Sona Charaipotra is bringing joyful and organic diversity to publishing

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.


Huyck, David and Sarah Park Dahlen. (2019 June 19). Diversity in Children’s Books 2018. sarahpark.com blog. Created in consultation with Edith Campbell, Molly Beth Griffin, K. T. Horning, Debbie Reese, Ebony Elizabeth Thomas, and Madeline Tyner, with statistics compiled by the Cooperative Children’s Book Center, School of Education, University of Wisconsin-Madison: http://ccbc.education.wisc.edu/books/pcstats.asp. Retrieved from https://readingspark.wordpress.com/2019/06/19/picture-this-diversity-in-childrens-books-2018-infographic/

Who else is doing work to make publishing a more equitable and diverse industry?

There are so many people who continue to push. First and foremost, I have to point to the inimitable Ellen Oh and the whole We Need Diverse Books team, which includes Dhonielle and Olugbemisola Rhuday-Perkovich, as well a slew of amazing volunteers who have been working tirelessly now for five years and counting. The change that they’ve affected is profound — as others have said, this has become a movement, rather than a moment. And then there are the #diversityjedi teachers, educators and librarians, who keep the critical conversations going, like Dr. Debbie Reese, Dr. Sarah Park Dahlen, Cheryl Willis Hudson, Ebony Elizabeth Thomas, and others. And there are editors, publishers,  who have been championing change for years — Andrea Davis Pinkney, Alvina Ling, Zareen Jaffrey, Namrata Tripathi, Beth Phelan, and others. And of course storytellers, booksellers, and book champions, like Glory Edim, Saraciea Fennell, Hannah Oliver Depp, Preeti Chhibber, Renee Watson, and others. [Check out Preeti’s interview with NetGalley Insights here!] The voices are there, and they’re doing the work. 

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. 

What’s next for CAKE, through 2019 and beyond?

Ah! We are so excited about what’s cooking! This year alone, CAKE has six books landing on shelves, including the second installment of the Love Sugar Magic series by Anna Meriano (Harper/Walden), The Battle by Karuna Riazi(Simon & Schuster/Salaam Reads), The Trouble With Shooting Stars by Meg Cannistra (Simon & Schuster), A Match Made in Mehendi by Nandini Bajpai (Little Brown), and Tristan Strong Punches a Hole in the Sky by Kwame Mbalia (Disney/Rick Riordan Presents)! Several of these titles are available on Netgalley now, by the way! 

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. 

Keep up with CAKE Literary on Twitter and at CAKELiterary.com. Follow Sona Charaipotra on Twitter or at SonaCharaipotra.com


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.

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Case Study: No Man of Woman Born by Ana Mardoll

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.

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.

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!


Ana Mardoll 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.

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Pre-Publication Tips for Authors: Build Discoverability

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.

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5 Tips for Newly Signed Authors from a Senior Literary Agent

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

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

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

2. Get ready for edits

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

3. Create an author website

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

4. Explore professional organizations.

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

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

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

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Mark your calendars: July 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.

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!

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

US


Thrillerfest

Conference – Networking

July 9, NYC

Annual conference for International Thriller Writers.

Romance Writers of America

Conference – Networking

July 24-27, NYC

“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.”

UK


Book Machine: Campaigns That Don’t Cost the Earth: Compelling marketing and publicity on a shoestring budget

Panel program – Marketing

July 3, London

“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.”

Book Machine: Understanding Facebook: Ads Training for Publishers

Workshop – Marketing

July 9-10, London

“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.”

Byte the Book: Breakfast Byte The Book Agent Tables – Speed Pitching to Agents

Speed pitching – Networking

July 10, London

“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.”

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Make it Personal, Online

PubTech Connect – Book Lovers on the Internet: Connecting with Readers in Digital Ways

In partnership with Publishers Weekly, NYU’s Center for Publishing hosted a night of discussion about online book communities and communications as part of their PubTech Connect series. These diverse panelists all agreed on one thing: When talking about books, they are all far more interested in personal, affective responses to books rather than in sweeping generalizations about whether a book is Good or Bad.

Panelists

Even though the panelists all represent different ways of engaging with online book discussions and different reading communities. They – and their audiences – are each looking for stories about how books influence us, how books help us relate to their own lives or to current events, and how books can foster a sense of interpersonal connection. As Jess Zimmerman of Electric Lit put it, they are all moving from focusing on whether a book is good or bad to how a book is functioning and with whom it is resonating.

NYU PubTech Connect Publishing Emma Straub Jess Zimmerman
Emma Straub (left) and Jess Zimmerman

They shared some of their digital content strategies with this personal touch in mind. For authors and publishers, knowing what kind of content is resonating online can help you to make stronger pitches to media outlets, and to produce the content yourselves that will help you connect directly with your audience.

Personal essays

Cristina Arreola, Senior Books Editor at Bustle told the audience that personal essays are always top performers for Bustle. Essays like “I Re-Read Big Little Lies Amid the #MeToo Movement – And It Changed the Novel Entirely for Me” and “I Grew Up in a Fundamentalist Evangelical Community. How I ‘Rewired’ My Brain with Poetry” resonate with readers because they demonstrate the emotional pull that books have, the ways that they can shape us and stay with us, and can help us understand our current cultural moments.

Jess Zimmerman also publishes personal essays. She noted Electric Lit readers respond positively to personal pronouns in headlines. For example, titles like “The Book That Defined my Teen Anxiety Turned Out To Be a Lie” or “The Book That Made Me a Feminst Was Written by an Abuser” promote identification with the author of the essay. Even if the readers don’t share these particular, unique experiences, the framing around “I” gives them a reason to click. And the personal focus of the essays resonate with readers who have also been shaped by their reading experiences, even if those experiences aren’t the same as the ones being written about.

Quizzes

We all click on quizzes more than we’d like to admit. It’s not that we really need to know what our taste in donuts says about our innermost souls, it’s that we like to see ourselves reflected. That’s why Jane K. Lee of Epic Reads gives her YA-loving audience plenty of quizzes. Some of them are about specific books, and some are about creating personalized recommendations. Lee uses quizzes to help her audience connect with themes of a book by placing them in it – by seeing which character they are most similar to or seeing how well they would fare in a dystopian future.

Bookish Executive Editor, Kelly Gallucci agrees about the importance of quizzes. She told NetGalley Insights, “Bookish quizzes all put the reader in control. In a way, our quizzes are like a choose your own adventure for book recs! With the reader at the helm, the results feel more personal and curated because their choices (whether its their Hogwarts house or favorite dessert) led them to the book in the results. It results in a recommendation process that’s surprising, fun, and engaging for both us and our readers.”

Faces (or hands!)

Emma Straub, co-owner of Brooklyn’s Books are Magic noted that the bookstore’s Instagram followers want to see people. They love seeing authors, employees, and everyday readers in their feed. Through social media, audiences have increased access to authors, celebrities, and popular store owners. By showcasing the people behind the magic, and the ones who are enjoying it, Straub and her team create a feeling of intimacy online. That way, when people walk in to Books are Magic for the first time after following them online, they can already feel at home.

Moderator M. J. Franklin jumped in to agree that showing the person behind the online persona is crucial, but that he is often loathe to take a photo with his face in it. Instead he’ll show his hands in a photo so that readers know that there’s a flesh and blood person posting, but he doesn’t have to worry about catching his face at the perfect angle.

Through meaningful personal digital content marketing, you can help your audience connect with you at a deeper level. Audiences are hungry to know the people bringing them the books they love – whether those people are authors, publishers, booksellers, influencers, or reviewers.

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1 Year of NetGalley Insights!

Since our launch in June 2018, we’ve leveraged NetGalley’s unique position in the industry to share lessons from successful marketing campaigns, tips for connecting with influencers across platforms, interviews with industry changemakers, data-centric strategies, and plenty more. We’re looking forward to year 2!

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Giving Publishers the Data They Need: Developing Eloquence on Alert

Firebrand Technologies’s newest service, Eloquence on Alert, gives publishers more access to data about their titles across retail sites than ever before. Through EoA, publishers can keep tabs on any changes to their title information, including changes to sale price, product pages, buy buttons, and third-party seller activity.

Catherine Toolan, Director of Eloquence Services at Firebrand, gave us an inside look at how Eloquence on Alert developed, and some of the surprising ways that publishers are already using it.

What were the origins of EoA?

Eloquence on Alert came out of a simple need for publishers to determine if and how their products were being displayed on retail and reviewer sites. Publishers send out metadata to trading partners and there is very little feedback from those trading partners once the metadata is received. This simple mission planted the seed and from there we have discovered that there is a lot more information we can provide to make it easier for publishers to help their products succeed.

A lot of the impetus for EoA came from Eloquence on Demand users. Many of our clients were sending out the very best metadata that they could on the industry recommended schedule but they were still having issues with the data or the timing of updates on some sites. They also encountered situations where their titles did not appear on some sites at all. As you can imagine, publishers with a large list cannot check retail sites daily for the presence or absence of their titles. Eloquence on Alert grew out of a need to help publishers tackle these and similar problems.

Eloquence on Alert was conceived in 2016, with the first data collection in July of that year.  We released an “alpha” Title Management-dependent version of EoA in 2017 and quickly realized that we needed to pivot and build a SaaS model (software as a service) that would allow for independent product growth.

How does EoA interact with other Firebrand products like Title Management and Eloquence on Demand?

Eloquence on Alert is a standalone product and does not require the use of any other Firebrand products. We will be working to integrate EoA with Eloquence on Demand and NetGalley in the future.

How does EoA fit in with Firebrand’s overall vision around publishing and data?

Firebrand’s flagship products, Title Management and Eloquence on Demand encourage publishers to develop workflows and data management practices that help them to provide some of the best metadata in the industry. Eloquence on Alert takes this a step further and helps publishers fine-tune their practices by drawing attention to trading partner behavior in relation to their metadata content and delivery schedule. The best metadata in the world does not do much for you if your partners are not using it.    

What need does EoA meet for publishers?

Eloquence on Alert monitors critical factors such as fluctuating list and sale prices, changes in sales rank, missing product pages, missing buy buttons, third-party seller activity, marketing assets, review count growth, and audience sentiment. EoA is committed to continued product development and enhancement to meet emerging industry needs.

We know that a select group of publishers have been using EoA in beta. How have you seen them use EoA?

Each of our beta customers is using EoA in a different way. This was somewhat of a surprise! Some are using it primarily to monitor third-party seller activity, some are using it to track missing product pages or price data fluctuation, and some are using the data in their own Business Intelligence systems to augment their internal data analysis.

Did any of them use it in ways that surprised you?

Yes, there are several uses that have surprised me. One that seems obvious to me now but did not initially is the use of EoA to track products that should not appear on certain sites. When certain products appear for sale on a specific site it is a violation and their product management team is alerted so that they can contact the site to have the product(s) removed.

How do you hope publishers will use EoA now that it’s more widely available?

I hope that EoA will become a “first thing in the morning” activity. The EoA results can be used to let you know if there will be any burning issues to deal with today, if any of your products are on the move, or if all is status quo for the day. A simple check-in with EoA can do a lot to inform your priorities.

Where can readers learn more about EoA or see if it’s a good fit for their goals?

The best way to learn more about Eloquence on Alert is to see it in action – words cannot really describe it! Readers can contact our Sales and Marketing department at info@firebrandtech.com to schedule a demo.

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Case Study: The Lady from the Black Lagoon by Mallory O’Meara

How Harlequin used NetGalley tools to give targeted access to NetGalley members and customize followup for a nonfiction book that combines memoir and history

Harlequin’s publicity manager Laura Gianino knew that there would be plenty of interest for The Lady from the Black Lagoon, which tells the story of the woman who created Gil-Man, the monster from Creature from the Black Lagoon…and then never got the credit for it. This hybrid memoir/history has plenty of contemporary cultural relevance, released during a time when there is extra attention being paid to gender dynamics in Hollywood, in the workplace, and beyond. Gianino used NetGalley tools to give access to the most influential and active members, and to target her followup accordingly.

How does your strategy for launching new nonfiction titles differ from the trade fiction titles you work on?

With fiction, it helps to have as many people as possible read and share a story, especially for a debut title. With nonfiction, I found that I had to be a little bit more protective over the content, so that readers would feel like they were still learning something new when they did have a chance to read. Because The Lady from the Black Lagoon had some never-before-revealed information about Milicent Patrick and what the author learned about her, I was more guarded in approving requests.

What were your goals for Lady from the Black Lagoon on NetGalley?

With The Lady from the Black Lagoon, Mallory O’Meara was telling a compelling story about a woman no one had ever heard of before. Being able to launch the book on NetGalley before physical galleys were even printed allowed me to get the word out about Milicent Patrick—the subject of the book—early enough to help create some pre-publication buzz and raise awareness about this previously unknown figure.

It’s helpful when you’re building a campaign months out (sometimes almost a year out) to be able to see who is downloading or requesting a title, and to have that ability—through the NetGalley platform—to follow up and engage with them. My goal was to raise awareness for The Lady from the Black Lagoon, so that as we got closer to launch date, consumers and media alike would have already begun to hear about the book, even if it was just through whispers.

Which NetGalley members were most important to you? How did you go about reaching them?

I was most focused on bookstore owners, librarians, media professionals and seasoned bloggers who I knew would talk about their passion for the book without giving anything away.

I was able to filter the requests to only those who I wanted to approve, which was instrumental in allowing me to reach the appropriate contacts for the book.

I also tend to focus on the requestors who give the most feedback (you can sort requests to easily view members who give most feedback) and I’ve found that those contacts are truly the most likely to review a book once they’ve requested it, which saves me the hassle of chasing someone down for a review.

The data was one of the first indications about who was interested in the book, and allowed me to do really targeted follow up knowing who had already requested and potentially started reading, in a way that I’m typically unable to do.

You had over 130 accepted widget invitations for Lady from the Black Lagoon. How did you use NetGalley proactively to reach important contacts or find new audiences?

I was able to use NetGalley widgets to offer The Lady from the Black Lagoon to interested media who reached out to me before we had physical galleys in house, or in cases where I was trying to preserve physical galleys. I was able to see Auto-Approved members who downloaded the widget through the History tab on NetGalley, including reviewers from some of the major media outlets who ended up covering the book. The data was one of the first indications about who was interested in the book, and allowed me to do really targeted follow up knowing who had already requested and potentially started reading, in a way that I’m typically unable to do.

40% of members with access noted that the description was the reason they were interested in the book. What was the strategy behind the Title Details copy?

Mallory O’Meara’s book is about a little-known, fascinating subject—the woman who designed Gil-Man, the monster from The Creature from the Black Lagoon, whose legacy was stolen by a jealous male co-worker at Universal. The movie is a horror classic, and Mallory O’Meara’s book offers the unknown story behind it about a trailblazing woman in a post #MeToo world. The book is full of fascinating details—with the copy, we were able to pull them out.

How did you engage with members who had access to Lady from the Black Lagoon? Did you follow up with them before pub date or after? Did you encourage them to share reviews?

I followed up with bookstore owners, librarians and media once I approved them for a copy. Seeing a name or an outlet indicated interest, which allowed me to follow up in a targeted way. I was able to coordinate events and press this way. Whenever I approve someone I always suggest they review, but I never had to chase anyone down for a review.

How does the success of Lady of the Black Lagoon fit in with other trends you’re seeing across nonfiction? What does its success say about what kinds of stories readers are looking for?

I think readers are looking for more stories about women. Especially women who didn’t receive the recognition they deserved, whose legacies have been or are being erased by men. This is happening across all industries, not just Hollywood. Mallory’s book is unique in that it’s a biography, but it’s also part memoir. She reaches across time and shows how Milicent’s story is her story too, and, in some ways, every woman’s story. The more stories we have and share like Milicent’s and Mallory’s, the closer we are to preventing this from happening to other women.


Laura Gianino is a publicity manager at Harlequin/HarperCollins.

Interview has been edited for clarity and length.

For more successful marketing strategies, read our case studies from Sourcebooks, Berkley, and Penguin Random House.

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The 7 Best Marketing Strategies from BookExpo and BookCon

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

Adorable, Adoptable Pets – National Geographic

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

Sharing Author Love – Penguin Teen

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

Live Illustration – Scholastic

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

Testing Audiobook Knowledge – Penguin Random House Audio

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

Totes on Demand – Riveted by Simon Teen

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

Recommendation Quizzes – Penguin Random House

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

Book Wings Photo Wall – Bookish

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


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

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