan NetGalley’s continued growth. A gut feeling just isn’t enough to make business decisions! I don’t want to just think about data and activity–it’s critical to my role to understand it and use it to get better and better. I love working closely with Mandy as she collects and analyzes our data, and making space to consider what that data means to us going forward.”


A gut feeling just isn’t enough to make business decisions! I don’t want to just think about data and activity–it’s critical to my role to understand it and use it to get better and better.

Lindsey Lochner, VP of Marketing Engagement, explains that publishers benefit from our increased investment in data analysis. 

“Lately we’ve been hearing more about data analysis from many of the publishers we work with, whether they have an official data scientist (or team) in-house, or their individual marketers have an increased focus on the data available to them. As our clients dig even further into their own data, it’s our goal to help provide some of the missing puzzle pieces that fit into the entire picture of how a book is performing. Mandy helps us visualize and analyze the specific activity and review data that we gather from our platform, so that we can present that back to publishers to help widen their scope.”

When we launched NetGalley Advanced in January 2019, we did so to give publishers even more early data. And as we continue to build out new features and functionality within NetGalley Advanced, every update we are releasing is to help publishers discover a deeper understanding about how you (and any associated imprints) are using the site. Publishers can see how members are interacting with their titles, and how their actions (both on and off NetGalley) affect NetGalley activity, and more.  

We’ve shared some of those data-driven best practices here on NetGalley Insights, including tips on how to develop a data strategy, how to best use the Snapshot PDF, and takeaways from high-performing marketing campaigns in our Proven Strategies series.

We’ll be sharing more dispatches from our internal research here on NetGalley Insights. 

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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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Discover How the NYPL Listens to its Patrons, from Branch to Operations

How the biggest library system in the country meets patron needs, and how publishers can better connect with libraries at all levels

The more that publishers know about their audience and their industry partners, the better able you are to meet their needs and build lasting and mutually beneficial relationships. That’s why NetGalley Insights recently spoke with New York Public Library staffers from the branch level to operations.

We heard from

  • Lynn Lobash: Associate Director, Readers Services
  • Brandy McNeil: Associate Director of Technology, Education & Training
  • Brian Stokes: Library Manager, Mulberry Street Branch

They gave us an inside look at how they learn about their patrons’ interests and needs, how librarians find out about new books, and how publishers can best engage with their librarians and community, and more. 

After hearing from Lobash, McNeil, and Stokes, we encourage you to consider that in the bigger library systems, you should consider reaching out to various departments and outreach should look different for different types of contacts you’re talking to. Consider reaching branch librarians through social media influencers (for example, the vibrant Librarian Twitterverse) or pitching author visits. For the more technologically-minded publishers, consider a workshop partnership. And be sure to share larger trends you’re seeing across the industry with your library partners at the operations levels!

Branch librarians in the NYPL system are plugged in to their patrons’ interests, even though collection development happens through the BookOps team. At the branch level, staffers tend to use anecdotal experience and personal relationships as their data points. Brian Stokes, Library Manager at the Mulberry Street Branch told NetGalley Insights, “Most of our awareness of what’s new and popular simply comes through personal interest and observation of what’s circulating.” To see first-hand what the patrons at the Mulberry branch are interested in, Stokes spends a few hours each day at the public desk. 

To see first-hand what the patrons at the Mulberry branch are interested in, Stokes spends a few hours each day at the public desk.

The staff at Mulberry Street are, unsurprisingly, book-centric people. According to Stokes, they are already accessing publisher resources about new releases or industry tools without any prompting or encouragement from management. 

For example, the YA librarian at Mulberry Street uses NetGalley to submit LibraryReads nominations. And Stokes relied heavily on NetGalley and Edelweiss when he co-chaired the NYPL’s Best Books for Teens committee in 2017 and 2018.

Most of his direct communication with publishers comes from organizing author talks, which he considers to be one of the most effective ways to engage his librarians and the community of patrons. Librarians are hungry for more author visits!

In between individual library branches and the BookOps team is Reader Services, who often act as liaisons. They train staff to think about the needs of their particular communities and to provide readers advisory, both in-person and through displays and shelf-talkers. They hear from branch librarians and pass recommendations to the selection teams. Reader Services also recommends books directly to patrons via Twitter, Facebook, email, and best-of lists

Lynn Lobash, Associate Director of Readers Services, told NetGalley Insights that she thinks of her job as “raising the profile of librarians as book experts.”

She works more directly with publishers, bringing her staff together for publisher book buzzes several times a year. Lobash appreciates publishers’ willingness to provide galleys and their contact information during these buzzes. She emphasizes that librarians are proud to work on behalf of all their books, not just the biggest and buzziest. 

“I’d like them to know how hard librarians work to get their books into the hands of patrons who will love them, and not just the big literary fiction books they are putting money behind, but all the books from DIY to urban romance. Some people in publishing feel that libraries are a detriment to book sales and that is a shame.”

“I’d like them to know how hard librarians work to get their books into the hands of patrons who will love them, and not just the big literary fiction books they are putting money behind, but all the books from DIY to urban romance. Some people in publishing feel that libraries are a detriment to book sales and that is a shame. They show this resentment in their mark-up on ebooks in particular.”

Lobash is also open to more industry-centric communication from publishers. She’s interested to hear what trends publishers are seeing in the overall market so that she and her team can build more engaging displays and collections to help patrons find what they want.

While the Readers Services team doesn’t provide their internal data to publishers, she considers purchase orders to be the best indicator of what the NYPL is interested in.

In addition to responding to patron needs in collection development, the NYPL is dedicated to making sure that its patrons have access to digital tools that are increasingly required in jobs and to accomplish basic necessities of life. Brandy McNeil, Associate Director of Technology, Education & Training counts this as the library’s biggest asset, but acknowledges that encouraging technological education can be tricky because patrons don’t always know which skills they need. 

One of the ways that the library system addresses these needs is through innovative pilot programs. These programs introduce patrons to new skills while also gauging general interest in these topics to see which should be expanded more broadly. McNeil told NetGalley Insights that every workshop or class starts out as a pilot, whose success is measured by attendance and patron assessment scores via surveys. Some recent pilot programs have included Project Code, Make It Print It Sell It and Office Readiness. While they do not share this information with publishers as a default, they are open to sharing attendance numbers and relevant demographic information with publishers on a case-by-case basis. 

“The challenge is remaining present in the minds of people who are fortunate enough to not need the library that other people do need us. As such, we are still vital.”

The biggest challenge libraries face is to demonstrate to patrons that they are relevant and vital. That’s why McNeil and her team are staying up to date with AI and VR. “It will help show patrons that we are staying current with the technological changes they are experiencing…that we are readily equipped to answer their questions and guide them forward, proving that libraries will always be a need for communities.” 

NYPL is uniquely positioned as a free community resource within a huge and expensive city. Brian Stokes told NetGalley Insights, “It’s virtually impossible to find somewhere in New York that doesn’t require any money from you to spend the day there. In any given week a parent could bring their baby to a professionally-run story time, check out a copy of Normal People, pick up a DVD to watch for Saturday night and send a few important work emails while their kids plays in our children’s room in 72 degree air conditioning while it’s 95 degrees outside. For free! That’s huge and something that’s definitely a rarity in 2019 Manhattan. The challenge is remaining present in the minds of people who are fortunate enough to not need the library that other people do need us. As such, we are still vital.”

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The Human+ Future of Automation in Book Publishing

Michelle Vu, Director of Business Intelligence & Data Management at Houghton Mifflin Harcourt, is implementing automation at HMH while keeping humans front-of-mind

Automation in publishing, as in any other industry, can seem risky. Workers wonder what will happen when their job can be done – in part or in full – by a computer program. For example, how will interns break into the industry if there are no galley envelopes to stuff and send? 

But where some see cause for concern, Michelle Vu sees opportunities. In her role as Director of Business Intelligence & Data Management at Houghton Mifflin Harcourt, Vu is working across divisions at HMH see how automation could make workflows smoother and more effective. She is fostering honest dialogue about pain points throughout the book publishing process. Vu is using automation to give her colleagues more space to do the creative and thoughtful work that humans are uniquely good at, and that is required to shepherd great books into being. 

She recently gave NetGalley Insights an inside look at how she thinks about automation and how she is implementing it at HMH. 

How do you define automation?

Automation takes a process typically performed by a human being and uses technology to either remove the human element completely or create a hybrid of the two. We’ve seen many forms of automation throughout history, mass production and the assembly line, chat bots, Alexa and Siri, and the thermostat in our homes. It is easy to forget modern conveniences are the result of some form of automation.

I see automation as an opportunity to improve employee satisfaction by reducing the amount of boring but necessary tasks we each do every day. 

Photo via Yotel

One of my favorite hotels to stay at in Boston is the Yotel in the Seaport District. Walking into the lobby, you check in at a kiosk with the credit card used to book the room, the machine creates a security card for entry to your room and prints a receipt with your room number. Automating tasks like check-in and setting up room access frees up the concierge to do the very human work of making a visit special through personalized recommendations.  If I need recommendations for things to do, there is a human being at the concierge desk whose time was not spent processing my stay but rather guiding me to the exciting things Boston has to offer. I realize this type of interaction (or non-interaction) may not work for everyone, but I find the experience very liberating.

You use the framework of Human+ to think about incorporating automation. Tell us what that means to you.

Human+ is building a digital workforce of software bots, machine learning, and artificial/augmented intelligence to work alongside and complement our human workforce. Identifying and segregating tasks that robots excel at with speed and accuracy (processing invoices, sifting through reams of financial data) from tasks that humans do best, especially those requiring subjective reasoning and creativity. To me, this means recognizing there really is a way to do more with less. By offsetting our talent with the aid of technology, we could invest more of our time with innovation.

By offsetting our talent with the aid of technology, we could invest more of our time with innovation.

How are you integrating automation into workflows at HMH? How and why did you take on this role?

We have been using software bots in the HMH trade division for the past six years on a much smaller scale and only within the data group. Our bots function to automate the retrieval, manipulation, and ingestion of data from external sources (think point of sales, daily ebook sales, etc.). It was not until recently that HMH implemented an enterprise level RPA (robotics process automation) program. Recognition of and support of RPA organization-wide has not only helped us ramp up automation projects; it has given us the visibility needed to expand beyond data ingestion into business processes.

Last year, our corporate automation team reached out to me to become a member of the advisory board for the RPA initiative. As the head of data and analytics for the trade division, RPA has been an area I have been wanting to explore for several years. To be perfectly honest, I knew very little about automation, but since I already work closely with our Publishing Operations team on workflow and processes, this was the perfect opportunity to dive right in!

What are the psychological, cultural, or social implications of integrating automation into publishing? 

Evangelizing automation from an empathetic perspective is the most important thing for a successful RPA implementation. Ask a person at any level from various industries and they are sure to be overwhelmed, doing the job of two people or simply cannot find enough time in a day to finish their work. It’s important to remember that automation is not just a series of meetings to go over process improvements nor is it the new shiny IT project. A grassroots approach would be most effective, so people are less inclined to view automation as a mandate or a cost-cutting initiative. Having people create their own areas of efficiencies allows for greater ownership and accountability over their processes.

Evangelizing automation from an empathetic perspective is the most important thing for a successful RPA implementation.

I think of automation as a shift in our culture and rethinking the way we work and what we call “work” from a holistic point of view. It is not biased toward return on investment or reduction in staff, but rather a long-term approach for employee engagement and innovation. Traditional publishing is often hierarchical in structure with divisions and imprints focusing on each of their own processes. Honest conversations between departments about automation can help break down the silo mindset and engage employees to think bigger picture where they can add the most value to the book production life cycle.

What responses have you been getting from colleagues when you are automating parts of their workflow?

I am fortunate to be working with such a wonderful group of people at HMH, who have reacted to my questioning and probing into their work with curiosity and excitement. My role is to foster discovery sessions where we uncover and unravel processes, asking why we are doing something and what kind of results are expected. I’ve received positive feedback even during the discovery phase where we are stepping back and breaking down tasks. Not all projects are good candidates for automation, but the conversation itself has had a positive impact in people’s work in an empowering way. Having the support of upper management is key. I am grateful to have a management team that understands and realizes this is an opportunity to create powerful changes in our definition of work.

Which kinds of jobs have already been affected by automation? Which roles do you anticipate will be impacted next? How will it change entry-level positions?

The types of automation we’ve looked at have been administrative type tasks that are being done by non-admin people. For example, an editor submitting author advance payments or accounts payable invoices or a production manager tracking the status of shipments from freight carriers. We are looking at tasks and not necessarily entire jobs. For entry-level positions, I expect automation could potentially mean fewer admin duties and more meaningful work.

In the case where entire jobs are being eliminated, some companies transition and train the people affected by automation to manage and even build the actual bots. It makes sense since they know the process best and can troubleshoot and fix issues.

What hopes or plans do you have for the future of automation in publishing, either at HMH or across the industry?

I would like to see vendors of publishing software integrate automation features into their applications by improving the management of production schedules and having a more targeted approach to workflow based on user profile. From a contracts, permissions, and sub rights perspective, using NLP (natural language processing) for semi-structured data in managing contracts and royalties would improve accuracy of data management and tracking of licenses. It would be interesting to integrate bots into the manuscript editing process that could potentially reduce the number of passes and streamline the workflow. One of our next big projects at HMH is to automate certain parts of metadata management to resolve data discrepancies, missing data and potentially even have bots create new data.


Michelle Vu is the Director of Business Intelligence & Data Management at Houghton Mifflin Harcourt, where she heads the data and analytics team for the HMH Books and Media division. In her thirteen years of experience in trade publishing, she has led many metadata initiatives to improve workflow efficiency and generate product discovery. Michelle is passionate about delivering insights in meaningful ways, facilitating increased productivity and driving effective decision-making. Most of her free time is spent baking, cooking, eating, talking about food, and all things cats. 

Interviews have been edited for clarity and length.

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Career Advice for Publishing Students from the NetGalley Team

Last month several members of the NetGalley team sat down with NYU Summer Publishing Institute students. Nina Berman, Associate Editor at NetGalley Insights, Amanda Delatorrre, QA Manager, and Kristina Radke, VP of Business Growth & Development described their career paths, answered student questions, and shared the advice that helped each of them get to where they are in the publishing industry. 

The Summer Publishing Institute (SPI) is a six-week study of books and digital/magazine media in the heart of the publishing world. The program combines workshops, strategy sessions, presentations, hands-on projects and dynamic networking events. Learn more about SPI, plus NYU’s MS in Publishing.

The NetGalley team offered advice about how to network, how to position non-publishing skills and experience for the publishing world, how to carve a niche for yourself in a team as an assistant or intern, and assured the students that there are other creative positions beyond the Editor role.

You can see their nontraditional paths to NetGalley at the end of the article.

Network for the long haul, not just the job hunt

NB: When you’re making those connections, thinking about what you really want to get out of it. In part, it’s obviously that you want to be on their Rolodex so when they’re hiring or their friends are hiring they remember you. But there’s a lot of other information you can learn. And also, keep up with them! Let them know when you get a job, even if they didn’t directly help you do it. People like to feel like they’ve helped you even if just what they did was give you a few pointers generally. Because your first publishing job will not be your forever-job in the world. All of us have been helped by someone along the way. There’s a real sort of pay it forward sensibility.

Let [professional contacts] know when you get a job, even if they didn’t directly help you do it. People like to feel like they’ve helped..

AD: Networking is scary, but it’s so important. Connections that you make from here [at SPI], the speakers, including us, who come here and talk to you guys want to help, we want to give back. Taking advantage of that is really important.

KR: And if these contacts you make see that your momentum is building – that you got a job, and continue to express an interest in them and in the work that they’re doing, you’re going to stay at the top of their mind if they hear about something else that they think you’d be right for. Just sharing your interests with those people goes a long way towards helping others do some work for you and open up opportunities that you might otherwise not have heard of.

Frame your experience for the job you want

KR: Talk about your previous experience in a way that makes it relevant for the job you’re applying for. I had a friend who was interested in a career change, to get into publishing. She asked me if I would sit down with her and look at her résumé because she was applying for a marketing job. She had done work in retail and office admin. I literally just tweaked a couple of words to use publishing lingo to really draw the line between what that experience was and how it applies to book publishing. I think that was one of the most helpful things for her to get her foot in the door. And then once your foot is in the door, the interview is easy. So make sure that you’re really taking the language that you’re using in these classes and insert it into those résumés.

NB: I interned at a place called Chicago Ideas Week and wrote for their blog. Which was fun and something that kept me busy because they didn’t always have a ton of work. Eventually I realized that I needed to get on my own insurance, so I ended up getting a job as a sales assistant at iHeartMedia, which is the company that owns the radio stations that you listen to. It was in no way a good fit for me in terms of culture or the nature of the work, but I learned a lot of 9-to-5 kinds of office skills – emailing, organization, dealing with agency people, things like that. And later on, I was able to turn a part-time opening at NetGalley into a full-time job because I had a combination of editorial experience, from writing for this blog, and account management from this sales job that had been so taxing on my spirit. It was a lot of bouncing around but I found connections where I didn’t expect them, which ended up helping me. And in retrospect, finding things I didn’t think were valuable about old jobs actually ended up helping me be here at NetGalley.

Think about what matters to you in a job


Think about what your values are, what makes you feel like you can get up and go to work everyday and hold onto that as you go into job-hunting.

NB: Working at NetGalley has helped clarify what I care about in a job, which is important when you’re job hunting. Think clearly about what kind of work you’re willing to do, what are the quality-of-life things that are important to you, what size of company do you want to work for, etc. Publishing jobs are so competitive and – especially if you’re working in editorial – you know you’re signing up for what might end up being fairly grueling work, and it might be hard to make rent.

I know for me, it’s really important to feel like I have some kind of ownership over the work that I do. It’s valuable for me to see the impact of my work, and I think that is really possible at a smaller, scrappier organization. But, for a lot of other people, working at a real legacy publisher is hugely important and makes you feel like you’re in a grand lineage. I feel like I have a lot of freedom with NetGalley Insights – to develop it in the way that I want, to interview whoever I’m interested in. 

At NetGalley, our workplace culture is great. We all maintain good boundaries about working and not working, which is really important because we’re remote. We have set hours, which I think is really valuable. And I think there’s a lot of trust. And I’ve never worked with a more competent team in my life.

Think about what your values are, what makes you feel like you can get up and go to work everyday and hold onto that as you go into job-hunting.

AD: I always thought I wanted to work in editorial and, through SPI, I got an internship at Wiley that eventually ended up being my first job as an editorial assistant. When I got the title “Editorial Assistant” at Wiley, which has been a publisher since the 1800s, I was so excited, even though I had no idea what that actually meant. For me, the work there was not rewarding and I was struggling. I knew I wanted to stay in some kind of publishing house and I wanted to stay in the industry, but I was nervous to leave even though I knew I was unhappy. Eventually, I found myself in a more technology-focused role, which ended up suiting me much more!

KR: For my particular role, the fact that I have many things going on – from new product development and sales to managing my team and being an extra set of eyes for NetGalley Insights – sometimes makes it difficult to prioritize. As soon as I get really excited and focused on one thing, there’s all of this other stuff that I need to be thinking about, including what’s next for the company. But that’s also what I love about it. Our team is phenomenal, our work life balance is really great as a company, and for my particular job, every day is different. I never find myself in a rut, because as soon as I’m done focusing on something, there’s five other things that I could be looking at. Staying excited about my position has helped me stick with NetGalley for over eight years!

Explore beyond editorial

AD: When I realized that I wasn’t happy as an editorial assistant, I moved within Wiley to become a Learning Design Assistant. Learning Design is how people learn online, other than just reading your text. A lot of ebooks, a lot of dynamic stuff like that. It was a very good mixture of both editorial and technology, and I ended up naturally falling more towards the technology side. I’ve always been the person who is good at computers. I think having that job where I got the best of both worlds really pushed me to identify what was best for myself. I went back and got my masters degree in educational technology around that time, which drove my desire to change my position forward. Making that final jump from leaving everything editorial behind into this more tech-focused role at NetGalley was super scary but super rewarding. I think I get the best of all worlds now.

KR: I had an internship at HarperCollins in the editorial department at Ecco. This was a very strategic goal of mine at the time, as it is many of yours. It’s challenging to get into an editorial role. It’s really competitive and it’s a whole lot of work. I encourage you to keep pursuing that! For me, once I really experienced the editorial work, I found that it was less rewarding than some of the publicity work that I was previously doing for Hal Leonard. When a job opened up in marketing at HarperTeen, I jumped on it. I submitted my résumé, I got all of the recommendations in. And I ended up there for two years in the marketing department. That was a great way to exercise my creativity – I was writing a lot of copy for ads, back cover copy, social media posts, text that appeared on dedicated book websites, and things like that. 

At that time, and still today, HarperCollins was using NetGalley. I learned about this digital resource that would save so much time – especially thinking back to my time in the publicity department, manually stuffing envelopes and putting the labels on and stacking them so the UPS guy could come pick them up. I was intrigued by the ability to take something that had been such a manual process and make it really digital. It appealed to me in a way that sparked another type of creativity – how can we be using this better? We were [using NetGalley] kind of minimally, but it seemed like we could be doing so much more and connecting with so many more people. These questions led me to apply for a position at NetGalley in a role I never would have predicted for myself!

See yourself as a peer

KR: I interned at Foundry Literary + Media, a literary agency. I did a lot of slush pile reading for them, writing summaries and recommendations to the agents, and writing rejection letters. But what I found most interesting was that the agents were most impressed with the way I could sit in a meeting with them and have a conversation. I heard various comments from them like, “It’s really clear that you’re not right out of college like some of the other interns.” What they were really commenting on was not my age, but the way in which I was able to talk with them confidently as a peer. This is something I would impart to you. Remember that your ideas and opinions are valuable and think of yourself as an equal to all of the people you’re meeting and talking to.

Find opportunity in data & strategy

No matter what your job is, the data is really important. If you know what indicators of success you’re looking for, you can have a better idea about what’s going to work the next time.

KR: Data is something you should be thinking about, even – especially! – those of you who are interested in editorial. No matter what your job is, the data is really important. If you know what indicators of success you’re looking for, you can have a better idea about what’s going to work the next time. Or, if you tried something and it didn’t reach the goals you were trying to reach, data helps you to assess why and try something else. We live in an age now where you have to do that to stay competitive. 

Strategy is one of those things that I think is undersold. A lot of authors especially are still figuring it out. The marketers and publicists at publishing houses often fall into the trap of, “Well this is the way we’ve always done it.” Or, “Sure, somebody told me I should try this thing and I’m going to do it, but in a really minimal way.” One of the biggest challenges of our job at NetGalley is to help people think about their job in a way that really is data-driven, that helps them be a little more agile in the way that they are considering the audiences that they’re reaching and things like that.

NB: A lot of the publishers we work with, especially those that are smaller or run a tighter ship, say that they always wish they were able to spend more time with NetGalley data. That’s an opportunity for those of you who end up in smaller publishing houses. Whether it’s NetGalley that you’re working with or something else; whatever else it is that other people are too busy to work on, make that your thing. Get really good at it, learn a lot about it, be able to incorporate it into your work, and be able to build yourself a little niche that’s really valuable. We’ve seen people start as an assistant who is clicking buttons within the publisher’s account to approve NetGalley requests, then get really interested and becoming great users of the service. They’re then able to leverage that in their own careers to demonstrate that their understanding of this data is valuable in a higher position, or bringing NetGalley wherever they move next.

It’s a good lesson that the things that people generally know that they should be doing, but might not have the resources to do, can be great opportunities for you as an assistant or intern to find something and make it your own.


Thank you so much to NYU’s SPI students for their thoughtful questions. We wish them all the best of luck as they finish out their program and get started in the industry! We are more than happy to speak to more student groups and consider other speaking engagements. To inquire, email insights@netgalley.com.

Transcript has been edited for clarity & length.

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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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Stephen Sposato: Curating for 1.7 million patrons at Chicago Public Libraries

Anyone who works in the book industry is, in a sense, a content curator. But a curatorial eye looks different for different segments of the industry: for agents, marketing departments, booksellers, critics, and influencers. 


Chicago Public Library – Harold Washington Library Center

Stephen Sposato, Manager of Content Curation at Chicago Public Libraries told NetGalley Insights how he and his team think about their roles as curators for their community, and which resources they use to make sure that they are best meeting their patrons’ needs. 

Unlike an independent bookstore, which caters to the current interests of a neighborhood, librarians need to consider a wider demographic and a different set of needs. With 80 locations, over 2.6 million books in circulation, and 1.7 million patrons, Sposato and his team are curating for a massive and diverse community.  

Sposato told Insights, “We’re expected to provide access to books for a lot longer (sometimes even after they’re out of print). We also tend to offer materials people need for short term help but don’t particularly want to own, such as resume books, SAT prep books, or books on dieting and fitness. The public expects us to offer access to all books in perpetuity, but the reality is we have limited resources and must make choices every day about the collection, and so librarians are curators in this sense.”

Here are the resources that Sposato and his team use to curate the offerings for Chicago Public Libraries.

Data

“We actually order most new mainstream books because we serve a large city and we can count on wide demand. For us the trick is to correctly anticipate the level of demand and to order the right number of copies. We check the previous track record of the authors of new books and look at the performance of similar books. We are committed to stocking a collection that is “current, diverse and responsive,” as it states in our library’s most recent strategic plan, and at the same time we need to be fiscally responsible with our funding.”

Industry recommendations

“We stay on top of the coverage of forthcoming and new books pretty well. Aside from the opportunities I just mentioned, publishers work with library distributors like Ingram and Baker & Taylor who helpfully create lists of forthcoming titles each month. And librarians across the country also discuss forthcoming titles on social media and contribute to the monthly LibraryReads list of the top 10 titles recommended for readers each month.”

*Librarians from NetGalley can nominate books for LibraryReads directly within their account!

Library Marketing teams 

“We don’t have as much direct contact as we could ideally, but the bigger publishing houses and some of the mid-size publishers have staff devoted to library marketing, and we receive regular email newsletters from them, as well as notices about forthcoming books, including some access to advance copies. When we can attend professional conferences, there are often opportunities to see them present forthcoming books in person and meet with them in exhibitor booths. We also receive some catalogs by mail. Our publisher reps also tend to be extremely helpful when we contact them with requests by email.

We’ve had great success with publishers sponsoring author visits, and we’ve even started experimenting with “book buzz” events for the public as when Penguin Random House came and pitched new books directly to our patrons or we invited smaller local publishers to showcase their newest titles. We also had the opportunity to partner with Macmillan recently who worked with a mystery book club at one of our branches to promote some new mystery titles.”

Sposato hopes to expand his collaborations with publishers. “With the demise of some big [bookstore] chains over the last couple decades, there are fewer physical places for people to discover new books, movies and music.  We see libraries playing an increasing role in discovery, and we think that’s of long-term benefit to publishers, so more dialogue would be great. I’d also like to see more proactive inclusion of libraries when launching books of local appeal: we need to know about big Chicago books before anyone else. And while book stores tend to be found in the wealthiest neighborhoods in order to have the best chance of survival, we have a presence in more diverse neighborhoods. We love it when publishers are open to discussing the needs we see throughout our entire society.”


How do you or your marketing team work with regional librarians? Email us at insights@netgalley.com. We’d love to feature your strategies!

Stephen Sposato is the manager of Content Curation at Chicago Public Library, overseeing selection and readers’ advisory. He has over fifteen years of experience in collection development and readers’ advisory. He has written for Library Journal as a reviewer and as a contributor to the Reader’s Shelf column. He has provided extensive RA training, given presentations at BookExpo, the Illinois Library Association and the American Library Association, and currently serves as a member of the Board of Directors for LibraryReads. You can find him on Twitter at @stephensposato.

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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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V.E. Schwab Reflects on Her Publishing Journey: “In Writing for Myself I Found My Readership”

Originally published on Bookish.com.

Earlier this year, V.E. Schwab’s debut novel The Near Witch was republished with a brand new cover and bonus short story. For the readers who have flocked to Schwab’s Shades of Magic and Villians series, it’s been an exciting opportunity to visit their favorite author’s first book after falling in love with her other work. For Schwab, it’s been a time to reflect on The Near Witch’s initial run and how it ultimately impacted the way she told stories. Here, Schwab opens up about finding her readership, writing for herself, and the advice she gives to all debut authors.

Bookish: Your debut novel The Near Witch was recently rereleased with a brand new cover. What’s the rerelease been like for you?

V.E. Schwab: It has definitely made me more introspective. I’m proud of how far I’ve come. A decade has passed between writing that book and my work on my next novel, The Invisible Life of Addie La Rue.

I assumed that The Near Witch was going to roll out very quietly back into the world. Instead, Titan, my UK publisher, took a book that never really had a fair chance and they’ve given it everything debut me would’ve dreamed of. They treated it like a new release and gave it so much attention and fanfare. I’m elated.

This is, of course, the great paradox. Debut me never would’ve gotten any of these things.

I’m very honest about that to aspiring writers. Nothing about this book changed. Everything about the way this book was treated changed.

Bookish: In the book, the Near Witch rises up after being buried. It seems to mirror this book’s journey.

VS: I’m calling this book tour the resurrection tour. It’s very weird and surreal. It’s hard for me to talk about with any objectivity. I’m so grateful.

I’ve come a long way but it wasn’t a straight line. The Near Witch is a quiet book that originally came out at a time in publishing when everything that was being touted was very loud and it wasn’t finding an audience. I now have a weird, dark, morbid audience and I’m very fortunate to have found it, but it took time.

Readerships take time to build and publishing isn’t always great at the long con. After The Near Witch and the two books in The Archived came out, I was very jaded. I was falling out of love with writing because writing is beautiful and publishing is not. I said, “I’m doing everything I can to make other people happy and it’s not working. I don’t know if I have a future in publishing but I’m not going to go down on someone else’s ship. I’m going to write what I want to read. Audience of one.” What happened was Vicious, a book that was never supposed to be read by anyone. Because of that I didn’t pull any punches. I made it weird, mildly sadistic, and as morally complicated as I wanted… and that book found its readers. What I discovered is that in writing for myself I found my readership, my dark, devoted readership. My rule from then on was I write for an audience of one first, I write what I want to read. If I do that and it appeals to other people, that’s wonderful. It it doesn’t, I will not feel like I wasted any time. I never looked back after Vicious.

My rule from then on was I write for an audience of one first, I write what I want to read. If I do that and it appeals to other people, that’s wonderful.

Bookish: Are there any elements of The Near Witch that you now recognize as a hallmark of your work?

VS: In The Near Witch, you can see the motifs I would go on to explore a decade later. I was on a panel several years ago with Melissa de la Cruz and she said that she had been told that writers tell one story. That no matter how many books you write, you as a writer are exploring one story. If you look at all of my books, they’re about insider/outsider culture and feeling like you don’t belong. That motif is in every single one of my stories. It’s interesting to look back at something like The Near Witch and see that 21-year-old me had a very tentative touch. I was just starting to learn and just starting to push. The difference between Lexie in The Near Witch and Marcella in Vengeful is the difference between 21-year-old me pushing back against society and 31-year-old me burning society down.

Bookish: This rerelease of The Near Witch is going to introduce some of your readership to your debut novel, while other readers may be picking it up without having read your other work. For new readers, where do you recommend they go next?

VS: It’s so hard. There’s the Marvel velocity where I’m like go in order: The Near Witch is the first one and none of the other books would have happened without it. I also have a tweet that says if these are things that appeal to you read this—it’s like a choose your own adventure game.

It’s also hard because books are static and people are not. If someone reads my work at 20 versus 30 they’re going to come to it with a different set of life experiences. I have to be the right version of myself to write a book, someone has to be the right version of themselves when they read it. As a writer, I will only ever bring half of the equation, the reader brings the other half. Everything the reader brings will determine if they enjoy one of my books. I want everyone to try everything knowing they’re not going to love everything and equally that something might surprise them.

Bookish: You have some stellar first lines. What do you think makes a good first line and how do you go about crafting yours?

VS: I spend a lot of time on first lines. I think it goes back to my poetry background. I don’t judge books by their covers, their titles, or their jacket copy because authors usually don’t have a say in any of those. As a reader, the first thing you encounter that an author has complete control over is the first line. I judge books very strongly by their first page because I want to get a sense of the voice. The first line needs to tell me not only something interesting, kind of like the opening line of a joke, but it also needs to tell me the tone of the book.

I will agonize over a first line. I’ve tried very hard to make the first line in each of my books be a microcosm of the first page in that I want them to tell you what kind of book you’re stepping into. The first line of Addie La Rue is “This is how it starts” and that becomes the first line for each of the sections of that book until we reach “This is how it ends.” I’ve always really wanted to begin a book with that line.

Bookish: Out of all of the characters in your other books, who do you think The Near Witch‘s Lexi would get along best with? What about Cole?

VS: Oh god. Let me think. I always joke that I make female Slytherins and male Hufflepuffs.

I tend to write this female transition: You watch Lexi become Mackenzie from The Archived and Mackenzie grows up a little bit and becomes Kate from This Savage Song, Kate evolves into Delilah Bard from Shades of Magic. I’d like to put Lexi with Delilah Bard. I feel like Delilah Bard would show Lexi her next evolution.

In the same way, This Savage Song’s August is the Super Saiyan version of Cole. He’s the glow up. But not in a pretty way, he’s a glow up of feelings. Cole was my first shot at the very emotionally aware boy and August takes that to 11.

Bookish: Is there any piece of advice that you don’t see being given to debut authors that you wish you could give them?

My advice is to work on your next book and remember that for the vast majority of us, careers are not made by a single novel but by a body of work…You can’t predict which book is going to blow up.

VS: My advice is to work on your next book and remember that for the vast majority of us, careers are not made by a single novel but by a body of work. The more pressure you put on a single novel, a debut especially, the worse it is going to be for you. You can’t predict which book is going to blow up. Shades of Magic, my most popular series, starts with my eighth novel. The seven books that came before that were instrumental in building my career. Every single one of those books was a brick in the wall.

Publishing has a really high mortality rate and you need to develop healthy habits. I’m an ancient veteran now. My debut year had 196 young adult and middle grade debuts, and there are fewer than a dozen of us publishing now. Only three of us are bestsellers. The curve is not in your favor as a creative. I think it’s best for everyone to have more information, more balance, more support across publishing generations.

You have to go in armed with knowledge. Publishing is very short-term minded and that’s very often to the detriment of books. It’s the nature of the industry to only be interested in the shiny and the new. As a reader, I find things that are five, ten, 20 years old. I don’t come to them when they’re brand new. We’re missing out on a lot of really great things in the interest of always trying to chase the new. It’s unfair because nine times out of ten the books that don’t get a chance are by diverse authors. It’s becoming even more vital to have passionate bloggers, reviews, and sites that are devoted to finding really good stories whether that story is a day old or a decade.

Bookish: On social media, you’re open about the challenges of being a writer and the demands of the industry. How did you get to a place where you felt comfortable sharing that?

The problem with not being honest and open in a creative industry is that when you begin to struggle, and we all do, you take it as a reflection of you, not of the fact that creating is hard.

VS: I’m very fortunate that I’m still in this industry and can have that kind of retrospective. Transparency and openness have always been my policies because I started out so young. When I wrote The Near Witch at 21, it was a time when no one was being honest. The problem with not being honest and open in a creative industry is that when you begin to struggle, and we all do, you take it as a reflection of you, not of the fact that creating is hard.

That’s what was happening very early on when The Near Witch wasn’t going well. I thought it must be me. Then I went to a writing retreat and all of these authors who were only talking about the positives online were sitting around talking about how hard everything was. I remember thinking that if I had known these other authors were also struggling, I would have felt so much less alone.

I meet a huge number of aspiring authors and authors new to the industry who come up to me and say thank you for making me feel less alone in how hard this is. And that’s really the only reason that I do it. There’s this pressure to romanticize the creative process. I didn’t want to perpetuate this myth. I wasn’t going to let anyone else come up feeling as alone as I felt.

Bookish: You’re currently working on a book called The Invisible Life of Addie La Rue. How’s it going?

VS: It’s trying to kill me on a daily basis. I hit this point in every single one of my book processes where I want to delete the book and move to Iceland to raise goats. But Addie is a really specific beast in that I’ve been working on it for so long and it’s lived in my head for so long. I needed to wait to write it until I was emotionally and craft ready, and I am those things now, but it’s the longest a story has ever sat with me. When you’ve had the first draft in your head for eight years, you want to do it right the first time which is not possible.

The internal pressure to do it right is way higher than with any of my other books. I’m trying to smooth the concrete before I pour it. As a writer, I revise as I go. I will work on each chapter until it’s ready. As a result, what I turn in to an editor looks very polished, but the story isn’t flawless. I’m very fortunate to have editors who can see past the polish, and while it sucks to have to tear things down to studs even when there’s really nice wallpaper, I think it is important to have strong editors who can see through that.

Bookish: Are there any books you’ve read that were quietly released into the world that you wish received more attention?

VS: Certain Dark Things by Silvia Moreno-Garcia. It’s wonderful and I want the world for it. It flew under the radar but I love everything about it. I recommend it constantly.


Victoria “V.E.” Schwab is the #1 NYT, USA, and Indie bestselling author of more than a dozen books, including Vicious, the Shades of Magic series, and This Savage Song. Her work has received critical acclaim, been featured by EW and the New York Times, been translated into more than a dozen languages, and been optioned for TV and Film. The Independent calls her the “natural successor to Diana Wynne Jones” and touts her “enviable, almost Gaimanesque ability to switch between styles, genres, and tones.”

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5 Tips for Newly Signed Authors from a Senior Literary Agent

Literary agents bridge the space between editors and authors, working with both to shepherd great books into the world. Because they work closely with both editors and authors, they have a unique vantage point within the industry. They know what editors expect, and how authors can best set themselves up for a successful working relationship. Here’s what the Nancy Yost Literary Agency’s Senior Agent Sarah Younger wishes every newly signed author knew:

1. You don’t have to be on every social media platform known to man

In fact, for fiction, you don’t have to be on social media at all. Sometimes publishers like to see authors supporting their book publishing efforts through social media, but you don’t need to have a robust following while you’re in the querying stage. You may not even need to have a big social media footprint when or even after your book is sold. Social media can become overwhelming, take away from writing time, and be a source of frustration to authors who aren’t innately inclined to visit the platforms. This is okay. However, social media can be a place where you find community and friendship. It can also be a way to communicate with your fans and readers, not to mention a fun way to support your books. Ultimately, when it comes to social media you have to find your own personal comfort level. If it doesn’t feel natural, don’t force it.

2. Get ready for edits

Yes, the author has the final say on their story, and their writing, and their book. But you should be prepared to work with your agent on possible revisions before manuscript submissions and know you’ll eventually get feedback and edits from an editor, copy editor, possible beta readers, and critique partners. They all want to help make your work stronger. And help you tell the story you want to tell. I know that the first response writers have when faced with revisions is not always LET’S GET TO WORK, but having a good attitude about those revisions will go a long way in establishing and preserving a great working relationship with the enthusiastic team behind you.

3. Create an author website

While you don’t need to be on social media, I do think it’s a good idea for authors to have an author website. It doesn’t have to be fancy or expensive, but having a place with your pen name, or your real name, and a bit about your books or your works in progress will be helpful when your readers want to find out more about you, your books, and your future projects. Before you shell out money for a website domain though, be sure that it is the name you really want to use. I advise using your name or pen name as your domain name. But, if that name is already taken, think about adding book-related words to the end. For example, if my name was taken, I would try adding “books” or “novels” or “author” or “writer” on the end to see if that domain is available instead, like this: sarahyoungerwriter[.]com  

4. Explore professional organizations.

Joining a professional organization could be a great way to find community and educational resources. However, membership fees are typically involved with these organizations, so know that this isn’t a requirement for your success. But, if the budget’s there, I advise authors to look into professional organizations in their genre of choice. (If they’re writing across genres, it can be helpful to be part of multiple organizations.) For example, I work with a lot of romance authors, so RWA (Romance Writers of America) is a helpful professional organization for romance writers, both published and unpublished.

5. Expect and prepare for rejection. This industry is not for the faint of heart. An author and agent will see and experience many more rejections than offers and success stories, particularly when they are starting out. However, receiving a rejection, or multiple rejections, doesn’t mean that this career isn’t for you. Just keep swimming! (Yes, I appropriated that quote from Dori.) But it’s true, just keep moving forward. Just keep writing. Just keep going. It only takes one YES!

Sarah Younger is a Senior Agent at the Nancy Yost Literary Agency. You can find out more about the projects she’s sold and the genres she represents here. Additionally, you can find her on Twitter.

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