You already know that NetGalley is a data-driven service. But did you know that in addition to giving publishers access to book-specific information about performance and member interest, we are also working with our own data scientist to dig into site-wide activity? We’re looking at data across publishers, categories, and years to examine trends and help publishers capture NetGalley members’ attention.
In this article, you’ll learn about opportunities you may be overlooking to reach readers interested in some underserved categories on NetGalley.
As a general rule, NetGalley functions as a microcosm of the book retail market. The titles and categories that perform strongly on NetGalley tend to also sell the most once they go on sale. This means that publishers can use NetGalley as an early indicator of success. The top 5 most popular categories on NetGalley are Teens & YA, Mystery & Thrillers, General Fiction, Romance, and Sci Fi & Fantasy. But there are plenty of other categories where you’ll find an enthusiastic readership on NetGalley!
Our data scientist helped us compare median impressions versus number of titles in each category on NetGalley, and we were able to discover which categories have a hungry audience and opportunity to expand the number of available books.
The data set includes all books on NetGalley.com that were published between January 1 – December 31, 2018. We looked at the median impressions (views of the title details page) to ensure that extreme outliers of activity would not skew the data too much in one direction or another. The median number refers to the midpoint of the observed values, meaning that there is an equal probability of falling above or below it.
While looking at this data, we discovered several categories with high median impressions (lots of views), but a relatively low number of books in the category. This means that there is less competition for more views! Here are a few examples:
By comparison, some of the very popular categories like Romance and Mystery & Thrillers included many more titles, making the competitive field more challenging. (Romance: 706 median impressions and 2,224 titles. Mystery & Thrillers: 748 median impressions and 1,523 titles).
Keep in mind that some of the highest performing titles within these underserved categories are cross-listed in a second category. While this does mean that some of the impressions for these titles likely came from members browsing other categories, the success of cross-listed titles indicates the effectiveness of the strategy. Publishers can assign two different categories for each book on NetGalley, which we always recommend for increasing discoverability.
For example, Bad Man (which was one of the top-performing Horror titles of 2018) is listed in both Horror and General Fiction. This means that members who were browsing in either Horror or General Fiction were able to discover Bad Man, and request it if it piqued their interest. If they browsed in both categories, they saw it twice! In total, only 13 books were cross-listed in these two particular categories in 2018. Similarly,Honeybee was one of the top-performing New Adult titles in 2018, and was cross-listed with Poetry. Some of the most common category combinations include General Fiction + Mystery & Thrillers, Romance + LGBTQIA, and Teens & YA + Sci Fi & Fantasy.
Publishers also took advantage of on-site marketing to give their titles a boost in these categories. For example, The Kill Jar benefited from Category Spotlights in both Nonfiction and True Crime while it was active for requests, as well as a Dedicated eBlast targeted to members interested in True Crime and a list of comp titles—all of which helped it to become one of the most successful True Crime books on NetGalley in 2018.
If you ever have questions about how to best position your titles on NetGalley in order to connect with readers who are most likely to advocate for your books, email email@example.com.
We are continually working with our data scientist to delve deeper into publisher and member activity, and will be sharing more of our findings here on NetGalley Insights. Subscribe to our weekly newsletter so that you don’t miss any upcoming data-driven strategies.
Repackaging books with new covers, new back cover copy, or even a new titles is one of the tools in a publisher’s arsenal to give a book more life. Whether making decisions about the trade paperback design after the hardcover has been on sale, or discussing changes to a backlist title that’s been acquired from another publisher, Sourcebooks uses a lot of data to support their repackaging efforts.
Sarah Cardillo, Director of Publishing Operations at Sourcebooks shares how she and her team use sales numbers, comp titles, and audience responses to guide their redesign strategy.
1. Consider a book’s total positioning, in addition to sales
When we are looking at the trade paper edition of a hardcover release, we start by looking at sales – how many [books] did we actually sell, what percentage of the inventory sold through within the first 6-8 weeks, and did it sell at the level we had expected it to sell? We look at retail sales [as well as] library sales. Sometimes a book might not sell at our expectations at retail, but may have landed very strongly with the library markets.
If we are looking at the cover for a book that was previously published by another publisher, or perhaps self-published, we look at how the book was positioned as a whole. So, we start even further back than the cover. We think about the title, the story hook, or positioning, and the category the book will be shelved in. Even if the book had relatively strong sales, some of these other factors may give us insight into how to launch the book at a new level for Sourcebooks.
2. Involve everyone in the process
Since we start by looking at sales, the decision begins with the sales department and the marketing team. The marketing team weighs in with what they were seeing at the point of launch. Did they get the reviews they’d hoped for, the media placement they’d planned? Do they think the media had an impact on the sales (or lack thereof)? We may also discuss what the consumer reviews look like. Sometimes we see that consumers are most excited about a particular aspect of the book that we did not position against – that we didn’t address on the cover or with the back cover copy.
If this was a previously published book by another publisher or self-published, then the conversation may start with editorial – again though the editorial team starts with how they want to publish the book for their list – once they determine that positioning, the art director will review and make a recommendation on the cover direction.
In most instances, the design team is brought into the conversation when there’s already a recommendation on the table to repackage.
3. Pay attention to comp title performance
We rely heavily on data – and comp titles provide data. We may see that a design trend has faded or taken off and so we rethink our packaging to fit into that trend. We research the categories and subcategories in depth to provide expertise on what works (and what doesn’t) when positioning a book into a certain category. We want to make sure that the consumer who reads a particular type of book knows at immediate glance that this book is for him or her. We want to make sure that our cover fits within the design space of similar books, but also stands out or stands above the other books. That the consumer sees it and knows it’s what they like to read, and that they care enough to pick it up.
4. Listen to your audience
I would say most repackages are driven by external market considerations. If we believe the current cover didn’t help sell the book, a new cover has the chance to reach a different audience – where your hardcover may have been packaged more like a romance, but your reviewers really like the mystery in the story – a repackage could lean toward the mystery aspect. So it’s still based on content, but now external factors are telling us to reposition against other aspects of the content.
A good example within the romance space was a repackage we did for a book that we published as a trade paperback title – The Curl Up & Dye by Sharon Sala. Sharon Sala is a New York Times bestselling author in the romance space, but this trade paperback did not land the way we had hoped. But when we released her second Blessings, Georgia book, I’ll Stand By You as a mass market romance, we saw that her numbers were very strong in the mass market space and that people really loved her Blessings, Georgia setting. So we then repackaged The Curl Up & Dye as a mass market romance with a new title, You & Only You. It was already set in Blessings, Georgia, but we did not market it that way for the original trade paperback release. When we put it in mass market we made sure to communicate to the consumer via the packaging that this was set in Blessings. The one thing about mass market books and authors is that they often write within a “world” and the consumer is trained to look for copy on the cover (or in online metadata) that indicates a particular book is part of a particular series, or world. The success of I’ll Stand By You showed opportunity and a market – but more specifically that her customers were in that space already – she had success with other publishers in the mass market space, and keeping her where her customers were but then also packaging her new titles in a cheaper format allowed her to grow her reach both with existing customers but also with customers who read similar mass market titles by other authors. Plus, the lower price presented less of a barrier for entry for new customers.
5. Remember your deep backlist
Sometimes we look at titles that were published 5-10 years ago (or more) and think about bringing them back out with new covers as a way to boost sales. Especially in the young adult and the romance space. Since those audiences (especially Young Adult) turn over to new people so regularly and trends change so quickly, a successful book with a fresh cover can easily find new readers, and the accounts are happy to take the book because it was successful in the past with the previous audience. We are seeing a lot of illustrated covers in the young adult space right now. 10 years ago covers were all photographic. So we are looking at our backlist right now and seeing what books sold well but could get new life with an illustrated cover direction.
6. Capitalize on the success of a repackaging campaign
If the sales increase, we can attribute part of that to the cover, of course, but we know other factors may play a part, too. The change to a more affordable format and the repositioning of the back cover copy are also important. When we see a repackage working really well, we’ll consider what we did and if there were elements that we can use from that repackage to guide the cover for the author’s next book or similar books in the same genre.
7. Think about repackaging at all stages of the publishing lifecycle, including acquisitions
Our goal in repackaging the Poisoned Pen Press backlist titles [which Sourcebooks acquired in 2018] was to give them a more cohesive look across authors and series and to have more immediate recognition for consumers. We wanted to make sure that the consumers who devour mystery titles but have never heard of Poisoned Pen would recognize the books as mysteries that they’d want to read. We felt that, while there were many strong covers on the books, there was room to help drive consumer awareness even more. To use our experience designing for this market to increase sales.
Sarah Cardillo is the Director of Publishing Operations at Sourcebooks, one of the 10th largest publishers and the largest woman-owned trade book publisher in North America. She began her career as a production editor with Publications International (now Phoenix International Publications) but since joining Sourcebooks twelve years ago, she has grown her professional reach exponentially. As director of publishing operations, Sarah oversees numerous key departments, including the award-winning art and design department, and the production, manufacturing, and editorial production departments. She utilizes her project management and change management knowledge to build workflows and increase efficiencies across publishing operations. At the onset of the digital transformation, she rebuilt the standard bookmaking process to seamlessly integrate ebook production into the workflow. Her passion for organization and process has transformed the way departments communicate within Sourcebooks. Sarah has both a bachelor’s degree in written communication and a master’s degree in corporate communication and change management.
For independent authors who are publishing your own work, it can be hard to know how much to spend, and where to spend. Can you publish a book using only free tools and services? Do you need to make a serious dent in your savings account to get your book into the world?
NetGalley and the IBPA worked together to gather information from an engaged and thoughtful group of authors about how much they budget for their books, where that budget gets allocated, and where they find the most value. We hope that this information can help other authors strategize for their own books, getting the most value out of their budgets.
These authors understand that they need to invest in their book, and that the biggest and most valuable expenses will be editing, design, and advertising & marketing in order to give their books the most professional launch possible.
Thank you to the thoughtful authors who shared their budgets, strategies, and lessons learned about the finances of independent book publishing.
Only 11% of respondents reported spending less than $1,000 on their books, indicating that the most active authors understand that they need to invest at least a bit in their books. The majority of authors spent between $1,000 – $6,000 on their books, with the $1,000 – $3,000 bracket accounting for 28% of the overall responses.
Across budgets, most authors spend the bulk of their budgets on a combination of marketing & advertising, editing, and design.
You can see how authors allocated budgets within different budgeting ranges here:
As authors’ budgets went up, they increased the amount that they spent on marketing and advertising. Other line items – print distribution, proofreading, and ebook distribution – stayed relatively stable across budget brackets.
Editing was the most valuable line item to 41% of respondents, followed by marketing and advertising (26%), then design (21%). We’ve broken down how they valued these three categories by budget spend below.
Editing was the most valuable line item to 41% of respondents, followed by marketing and advertising (26%), then design (21%). We’ve broken down how they valued these three categories by budget spend below.
As an author’s budget goes up, marketing & advertising became more valuable to them. And for the respondents with more limited budgets, they found the most value in first editing, then design.
We also asked how authors determined what made a line item valuable to them. Surprisingly, it wasn’t always sales. Only 17% of respondents used sales as their primary marker of value. Instead, 31% of respondents found value when they could see that an expense had made their book a higher quality product. We can see this correlated to the value found in design and editing. Authors were most interested in making their book look – both inside and out – professional and polished, and then putting eyes on it.
When asked what they would spend less money on in the future, 17% or respondents said marketing & advertising and 15% said printing. But, even in a question about spending less, 12% responded to a question about lowering their budget by saying it would stay the same, 7% said they would spend more. We see again that authors understand that they will need to invest in their books in order to make them the best product that they can be, and to then help their books find readers.
NetGalley and the IBPA are both dedicated to helping author-publishers. Through NetGalley’s partnership with the IBPA, as well as through direct work with independent authors, we help author-publishers reach our engaged NetGalley community. Plus, authors find many tips and author-focused case studies here on NetGalley Insights. The IBPA has programs, events, webinars, and resources for author-publishers, as well as other segments of the industry. Learn more about the IBPA here, including special NetGalley packages available to IBPA members.
Survey collection: NetGalley and the IBPA collected survey responses from 137 author-publishers between May-June 2019.
During Tech Forum in Toronto this spring, we were thrilled to hear Jordyn Martinez of Simon & Schuster Canada encouraging the audience to dig into data available to them to drive their sales tactics. One of the tools she recommended is Google Trends, a free service that allows anyone to look at Google search trends over time.
Google Trends plots search interest over time on a graph with the x-axis as time and the y-axis as overall interest.* In this example, we can see that most people are searching for summer reading in early June. A marketer looking at this data might see that she should use “summer reading” as an advertising hook beginning in late spring, and tapering off as summer continues.
Google Trends also allows you to compare search terms against one another.
You can see how many people are searching for different genres, and when.
In this example, you can see that people are searching for romance novels and nonfiction titles at mostly comparable rates – they have similar same peaks and valleys, except for a spike in nonfiction searches in mid-December. This is likely a result of last-minute holiday shopping. Romance searches are fairly steady, with small peaks around the holidays and in late summer. When compared to one another, this shows us that interest in nonfiction fluctuates more seasonally, while romance remains steady. It also might indicate that people are buying romances for themselves and nonfiction for others.
Google Trends also allows you to look at top locations for searches, showing publishers where interest is, in addition to when.
Google Trends’ location map can help you learn where your target audiences really are. In this search for “Best Romance Novels,” we can see that most searches are in Massachusetts, Colorado, Minnesota, Tennessee, and Virginia. You can also drill down to find the metro areas where your chosen search terms are most popular. Publishers looking to make a splash with a new and steamy debut romance novel should make sure to target these states and cities with advertising and/or book tour stops. This tool can help publishers break out of a static approach to regional marketing, where the same roster of cities and states get standard amounts of marketing energy. Instead, publishers can start to develop a more dynamic and data-driven regional strategy.
Some advertisers use Google Trends to capitalize on brief viral spikes in public interest by creating of-the-moment ad campaigns. In this example, we can see a sharp increase in interest for “Old Town Road,” the viral song originally by Lil Nas X featuring Billy Ray Cyrus. An advertiser might note during the uptick that they can tie in a product to the hit song, or the flash of interest in cowboys. We recommend using this strategy sparingly. It is time consuming to chase trends effectively, plus audiences can tell if a company is more interested in riding waves of buzz than in building lasting, trusting relationships with consumers.
For publishers, Google Trends is best thought of in the long-term. It can show you whether your genres are getting seasonal, cyclical attention or a steady thrum throughout the year. You’ll know whether you should be pitching your books as holiday picks if interest in their genre spike around December. Plus, you’ll be able to better focus your attention beyond the major markets; how to truly cater to your audience wherever they are.
Jordyn Martinez of Simon & Schuster Canada told NetGalley Insights, “Google Trends is really useful for any department, particularly acquisitions, sales, and marketing. In terms of sales, I use it to see what the Canadian population is searching for, to see if there’s room for growth or if what I’m selling is tapping into a trend. It’s especially useful if I want to know whether a trend has shifted at all, whether there seems to be more or less demand. It’s information that I can bring to my buyers, so that we can make educated decisions on how to position the book.”
*The data in GoogleTrends is all indexed to 100, meaning that whenever the line reaches 100, it represents the moment in time when there were the most people searching for that term. It does not refer to a percentage of overall Google searches or number of users. This also means that the max interest will represent numbers of people. The peak for “Game of Thrones” searches will cover a wider swath of the population than the peak for “Spring Book Club Picks,” although both will be indexed to 100. Google News Lab gave a nice overview here.
Check out more tips and news for data-driven decision making from NetGalley Insights here.
Earlier this year, V.E. Schwab’s debut novel The Near Witch was republished with a brand new cover and bonus short story. For the readers who have flocked to Schwab’s Shades of Magic and Villians series, it’s been an exciting opportunity to visit their favorite author’s first book after falling in love with her other work. For Schwab, it’s been a time to reflect on The Near Witch’s initial run and how it ultimately impacted the way she told stories. Here, Schwab opens up about finding her readership, writing for herself, and the advice she gives to all debut authors.
Bookish: Your debut novel The Near Witch was recently rereleased with a brand new cover. What’s the rerelease been like for you?
V.E. Schwab: It has definitely made me more introspective. I’m proud of how far I’ve come. A decade has passed between writing that book and my work on my next novel, The Invisible Life of Addie La Rue.
I assumed that The Near Witch was going to roll out very quietly back into the world. Instead, Titan, my UK publisher, took a book that never really had a fair chance and they’ve given it everything debut me would’ve dreamed of. They treated it like a new release and gave it so much attention and fanfare. I’m elated.
This is, of course, the great paradox. Debut me never would’ve gotten any of these things.
I’m very honest about that to aspiring writers. Nothing about this book changed. Everything about the way this book was treated changed.
Bookish: In the book, the Near Witch rises up after being buried. It seems to mirror this book’s journey.
VS: I’m calling this book tour the resurrection tour. It’s very weird and surreal. It’s hard for me to talk about with any objectivity. I’m so grateful.
I’ve come a long way but it wasn’t a straight line. The Near Witch is a quiet book that originally came out at a time in publishing when everything that was being touted was very loud and it wasn’t finding an audience. I now have a weird, dark, morbid audience and I’m very fortunate to have found it, but it took time.
Readerships take time to build and publishing isn’t always great at the long con. After The Near Witch and the two books in The Archived came out, I was very jaded. I was falling out of love with writing because writing is beautiful and publishing is not. I said, “I’m doing everything I can to make other people happy and it’s not working. I don’t know if I have a future in publishing but I’m not going to go down on someone else’s ship. I’m going to write what I want to read. Audience of one.” What happened was Vicious, a book that was never supposed to be read by anyone. Because of that I didn’t pull any punches. I made it weird, mildly sadistic, and as morally complicated as I wanted… and that book found its readers. What I discovered is that in writing for myself I found my readership, my dark, devoted readership. My rule from then on was I write for an audience of one first, I write what I want to read. If I do that and it appeals to other people, that’s wonderful. It it doesn’t, I will not feel like I wasted any time. I never looked back after Vicious.
Bookish: Are there any elements of The Near Witch that you now recognize as a hallmark of your work?
VS: In The Near Witch, you can see the motifs I would go on to explore a decade later. I was on a panel several years ago with Melissa de la Cruz
and she said that she had been told that writers tell one story. That
no matter how many books you write, you as a writer are exploring one
story. If you look at all of my books, they’re about insider/outsider
culture and feeling like you don’t belong. That motif is in every single
one of my stories. It’s interesting to look back at something like The Near Witch
and see that 21-year-old me had a very tentative touch. I was just
starting to learn and just starting to push. The difference between
Lexie in The Near Witch and Marcella in Vengeful is the difference between 21-year-old me pushing back against society and 31-year-old me burning society down.
Bookish: This rerelease of The Near Witch is going to introduce some of your readership to your debut novel, while other readers may be picking it up without having read your other work. For new readers, where do you recommend they go next?
VS: It’s so hard. There’s the Marvel velocity where I’m like go in order: The Near Witch is the first one and none of the other books would have happened without it. I also have a tweet that says if these are things that appeal to you read this—it’s like a choose your own adventure game.
It’s also hard because books are static and people are not. If someone reads my work at 20 versus 30 they’re going to come to it with a different set of life experiences. I have to be the right version of myself to write a book, someone has to be the right version of themselves when they read it. As a writer, I will only ever bring half of the equation, the reader brings the other half. Everything the reader brings will determine if they enjoy one of my books. I want everyone to try everything knowing they’re not going to love everything and equally that something might surprise them.
Bookish: You have some stellar first lines. What do you think makes a good first line and how do you go about crafting yours?
VS: I spend a lot of time on first lines. I think it goes back to my poetry background. I don’t judge books by their covers, their titles, or their jacket copy because authors usually don’t have a say in any of those. As a reader, the first thing you encounter that an author has complete control over is the first line. I judge books very strongly by their first page because I want to get a sense of the voice. The first line needs to tell me not only something interesting, kind of like the opening line of a joke, but it also needs to tell me the tone of the book.
I will agonize over a first line. I’ve tried very hard to make the first line in each of my books be a microcosm of the first page in that I want them to tell you what kind of book you’re stepping into. The first line of Addie La Rue is “This is how it starts” and that becomes the first line for each of the sections of that book until we reach “This is how it ends.” I’ve always really wanted to begin a book with that line.
Bookish: Out of all of the characters in your other books, who do you think The Near Witch‘s Lexi would get along best with? What about Cole?
VS: Oh god. Let me think. I always joke that I make female Slytherins and male Hufflepuffs.
I tend to write this female transition: You watch Lexi become Mackenzie from The Archived and Mackenzie grows up a little bit and becomes Kate from This Savage Song, Kate evolves into Delilah Bard from Shades of Magic. I’d like to put Lexi with Delilah Bard. I feel like Delilah Bard would show Lexi her next evolution.
In the same way, This Savage Song’s August is the Super Saiyan version of Cole. He’s the glow up. But not in a pretty way, he’s a glow up of feelings. Cole was my first shot at the very emotionally aware boy and August takes that to 11.
Bookish: Is there any piece of advice that you don’t see being given to debut authors that you wish you could give them?
VS: My advice is to work on your next book and remember that for the vast majority of us, careers are not made by a single novel but by a body of work. The more pressure you put on a single novel, a debut especially, the worse it is going to be for you. You can’t predict which book is going to blow up. Shades of Magic, my most popular series, starts with my eighth novel. The seven books that came before that were instrumental in building my career. Every single one of those books was a brick in the wall.
Publishing has a really high mortality rate and you need to develop healthy habits. I’m an ancient veteran now. My debut year had 196 young adult and middle grade debuts, and there are fewer than a dozen of us publishing now. Only three of us are bestsellers. The curve is not in your favor as a creative. I think it’s best for everyone to have more information, more balance, more support across publishing generations.
You have to go in armed with knowledge. Publishing is very short-term minded and that’s very often to the detriment of books. It’s the nature of the industry to only be interested in the shiny and the new. As a reader, I find things that are five, ten, 20 years old. I don’t come to them when they’re brand new. We’re missing out on a lot of really great things in the interest of always trying to chase the new. It’s unfair because nine times out of ten the books that don’t get a chance are by diverse authors. It’s becoming even more vital to have passionate bloggers, reviews, and sites that are devoted to finding really good stories whether that story is a day old or a decade.
Bookish: On social media, you’re open about the challenges of being a writer and the demands of the industry. How did you get to a place where you felt comfortable sharing that?
VS: I’m very fortunate that I’m still in this industry and can have that kind of retrospective. Transparency and openness have always been my policies because I started out so young. When I wrote The Near Witch at 21, it was a time when no one was being honest. The problem with not being honest and open in a creative industry is that when you begin to struggle, and we all do, you take it as a reflection of you, not of the fact that creating is hard.
That’s what was happening very early on when The Near Witch wasn’t going well. I thought it must be me. Then I went to a writing retreat and all of these authors who were only talking about the positives online were sitting around talking about how hard everything was. I remember thinking that if I had known these other authors were also struggling, I would have felt so much less alone.
I meet a huge number of aspiring authors and authors new to the industry who come up to me and say thank you for making me feel less alone in how hard this is. And that’s really the only reason that I do it. There’s this pressure to romanticize the creative process. I didn’t want to perpetuate this myth. I wasn’t going to let anyone else come up feeling as alone as I felt.
Bookish: You’re currently working on a book called The Invisible Life of Addie La Rue. How’s it going?
VS: It’s trying to kill me on a daily basis. I hit this point in every single one of my book processes where I want to delete the book and move to Iceland to raise goats. But Addie is a really specific beast in that I’ve been working on it for so long and it’s lived in my head for so long. I needed to wait to write it until I was emotionally and craft ready, and I am those things now, but it’s the longest a story has ever sat with me. When you’ve had the first draft in your head for eight years, you want to do it right the first time which is not possible.
The internal pressure to do it right is way higher than with any of my other books. I’m trying to smooth the concrete before I pour it. As a writer, I revise as I go. I will work on each chapter until it’s ready. As a result, what I turn in to an editor looks very polished, but the story isn’t flawless. I’m very fortunate to have editors who can see past the polish, and while it sucks to have to tear things down to studs even when there’s really nice wallpaper, I think it is important to have strong editors who can see through that.
Bookish: Are there any books you’ve read that were quietly released into the world that you wish received more attention?
Victoria “V.E.” Schwab is the #1 NYT, USA, and Indie bestselling author of more than a dozen books, including Vicious, the Shades of Magic series, and This Savage Song. Her work has received critical acclaim, been featured by EW and the New York Times, been translated into more than a dozen languages, and been optioned for TV and Film. The Independent calls her the “natural successor to Diana Wynne Jones” and touts her “enviable, almost Gaimanesque ability to switch between styles, genres, and tones.”
How CAKE Literary makes space for new voices and untold stories, “baking” diversity into every book.
According to the most recent statistics from the Cooperative Children’s Book Center at the University of Wisconsin Madison, there are more children’s books about animals than there are about African, African Amerian, Asian Pacific Islander, Asian Pacific Islander, Latinx, American Indian, and First Nations children combined.
Sona Charaipotra is one of the many people in the publishing industry whose work is changing those statistics. As an author and co-founder of CAKE Literary, she is bringing more diverse books into the world. She recently told NetGalley Insights what kinds of stories she is passionate about sharing with the public, how it feels to be making room for underrepresented voices in publishing, and what’s on the horizon for CAKE Literary through 2020 and beyond.
What is the origin story behind CAKE Literary?
Dhonielle and I met the first day of class in our MFA program in Writing for Children at the New School. We bonded pretty quickly — talking about our favorite books and TV shows and sharing our work over pepperoni pizza at Patsy’s. One of the things that always came up in our conversations was how rarely we got to see ourselves as the hero of the story as kids, a fact that held true for my own kids even back in 2012. So we decided to do something about it, both with our own stories and eventually in founding CAKE Literary, which is a boutique book packager with a decidedly diverse bent. Like Alloy or Glasstown Entertainment, we’re not a publisher or an agency, but specifically a packager, which means we come up with fun, creative, big concepts, find the right voice to tell the story, then walk the writer through the publishing process.
What need does CAKE Literary serve in the industry? What problem does it address or what hole does it fill?
A lot of times with publishing, especially when it comes to stories by people of color, it’s easy to presume that pain is what sells. But I think recent successes have shown time and again that we are also allowed to celebrate the joy in our communities. Our focus is on lifting marginalized voices and showing that we, too, can be the ones to save the day, to find love, to become heroes of our own joyful stories. I think the joy part of it is so critical. Yes, our stories tackle meaty, real issues, but they also put fun front and center.
How are diversity and inclusion “baked in” to CAKE Literary as a central part of its business model & vision?
We envision the diversity of our stories to be organic, in the sense that it’s ever-present, but it’s not the main thrust or plot of the story. It’s in the very bones of the world building, and it helps shape and define every part of the character and point of view. It’s truly baked in, in the sense that it sort of disappears the way an egg does when you bake a cake — it’s necessary and ever-present, and you can’t really remove it. You wouldn’t have the same cake if you did. Our first series, Tiny Pretty Things, is pitched as Pretty Little Liars at a cutthroat Manhattan ballet conservatory — completely high concept and fun, right? But it’s got three very different POVs, and each is grounded in who the girls are as people. Gigi is black, from California, and the new girl. June is half-Korean, from Queens, and struggling with both food and family issues. Bette is white, blonde, and the classic legacy. These cultural, socio-economic, and racial factors define the very different experiences each of these three girls have in the very same setting. The diversity is organic and inseparable, a big part of the story without becoming the whole story.
What does it mean to you to be a spacemaker – shepherding unrepresented voices into the mainstream?
It is honestly my favorite part of the job. Only now am I beginning to see representations of something akin to my experience on the page, but my kids will have so many more options. That’s astounding. They are devouring all these stories that serve as reflections, but also all the stories that offer them windows into other experiences. And it’s a profound thing to find a voice that needs to be lifted, to be heard, and help them navigate the publishing process, to share both the highs and the lows with them, because, let’s face it, publishing can be a very rough ride, especially for marginalized writers, and you need that safety net to fall into. There are people who held the door open for me and Dhonielle, and we are thrilled to pull others through it, too. Because as the latest CCBC numbers show [seen below] there’s still so much work to be done.
Who else is doing work to make publishing a more equitable and diverse industry?
How does your work as an author influence your work with CAKE, and vice versa?
I think it goes hand in hand. Dhonielle and I had to use our own work — our first series, Tiny Pretty Things — to launch the company before anyone would begin to take us seriously. We had to go through the process and experience ourselves, and bring the lessons that we learned from it with us. Luckily, we had some great mentors along the way, and a strong community of fellow authors who were super-supportive too. Hopefully we can give back in the same way, by being there as mentors to new writers as they make their way in publishing, too.
Your new YA book, Symptoms of a Heartbreak comes out on July 2 through Macmillan/Imprint . What qualities make it a CAKE book?
Symptoms of a Heartbreak is a classic CAKE project. It’s fun, high concept and hopefully a delicious read, and the organic diversity informs every part of it. I pitch it as Doogie Howser meets The Mindy Project — it’s about a 16-year-old girl genius doctor who’s doing her first real medical internship — and falls in love with a patient. It’s got a classic romantic comedy structure, but Saira’s background as an Indian-American teen informs so much of her family life, her work ethic, her point of view, the micro and macro aggressions she faces in her work and life. It also informs the way she views love and romance. You can’t take that out of the character or the story itself and have it remain the same.
We’ve got a lot of amazing things lined up for 2020 and beyond, and everyone should definitely stay tuned for lots of TV and movie news coming up, too! Plus, our next venture is into the realm of adult fiction with our LayerCAKE imprint. But we’re always on the lookout for amazing, unique voices. That’s the best part of this job, really — getting to find these astounding new voices and then share them with the world.
Bio: The author of the YA doc dramedy Prognosis: Love And Death, Sona Charaipotra is not a doctor — much to her pediatrician parents’ chagrin. They were really hoping she’d grow up to take over their practice one day. Instead, she became a writer, working first as a celebrity reporter at People and (the dearly departed) TeenPeople magazines, and contributing to publications from the New York Times to TeenVogue. These days, she uses her Masters in screenwriting from NYU and her MFA in creative writing from the New School to poke plot holes in her favorite teen TV shows, like The Bold Type — for work of course. She’s the co-founder of CAKE Literary, a boutique book packaging company with a decidedly diverse bent, and the co-author (with Dhonielle Clayton) of the YA dance dramas Tiny Pretty Things and Shiny Broken Pieces, as well as the upcoming psychological thriller Rumor Game. She’s also the interim editor of the Barnes & Noble teen blog.
Interviews have been edited for clarity and length.
How an activist fantasy writer used xer own experiences as a reviewer to get 80+ NetGalley post-pub reviews for a short story collection
As a reviewer as well as author and indie publisher, Ana Mardoll has a unique perspective about what gets a person excited about a new book. For xer*, it’s instant access, plus concrete information about a book’s content – including possible triggers. Knowing xer own likes, dislikes, and habits as a reviewer helped Mardoll optimize the timing, availability, and Title Details copy for No Man of Woman Born. And xer strategy worked – during its time on NetGalley, No Man of Woman Born earned over 80 reviews, with an average 4-star rating.
*Xie/xer/xers are the gender neutral pronouns that Mardoll uses.
As both an activist and a writer, how does writing fantasy provide a platform to explore issues that are important to you, especially around queerness & disability?
The great thing about fantasy is that you have the total power to create your world from scratch. You don’t have to add hatred for queer people and disabled people into your world; that hatred isn’t some mandatory state that all civilizations reach in the journey from fire and the wheel to airplanes and cellphones. You can choose what challenges your characters face and aren’t constrained by the real world. There’s a lot of power in that!
What were your goals for No Man of Woman Born on NetGalley?
My goal was to get reviews and reach a wider audience. As an indie publisher, my marketing budget is extremely low, so book blogs and word-of-mouth sharing from reviewers is very helpful to me. Having been a reviewer myself, I know all too well that we rarely have the time to review everything we request. That helped me set realistic expectations for what to expect, since I knew that a request didn’t equal an eventual review. I was a reviewer for many years and I understand the importance of reviews on a book–and I respect how much work and labor goes into that effort! I’ve always had wonderful experiences with the NetGalley team as a reviewer, so I trusted them to put my book in the hands of reviewers in a respectful, thoughtful manner. I believe they did well.
No Man of Woman Born became available on NetGalley after its publication date. Tell us how you came to use NetGalley as a post-pub tool and why that works for you.
I have ADHD and whenever people hype books in advance of pub date, I get all excited, and then I never end up buying the book because by the time it becomes available I’ve already had my interest snagged by some new shiny thing! (I have the same problem with movie trailers!) So I’m very much about post-publication hype. It doesn’t help your first week sales, true, but as a smaller-name indie that first week isn’t as important to me as the long haul. If I can get people excited about a book that they can then immediately one-click read, review, and buy that very day, that’s a big win for me.
No Man of Woman Born was available to any interested member as a Read Now title. Tell us about why you chose that availability setting.
I want to read a book when I request it, not two days later when the publisher clicks the “Approve” button. It’s just an attention span issue–any delay between “I want the thing” and “I get the thing” means I’m less likely to do the thing. Additionally, as the publisher in question I didn’t really want to have to log in and press the approval button; it seemed like my time could be better spent writing.
In your Title Details you note “…these prophecies recognize and acknowledge each character’s gender, even when others do not. Note: No trans or nonbinary characters were killed in the making of this book. Trigger warnings and neopronoun pronunciation guides are provided for each story.” Tell us why this is important information to include and what you hoped it would tell NetGalley members about your perspective as an author?
A lot of trans literature is inaccessible to a lot of trans readers because a LOT of it is about trans people facing hatred and trauma, even up to and including their own deaths. Trans characters on television are usually victims in crime dramas. There’s effort to change this and broaden the scope of how we’re allowed to see ourselves, but it’s still something to be wary of when approaching a trans book. I wanted to let readers know that wasn’t going to happen here; that no trans characters would be killed, and that any traumas they engaged in would be appropriately trigger warned in advance so they could choose whether they wanted to read that or not.
Where did you leverage your NetGalley listing outside of the site?
Twitter mostly – that’s where the bulk of my audience is these days. Twitter has been a good platform for me simply because that’s where my audience already is. If I had 20,000 Facebook followers, I’d be sharing there instead or in addition to Twitter.
What’s your top tip for authors listing their title on NetGalley?
Make sure your readers know what they’re getting; the majority of my lower-star reviews were from people who didn’t enjoy short stories and hadn’t realized my book was a collection–that’s fair and a good note to me that I need to market the book more clearly in that regard!
is a writer and activist who lives in the dusty Texas wilderness with
two spoiled cats. Xer favorite employment is weaving new tellings of old
fairy tales, fashioning beautiful creations to bring comfort on cold
nights. Xie is the author of the Earthside series, the Rewoven Tales novels, and several short stories.
Interviews have been edited for clarity and length.
Read the rest of our case studies, featuring authors, trade publishers, and academic publishers here.
Search Engine Optimization (SEO) is the primary strategy that helps online content find its way to readers. SEO boosts discoverability. It means having thoughtfully and strategically optimized keywords. In practice, an author with great SEO skills stands a better chance of having their website or information show up earlier in Google results.
The goal of SEO is to lead people to your content by paying attention to what they’re looking for If they’re looking for content similar to the content that you write, you want them to find you! When most of us type in a Google search, we know the general contours of what we’re looking for, but not the exact thing. That’s why we type broad keywords around the topic into a search engine. When you include those relevant keywords about the topics you cover in your own writing, you help your work rise to the top of the results page for people who are already interested in what you’re doing.
When you think about developing an SEO strategy, think about what someone might be looking for when you want them to find your work. What search terms are they likely to use? Those search terms will become the keywords that you can incorporate into your work.
There are a few ways to go about boosting SEO for your writing projects.
One is through clear titles and subject lines for your writing. If you are posting a short story about undead hordes in an industrial English city, your title should include words like “zombie,” “brains,” and “Manchester.” That way, people looking for stories about the undead in the UK will be better able to find your work.
You can also put keywords into your metadata and into the content itself. For example, WordPress lets you list keywords for your posts. But be sure to use your keywords in the writing itself, too. Adding in these keywords in metadata and content might seem redundant, but search algorithms work on repetition, so we recommend adding them in.
Making your content easily shareable helps boost its discoverability as well. If you’re writing about how a specific author has inspired your current work, tag that author and add a link to your favorite book they’ve written. This makes it easy for that author to know that someone is writing about them, and makes it easy for them to share your work if they like. As an article or a website gets shared, it is more prioritized by search algorithms because it’s clear that readers are engaging with it already.
Check out more author tips here, and subscribe to our weekly newsletter so that you don’t miss any of our best practices, case studies, or insider insights.
Literary agents bridge the space between editors and authors, working with both to shepherd great books into the world. Because they work closely with both editors and authors, they have a unique vantage point within the industry. They know what editors expect, and how authors can best set themselves up for a successful working relationship. Here’s what the Nancy Yost Literary Agency’s Senior Agent Sarah Younger wishes every newly signed author knew:
1. You don’t have to be on every social media platform known to man
In fact, for fiction, you don’t have to be on social media at all. Sometimes publishers like to see authors supporting their book publishing efforts through social media, but you don’t need to have a robust following while you’re in the querying stage. You may not even need to have a big social media footprint when or even after your book is sold. Social media can become overwhelming, take away from writing time, and be a source of frustration to authors who aren’t innately inclined to visit the platforms. This is okay. However, social media can be a place where you find community and friendship. It can also be a way to communicate with your fans and readers, not to mention a fun way to support your books. Ultimately, when it comes to social media you have to find your own personal comfort level. If it doesn’t feel natural, don’t force it.
2.Get ready for edits
Yes, the author has the final say on their story, and their writing, and their book. But you should be prepared to work with your agent on possible revisions before manuscript submissions and know you’ll eventually get feedback and edits from an editor, copy editor, possible beta readers, and critique partners. They all want to help make your work stronger. And help you tell the story you want to tell. I know that the first response writers have when faced with revisions is not always LET’S GET TO WORK, but having a good attitude about those revisions will go a long way in establishing and preserving a great working relationship with the enthusiastic team behind you.
3. Create an author website
While you don’t need to be on social media, I do think it’s a good idea for authors to have an author website. It doesn’t have to be fancy or expensive, but having a place with your pen name, or your real name, and a bit about your books or your works in progress will be helpful when your readers want to find out more about you, your books, and your future projects. Before you shell out money for a website domain though, be sure that it is the name you really want to use. I advise using your name or pen name as your domain name. But, if that name is already taken, think about adding book-related words to the end. For example, if my name was taken, I would try adding “books” or “novels” or “author” or “writer” on the end to see if that domain is available instead, like this: sarahyoungerwriter[.]com
4.Explore professional organizations.
Joining a professional organization could be a great way to find community and educational resources. However, membership fees are typically involved with these organizations, so know that this isn’t a requirement for your success. But, if the budget’s there, I advise authors to look into professional organizations in their genre of choice. (If they’re writing across genres, it can be helpful to be part of multiple organizations.) For example, I work with a lot of romance authors, so RWA (Romance Writers of America) is a helpful professional organization for romance writers, both published and unpublished.
5. Expect and prepare for rejection. This industry is not for the faint of heart. An author and agent will see and experience many more rejections than offers and success stories, particularly when they are starting out. However, receiving a rejection, or multiple rejections, doesn’t mean that this career isn’t for you. Just keep swimming! (Yes, I appropriated that quote from Dori.) But it’s true, just keep moving forward. Just keep writing. Just keep going. It only takes one YES!
Sarah Younger is a Senior Agent at the Nancy Yost Literary Agency. You
can find out more about the projects she’s sold and the genres she
represents here. Additionally, you can find her on Twitter.
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.
Even though summer hours are in effect for many in the publishing world, there are still opportunities to connect with your peers and learn new skills in July!
“Join Romance Writers of America for RWA2019 at the New York Marriott Marquis in New York City, July 24–27, 2019. At the conference, career-focused romance writers can anticipate education and information, networking with fellow writers, interaction with editors, agents, publishers, vendors, retailers, and other romance publishing industry professionals.”
“The majority of marketing and publicity departments work on very modest budgets. And while there are plenty of inspiring marketing and publicity campaigns that deliver great results, how many of them can you realistically expect to deliver? Even the ones that purport to be “low cost” are often not.
Our panel of experienced publicists and marketers will talk through three case studies of genuinely small or non-existent budgets. Each practical example will show how you can harness the latest techniques to boost the profile and sales of the books you publish, but without costing a fortune.”
“BookMachine Works is running two training sessions for publishing professionals who need a deeper Understanding of Facebook Ads, either for managing a team/agency; or for setting up your own campaigns. If you are familiar with Facebook, but lack confidence or understanding when it comes to running paid-for ads, then this is the course for you.”
“Eighteen authors, six agents plus a light breakfast at the Groucho Club, with each author submitting their work first and getting the opportunity to take two of the thirty-six slots on the day to meet privately with two agents each who have read their work.”