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.
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 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.
How runaway NetGalley success shaped the launch strategy for this Alice in Wonderland retelling
H.J. Ramsay had modest expectations for her first novel, but with over 175 NetGalley reviews and a 4-star average rating, Ever Alice has been a huge success. The pre-publication attention Ever Alice has been getting on NetGalley gave Ramsay some insight into how her title might fare once it hits its on-sale date, and helped her reshape her whole launch plan.
How has your NetGalley listing shaped how you think about your strategy for launching Ever Alice?
NetGalley has given me the confidence to really go after Ever Alice and seek outside sources to help promote it. Publishing Ever Alice started out as almost a pet project just to see what kind of reception it would have and to experience what it was like to have a published book. Not only did NetGalley provide a testing ground, but it also gave me the opportunity to access reviewers in a way that I don’t think I would have had otherwise. It’s a great platform that all self-published authors should utilize.
What aspects of the NetGalley community came as a surprise to you?
I’ve been blown away at the response I’ve received from the NetGalley community. I’ve had people from all over the world ask to read the story. I mean, how awesome is that! Up until now, I’ve mostly just had my critique group and/or publishing professionals like agents and editors read my work so the fact that I’ve had one of my novels read as far as Argentina, England, and India is like a dream come true. I’ve appreciated all the feedback on Ever Alice, and I’ve really been paying attention to what everyone has had to say. I haven’t done any promotion for Ever Alice outside of listing it on NetGalley so I’ve been very lucky that the reviewers, librarians, booksellers, and media professionals have been able to find me and are interested in my book.
We noticed that you aren’t on social media. How do you connect with your readers both for this specific book campaign and as part of your overall strategy as an author?
Honestly, I had no idea that Ever Alice would have the kind of response it did. When I listed it on NetGalley, I told myself that I’d be elated to receive 100 requests in six months. That happened in 24 hours. Needless to say, it’s been a little overwhelming and I’ve been caught up in the excitement of it all, but I’ve been getting more serious about promotion, especially regarding social media. Readers who’d like to connect should be able to find me very soon.
My NetGalley success did encourage me to become more active with social media. Plus, I have friends who are published, and they’ve been urging me to get on there. My plan is to be more accessible to readers, such as through Twitter and Instagram. I love books and writing so that’ll probably be the running dialogue of both platforms. I’m not sure if I’ll purchase ads. Maybe I will when Ever Alice is published so that I can look at promoting its publication date and where readers can purchase a copy.
Once Ever Alice started gaining traction on NetGalley, how did you leverage the interest?
Before NetGalley, I had looked at PR companies as a possibility but wasn’t really serious about it. It’s expensive, at least the good ones with track records are, and I wasn’t sure if I’d need it. That changed after I saw the response Ever Alice was having. I felt like this was an opportunity and if I didn’t take advantage of it, then I’d forever regret it. At the end of the day, what I really want is to have a career as an author. I love writing and the writing community. I’ve been active in writing groups. I’ve gone to conferences and retreats. I’ve received an MFA in Creative Writing. I’m the Editor-in-Chief of a literary journal, Gold Man Review. All that’s missing is having my own published work out there. I’ve had small successes with journals and small publishers, but ultimately, I’d like to see my novels that I love so much out in the world and to have readers love them too.
Promotion and all its various avenues is still a very gray area for me, but I’m learning quickly. Since it isn’t my strong suit, I’m very excited to be teaming up with Smith Publicity and we’re creating a plan to really dive into promoting Ever Alice, which will include using the NetGalley listing.
Half of the members requesting access to Ever Alice say that they are drawn to the description of the book. Tell us about how you created such compelling copy, or what you think is resonating with the members requesting access.
I think a lot of it has to do with the fact that it’s a retelling… and particularly a retelling of a popular story: Alice in Wonderland. Retellings are amazing because they bring readers from different genres together. For instance, someone who primarily reads mystery, might be open to a retelling because they are already familiar with the story. They read the original when they were (most likely) a child. It’s familiar. It brings up memories for them so they’re drawn to it even when a similar story in that genre might not have had the same effect. I know my interest is always piqued when I find out that something is a retelling. For instance, I’ve been seeing the House of Salt and Sorrows by Erin A. Craig up on NetGalley and it’s a retelling of The Twelve Dancing Princesses. I loved that story as a kid when I read [the Brothers Grimm version} so I’m instantly drawn to that book.
Members also love the cover! This is one of the other popular reasons noted for why they’re requesting the book. What message did you want to send to potential readers when you were designing the cover?
My husband did the cover and, I agree, he did a fantastic job!
The style of the novel itself is very Wonderland-ish and I tried to stay as true as possible to Carroll’s original work. Because the setting and characters are so topsy turvy, I wanted to keep the cover simple, almost like a juxtaposition of what awaits the reader within. I was really inspired by the cover of The Night Circus by Erin Morgenstern. I just love its minimal use of color and illustration. There’s something about it that makes it even more mysterious and intriguing. It’s the understated that makes a statement, at least to me. After some trial and error, my husband came up with this cover of Ever Alice and I knew it was “the one” the moment I saw it.
What’s your top tip for other debut independent authors?
Be patient. I decided that if I was going to self-publish Ever Alice that I’d give it its best possible chance by modeling the practices that traditional publishers use. There are a lot of steps publishers take before a book is sent out in the world, which doesn’t only included editing, but also getting advanced reader reviews. All those steps take time, but they’re essential. With so many options available to self-publish its very easy to complete a story, upload it, and press click. Instead of rushing to do that, take the time to make sure your novel is as ready as you can possibly make it.
Bio: H.J. Ramsay has loved fantasy ever since she was a child. Growing up, she was influenced by movies such as the Labyrinth, The Dark Crystal, and Legend as well as books and short stories, such as The Collected Works of Brothers Grimm. As such, she is drawn to fantasy with a darker side to its glittery world and the idea that things are never what they seem. Ever Alice is her first published novel.
Interviews have been edited for clarity and length.
Read the rest of our case studies, featuring authors, trade publishers, and academic publishers here.
How working with the IBPA boosted Rebecca Rosenberg’s historical novel, Gold Digger
On NetGalley Insights, we highlight the successes of NetGalley publishers and authors, and share some of their strategies. Today we’re talking to Rebecca Rosenberg, an independent author and member of the Independent Book Publishers Association (IBPA). She takes advantage of the IBPA’s NetGalley program, which manages her title on NetGalley on her behalf, giving her even more time to think strategically about her ongoing promotional efforts.
What was your experience like working with the IBPA to list your title on NetGalley?
I enjoyed working with the IBPA to list my title on NetGalley and I appreciated their help and guidance. Their response time was great for sending me monthly reports, submitting promotions, forwarding reviews and posting featured reviews. When I was worried I was not getting enough reviews on Gold Digger, they gave me knowledgeable input that Gold Digger was doing quite well!
It is very helpful that IBPA handles all of the technical aspects of posting my book and making updates to the page so that I don’t have to do it myself. I feel that having my book listed under the IBPA umbrella offers prestige for my book.
Tell us why listing the book on NetGalley through the IBPA program was the right choice for you.
I learned from my first novel, The Secret Life of Mrs. London, that NetGalley is the professional hub of bloggers, librarians, Goodreads, Bookbub and Amazon reviewers, and avid readers who love to share their reviews. The more buzz the better when launching a novel, and NetGalley makes that possible.
We encourage professional reviewers to use the NetGalley link as well as bloggers, Facebook group moderators, Goodreads and Bookbub reviewers. In my opinion, if a reviewer gets the book from NetGalley, they are readers who take the reviewing experience seriously. They usually share the review in at least five places: NetGalley, Goodreads, Bookbub, Amazon, Facebook Groups, Twitter, Instagram, and their own blogs. NetGalley reviewers are connected and powerful influencers. I often use reviews in my marketing, and I feel that NetGalley reviewers carry more credibility.
You ran several marketing campaigns with NetGalley – a Category Spotlight in February and a Featured Title placement in March. Tell us about your strategy and unique goals around these promotions.
First of all, I took a six-month run on NetGalley (instead of three-months) before my launch date in order to reach as many reviewers as possible. When I saw the great marketing opportunities NetGalley offered, it made sense to support my listing with the Category Spotlight and Featured Title placement early on to get attention.
I am hoping to reach different segments of readers in different months with different promotions.
There are many marketing opportunities available through NetGalley, and (if I had the budget) I would use them all throughout the six-month listing! I ran a Category Spotlight in the “Historical Fiction” category, in February, and Featured Placement for “Women’s Fiction” in March and again in May. I did another Featured Placement for “Summer Reads” in June, and am waiting to hear if Gold Digger will be included in an upcoming Cover Love post.
How have you been leveraging your NetGalley listing and reviews to increase discoverability?
To expand the reach of my NetGalley listing, I posted the NetGalley link to my book on my Facebook page, Facebook reading groups, Bookbub, LinkedIn, Goodreads and to my mailing list.
I’ve also featured some great NetGalley reviews for Gold Digger on Facebook, Instagram, in my newsletter, and with my Review Crew. I use these reviews in my newsletters and social media to whet readers’ interest and add credibility for my books. We take 5-star reviews and make colorful, eye catching posts.
We love theblog on your website. You’ve been posting lots of great supplementary information about Baby Doe Tabor. Tell us a bit more about how your blog fits into your strategy as an author.
My blog serves to interest readers in my books, whether they’ve read my books or not. As with The Secret Life of Mrs. London, I like to use my two decades of research by creating background stories and character sketches and trying to interest readers in different aspects of the story. I share my blog across all platforms, from Facebook, Amazon, Goodreads, and newsletters, and guest hosting other blogs.
What are some tips you have for other independent authors?
Get involved with readers and other authors of your genre by joining Facebook Reader groups, Goodreads groups, Bookbub, Instagram, your creating own blog and newsletters. My specific Facebook groups would not work for everyone–authors need to search Facebook groups for those that discuss books in their genre. It is important to read the group rules and observe them. For example, a group may only allow promotion on certain days. Become a contributing member first and contribute to the group as a reader of other books, before posting about your own book. Review other books similar to yours and become an information source for great books.
Often, a person posting about your book will tag you. When that happens, be sure to thank them, or engage in an appropriate way. There are also companies that track mentions of your book on social media: Google Alerts, Talk Walkers, Mention. Find out who is talking about your book and thank them for spreading the word. Enthusiastic readers spread the word about your books! In addition to thanking them, ALWAYS ask readers to: “Please read and reviewGold Digger on NetGalley!”
Bio: California native Rebecca Rosenberg lives on a lavender farm with her family in Sonoma, the Valley of the Moon, where she and her husband founded the largest lavender product company in America, Sonoma Lavender. Rosenberg is a graduate of the Stanford Writing Certificate Program. Her upcoming novel is Gold Digger, The Remarkable Baby Doe Tabor. Other works include: The Secret Life of Mrs. London, her debut novel and her non-fiction, Lavender Fields of America.
Rebecca Rosenberg’s next novel is Champagne Widows, the story behind Veuve Clicquot and Lily Bollinger.
Independent authors have the option to sign up for a huge number of services to help them get their books out into the world. Authors can work with companies on jacket design, promotion, editing, distribution, and more.
While each individual author’s goals and budget will determine which services are most important to invest in,there are still some best practices for authors to figure out which company or service is worth their investment.
Before signing up for any service, ask plenty of questions. Feel free to request case studies or examples of previous work the service has rendered. Then you’ll be able to get a better sense of what you can expect for yourself.
Read online reviews. If it’s a well-known company, other authors will be talking about their experiences using it somewhere online. While there are always going to be some outliers, you will be able to see broad trends or early warning signs from these reviews.
Before hiring services to help manage certain parts of your book’s publication, think about your skills and your network.Maybe you don’t need to hire a company to run social media for you, for example. You might find that you can do it yourself, or that you already have someone in your personal or professional network who you can work with. However, remember to think strategically about your time.
Consider your bandwidth. While you might have the ability to manage your own social media accounts, will the time it takes be time better spent on other tasks?
And finally, remember that no publishing or marketing service is a magic bullet. No single service will turn your book into a bestseller or land it a movie deal, but it will hopefully make it a better product available to a greater number of readers.
Multi-tiered marketing, strategic cover design, and Read Now access helped readers find this debut novel
On NetGalley Insights, we highlight the successes of NetGalley publishers and authors, and share some of their strategies. Today, we’re hearing from Jayne Allen about her debut novel, Black Girls Must Die Exhausted.
Allen used a multi-tiered, timely marketing strategy to help Black Girls Must Die Exhausted keep finding new NetGalley readers throughout its lifecycle on the site. An intriguing title and visually enticing cover helped the book find an audience looking to see themselves reflected in the characters they read about — including book clubs whose members became some of her biggest advocates!
Black Girls Must Die Exhausted became available on NetGalley shortly before its pub date and stayed up after it went on sale. Tell us how you came to use NetGalley primarily as a post-pub tool and why that works for you.
Allowing the book to be offered for sale during the NetGalley window worked best for me because it allowed NetGalley reviewers to post directly on the Amazon sales page as a consumer review, which meant more early reviews for the book, and it allowed us to start recouping the editing and production investment much earlier. At first, I was concerned that being on NetGalley might somehow erode sales, but the simultaneous window actually served to increase sales and start Black Girls moving up the charts much more quickly.
Additionally, Jayne Allen is a new pen name for me for fiction. I truly started fresh with this book. I had no email list and told none of my personal network about my novel. On Instagram, @JayneAllenWrites started with not even 30 followers, and there was no website and no Facebook page. All of the early momentum was about the substance of the book itself and the strength of the honest reader response. Thankfully, the NetGalley community responded positively to the work and passion that went into Black Girls Must Die Exhausted and created the early lift that has allowed this project to fly forward.
You ran several marketing campaigns with NetGalley – two Category Spotlights in September, when the book published, a Featured Title placement the next month, and then two more Category Spotlights in February. Tell us about the strategy behind your on-site NetGalley marketing. Why was this combination and timing the best fit for your unique goals?
While I am a passionate advocate for an increase in the volume of diverse and multicultural books in the publishing landscape, the lower number of books in the category as compared to “mainstream” fiction did work to my advantage for visibility on NetGalley. Based on the early response, it was clear that NetGalley readers are hungry for more fresh perspectives and cultural narratives. Still, the NetGalley platform is a popular destination, with new titles being added regularly to all categories. After the initial arrival of Black Girls Must Die Exhausted, the title wasn’t as prominent as before.
I used the Category Spotlight at the beginning to ensure visibility because I felt that the uniqueness of my protagonist and the diverse character mix would be a strong draw for people looking for something new and different in the realm of multicultural narratives. The early reviews were positive, [so] I used the Featured Title placement to expand to a broader range of readers. As February is Black History Month, I felt that there would undoubtedly be many more readers looking for black cultural perspectives, and I wanted to make sure that they saw Black Girls Must Die Exhausted and had the opportunity to make it part of their Black History Month experience.
Reviews are really the gold bullion currency of book sales. Nothing beats social proof other than direct word of mouth endorsement. NetGalley’s community of avid and engaged readers provided that during the critical post-publication period. The first four months of the marketing plan and budget for Black Girls Must Die Exhausted solely focused on NetGalley and Amazon advertising, nothing more than merely soliciting reviews and point-of-sale exposure. Until the reviews reached a critical mass, I did no author platform building and was not active on social media.
Reviews are truly the most vital asset to have. As an independent publisher, you have to be careful to do things in the correct timing and order so as not to waste precious resources by starting promotions or marketing efforts that are premature, especially as a debut author.
Which segments of the NetGalley community have been most important to you and why?
I knew that the uniqueness of the Black Girls Must Die Exhausted title would allow the audience for the book to define itself. The readers interested in multicultural works were the most active, but at its base, Black Girls Must Die Exhausted is very much chick lit, albeit with a social conscience. You have a typical 30-something professional woman who just wants what we all do at the root of things – to be loved. Only in this book, she also happens to be black with a cultural perspective not often seen in chick lit. As I observed from the reviews and response on NetGalley, black female readers were so happy to finally see themselves reflected in such a multi-layered way in fiction, with their “blackness” written into the experience without overpowering it. Non-black readers were excited to find that they could relate to a story that was culturally authentic but not exclusionary. It was a beautiful thing for me to read many of the reviews from both of the segments that Black Girls Must Die Exhausted reached – Multicultural Interest and Women’s Fiction.
We heard that you’ve been working with book clubs. How has NetGalley fit into your book club outreach?
The book clubs found me! Several book club representatives accessed the title for evaluation over the period that Black Girls Must Die Exhausted was on NetGalley. It appears that book clubs use NetGalley to source new and interesting titles for their groups. I had no idea that my book had been selected until I received the emails asking for discussion questions, and one asking if I would participate in their meeting to discuss my book via live stream. Since then, several of the book club members have become some of my most engaged connections on social media.
Black Girls Must Die Exhausted was available to any interested member as a Read Now title. Tell us about why you chose that availability setting.
This was my first experience using NetGalley directly. The prior time, my nonfiction book Regroupwas managed by my PR representative, Smith Publicity. At first, I was concerned that the Read Now setting would lead to a “free for all” without quality reviews from engaged readers who were genuinely interested in reading the book. Ultimately, I decided that it was more important, at least at first, to reach more readers than less, especially with a debut novel from a new voice in fiction. I told myself that if there seemed to be an issue, I could always quickly change the setting. Over the course of the entire NetGalley window, I never did. It worked out wonderfully, and I was happy to give newer reviewers the opportunity to build their reviews on the platform as well.
38% of members with access to the title listed the cover as a reason for request. What message did you want to send to potential readers when you were designing the cover?
My professional background is in branding and marketing. It was essential to me to design a cover that was as delicious as possible to the eyes. I wanted to send a signal of the deliberate quality that went into every nook and cranny of the work. As a visual symbol, I wanted to represent the vibrancy and the richness of life, which is one of the underlying themes of the book – living life to the fullest. The title Black Girls Must Die Exhausted is a little cheeky, so I let the cover tell more of the actual story. Perhaps most important, I wanted the cover to make women feel gorgeous holding the book and for them to feel proud of what they were reading.
46% of members with access said that the description was their reason for request. How did you think about drawing in readers with your copy?
For black women, I just knew instinctively that the title would speak a truth to them that they would want to explore within themselves. For non-black women and men, I believed that the title would signal an honesty and depth of perspective that would be a rare opportunity to experience outside of one’s own culture.
It was all a bit of a risk, but I’m glad that I took it.
How have you been interacting with members who have access? Have you followed up with them via email?
I try to be extra judicious with my email communications and only send a message when I have something positive and important to share. For example, Black Girls Must Die Exhausted had been on NetGalley for a couple of months already when we finally received the Kirkus review. Even though it was favorable and exciting, I didn’t share the news via email until Kirkus informed me that their editors selected their review of the book for inclusion in the print version of Kirkus Reviews magazine, a distinction that less than 10% of independently published books receive. That was email-worthy! Still, I waited until it was also a reasonable time to remind the readers of the NetGalley window to make sure they didn’t miss the book in their long queue of reading.
The average publishing industry email open rate is around 14%, and mine was 51% for my first email and 38% for the second. That is a pretty favorable demonstration of the overall engagement and enthusiasm of the NetGalley community for books and the publishing industry as a whole.
How have you been leveraging your NetGalley listing outside of the site? Have you been including it in emails, newsletters, or trade ads?
NetGalley has been an excellent avenue for providing review copies of Black Girls Must Die Exhausted to fulfill media and book club requests.
It was so much more efficient and secure than blindly emailing copies. Also, for many of the requesters, referencing NetGalley seemed to send an additional signal that Black Girls Must Die Exhausted was a book to be taken seriously and be meaningfully considered.
What’s your top tip for other independent debut authors?
I would advise making sure that you have a substantial base of reviews before moving on to other marketing efforts, ideally at least 25 to 30. It is ok to focus 100% of your efforts on garnering reviews at the beginning to ensure that you get the performance and return you’re hoping for when you do eventually direct resources toward other paid marketing efforts.
Bio: Jayne Allen is a black girl from Detroit who smiles widely, laughs loudly and loves to tell stories that stick to your bones. Her debut novel, Black Girls Must Die Exhausted touches upon contemporary women’s issues such as workplace “impostor syndrome,” race, fertility, modern relationships, and mental health awareness, echoing her desire to bring both multiculturalism and multidimensionality to contemporary fiction with dynamic female protagonists who also happen to be black. When she’s not writing “chocolate chick lit with a conscience,” you can find her discussing the publishing business at Book Genius, hosting the Book Genius Meetup in LA or simply spending time with her colorful friends and family, keeping one ear open for her next saucy tale.
Interviews have been edited for clarity and length.
Read the rest of our case studies, featuring authors, trade publishers, and academic publishers here.
As a Senior Agent at the Nancy Yost Literary Agency, I’ve read and reviewed thousands of queries. Yes, thousands,and possibly tens of thousands! Since my query inbox first opened, I’ve had the opportunity read some amazing queries, and some that could have benefitted from the following these tips on polishing and personalizing your query.
1. Send individualized queries
It will take more time, but this is an important relationship. You are hopefully going to be partnered with an agent for years, so just like with any other long term relationship you want to build strong foundations. This means at the very least addressing the agent by their name with the correct spelling and with the correct title if you choose to [address them by their] surname.
Additionally, if you happen to typo, that’s okay, it happens! Feel free to follow up with a quick correction after you hit send. Or if you’re querying via a portal, you should have the ability to withdraw your submission and then re-submit with the corrected form of address.
I promise you it will be worth it.
2. Read lots of query letters
To the Google!! Authors writing in all kinds of genres have shared their query letters, and agents have also shared sample query letters. Find them. Read them. The more you read the more you’ll be able to sort out what format would work best for your book and your genre.
Also note that while their are similarities between fiction and nonfiction queries, they are different.
3. Query letters are like the writer’s version of the middle school five-paragraph essay Here’s a quick cheat sheet of what each of those five paragraphs can contain. Remember, you can shorten as you see fit and [be sure] to personalize it.
Introductory Paragraph: This should introduce yourself and your work. Be sure to include genre and word count.
Three Body Paragraphs: You don’t have to have three, but I find it’s a solid set of paragraphs for you to talk about your book. Try to hone this “about section” think of it as similar to the text you can find on the back of a book’s cover or on the flap of a dust jacket.
Conclusion Paragraph: This closing paragraph is where you can share a bit about yourself. Think of it as your bio. Feel free to include any accolades for your writing that you might have, any professional writing organizations, or fun facts. Also include how you can be contacted if you haven’t included that info in a signature block, or some submission form.
4. Less is more
I know it may be tempting to share as much as possible about your work, but I always say that if an author could share everything they wanted in a pitch about their book then why would they then write an 80,000 word novel? So, know that we want to get to your book and your pages. Don’t keep us hostage in your query letter! Instead, use your query letter as a springboard for us to dive into your book and/or submission materials. Your pitch should pique interest and lead the reader (agent or editor) to you pages! Ultimately your book, your work, your story is what’s most important.
5. Have a friend, family member, or colleague read your query
Be open to editorial feedback. It is helpful to have someone familiar with the querying process to proofread your query letter. But, no matter what, another set of eyes will help catch the small things like the typos that our brains like to gloss over. And then, thoughtfully consider their feedback. Ultimately, you have to make the final decision on what you are going to send out, but most of the people you ask for help aren’t making suggestions just for the sake of it. Really consider their edits, and be sure to appreciate and value the time they’ve taken out of their day to spend on reviewing your query letter.
6. Ask a critique partner to help you draft a query letter
Oftentimes it’s difficult for an author to synthesize their work into a one-page pitch. If you have a trusted critique partner, they can sometimes help draft a few paragraphs to get you started. Of course, you might then owe them chocolate or whatever delicious treat they might desire. But this is an option I’ve had several of my authors mention they used when querying me! Seeing how others frame your work after reading and working on it with you might be helpful. You should never pressure or guilt critique partners or beta readers into helping you draft your query. Ask. And if they decline, that’s okay!
There are also freelance editors out in the world that might also offer these services, and you can totally pursue those options as well. But when money is involved and exchanging hands that’s a personal choice. And always make sure you vet any freelancers you might choose to work with. Do your research, folks!
7. Make sure that when you’re submitting to an agent that they do indeed work with the type of projects that you’re sending
While an agent might seem really cool in interviews or on social media, you’ll be wasting their time and your time by querying them with a project that they do not work on. Save yourself!
Sarah E. Younger, Senior Agent, at the Nancy Yost Literary Agency began her career in publishing at Press53 in Winston Salem, N.C. after receiving her undergraduate degree from UNC-Chapel Hill. She later attended the University of Denver’s graduate publishing program where upon completion she moved to New York City. Sarah joined the Nancy Yost Literary Agency in the fall of 2011 and has since cultivated a diverse and talented list of authors including a variety of commercial fiction and select non-fiction titles. She is specifically interested in representing all varieties of romance, women’s fiction including chicklit and romantic comedies, adult science fiction and fantasy, and very select non-fiction. You can find her on her personal Twitter @seyitsme. Learn more about the Nancy Yost Literary Agency including how to query Sarah by visiting the NYLA website.