Get smarter about your books! The BookSmarts podcast features discussions about publishing data and technologies and interviews with industry experts, deep thinkers, and doers, bringing you insights that will help you sell more books.
Ep 1: Publishers Are in a Moneyball Situation
In this episode, Joshua discusses how he sees some similarities between the state of the publishing industry and the story of the Oakland A’s baseball team as told in the movie Moneyball. Competition is fierce, and solid data practices can be the key factor between success and failure.
Joshua Tallent is an acclaimed teacher and guide on the role of data in publishing, and a vocal advocate for high quality book metadata. In his spare time, Joshua enjoys playing complex board games, playing Minecraft, and fiddling with his 3D printer.
In many ways, 2020 is a year that we’re all ready to put in our rear-view mirrors. In spite of the challenges we have all faced, it’s been inspiring to be reminded of the resilience and creativity that imbues our publishing industry. From Big 5 publishers who suddenly found themselves without access to their warehouses, to independent authors who embarked on digital marketing for the first time, we at NetGalley are proud and thankful to be a trusted partner to so many.
Despite the global pandemic, it’s clear that readers continue to turn to books in all formats. NetGalley’s member community grew by 23% in the US (now over 550,000 members!) and 16% in the UK, where we’re on track to break 100k members in 2021. This growth equates to more eyes on your books, which results in even more early Feedback! We are thrilled to report a 30% increase in Feedback/Reviews when compared to last year. Across NetGalley.com and NetGalley.co.uk over 960k Feedback/Reviews were submitted for over 25,000 books and audiobooks.
NetGalley experienced record-breaking traffic and engagement in 2020, especially after the launch of the NetGalley Shelf app and Audiobooks. The NetGalley Shelf app is a simple and streamlined experience for members, making it easier than ever to access the books and audiobooks they’re approved for. In 2021, we will introduce streaming audio to ensure an even more seamless listening experience!
Publishers are approving requests from Librarians and Booksellers at a very high rate–over 90% of requests are approved. This may be because you can easily auto-approve ALA librarians and ABA booksellers from your Settings page. In 2020, these members alone left over 110k Feedback/Reviews!
We know how influential Librarians and Booksellers are, especially when they are nominating books for LibraryReads and Indie Next, in addition to making recommendations to their patrons and customers. If you’re looking for ways to connect with Librarians and Booksellers, consider our monthly Librarian Newsletters or ABA Digital White Box services.
It’s worth noting that the Reviewers on NetGalley have submitted nearly 380k Feedback/Reviews! Reviewers are the largest portion of our community, making the most requests–so even though the approval rate is a little lower than other member types, they are the most significant in terms of overall approvals and Feedback/Reviews.
When approving requests, keep an eye out for members’ individual feedback ratio and remember that you can click through to see all of the reviews they’ve submitted on NetGalley. Here’s more about what you can see in members’ profiles.
In the UK, even though approval rates across both the DRC and audiobook format are extremely similar, it’s clear that UK members (Librarians in particular) are responding very strongly to the audiobook format. Be sure that you are associating your DRC and audiobook formats when both are available on NetGalley! This will ensure that members can request the most relevant format for their interests, and is likely to result in a higher rate of return for Feedback/Reviews.
NetGalley members are always curious about how they can get publishers to approve more of their requests. That’s why We Are Bookish’s Kelly Gallucci interviewed Estelle Hallick, Publicity and Marketing Manager at Forever, about her process for managing requests, and her advice to members looking to improve their profiles. In addition to giving members an inside look at how a publicist is looking at their profiles and their NetGalley activity, Hallick also provides other publicists and marketers with a template for managing requests systemically.
In this interview, Hallick shares the metrics she considers when approving Reviewer requests, how she treats new NetGalley members, and why a critical review doesn’t mean that she won’t approve another request from that same member.
Read the interview below! Plus, if you have a book or an author that you think would be a great fit for We Are Bookish, pitch them here.
Take us behind the curtain: What does the NetGalley request approval process look like for Forever?
I always start by looking at the Feedback Ratio; I sort the reviewer requests and start the approval process with the highest numbers. Since we get so many requests every day, 80% Feedback Ratio is a benchmark number for me.
When I start to get below 80%, I begin reading through bios. I tend to give more attention to the people under 80% because I’m genuinely interested to know why they are requesting the title or what brings them to NetGalley. I hope to see that bios are updated recently, or within a year (to me, it’s an indication that they are active reviewers) and to see if they have a list of authors they enjoy. This helps me decide if they are a good fit for our titles. While Feedback Ratio is important to me, I remember what it’s like to be a new reviewer and try to consider newer members whenever I can–but it starts with a detailed Profile.
What are three common missteps that can lead to a declined request?
I look for Feedback Ratio, correct member type, and updated bio with working links. I see so many Profiles with inspirational quotes or information that feels a little like a dating profile. I love personal details, but, in order to catch my eye, the combination of personal and professional information is important.
Do you look for different information in NetGalley Profiles based on member type?
Every member type should be as detailed as possible.
Bookseller: Where do you work? Are there book clubs at your store?
Librarian: What department do you work in? Are there any programs you run that would be of interest to publishers?
Traditional reviewer: What outlets have you written for?
Blogger: What street teams are you on? Do you organize any annual events on your platform? Do you cross-post? What are your stats?
Traditional reviewers and bloggers should absolutely include links to recent reviews or author interviews that they’ve done.
How often should members be updating their Profiles?
My hope is that reviewers are seeing continual growth on their platforms and want to communicate those updated stats with us. A good rule of thumb is to update whenever there’s something new to add–think of it a bit like a resume in that you want to provide your best and most up-to-date information. Put your best and most accurate foot forward.
We know publishers rely on member stats included in NetGalley Profiles when making approval decisions. Are there any specific stats you personally look for? (Psst, members: To find a publisher’s approval preferences, visit theirPublisher page!)
For bloggers, I do look at social media platform growth. While I look at follower count, someone with a following of less than 500 (just as an example) won’t deter me from approving them. To me, it’s about engagement on the platform and how well posts perform.
Let’s talk about review etiquette. In your opinion, what are three important things members should think about when writing reviews? What do you recommend members do when faced with reviewing a book they didn’t enjoy?
First, I want our reviewers to be honest. Giving a book a critical review won’t mean you aren’t qualified to receive other books for review; if anything it makes it easier for us to understand what kind of books you do enjoy. (Reading is an extremely personal experience.)
Second, the most helpful reviews give a sense of the story but do not give away the entire plot. As a bonus, I love when you share if you personally identified with something in the story.
Third, timing. As a NetGalley member, you’re often able to read books well before they’re in stores or libraries. If you love something, don’t wait to share it! Early buzz is so important to authors and publishers. It also alerts other reviewers about the book. The one thing we ask you to keep in mind is remembering to share again on release day.
As an added note, please do not tag authors in critical reviews. Reviews are for other readers, and authors do not need to be alerted of them by a tag.
What can newer members, who may not have a high Feedback Ratio or strong blog/social stats yet, do to stand out to publishers?
New members should take advantage of “Read Now” books to grow their Feedback Ratio, and also give us a better idea of the books you like. Listing authors you enjoy (so we can think about comparable authors we have) and not overdoing the category/genre options would be a great help. I’d also love to see new reviewers share where they read reviews and their hopes for their review life–all great places to start.
Is there anything we didn’t cover here that you’d like to add?
As a NetGalley member, please be sure to read over the decline email you receive before contacting the publisher. A good letter will tell you why you didn’t meet the qualifications for this particular book. If you are still unsure, definitely reach out for specifics.
VP of Podcasting at Macmillan Kathy Doyle shares an inside look
2019 marked a watershed moment for spoken-word audio. For the first time ever, more than 50% of the U.S. population reported listening to podcasts and 50% reported listening to audiobooks*. Macmillan has spent years developing a robust podcast network to build and then capture that interest in audio content. On their podcast network Macmillan Podcasts they feature podcasts hosted by their authors like Astro Poets, companion podcasts to books like The Girls: Find Sadie, or as completely unique content like Steal the Stars.
That’s why we asked Kathy Doyle, VP of Podcasting at Macmillan, to share her perspective on audio in publishing. She describes Macmillan’s podcasting content strategy – how they design podcasts to best support their authors as well as the collaborative process that brings those podcasts to life. She pulls back the curtain on how Macmillan works with distribution platforms, as well as how she and her team think about creating mutually beneficial advertising relationships.
Plus, whether indie publishers or self-published authors should get in the podcasting game, and what big changes in the industry she’s excited to see in 2020.
What is your history with audio and podcasting?
I joined Macmillan at the end of 2011. I was hired as the director of what was already a podcasting network at that time – called Quick and Dirty Tips. QDT had already been around for 3 or 4 years by the time I joined, but it was a dual platform. It had this major website, which it still has today, and it had a podcasting arm. I was hired to run the collective – the entire network. I have run websites almost my entire career. I started in digital at the Wall Street Journal back when the internet was emerging as a format and already had some familiarity with podcasting in 2011, so I was hired by Mary Beth Roche to take on the entire business unit as its director.
Tell about your role in developing audio strategy at Macmillan
I’m primarily responsible for the podcast networks. We now have two networks, [one of which is] QDT. From QDT we learned a lot about format and what we were finding was that we were trying to put authors of all types into that “quick and dirty” format of providing actionable, interesting information in 8 mins or less. We were finding that we had an opportunity because podcasting was starting to emerge as a bigger, bolder format for media consumption. We had the opportunity to start a second network, which we called Macmillan Podcasts. That really enabled us to strategically use authors of all types from some of the best imprints in the world – Henry Holt, St. Martin’s Press, Flatiron Books – and allow those authors to come onto the platform. We worked with them to develop various types of programming, which was not as contained as the QDT model. We’ve been able to do some fiction, some audio drama, we’ve done a lot of interview format. We’ve really expanded our capabilities from a strategic standpoint on the podcasting side.
What do you think about the relationship between podcasts and audiobooks? Are you both competing for the same ear time?
There’s definitely some crossover. APA came out with a study earlier this year that said 55% of people who had listened to an audiobook have also listened to podcasts. We’ve just seen an absolute explosion in audio as a form of consumption for media. It’s shifting paradigms. It’s really powerful. We don’t feel as though it’s competitive in nature at all. It’s strategic for us. We used to say that podcasts were audiobooks-lite — they were for someone who wanted to dabble in the format or hadn’t listened to spoken word audio before and this gave them a free and somewhat frictionless way to dabble in that media. But I think what we’re seeing is that people who want information via audio want all kinds of information via audio whether it’s short format or long format, book or podcast. Whether it’s because they’re driving or they’re exercising or making dinner, whatever it is, they can do other things while they’re consuming spoken word audio.
So you’re seeing this audio boom as a result of multi-tasking from the listener standpoint?
It can be. It’s not always. I mean, some people are very content to just listen and absorb the content the way they would if they were nose-deep in a book. I can just speak to the fact that we see a lot of research and hear from our listeners very specifically about how they listen to podcasts and audiobooks — what they’re doing at the time of consumption. I had an Uber driver in L.A. say something to me that I hear all the time, “I listen to podcasts to learn. I don’t always listen to podcasts when I’m in the gym. I want music to give me motivation, but when I’m doing housework or when I’m driving my Uber and I don’t have a patron in the car, I want to learn. And that’s when I turn to podcasting.” I hear that all the time.
Let’s turn to Macmillan podcasting specifically. Macmillan Podcasts are divided into two groups – Bold Voices and Addictive Stories. Tell me more about how you developed those two areas of focus.
It definitely happened organically. What happened was we found that we were being approached by editors, we were identifying talent on our own, and it just felt like the right way to start the process early on of developing a catalog — a podcast catalog — in ways that we could define categories.
The Bold Voices really are author-hosted shows where there’s someone with authority — who has something to say — typically nonfiction. All the QDT shows fall into that format to some extent. We have shows like I Love You, But I Hate Your Politics which is [hosted by] Jeanne Safer who wrote a book about how to navigate politically troubled times when you have a partner, a colleague, a family member who you don’t see eye to eye with.
The Addictive Stories, that’s the very elusive driveway moment we’re all looking for. [A driveway moment describes audio that keeps you in your car to listen, even after you’ve arrived at your destination.]
Those are stories that capture you emotionally and you don’t want to let go. So that’s Steal the Stars, our audio drama which we described as Arrival meets Ocean’s Eleven. It had everything – it had heist, it had romance, it had crime, it had all kinds of elements that comprised a very engaging, richly entertaining story that you wanted to binge. But That’s Another Story is our narrative book podcast hosted by Will Schwalbe who is an executive here and also a bestselling author. He talks to people in a very powerful way about a book that changed their life. He’s spoken to everyone from Jodi Foster to Min Jin Lee. he just had the hilarious macmillan author Gary Janetti.
How do you learn about your audience?
There’s a variety of things that we can do. Podcasting is a deeply engaged medium, so we get a lot of listener feedback. We have voice mailboxes set up for every show where people can call in and leave feedback or, in the case of some of the Bold Voices shows or QDT shows, leave a comment or question. We very carefully monitor ratings and reviews, we can learn a lot there. We’ve done some work with little focus groups where we bring people together and do listening parties to see what kind of reaction we get. We’ll get some from our ad broker; that helps give us demographic and other details about the listeners. The other thing we can do is on the backend of some of the distributor platforms, we can actually see things like what we call retention. If you have a 40 minute episode and you see that 60% or higher are dropping off after 20 minutes, [you can learn] about what listeners are staying tuned for, what adjustments we might need to make to the format or the approach to better serve the listening community. The platforms do not have the same consistent information from platform to platform but we sort of know what elements we want to look for.
What factors are you keeping in mind when developing a new podcast?
There’s still this perception that I think is shifting as competition increases and the industry learns more about podcasting, but there’s definitely this perception that it’s really easy to pull off a podcast. And it is incredibly difficult and challenging work. It takes a lot of different people in the mix. We look at talent holistically. We want to make sure that we’re making choices that serve our publishers, that serve our talent, that serve the listening community for our podcasts. It’s all of those things. We get together with potential talent, we talk about an arc or a creative approach to the show. Then, we’ll do a creative brief where we talk about who the audience is just like a book – what are the comps that are out there that we can use as comparisons for how the show might do or the kind of approach we might take? We talk about the creative process, we talk about the workflow and make sure everybody’s on the same page. We talk about the schedule, which is really important. We talk about the business arrangement, which is also really important. We sort of work all that through and then we might do a pilot or a trailer or talk to our distributors about relationships for the show. It’s a really elongated process. It doesn’t happen overnight and it’s very collaborative.
Who makes up the team that brings a podcast together?
One of the best things about working at Macmillan is how incredibly collaborative we are. Everyone from the marketers to the publicists to the editors, we’re all involved in the decision-making process. This is an organization that cares deeply about its authors and takes very good care of their authors. so we want to make sure that we’re making the best possible decisions both for our organization and for the talent.
We will work with the editor to develop the relationship with the author or the host. When we get ready to launch the podcast, we’ll work with the marketer and the publicist from the imprint to make sure we’re all in sync in terms of who we’re pitching to, what kind of work we’re going to do on the marketing side. And then we just make sure that the editors get to listen to stuff before it goes out. We stay in very close touch throughout the entire process. Most communication happens up front but it is a true collaborative effort from start to finish.
Are you proactively approaching talent?
It’s all over the place. We do spend some time identifying talent. We [also] work within our imprints to try and find talent who would make good podcast hosts or guests. On the QDT side we will often bring up an emerging talent who is starting to grow a platform. We will work with them to grow their podcast and then work to help them secure a book.
What makes for a good podcast host?
I think it has to be someone who listens to podcasts — someone who embraces and understands the medium and what the pros and cons of the medium are. I think it’s someone who has to be willing to work and not just sit in a studio and read a script that they just wrote. For us, it’s about the collaborative nature of podcasting, and making sure that everyone is in tune and in sync with the goals and the objectives that we work toward in terms of developing and launching a podcast.
[For new hosts] we will do some training. We had a conversation this morning about one of the QDT hosts who was interrupting a guest with “uh huh” and making auditory affirmations as you would in a normal conversation. In podcasting we tell our hosts, “Tell your guest up front that you won’t be acknowledging them because you might not be in the same room.” If it’s a Skype interview or done via the studio, they can’t always see the person they’re communicating with. So it feels very natural to want to say “uh huh” or “yes, I agree” but you’re interrupting the flow of your guest’s statement in a way that’s going to make it difficult for the producer to put it out there as great-quality content.
That’s just one kind of small example but I think people who aren’t used to working in an audio format definitely need to be trained and educated on what suits the format best in terms of developing and creating and releasing the best possible experience for the listener — the highest quality for the listener.
We have such incredible guests — a lot of them are authors also, sometimes they’re outside experts. [Hosts] get involved in these really deep, interesting, engaging conversations and they’re so excited about the content they’re getting they forget that they have to be mindful of the format and the experience.
What about distribution? Which platforms do you use, and what benefits do you see from distributing your podcasts on multiple platforms?
I would say one of the advantages we bring to the table is our longevity because we’ve been podcasting for over a decade, we have great relationships with the long-standing distributors like Stitchers, Apple Podcasts and the new players that have come into the space. We’ve worked hard to develop those relationships over time — Spotify, Pandora, iHeart. We have great relationships with all of those teams. We’re not one-off shows just looking to boost our downloads. We are looking to build sustainable, long-term relationships with these partners.
One of the distributors came in recently with some back-end features and functionality that they wanted to test. They wanted to get our opinion; how would we use this data and how would we use these features. So our team got together in a conference room and we went through it with them step by step and we provided them with feedback about how we would use those features. It’s a two way street. Every conversation we have with our partners, we always make an ask — we might be asking for something whether it’s a promotion or for them to entertain a pitch, but we will not get off that call or leave that meeting without saying “How can we better serve you as well?”
What about podcast advertising? How is advertising on the medium changing?
There are two different camps on the ad side. There are branded campaigns which are general awareness and brand lift, so there’s nothing specific the listener has to do except retain that information the next time they’re in the drug store and need to buy moisturizer. There’s also what we call direct response which is really what grew the industry. The Squarespaces and the Mailchimps — they built this space for many podcasters.
Direct response is really labor intensive on our end because we have to make sure the talking points are correct, we have to make sure the promo code works, we have to make sure the URL works. A lot of the times [a promo code will be] mailchimp.com/grammar. Well we have to make sure that page exists before we have our host record that ad and put it out in the feed because we’re protecting our listeners. We want to make sure the ads are as accurate and as compelling and as engaging as the rest of the content. It’s hard work to deliver an ad well and sound genuine.
We also have requirements. A lot of times we turn away from advertisers if our host can’t support their product in a way that is genuine and viable and will make for a good ad read. I hear a lot of hosts on other shows — you can tell they just have the ad points in front of them and they’re literally just reading them with no emphasis with no personal experience with no integrity. We strive to make sure that doesn’t happen. As a result we leave some money on the table. If you’re a big listener, you know.
Not everyone obviously has the capacity of Macmillan or a big publisher to develop such a robust audio strategy. Do you recommend that indie presses or indie authors get in the game of podcasting or audio content?
There’s a lot of debate in the industry right now. I was just on a panel at Digital Hollywood and this was one of the premises of the panel – Do you need a network? Networks bring a lot of great support. They bring resources, they bring manpower, they bring history and experience. All of that said, it’s very competitive.
But if you are someone who has a story to tell, who has an experience to share, who has an expertise that will benefit, I’m all for developing an independent podcast. There are incredible resources out there to teach you how to do just that and the cost point — there’s very little barrier to entry. You need to buy a microphone; you need to buy some software. People can do it independently and some of the best and longest-running podcasts out there started out this way. It’s not as easy as it used to be to make that success happen. But, it’s also a great way to train and to test yourself on the medium before you have a big team behind you. You can try things out on your own that you wouldn’t be able to do if you were a part of a distribution platform or a big network. And I’m really impressed with some of the companies and people in the industry who have come forward to develop incredible training resources for anyone who independently wants to start a podcast. It is doable.
So it sounds like what you’re saying with the indies is that not everyone needs a podcast, but if you feel strongly that you have a unique perspective that fits in audio, and you have the bandwidth, you should learn how to do this and do it right.
Write it down, develop a plan — a full-blown plan that includes what you’d cover in the first 5-6 episodes. A plan that covers the format of the episode, how long you want them to be, how many voices will there be? Will it be just you behind a microphone or will you be having guests? you really need to think through strategically. Treat each episode as if it’s a separate project. Intertwined, but a separate project. And figure out how you want to approach those episodes so that you’re developing a curated collection of your best work.
What new developments are you excited for in audio?
Some of the platforms are developing really interesting social sharing and other kinds of features. Spotify, for example, has developed customized playlists which can be done in a variety of different ways. You can actually integrate a playlist that has music and podcast episodes and then you can share it to your audience. That’s really powerful. We’ve been having a lot of fun with that. QDT has so much great New Year, New You content, so we’ll be developing a variety of playlists that will tackle that topic in ways that nobody else can.
The other thing that I’m watching closely is data attribution. You often hear podcasting referred to as the wild west, which it’s not anymore.That may have been true five years ago but now I think it’s really grown up a lot. Ensuring that we are all reporting our listens accurately is critically important because we all want to monetize with advertisers and they need to be able to trust the data they are getting from us. The Interactive Advisory Bureau has gotten involved. They have developed standards and compliance [for podcasting]. We are compliant on the platforms that we’re on, but not all podcasters and not all platforms are yet compliant with these standards. [We want to be sure] that 500k downloads on this platform is the same as 500k downloads on that platform. There were a lot of discrepancies in the data. So that’s all being resolved and I think 2020 will be a big year in terms of seeing that into fruition.
As people have shifted to the compliant standards, and as the hosting platforms that these podcasts reside on have made changes on their backend to bring those systems up to full compliance, people have seen shifts in their download numbers. Sometimes quite dramatic! Consistency across the board is key and I think we’ll see that by the end of 2020.
One of the challenges on the content side is that of the top 200 podcasts on the Apple platform, 32% are now hosted by major celebrities or influencers. That’s huge. And it makes it really hard for the rest of us. That trend will continue – big name celebrities getting into the space. I think we’re going to see continued consolidation of some of the content providers as it makes sense for businesses to evolve and join forces together. We just saw Wondery and NBC strike a joint partnership. A year or two years ago, [a big trend] was VC money entering the space. That’s what everyone was following really closely. Now I think that’s shifting a little bit towards other kinds of partnerships.
In terms of genres, there’s opportunity and room for YA content. That’s changing a little bit, but there’s still opportunity there. And travel.
What podcasts are you listening to?
I love Dolly Parton’s America. It’s a brilliant new podcast that’s been getting a lot of buzz. I’ve also been listening to a show called The City which is from Wondery. This season focuses on the city of Reno and some aging strip clubs that are causing some issues with the city. I’ve only listened to one episode but it’s really interesting and I will definitely be continuing. There’s another season ofthe Jet Propulsion Lab’s podcast. My son is in aerospace so I follow that closely. And I’ve just become addicted to the daily news shows. I listen to Up First from NPR and I listen to The Daily religiously. I find that especially because I have a long commute those are great ways to stay informed.
At least two distribution platforms now have daily drive playlists that they are curating for listeners based on their listening habits. A lot of our shows are falling into those categories as well. The recognition that podcasting can be used as a means of entertainment and information for your full commute end to end is really becoming reality.
Kathy Doyle is the Vice President of Podcasts for Macmillan Publishers.
She runs the Macmillan Podcast Network, which produces popular podcasts
with the organization’s bestselling authors and book imprints. Current
podcasts range from sci-fi and true crime to literature and self-help.
She also oversees one of Macmillan’s largest digital networks, Quick and
Dirty Tips. QDT produces a dozen weekly award-winning audio podcasts
hosted by subject matter experts on a wide range of topics. Podcasts
include the long-running Grammar Girl and Savvy Psychologist. The
network has a large web presence, too, which features content from the
podcast hosts and a large variety of Macmillan authors.
By Sarah Miniaci – Senior Publicity Consultant at Smith Publicity, Inc.
With a brand new year (and for that matter, new decade) now upon us, why not bring the spirit of New Year’s resolutions into your NetGalley practices to create even better outcomes for your books in the months ahead?
At Smith Publicity, we’ve had the pleasure of working with NetGalley and its amazing community of members since 2012. We have discovered that one of the best ways of uncovering opportunities and opening doors for our authors and their books is through the careful and strategic use of NetGalley activity reports — or more specifically, careful and strategic follow ups and engagement with the contacts on your NetGalley reports, which provide you with all of the information and tools you need to get started.
Before we dive into the nitty-gritty of tips and tricks for making 2020 your best year on NetGalley yet, here are some examples of how we use NetGalley reporting to build relationships, boost pre-orders, and build buzz.
While looking at the NetGalley history for an upcoming nonfiction title, we discovered a librarian whose bio noted that she books authors and events for her library’s prestigious author talks program. Using that information, we were able to secure a sold-out ticketed book launch event for the author, generating hundreds of pre-order hardcover sales in the process.
For fiction releases — particularly genre fiction, i.e. romance, sci-fi, horror, and crime/thriller — identifying contacts on the Feedback Report who are consistently active and influential on Bookstagram and in the blogger community and reaching out to them to build rapport, offer physical ARCs or final copies (if/when applicable), and establish a plan for release-window coverage can make all the difference in setting the stage for a ‘splashy’ launch and building strong consumer market visibility for a new title. Check out these gorgeous #Bookstagram posts from our friends — and active NetGalley members! — @bookishbellee, @watchmereadingnerdy, @abduliacoffeebookaddict23, @booksandchinooks and @candice_reads in support of the fall 2019 release of Katherine Kayne’s debut novel Bound in Flame (The Hawaiian Ladies’ Riding Society, Book #1).
Keeping track of the NetGalley members who leave positive reviews for a title can pay off in the long-term. Near the end of 2019, we went back to a list of NetGalley contacts who had left passionately positive reviews for Dutch Girl: Audrey Hepburn and World War IIby Robert Matzen — a historical biography title released in spring 2019 — to advise that the Goodreads Choice Awards had just begun accepting nominations and encouraging them to vote, if they felt so inclined. As a direct result of this effort, the book – which had not previously been listed among Goodreads’ category selections – made it to the Semi-Finalist round in the ‘History & Biography’ category of the Goodreads Choice Awards.
And so, without further ado, here are six NetGalley Resolutions for 2020:
Look at member profiles during periods of especially high activity. Carve out the time to take a look through not just your Detailed Activity Report, but also the Member Profiles that pop out when you click on a name within the Approval History > Members with Access section. These periods will typically be when you’ve recently uploaded a title to NetGalley, or you’ve nominated and it’s been selected by the NetGalley editorial team for a Homepage Feature or Category Spotlight. Often, you’ll find useful background information and secondary links in this section which will signal that it would be smart to make a personal connection with this contact beyond the automated Approval Email they got when they were given access to the book. And remember, you don’t need to make your first point of contact a robust pitch — a simple “Thanks for your interest and please feel free to contact me with any questions or requests!” will absolutely suffice if you’re still deciding how you want to maximize interest and what you’re able to offer to requesters.
Think about ‘extras’ or bonus content you can offer to NetGalley members whose interest in the book you want to make the most of. If you have extra paperback ARCs or even final copies on hand and are keen to drive early reviews on NetGalley, Goodreads, and Amazon, or to see the book gain traction with the #Bookstagram community, Facebook book club groups, etc., it may not be a bad idea to send an email around to the contacts on your Members with Access list who haven’t yet left a review, asking them if they’d be interested in receiving a physical copy or running a giveaway for their followers, which can be a great way to create exposure when the contact is interested in the book but doesn’t yet have the time to read and review it. Depending on the book, other ‘extras’ and bonus content you can include might be Q&As with or guest posts from the author, special ‘swag’ related to the book, and the list goes on. Ultimately this all serves as a way to build connections and rapport with your “warm leads” and make the most of the organic interest you received on NetGalley.
Target outreach by member type. Depending on the author’s location, and their ability and willingness to travel and attend events, do signings and speaking engagements, etc., consider fragmenting out relevant Bookseller and Librarian member types on NetGalley. You can easily sort the Members with Access page to this effect by clicking the little up/down arrow next to the ‘Member Type’ column. Make a dedicated outreach effort to open the door to conversation about opportunities for appearances and other collaborations.
Include helpful info in your follow ups. When following up with NetGalley members — especially Librarians and Booksellers — remember that it is essential that you include ISBN, publisher/publication date, and sales/distribution (i.e. how they can order the book) details in your pitch. Also: please don’t solely reference Amazon as the preferred retailer for purchases! As a general rule of thumb in any pitch you’re sending out, anywhere you have an Amazon link should also have Barnes & Noble and IndieBound links.
Keep track of the NetGalley contacts who leave passionately positive reviews While it’s something of a Golden Rule to not engage with or try to debate negative reviews (!!!), we have seen many benefits come from corresponding with NetGalley’s highly engaged, book-loving community of readers who have really enjoyed titles we’ve been able to provide. Some follow ups you might consider conducting with positive NetGalley reviewers include encouraging review cross-posts to Amazon, B&N, and other online retail sites after the book has officially released, advising of any special deals or promos (a reader who absolutely loved a book may be inclined to share news of a deal with their network), offering to send a special signed final copy of the book as a thank-you, establishing that they want to be on the ARC pitch list for the next book in the series, and more. This is as much about building relationships as it is about building visibility for your book! Which brings me to our next and final resolution…
Be gracious, be kind, be generous, and always try to give more than you get. In every area of life, it’s so important to recognize and appreciate that everyone is doing their best and while things aren’t always going to work out exactly the way you’ve planned for or anticipated, you’ll get a lot farther and feel a lot better by treating others with respect and kindness, and being generous of spirit wherever possible. Not everyone who requests and receives access to your book on NetGalley is going to be able to carve out the time in their busy life and TBR stack to read and review it — and that’s OK ! Not everyone who does so is going to love it (also completely OK, and to be expected)! Resolve to follow the ultimate Golden Rule when it comes to NetGalley etiquette and in any follow-ups or engagement you conduct, treat others as you would want to be treated. I will go so far as to guarantee that this, above all, will help to make 2020 your most productive, positive, and fun year on NetGalley yet.
And now for our own resolution! Now that we are using NetGalley Advanced, we have access to new tools and reports to help us look at our overall NetGalley usage. Firstly, we want to get more comfortable using all of our new capabilities, incorporating them into our NetGalley workflow. But beyond that, we want to carve out dedicated time every season to look at our overall NetGalley usage. We will make dedicated time to look at charts like the New Titles Created chart, the Types of Access Over Time chart, the Types of Access pie chart, and the Activity by Member Type chart to make sure that we are consistently uploading new titles, using all appropriate approval tools at our disposal, and engaging successfully with different member types.
Sarah Miniaci is a Senior Publicity Consultant at Smith Publicity – one of the leading book publicity agencies in the world, with offices in Toronto and New Jersey. Founded in 1997, Smith Publicity has worked with more than 3,000 authors and publishers, from New York Times bestsellers to first time, self-published authors.
This year on NetGalley Insights, we’ve shared strategies, ideas, and best practices from across the industry. We’re honored to highlight the work of our industry partners, authors, and publishers of all sizes. Here are a few of the tips we’re still thinking about, and hope that you’ll keep in mind through 2020 and beyond.
If there’s ever a unique campaign, promotion, or industry perspective that you’d like to share with us and our audience, please let us know! Email us at firstname.lastname@example.org.
Janna Morishima, publishing strategist and literary agent, has been working with manga artist Misako Rocks! to launch Bounce Back! She suggests that traditional publishing and self-publishing should be looking at each other for inspiration.
“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.”
Michelle Vu is bringing automation to Houghton Mifflin Harcourt, with a human perspective. She is keeping the needs of human workers top of mind when incorporating automation – learning where their pain points are, and how to free up their time for more creative work.
“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. 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. For entry-level positions, I expect automation could potentially mean fewer admin duties and more meaningful work.”
Sarah Cardillo, Director of Publishing Operations at Sourcebooks gave us an inside look at how Sourcebooks uses sales numbers, comp titles, and audience responses to guide their redesign strategy. She recommended keeping an eye on the backlist, as well as more recent books.
“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 and seeing what books sold well but could get new life with an illustrated cover direction.”
NetGalley’s own data scientist, Mandy Fakhoury, offered advice to publishers looking to become more data-driven in their decision-making. Surprisingly, she recommended remembering gut instincts and experience, and combining them with those hard metrics.
“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.”
Our marketing team shared tips for creating compelling eBlasts in our Proven Strategies Series. They advised that when writing the content of your eBlast, 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 aprominent 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?
NetGalley Sales Associate Katie Versluis works with our community of self-published authors. She has seen first-hand how authors have responded to critical reviews or DNF (Did Not Finish) reviews.
She told NetGalley Insights that while DNF reviews “may sting after the years of work you just put into this book, they can actually be quite useful to you as you position yourself in the book world.” She advises authors to think about why a reviewer decided not to finish their book. “[Your book] may simply not have been their cup of tea, but [a DNF review] may also bring an entirely new understanding to your book that you hadn’t thought of yourself. In the past, I’ve worked with an author who did a complete re-editing on their book because an early DNF review alerted them to language they didn’t realize was offensive. The review certainly wasn’t “nice” to receive, but it became a blessing in disguise.” Sometimes critical reviews can help you better target the right kinds of readers, or tweak your marketing copy. For example, if you have been promoting your book as YA, but critical reviews are saying that it’s too young for a teen audience, consider positioning it as a Middle Grade book instead. Or, if reviewers are expressing surprise at the content, consider revising the way you are describing your book. You want to entice readers, but you also want to find the readers who are most likely to enjoy your book as it is.
Publishers are always trying new strategies on NetGalley: Using tools in new combinations, putting new kinds of books on the site, changing how they grant access to their titles. Chronicle recently started sharing cookbooks on the site, which has been a successful experiment for the. Cynthia Shannon, Food and Lifestyle Marketing Manager at Chronicle, described their recent pivot to cookbooks on NetGalley.
“There is a lot of potential to sharing cookbooks on NetGalley and we are looking forward to exploring more ways to further optimize our NetGalley strategy. Adding cookbooks to NetGalley was a new strategy for us for Spring 2019, and I was pleased to see the overwhelmingly positive response. We saw many NetGalley reviewers commenting on the beautiful photographs and the level of complexity of the recipes or ingredient procurement, and how much they were inspired to try some of the recipes. More importantly, they’d comment about how they can’t wait to get a print edition of the cookbook so that they can add it to their collection. Chronicle Books prides itself on creating beautiful, physical objects that people will want to buy for themselves or as a gift, so having these endorsements helps customers make their book buying decisions. We’ve increased the number of cookbooks we share on NetGalley in advance of publication for our Fall 2019 list—for example, we have Tartine, Ama, and American Sfoglino, three of our most anticipated upcoming cookbooks, available for review on NetGalley now—and we’re exploring the many tools and services that NetGalley offers to further connect with reviewers.”
We look forward to sharing more new strategies from across the publishing industry with you in 2020!
NetGalley’s new promotions support publishers’ goals throughout a book’s lifecycle, including backlist and audio
At NetGalley we always strive to meet publishers where they need us. We love listening to our customers and learning from their ever-evolving needs–from secure digital galley files, to marketing promotions that reach targeted audiences, to a desire for more data and reporting, and even into new formats like audiobooks.
Publishers often adapt NetGalley’s tools for their unique goals and, based on trends we see across all of our clients, we work to expand the breadth of the NetGalley service. In 2020 you’ll notice greater emphasis on a holistic approach to promoting books, across formats and beyond the pub date. As we continue to expand our offerings, we’re emphasizing a more comprehensive approach to book promotions across format and lifecycle.
NetGalley was originally designed to predominantly support books in the pre-publication stage, but our tools and promotions are flexible enough to help publishers and authors achieve a variety of goals throughout a book’s lifecycle. Publishers are increasingly taking advantage of that flexibility! While 44% of titles on NetGalley in 2019 were archived within 1 week of their pub date, 29% were available on NetGalley for at least 2 months after pub.
Lately, our marketing team has received more questions and interest from publishers about promoting their books to members in new ways–and during new times: close to on-sale to drive pre-orders specifically, or post-pub to reignite activity for backlist titles.
We’re supporting this pivot by launching brand-new marketing promotions in our 2020 Media Kit, flexible enough to encompass a variety of goals, timelines, and formats.
Book Club Kits
Book clubs are a crucial audience for publishers, as they are often interested in backlist titles (especially when available in paperback, or have a movie tie-in). We’ve heard from many clients that they wish to interact more directly with book clubs, but don’t always have the bandwidth to create marketing assets in-house. That’s why we’re introducing custom Book Club Kits: created especially for your book and promoted directly to book club members in the NetGalley community.
Each bespoke kit is crafted by our editorial team to be unique and fitting for the particular book. Book Club Kits contain, at a minimum, an Author Interview, Discussion Guide, Readalikes, Printables (such as bookmarks, decorations, etc.). Possible additions include quizzes, food and drink recipes, playlists, and more. See page 17 in our Media Kit for more info.
The NetGalley member Dashboard receives an average of over 36,000 unique impressions each week, offering huge exposure for your book! Publishers can now showcase their books on all member Dashboards with the new Dashboard Spotlight promotion. The CTA is up to you, so consider using this placement to drive pre-orders, promote retail offers, or to boost a backlist title. See page 5 in our Media Kit for more info.
Our community engagement team has built a loyal and engaged following of book advocates across social media platforms: Instagram, Twitter, Facebook, and Pinterest. We are now offering publishers the opportunity take advantage of NetGalley’s influence to promote your book in a relevant, valuable way to our social audience.
With the introduction of Audio Excerpts on NetGalley, there are many opportunities to showcase these clips to our community across the site. Members will see a new, additional Featured carousel on the main Find Titles landing page which will highlight books with Audio Excerpts–free for publishers! Our marketing team can also include the audio icon in NetGalley Newsletters and Category Spotlights for books with Audio Excerpts.
And this is just the beginning: by BookExpo 2020, we will support full audiobooks in addition to Audio Excerpts! We’re thrilled to help audio publishers benefit from early feedback from the NetGalley community, and we aren’t the only ones… NetGalley members are already excited! We asked, they answered: check out hundreds of comments on our Twitter, Facebook, and Instagram posts.
As publishers start experimenting with these new promotions, we’ll be sharing their successes here on NetGalley Insights. Stay tuned!
If you’re looking for more detail about post-pub strategies, check out our Case Studies on NetGalley Insights. Jayne Allen shared how listing Black Girls Must Die Exhausted on NetGalley after its pub date actually improved its sales numbers. She said, “Allowing the book to be offered for sale during the NetGalley window worked best for me because it allowed NetGalley reviewers to post directly on the Amazon sales page as a consumer review…At first, I was concerned that being on NetGalley might somehow erode sales, but the simultaneous window actually served to increase sales and start Black Girls moving up the charts much more quickly.”
If you want to discuss your own campaigns, please email email@example.com. Our dedicated marketing team would be happy to help you strategize and find the right plan for your timing, budget, and goals.
At the end of each year, NetGalley UK puts forward our Books of the Year – the titles that have moved us, the books that have been at the forefront of our minds over the course of the last twelve months. It’s a great way for us to highlight the breadth of books on NetGalley UK and this year, for the first time, we’re going to be lifting the lid – exclusively on NetGalley Insights – on NetGalley UK’s Books of the Year, by the numbers.
The following statistics are based on data for all books uploaded to NetGalley.co.uk in 2019.
Mystery & Thrillers dominated the most requested titles on NetGalley UK in 2019. Interestingly, these titles are not just the ‘you’ll never guess the twist’, or domestic terror genres that have been so prevalent over the last few years. The Holdout, The Chain and The Passengers, are a return to the classic thrillers, influenced by the early work of such writers as John Grisham, Michael Crichton and Thomas Harris.
Lisa Jewell had the most requested title this year with The Family Upstairs; while C.J. Tudor has made that much-vaunted supernatural thriller genre her own with The Other People.
At number 6, we see Our Stop – one of the books making the rom-com roar again. It’s been a while since this genre was pushing at the top of the charts but its success, and the success of other books like The Flatshare, shows that members are gravitating towards its undeniable charms.
This category belongs to Rosamund Lipton’s Three Hours, which had more impressions than the second and third placed titles combined. This was a long campaign – Three Hours has been on NetGalley for the whole year! – but one that had a long-term strategy, well-adhered to by the publisher. Sustaining such a long campaign takes time, so if you’re considering it, do let us know in advance!
Unsurprisingly, a lot of familiar covers here! What really leaps out here, however, is how integral widgets were to the campaign for these titles. Widgets made up between 30 and 50% of approvals for the top five most reviewed titles, so do remember this important tool when you’re planning your NetGalley strategy.
Predictions for 2020
From our meetings with publishers over the last few months, and observing the levels of activity surrounding 2020 titles already, it seems clear that the coming year is going to be hugely competitive – with high expectations for so many books. Whether it’s debut authors, big brand names, or emerging talent, it seems readers will be spoilt for choice in all genres.
And what do we see emerging as the themes of the new year? Well, the return of the rom-com, we believe, will continue into the new year; while historical fiction with a hint of the sinister (think Daphne Du Maurier or Patricia Highsmith) will again be hugely popular. The diversity of writers will also be a key development, with both fiction and nonfiction shining light on backgrounds and experiences that have been overlooked. This also means that literary fiction in 2020 will be about much more than just the final part of Hilary Mantel’s trilogy…
We hope you’ve enjoyed this little delve into the past and the future – and we’d like to take this opportunity to thank you for being NetGalley customers. Have a wonderful festive break and we’ll see you in the New Year.
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.
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.
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?
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.”
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.
How Janna Morishima and Misako Rocks! turned rejections from editors into an opportunity and an experiment
Publishing is a challenging industry. In order to be successful, you need to be able to take changing trends in stride, turn failures into opportunities, and be brave enough to try new approaches. Publishing strategist Janna Morishima and manga author Misako Rocks! have been able to do just that with Misako’s newest manga project, Bounce Back.
Both Morishima and Misako have had winding paths in publishing, pivoting when their own interests or the market dictated.
Morishima began as an assistant to Scholastic trade publishing’s Creative Director, David Saylor. After reading about graphic novel Blankets by Craig Thompson, she saw an opportunity for children’s books to be graphic novels. She and Saylor created a proposal for a new imprint and began Scholastic’s Graphix for children’s graphic novels. Next, she moved to Diamond Book Distributors, to cut her teeth on the business side of the industry as Director of the Kids Group during the financial crisis in 2008. But, after a few years, she missed working directly with creatives, and ended up walking away from publishing altogether to help her husband run his photography business. Several years ago, Morishima combined her experience in editorial, in corporate publishing, and in the world of freelance art to start Janna Co. Now, she works as a consultant, helping visual storytellers like Misako to build their careers and navigate the publishing industry.
When Misako moved from Japan to the United States, she got a job working at the Madison Children’s Museum. She became a manga artist once she saw how interested kids were in manga and anime. After sending around her portfolio to publishers, she published three middle grade graphic novels in 2007 and 2008. Unfortunately, the financial crash plus disappointing sales meant that she wasn’t able to get a new contract. So she changed her focus. She wrote books for a Japanese audience about learning English and finding an American boyfriend and started to teach manga to students, both in the classroom and in private lessons.
Now, she’s getting back to the world of middle grade manga with Bounce Back with Morishima’s help.
They sent out their first round of proposals, but frustratingly only received rejections or nothing at all. Instead of shelving Bounce Back, they took that failure and used it to re-strategize. The pair enlisted the help of beta readers and found themselves with a stronger story and a community of readers who are invested in the project – in part because they helped shape it!
What is the origin story between you and Misako?
I met Misako for the first time soon after I started working at Scholastic. One of my tasks, as assistant to the Creative Director, was to review artist portfolios. In those days, we had a certain day every month when artists could drop off their portfolios for review. This was in the time before Dropbox and online portfolios!
One day, a young Japanese artist who was living in Wisconsin called me to ask about our portfolio review procedures.
She dropped off her work and I wrote her a detailed editorial letter, explaining how she could improve it. Whenever I thought an artist had potential, I tried to give them some concrete tips on how to keep making progress with their work. The surprising thing is how few artists actually followed up and reached out to me a second time with revised work.
Misako was one of the exceptions. About a year after I met her for the first time, she reappeared on another portfolio day, with brand new sample art. I was impressed with her enthusiasm and persistence. I gave her the names of some other people in the industry she could talk to — and before long, she had a book contract with Henry Holt!
Misako eventually moved to NYC and we became friends. She would ask me for advice about her publishing career, and I always enjoyed helping her out.
When I started my consulting business a couple of years ago, it took me a few months before I asked her if she wanted to work with me formally. In my head, I was thinking, “What is she going to say? I’ve been giving her advice as a friend for so long — is she going to think it’s weird when I suggest that we start a business relationship?”
Once I did finally ask her, though, she didn’t bat an eyelash. “Let’s DO IT!” she said with her usual exuberance.
How did you arrive at your beta reader project for Bounce Back?
The first thing that Misako and I worked on together was a book proposal for Bounce Back. I helped her write a detailed synopsis and develop several pages of sample art. Then I submitted it to a handful of publishers.
Four editors got back to us with rejections. We didn’t hear from the rest of the people I had submitted it to.
In the past, those rejections might have stopped me in my tracks. But being older and wiser, I knew I should listen to my gut instinct. I still had a good feeling about the project. I decided that we should keep moving forward with the intention of self-publishing, maybe doing a Kickstarter campaign. So I said to Misako, “Write the first book in full. I’ll edit it, and we’ll see where it goes.”
Misako went right to work and churned out the first draft in record time. I edited the first draft and she revised it. Once we had a revised second draft, I wanted to get feedback from the target audience before deciding on our next step. I just had a strong intuition that showing the manuscript to outside readers would provide the compass we needed to determine the next step in our path.
That meant that we needed to find beta readers.
Who are your beta readers? How did you find that group and determine the right mix of students, librarians, and educators?
Luckily, both Misako and I had plenty of people we could ask in order to find beta readers.
First of all, Misako teaches manga art to kids all over New York City. She knows their teachers and parents. And I was working as a consultant with the NYC Department of Education School Library System, so I knew school librarians.
Both of us made a list of everyone we could think of who works with or might know kids between the ages of 10 and 13 who like manga and graphic novels. Then we emailed them to describe our project, and included the link to a Google Form where people could apply to be a beta reader. Misako also posted a call for beta readers on her Instagram page.
(We made a sample beta reader application form based on the form we used; you can find it at http://bit.ly/sample-beta-form. Feel free to make a copy of the Google Form and adapt it for any project!)
We didn’t have any “right number” of beta readers in mind. We honestly had no idea how people would respond. We were a bit shocked by the number of people who submitted applications! It ended up being more than 100 people – about half kids and half grown-ups (mainly teachers and librarians).
What have you learned from the beta readers?
When I mentioned to a few industry friends that we were sending the manuscript as a Google Doc to about 100 beta readers, some of them thought we were crazy. “You’re going to have 100 people leaving comments in the same manuscript?!” they said. “It’s going to be a mess!”
They might be right, I thought to myself, but we’ll never know until we try! I was also encouraged by Guy Kawasaki’s description of the beta reader process he used for writing APE: Author, Publisher, Entrepreneur. [Kawasaki used NetGalley when launching APE, and wrote about it as a publicity and marketing tool in the book itself.] He also let a very large number of people read his manuscript and writes in detail about what a significant contribution they made to the development of the book.
After sending the Google Doc link to our full list of beta readers, about 65 of them actually read the manuscript and left comments (more than 700 comments, to be exact!). We were thrilled with that follow-through rate.
The first thing we learned was that following your gut instinct and experimenting is a very good thing! We got so much useful feedback and Misako significantly revised the manuscript based on specific suggestions from beta readers. For instance, she amped up the budding romance between main character Lilico and her love interest Noah — apparently middle graders like a little romance almost as much as young adults!
One point which many people asked about was how we would differentiate between times when Lilico is speaking Japanese (with her parents and when she’s alone with her cat Nicco, for instance), and when she’s speaking English. After that, Misako did a lot of research to find specific fonts to use in the lettering of the graphic novels: one for English, and a different one for Japanese.
We were also surprised by how strongly people reacted to “mean girl” Emma. They thought she was terrible, but at the same time they seemed to be fascinated by her, and couldn’t get enough of her obnoxious behavior. This made us happy… because the sequel to volume 1 is all about Emma.
At its heart, though, the experience with beta readers underscored a basic principle of 21st century marketing: the more you let people behind the scenes and get them involved in the creative process, the more invested they are and the more they want to help you succeed. We were amazed by how carefully our beta readers read the manuscript and by the level of detail in their comments — and even by the back-and-forth discussions that they had with each other!
As one beta reader commented at the end, “Hope all of this feedback will turn this book from an amazing book to an AWESOME book!” The help they gave us was invaluable.
What other benefits have you gotten from your beta reader experiment?
Simply that it gave us confidence in the project! Before showing the manuscript to beta readers, I had a feeling that it would appeal to middle grade readers — but of course, I’m not 11 years old myself anymore, so I couldn’t be sure! Once we got the comments from the beta readers, we knew that they had become thoroughly emotionally involved in the story.
That was a huge relief.
How are you planning on keeping beta readers engaged throughout the publication process?
Misako is launching a brand new website for Bounce Back, and on that website people can sign up to get updates about the process of getting Bounce Back published and other behind-the-scenes details. Our beta readers are the first people to be on that mailing list!
We’ve tried some Instagram Live and Skype “Ask Us Anything” sessions to keep Misako’s fans in the loop. But we haven’t started doing that sort of thing on a regular basis yet — we want to!
What’s next for Bounce Back?
We’re in search of a publishing deal. I just submitted Bounce Back to a new round of editors and we’re waiting to hear back from them. If we can’t find a traditional publisher for the book, we will consider self-publishing. But our first choice would be a traditional publishing deal, because full-color middle grade graphic novels are very expensive to produce.
Misako is also going to be a special guest at several comics and book shows this fall. October 19-20 we attended Baltimore Comic-con, and on November 15-17 we’ll be at Anime NYC. January 25th, 2020, Misako will be at Teen Bookfest by the Bay in Corpus Christi, TX.
Those shows are another chance for us to speak directly with fans and learn what they’re most excited about.
You’ve said that you think that traditional publishing has a lot to learn from self-publishing, and vice versa. Can you give a few examples?
I think they are learning from each other now. The stigma attached to self-publishing is eroding a little bit because of some high profile successes.
I think the biggest thing that traditional publishers can learn from self-publishers is the importance of connecting directly with your audience rather than relying on intermediaries to sell the book. The publishing ecosystem is complex, so there are always going to be intermediaries — reviewers and booksellers and librarians, etc. — but now it’s possible to build strong relationships both with those influencers and your actual readers.
What I think self-publishers can learn from traditional publishing is the importance of having a well-rounded team contribute to the final book. All writers need editors. All books benefit from great design. All books, no matter how good they are, need strong marketing and sales plans in order to get found. If you’re going to publish on your own, it’s important that you find the right people to help you.
It seems like the story of you and Misako and the story of Bounce Back are stories where you were able to turn failures into opportunities. How do you think about the relationship between failure and the creative process?
Yes, I certainly felt a bit like a failure when I initially left publishing. I know Misako was very disappointed when her first graphic novels didn’t sell very well in the early 2000s.
But I think failure is critical to growth for any human being. The key is to be clear-eyed about the reasons for your failure, while at the same time forgiving. Any time you try something and it doesn’t work out the way you wanted or the way you expected, give yourself a high five. Because you tried it! That’s huge! By trying something and failing, you now have useful data. You can review what happened and find the things to improve or do differently next time.
Basically, failure is inextricably involved in the creative process. If you really want to get better and achieve something big, you’ve got to embrace the fact that there will be failure along the way.
Developing the right mindset to be able to use your failure rather than get paralyzed by it is critical. I read tons of self-help books, started practicing meditation, and have given a lot of dedicated thought to this subject! One of my favorite people who writes about failure is Seth Godin. He sums up everything you need to know about failure in 372 words.
Janna Morishima is a publishing strategist and literary agent specializing in graphic novels and visual storytelling for kids. She was one of the co-founders of Scholastic’s Graphix imprint and the director of Diamond Book Distributors’ Kids Group and has worn almost every hat in publishing, from art and editorial to marketing and sales. Find out more at http://jannaco.co.
*Interviews have been edited for clarity and length.