Case Study: Fleishman is in Trouble by Taffy Brodesser-Akner

How Random House used NetGalley data to refine their marketing messaging and proactively find engaged readers for a big summer debut

Taffy Brodesser-Akner is by no means an unknown writer. As a staff writer for the New York Times magazine with a prolific Twitter account, she already has an audience. But when launching her debut novel, Fleishman is in Trouble, the Random House team treated her book just like they would for any debut novelist coming out with a big summer book. 

They dug into NetGalley data to see what was resonating with readers about her book , used NetGalley reporting to find fans of comp titles, and targeted book club leaders and readers. Plus, they leaned on Brodesser-Akner’s own self-promotion efforts via social media.

Jess Bonet, Marketing Manager at Random House, shares how she helped turn Fleishman is in Trouble into one of the hottest summer reads, and a New York Times bestseller. 

How did Taffy Brodesser-Akner’s unique position as an established writer and debut author guide your campaign strategy for Fleishman

For Fleishman, we pulled out all the stops as we would for a debut author: Heavy consumer-reads push on platforms like NetGalley and GoodReads and major book club leader outreach. Random House has a built-in book club platform called The Random House Reader’s Circle. Using that platform, I was able to reach book club leaders through the RHRC newsletter, social media and physical mailing address lists. I also targeted Instagram book clubs like Pure Wow that ran pre-pub giveaways to engage their fans. I provided book club leaders with eCards featuring blurbs and media praise for Fleishman is in Trouble.

Fleishman is in Trouble
by Taffy Brodesser-Akner

But what was unique about this project is that we were also able to use Taffy’s strong platform (she is a natural on social) to drum up excitement in the months leading up to publication. s. 

We also ran advertising on the New York Times website to convert fans of her journalism into fans of her new novel.

Plus, we ran advertising in Shelf Awareness and included a link to NetGalley on the landing page for easy bookseller access.

How did you involve Brodesser-Akner in launch campaign? 

Brodesser-Akner played an integral role in the launch campaign for Fleishman is in Trouble. She did a fantastic job promoting the book on social and making her fans aware that her debut novel was coming soon, even though she did not specifically promote its NetGalley listing on her own channels.

How did you proactively engage NetGalley members and communicate with them? 

We shared NetGalley widgets with reviewers of other Random House titles in the same category. I pulled Feedback Reports for users who requested similar Random House fiction titles, and gave access to people who rated the comparative titles 4 stars or higher.

I pulled Feedback Reports for users who requested similar Random House fiction titles, and gave access to people who rated the comparative titles 4 stars or higher.

We also emailed all reviewers [who submitted Feedback for Fleishman] and provided them with social assets on publication date to push reviews to retailer platforms and get the book in as many social feeds as possible. Social buzz was one of the major drivers of this campaign, and it continues to grow which is wonderful to see. 

You included Fleishman in two different NetGalley newsletters in March 2019 – Women’s Fiction and Debut Authors. Why were these newsletters and this timing the right marketing choice for you? What impact did you see?

For the blasts, we knew we wanted to capture both audiences: Women’s Fiction readers and the spotlight for Debut Authors. The fact that they were both in the same month was a great benefit to us, because it drove more awareness on the site, creating a snowball effect that led to increased number of requests driving to publication. For members subscribed to both newsletters, it’s always great to hit that audience again and make the reader feel like this is a book of the moment and read because they are seeing it everywhere.


We came to realize that readers were really responding to Taffy’s raw honesty about dating and marriage in the 21st century, so we played that up in our ad copy and our copy feeding to retailers. 

How did you go about managing requests for such a popular title? 

We were liberal with accepting requests for this title because we wanted to saturate different segments at the same time. We wanted to get engage booksellers, Instagram influencers and bloggers, as well as librarians.   

Which NetGalley reports or analytics are most important to you and your team? How do you use them?

The Feedback Report is the tool we most commonly use. It’s so helpful to see what’s resonating with readers before a book goes on sale, so we can adjust our messaging accordingly. Around 3 months before a book goes on sale, our team will meet and discuss review feedback, largely from NetGalley, and adjust copy as necessary. 

That’s truly my favorite part of using NetGalley: being able to see feedback in real-time about what readers are actually responding to, versus our messaging. We came to realize that readers were really responding to Taffy’s raw honesty about dating and marriage in the 21st century, so we played that up in our ad copy and our copy feeding to retailers. 


Jess Bonet is a Marketing Manager at Random House, working on campaign planning and marketing strategy for authors including Chelsea Handler, Brené Brown, George Saunders, Jia Tolentino, Téa Obreht, Salman Rushdie and more. In her spare time she writes and produces an upcoming comedy-horror web series, Are You Afraid to Adult?

Interviews have been edited for clarity and length.

Read the rest of the NetGalley case studies here!

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NetGalley Advanced, providing in-depth data insights and productivity tools, launches in Europe

FOR IMMEDIATE RELEASE 

October 1, 2019—NetGalley LLC, the industry-standard provider of secure digital review copies and marketing solutions to readers of influence, today launched NetGalley Advanced for UK, French, and German publishers. Available in the United States since January, the premier level of service helps publishers track and analyze NetGalley trends across divisions, and make strategic decisions earlier. 

NetGalley continues to dovetail with publishers’ current marketing, publicity, and sales strategies, while expanding their pre-publication reach to new audiences. Called “NetGalley Premier” in France and Germany, NetGalley Advanced gives marketers and publicists access to tools that will help them spend less time executing strategies and more time refining them. Plus, new charts and customizable reports help publishers understand how their strategies are working, and if they’re reaching their engagement goals. New insights about audience, correlations between promotions and activity, and simplified title management ensure that employees at various levels of a publisher’s organization have what they need to make the most of pre-publication efforts.

“NetGalley Advanced has been well-received by publishers in the U.S.,” says Kristina Radke, VP, Business Growth and Engagement. “We’ve continued to introduce new and expanded features every month since the launch in January, and now feel that this powerful tool is ready for European publishers. I’m excited to see how publishers in these markets will use the early insights about their strategies, title activity, and audiences.”

Learn more about NetGalley Advanced by watching the most recent demo here

Interested publishers should contact your local representative: 

UK: stuart.evers@netgalley.com

France: maria.bodmer@netgalley.com

Germany: karina.elm@netgalley.com

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NetGalley LLC désormais l’unique propriétaire de NetGalley France

C’est avec plaisir que nous pouvons annoncer que NetGalley France, auparavant une coentreprise en partenariat avec le détaillant de livres numériques Feedbooks, fait désormais intégralement partie de NetGalley LLC, la structure en charge de NetGalley.com et NetGalley.co.uk !  

Lancée en 2015, NetGalley France est fière de travailler avec plus d’une trentaine d’éditeurs français, dont Hachette Livre, HarperCollins, divers pôles du groupe Editis et Actes Sud Junior, et d’atteindre une communauté de plus de 8 000 blogueurs, rédacteurs, libraires, professeurs et professionnels des médias. Lors de cette transition, les lecteurs et éditeurs utilisant www.netgalley.fr ne rencontreront aucun changement au niveau de la plateforme ou du service.

Maria Bodmer assure à présent, depuis Paris, la fonction de Community Manager & Chargée de Relations Éditeurs, prenant en charge les relations clients et la gestion quotidienne de NetGalley France. Maria reprend ainsi le rôle d’Astrid Pourbaix, qui a quitté l’entreprise pour poursuivre de nouveaux projets. Les éditeurs français peuvent contacter Maria à l’adresse suivante : contact-editeur@netgalley.com.

Veuillez lire l’intégralité du communiqué de presse pour plus d’informations. 


NetGalley France Now Fully Owned by NetGalley LLC

It is with excitement that we announce that NetGalley France, previously a joint venture in partnership with the French ebook retailer Feedbooks, is now wholly owned by NetGalley LLC–the team that runs NetGalley.com and NetGalley.co.uk!

NetGalley France launched in 2015 and is proud to work with over 30 publishers in the region, including Hachette Livre, HarperCollins, divisions of Editis, and Actes Sud Junior, to reach over 8,000 French bloggers, reviewers, booksellers, librarians, educators, and media. Publishers and members who use www.netgalley.fr will experience no changes in the service or platform as part of this transition.

Maria Bodmer, based in Paris, serves as the Community Manager & Chargée de Relations Éditeurs, supporting client relationships and daily management of NetGalley France. Maria replaces Astrid Pourbaix, who has left the company to pursue other endeavours. French publishers can reach Maria at contact-editeur@netgalley.com.

Read the full press release for more information.

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Pre-Publication Launch Schedule for Authors

As a self-published author, you might think that the hardest part is over once the book is complete. But once a book is ready to go out into the world, it still deserves the same level of attention and care that you gave it throughout the writing, revising, proofreading, and design process. As an author, you might not have formal marketing or publicity training, or the budget to hire someone who does have that kind of experience. But you can still give your book a professional launch.

While every book is unique and will have slightly different goals and timelines, we’ve used our experience working with everyone from indie authors to the largest publishing houses to develop a framework that you can use to guide your own unique launch strategy. You can also download this launch schedule.

The most important takeaway from this timeline is to plan your promotions a few months before your pub date to create ongoing and increasing excitement for your book. 

Different contacts should be given access to your book at different times, according to their needs. For example, any major media contacts will need a much longer lead time than a Goodreads reviewer or BookTuber. Plus, if you can secure early media attention, it’ll be easier to get interest from those consumer reviewers. Work towards getting some early blurbs, and then use those blurbs to bring in new readers, on NetGalley or elsewhere. 

And once you have made initial contact with these different kinds of readers – consumer reviewers, digital influencers, librarians, media, and booksellers – be sure to follow up with them right before pub date. Put your book back on their radar, encourage them to share their reviews on retail sites and with their audience, where applicable. 

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

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Mark your calendars: October 2019

Upcoming conferences, panels, webinars, and networking opportunities 

There is always a wide variety of programming available to help publishing professionals connect with one another, grow their skill-sets, and stay abreast of changing trends and emerging strategies. On NetGalley Insights, we share the events we’re most excited for on a monthly basis. 

In October, publishers all over the world will be gearing up for Frankfurt Book Fair. We wish everyone safe travels and the NetGalley and Firebrand teams look forward to seeing you there! (Reach out if you’d like to schedule a meeting!) But whether or not you’ll be making your way to Frankfurt, there are still plenty of opportunities to get together over a few drinks, tune in to a webinar about emerging technology, and celebrate excellent book craftsmanship.

If you know of an upcoming event for November or after, email insights@netgalley.com so we can feature it.

US


Women’s Media Group: Himalayan Happy Hour

Networking

Oct. 4, NYC

“Ease yourself into the weekend with friends and colleagues at Café Serai at the Rubin Museum! The Rubin presents art that traverses Asia’s diverse cultures, regions, and narratives. Its special exhibitions celebrate art forms that range from ancient to contemporary, including photography and multimedia, while its permanent collection galleries are focused primarily on art from the Himalayan region. WMG members and their guests will enjoy complimentary wine and appetizers with their registration, converse against the backbeat of DJ David Ellenbogen, and explore the museum’s exhibits to their hearts’ content. This informal mixer is a great opportunity to introduce other outstanding women in your orbit to WMG, so give some thought to your contacts—and have them join us, too.” 

BIGNY: The 33rd Annual New York Book Show

Awards – Design & Production

Oct. 10, NYC

“The New York Book Show offers publishing and printing professionals an opportunity to mingle while honoring the best examples of quality book design and production from the previous year. In 2019, we invite you to join us in celebrating the Book Show’s 33rd anniversary with a beautiful evening at Battery Gardens.”

PEN America: Lit Crawl NYC 2019

Networking

Oct. 12, NYC

” Lit Crawl NYC is a literary bar crawl where the cerebral meets the madcap with themed readings, trivia, and much more, all to celebrate the New York literary community. This year, PEN America and Books Are Magic present Lit Crawl NYC in Cobble Hill, Brooklyn, on Saturday October 12!” 

BISG: Post-Program Update: “Technology Confidential”

Webinar – Technology

Oct. 15

“This session will update all attendees any progress or changes in publisher’s investing trends in regards to technology. Stay tuned for more information on what BISG has been doing to stay involved with technology advancement in the publishing sphere.“

Society for Scholarly Publishing: Are There Finally Real Use Cases for AI?

Webinar – Technology

Oct. 23

“In the last few years, a number of companies have come on the scene to tout new or better AI technology and propose new ways of using AI in scholarly communications. This webinar will cover real world use cases of publishers and AI technology, exploring what’s working and what, if anything, one should be aware of when considering an implementation.”

UK


The Society of Young Publishers: Freelance in the Publishing Industry

Panel Program – Professional Development

Oct. 2, Manchester

“Join the Society of Young Publishers for our Freelancing in the Publishing event taking place on Tuesday 3rd October at Gullivers, Manchester! Hear freelancers speak and learn more about what freelancing can offer in the publishing industry. Our first speaker is Jordan Taylor-Jones. Jordan Taylor-Jones is a freelance publicist, currently working on publicity and events for Bluemoose Books, Dead Ink Books, Influx Press and Peepal Tree Press.”

Global


Frankfurt Book Fair

Conference – Strategy 

Oct. 16 – 20, Frankfurt

“Frankfurter Buchmesse is the most important marketplace worldwide for printed and digital content and a great social and cultural event. In October, publishing experts, writers, players from the creative industry and culture enthusiasts from across the world will meet here to network, discuss, negotiate, make decisions, to marvel and celebrate. Frankfurt becomes the worldwide hub of the media and publishing industry in October, with ground-breaking contracts, innovative technologies and world literature you can touch.”

*Let us know what else we should have on our calendar! Email insights@netgalley.com with events so that we can feature them.

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Case Study: Thick: And Other Essays by Dr. Tressie McMillan Cottom

How The New Press used NetGalley to engage Dr. Tressie McMillan Cottom’s fanbase, while finding new audiences

The New Press publishes books that straddle the lines between academic and mainstream. Often, they publish works by academic authors geared towards a popular audience. This means that their marketing strategy needs to appeal to several kinds of readers – academic readers need to be assured of the intellectual rigor, while mainstream readers need to feel invited to engage in complicated discourse. 

Thick: And Other Essays by Dr. Tressie McMillan Cottom, published in January 2019, exemplifies this dynamic between the academic and the mainstream. For Thick, The New Press was working with a professor of sociology who also happens to have a significant Twitter following and co-hosts a podcast with Roxane Gay.

Brian Ulicky, Director of Marketing and Publicity at The New Press, used early NetGalley reviews to demonstrate the effectiveness of pre-publication marketing efforts to Dr. McMillan Cottom. Seeing these early reviews encouraged her to share the NetGalley listing on her own social media platforms, engaging an audience that already loved her, whether or not they were on NetGalley. As NetGalley reviews rolled in, buzz for Thick really picked up, resulting in editorial attention from Goodreads and inclusion in a Kindle Gold Box deal (not to mention reviews from the New York Times Book Review and Los Angeles Review of Books). 

Thick comes out in paperback on October 1.

Thick
by Jessie McMillan

How does NetGalley fit into the workflow at a small indie publisher like The New Press? 

For a good number of our authors, their first book with The New Press is their first book period (or at least their first non-academic book) and I think for any new author their book may not start to feel truly real until they see reviews of it in the world. Sharing NetGalley feedback with authors is a particularly gratifying part of the run-up to the publication date and has become really important to us in garnering early consumer reviews for our path-breaking works of nonfiction. We are particularly proud of our bestselling progressive education list (a very different subject area from my previous houses), and we wouldn’t be so successful at this publishing area without the support of teachers and librarians who adopt our books into their work and communities. I have loved connecting with educators and librarians on NetGalley for books such as on Monique Morris’s Sing a Rhythm, Dance a Blues or James Loewen’s Lies My Teacher Told Me: Young Readers Edition. The latter has been a particular hit for NetGalley users putting together home-school curricula. 

In the past, I worked on quite a bit more fiction than I do these days, and fiction is clearly a large part of the NetGalley community and a big part of my past experience with the platform. The New Press publishes select works of fiction, much of it in translation from the French, and we’ve had some great success with our fiction on NetGalley, like last year’s Slave Old Man by Patrick Chamoiseau or this year’s Minutes of Glory by Ngũgĩ wa Thiong’o..

What were your goals for Thick on NetGalley? 

Our goals were to build word-of-mouth buzz among booksellers, librarians, and book buyers on Goodreads, Amazon, and other consumer reading sites and social media. We felt from day one we had a very special book in Thick and I couldn’t wait to see that gut feeling confirmed with as-early-as-possible reads. And it paid off when, for example, Goodreads selected it for one of their spring editorial newsletters based on the strength of its reader reviews (which also led to a Kindle Gold Box deal over the summer).

You ran a homepage title promotion for Thick in the week after Thanksgiving. Tell us why that timing was the right choice for you.

The book went on sale the first week of January 2019 – this can be a sort of tricky spot as the big fall publishing season winds down and people tune out a little during the holidays. We had review copies landing in the world right after Thanksgiving and so I also wanted to make sure we had a stream of consumer reviews coming in shortly thereafter, just as we were doubling down lining up author media appearances first thing in the new year. Also that cover is pretty iconic and appealing – I just wanted to see it everywhere.

Thick was listed as a Read Now title. Tell us how you came to that reading option and what benefits it gave. 

Thick definitely has an intriguing package and title if you already know the author’s work, but if you don’t know it, I didn’t want there to be any friction or hesitation if someone came across an essay collection by a new author and had the impulse to check it out. Listing it as Read Now meant that anyone who was even a little intrigued could check it out and fall in love with Dr. McMillan Cottom’s voice.

I didn’t want there to be any friction or hesitation if someone came across an essay collection by a new author and had the impulse to check it out.

How do you handle the challenges of promoting a book that might seem inaccessible or academic to a broad audience? 

The core of The New Press’s mission and publishing program is to bridge the gap between a broad reading audience and new ideas and voices in the academic and social change worlds. We try to make sure our titles, subtitles, and jacket designs are appealing and put you in the picture without requiring too much prior knowledge from a reader; we work hard to get blurbs from recognizable names; and we aim for as much mainstream media coverage as we can get. We know there are readers out there who are hungry for books that challenge and inspire – it’s our job to find them – and sometimes on NetGalley, they reveal themselves!

The cover art for Thick received overwhelmingly positive feedback. How do you use Cover Ratings data internally?

Covers are one of the most important pieces of marketing any book gets and if the NetGalley community loves our designs, we must be doing something right. It’s helpful to have early feedback inform and confirm our very involved, iterative process of designing and choosing covers.

24% of members with access clicked to read Thick because they were familiar with Dr. McMillan Cottom’s work and 40% were drawn in by the book description. How did you think about connecting with these two different groups – the ones that were already fans of Dr. McMillan Cottom and those that were taking a chance on a new-to-them author? 

The recipe for success varies from author to author. We knew that Thick gave us an opportunity to publish a book by an author with both a substantial following and the potential to reach many, many more readers with her sharp mind and her signature dexterity on the page. The marketing, title, cover, positioning are key to reaching new readers, and for a book as smart as Thick, getting early reads and reviews from NetGalley users plays an important role in spreading the word.

Dr. Tressie McMillan Cottom has over 90k Twitter followers and made a point to let her Twitter followers know that Thick was available on NetGalley. How did you work with her to help bring new readers to NetGalley to access Thick? 

We want our authors to see how much we’re doing to promote their books and we always point out NetGalley as one of our tools. I think Tressie saw the power in early reads pretty soon after the manuscript was done. We posted the final pass as soon as we could, shared with her a few of the first positive reviews we got, and the rest is history.

How did you use the positive reviews you received on NetGalley? Did you share them internally, use them in your pitches or press materials? 

All of the above. We shared them with the author (fair to say Tressie loved seeing them roll in), with media, and with our sales reps and bookstore partners. It’s always great to have fresh material and feedback in your third or sixth or fifteenth conversation about an upcoming book.

NetGalley members shared their reviews of Thick to social media over 700 times! What did you do to encourage that social engagement or what do you think inspired members to share their feedback so broadly outside of NetGalley? 

I think one of the things Tressie is uniquely brilliant at in Thick and on social is connecting the big picture with the personal in a way that clarifies both vantage points. When she’s talking about structures she’s talking about herself, and she inspires (and encourages) her readers to do the same. So it was rather organic. Her readers clamor to spread the word about her writing.


Brian Ulicky is the publicity and marketing director for The New Press, an independent not-for-profit publisher of books to build social change, where he oversees publicity, marketing, advertising and digital strategy plus institutional development partnerships and strategic communications initiatives. Before that he was in the publicity department at Simon & Schuster and was publicity director at Blue Rider Press, where he planned and executed campaigns for multiple New York Times bestsellers. He lives in New York City.

Read the rest of our case studies here!

*Interviews have been edited for clarity and length.

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Dispatch from Digital Book World

“You don’t have to do anything the way you’ve been doing it”

Lisa Lucas, Executive Director of the National Book Foundation opened Digital Book World with a keynote about innovation and experimentation, backed by practical takeaways for attendees. She told the audience, “You don’t have to do anything the way you’ve been doing it.” 

Lisa Lucas’s keynote was emblematic of most of the conversations at Digital Book World. Panelists and presenters explained their projects, companies, and initiatives while also sharing the practical tools and processes that they used to accomplish their goals. 

Tools 

Margot Atwell, winner of the DBW’s Outstanding Achievement Award and Head of Publishing at Kickstarter,sang the praises of Airtable to NetGalley Insights during a coffee break. She told us that the combination spreadsheet and database was indispensable for her when putting together the inaugural The Next Page: Creating the Future of Publishing, a full day of conversations shared digitally and available for free to foster a more inclusive, fair, and vibrant publishing landscape.

Margot Atwell presenting at Digital Book World

Amy Metsch and Dan Zitt of Penguin Random House Audio are expanding PRH’s audio offerings by going after new genres. They are transforming theater productions like Angels in America, graphic novels like Roller Girl, and Spanish language books like La primera regla del punk into audiobooks. Like any team going through a growth period, the PRH Audio team needed to develop a more streamlined and centralized ways of casting these audiobooks, many of which feature a full cast. To support their audio expansion, PRH developed an audio talent database called Ahab, which now has the profiles of 3,000 actors all over the world. They’ve used Ahab to match narrators and voice actors to their increasing roster of projects, plus expand their pool of talent beyond the actors that they already know. And soon other publishers will be able to use Ahab to find the right audio talent for their projects. 

Eleanor Long and Trevor Young, co-founders of indie animation studio Tapocketa, showcased their interactive children’s book Galdo’s Gift (which won multiple awards at DWB 2018, including Best Overall Book) and gave a sneak preview of their new interactive storytelling project, The Locksmith. They also shared the tools that they use to get this work done – from communication and productivity tools like Slack and Teux Deux (both of which are beloved by the NetGalley team) to animation software like Affinity and Hype.

Process 

Bluefire founder and CEO Micah Bowers shared the winding journey of the Bluefire Reader. We were surprised to learn that one of the earliest prototypes was an EPUB 2 compliant e-reader for a Sony Playstation device. The audience also learned that Bluefire was originally intended to contain both an e-reader and a virtual bookstore, plus the original conception of Adobe Digital Editions was an in-browser reader rather than a desktop app.
Bowers shared the roadblocks, surprises, and coincidences in Bluefire’s history, including the recent removal of Bluefire from the Android store (although it is still in the iOS store, and anyone who already has it on their device can still use it). In addition to providing the audience with a unique vantage point to think about the history of e-reading, Bowers’s talk was a lesson in how companies can respond to the unexpected with agility and creativity. Bluefire’s journey was full of iterations, failures, and pivots, all of which are crucial for anyone looking to be at the edge of technological innovation. 

Charlotte Abbott, founder of FutureProof Content Strategy, gave the audience a framework for thinking about creating brand stories that drive results. For Abbott, these stories “spark direct, ongoing connections with your customers, build community with customers and stakeholders, and drive revenue on a platform you own.” She used Berrett-Koehler’s 2017 online Servant Leadership Summit as a case study to demonstrate a simple framework for building those stories. Clear articulation of mission, goal, and story are the key to creating compelling narratives that bring in audiences and keep them engaged with your work. Seeing some raised eyebrows, she made it plain that even for for-profit companies, everyone has an overarching mission, even if it’s as simple as “produce world-class books and make a profit.” Abbott reminded the audience that publishers are “storytelling natives,” and advised us not to forget our storytelling skills when we are building our own brands. 

Charlotte Abbott presenting at Digital Book World

Audible’s Strategic Content Partnerships Manager Shira Schindel also gave a step-by-step structure, but for partnerships between companies and organizations. She instructed the audience to think of partnerships like stories; complete with plot, characters, goals, and challenges. Plot encompasses your company’s history and the history of a potential partner, plus the new directions for both of those companies. Character helps you figure out if you are connecting with the right person at another company. The goal crystallizes your objectives and your counterpart’s mandate from their company. And then the challenge helps you address potential limitations. She gave examples of recent Audible partnerships with Minetta Lane Theater and Alaska Airlines to show how this story-centric partnership structure lets both parties find meaningful and effective collaborations.

Joshua Tallent, Firebrand’s Director of Sales and Education, as he is wont to do, was sharing metadata best practices. And in addition to reminding publishers how crucial it is to fill in even the most basic metadata fields, he made some practical suggestions for how teams can best ensure that their metadata is being refreshed regularly and successfully sent to the appropriate retail partners. He advised publishers to have a dedicated position on staff for metadata. While editorial, marketing, legal, and other departments have a vested interest in metadata changes, he encouraged publishers to designate a point person. Then, he suggested scheduling regular metadata updates, monthly if possible. That way, publishers can have a built-in structure to check that their data is current, and can quickly see if anything has gone amiss. Plus, he also noted that Eloquence on Alert is a powerful tool to monitor any changes to books’ metadata across retail providers.


We’re leaving Digital Book World 2019 with our heads buzzing with new ideas and with some concrete strategies to implement more experimentation, more collaboration, and more innovation. 

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The Snapshot PDF: Actionable Insights for Every Title

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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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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Coping with Critical Reviews

When you put your book out into the world you are hoping to find its biggest champions and most devoted fans. But, of course, no one book will appeal to everyone. Especially for first-time authors, receiving critical reviews and feedback can be frustrating and disheartening. It never feels great to read a critical review of your work, but there are some important things to keep in mind to help you consider critical reviews in a constructive and level-headed way.

Look at reviews for similar titles

Photo via Upsplash

If you want to get a sense of what kind of feedback you can expect for your book, take a look at how NetGalley members and consumer reviewers have responded to similar books. Browse the catalog to find these and you’ll start to get a qualitative idea of the spread of opinions when looking at comparative titles to your book. Make sure that when you are looking at reviews of comp titles – either on NetGalley or elsewhere – that you are looking at books in a similar genre and from a similar author or publisher. For example, if you are a debut thriller author working with an indie publisher, try looking at thrillers from other indie publishers rather than books written by well-established authors at the biggest publishing houses. Plus, for an extra reminder that even the most beloved books still get critical reviews, check out these one star reviews of The Great Gatsby

Remember that star ratings are relative

Star ratings are entirely subjective. For some reviewers, a 5 star review might be reserved for their absolute favorite books – the ones they’d bring to a desert island and the ones that they give as gifts to friends year after year. For others, the same star rating might that a book was an enjoyable afternoon diversion. The same general principle should be applied to lower star ratings, as well. A 3-star review might be a positive review in the eyes of the reviewer, full of thoughtful and useful observations about your work. 

We know it’s hard not to get hung up on these numbers when ratings may affect algorithms for discovery on certain platforms (this is not the case on NetGalley), but keep in mind that reviews and ratings are not something you can police. Since they are subjective, each reviewer has to make this decision for themselves. 

Resist the urge to respond

When you read reviews, you might be itching to reach out the reviewer and tell them why their interpretation is misguided or to defend your book. This is a perfectly natural desire, but we recommend resisting the impulse. We all know that tagging authors in critical reviews is poor internet etiquette, but it does happen. If you get tagged in a negative review on social media, the reviewer who is tagging you is more likely to be looking for some social media attention rather than providing you with meaningful feedback. Don’t feed the trolls. Plus, when authors try to defend their work on social media, it often ends up reflecting poorly on the author, rather than prompt a thoughtful consideration from the reviewer. This urge affects established authors as well as debut authors. Even Zoë Heller, author of Notes on a Scandal wrote in the New York Times that she has mentally composed replies to the critics who she feels have slighted her. But, crucially, she has never sent them. 

Glean valuable data in critical reviews

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. 

DNF reviews contain valid feedback

NetGalley Sales Associate Katie Versluis works with our community of self-published authors. She has seen first-hand how authors have responded to DNF reviews (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.”

At NetGalley, we recognize that DNF reviews can be valuable, but that they don’t always provide the same kinds of intel as regular, full reviews. That’s why if a NetGalley member does not finish a book, they can close the feedback loop by selecting the Will Not Give Feedback option. This allows them to move a title off their Shelf and give authors and publishers the reasons why they did not finish a given book.

Give yourself time to develop a thick skin

Receiving critical reviews are always challenging, but it will get easier over time. Be patient with yourself when you find yourself dwelling on critical reviews. Talk to your editor, agent, publicist, and fellow authors to get tips on how they recommend handling critical reviews, and learn from their experiences. Remember, you are looking to build a community of readers who love your work, not convincing people that their opinions are mistaken. Try to focus on the positive reviews!

Stuart Evers, author and Assistant Director of NetGalley UK keeps in mind a quote from Yann Martel, author of Life of Pi. Martel made a distinction between good-bad reviews and bad-bad reviews. Good-bad reviews point out genuine flaws and can be useful, if uncomfortable to receive. 

Evers told NetGalley Insights, ”I found this very helpful when dealing with negative reviews – and also helpful when reading any review I receive. A good bad review essentially says, I understand what the author was trying to achieve, but I don’t think they managed it. These can be difficult to read, but ultimately they can offer some insight into your work you hadn’t seen before. Use this to improve your writing; don’t sit there and mope about it. Better a good-bad review than a bad-bad review…A Bad-bad review is when a critic doesn’t get what you are trying to achieve, measures it against the wrong criteria, or fundamentally doesn’t engage with the text. You’re going to get some of these, and these are the most hurtful. However, they can be dismissed precisely because your book is not at fault. It might seem unfair, it might seem vindictive, but you just have to remind yourself: this is a bad bad review and I can dismiss it.”

Above all, professionalism is key

Remember to treat anyone you encounter during the publication process as a fellow publishing-industry professional. This includes the editors, designers, and beta readers you work with before your book is finished, as well as any reviewers or media who you encounter in the pre-pub or post-pub phases. Reagan Rothe of Black Rose Writing works with over 500 authors and shared this framework, “Try to take a professional approach and keep your choice of words constructive. Think about how you would speak to a coworker, your boss, an employee, or even a respected family member.” 

Even if you are frustrated or feel that you have been treated unprofessionally, keep an even tone in any communication you have about your book. As an author, you have now joined the publishing industry as a whole, which means that everyone from your publicist to book reviewers and even booksellers are, in a sense, colleagues. Be sure that all of your communication with them reflects that understanding.


How have you learned how to handle critical reviews? Did you receive some crucial advice early in your career that has helped you? Share your strategies with us at insights@netgalley.com.

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