Tips and ideas we’ll be thinking about in 2020
This year on NetGalley Insights, we’ve shared strategies, ideas, and best practices from across the industry. We’re honored to highlight the work of our industry partners, authors, and publishers of all sizes. Here are a few of the tips we’re still thinking about, and hope that you’ll keep in mind through 2020 and beyond.
If there’s ever a unique campaign, promotion, or industry perspective that you’d like to share with us and our audience, please let us know! Email us at email@example.com.
Janna Morishima, publishing strategist and literary agent, has been working with manga artist Misako Rocks! to launch Bounce Back! She suggests that traditional publishing and self-publishing should be looking at each other for inspiration.
“I think the biggest thing that traditional publishers can learn from self-publishers is the importance of connecting directly with your audience rather than relying on intermediaries to sell the book. The publishing ecosystem is complex, so there are always going to be intermediaries — reviewers and booksellers and librarians, etc. — but now it’s possible to build strong relationships both with those influencers and your actual readers. What I think self-publishers can learn from traditional publishing is the importance of having a well-rounded team contribute to the final book. All writers need editors. All books benefit from great design. All books, no matter how good they are, need strong marketing and sales plans in order to get found. If you’re going to publish on your own, it’s important that you find the right people to help you.”
Michelle Vu is bringing automation to Houghton Mifflin Harcourt, with a human perspective. She is keeping the needs of human workers top of mind when incorporating automation – learning where their pain points are, and how to free up their time for more creative work.
“Ask a person at any level from various industries and they are sure to be overwhelmed, doing the job of two people or simply cannot find enough time in a day to finish their work. It’s important to remember that automation is not just a series of meetings to go over process improvements nor is it the new shiny IT project. A grassroots approach would be most effective, so people are less inclined to view automation as a mandate or a cost-cutting initiative. Having people create their own areas of efficiencies allows for greater ownership and accountability over their processes. Honest conversations between departments about automation can help break down the silo mindset and engage employees to think bigger picture where they can add the most value to the book production life cycle. For entry-level positions, I expect automation could potentially mean fewer admin duties and more meaningful work.”
Sarah Cardillo, Director of Publishing Operations at Sourcebooks gave us an inside look at how Sourcebooks uses sales numbers, comp titles, and audience responses to guide their redesign strategy. She recommended keeping an eye on the backlist, as well as more recent books.
“Sometimes we look at titles that were published 5-10 years ago (or more) and think about bringing them back out with new covers as a way to boost sales. Especially in the young adult and the romance space. Since those audiences (especially Young Adult) turn over to new people so regularly and trends change so quickly, a successful book with a fresh cover can easily find new readers, and the accounts are happy to take the book because it was successful in the past with the previous audience. We are seeing a lot of illustrated covers in the young adult space right now. 10 years ago covers were all photographic. So we are looking at our backlist and seeing what books sold well but could get new life with an illustrated cover direction.”
NetGalley’s own data scientist, Mandy Fakhoury, offered advice to publishers looking to become more data-driven in their decision-making. Surprisingly, she recommended remembering gut instincts and experience, and combining them with those hard metrics.
“Decision making is a critical aspect of success or failure. In this new era, data has become a key part of the decision-making process. Once a problem has been clearly defined, it’s a matter of collecting the appropriate data needed to answer our problem. Data provides us with the information that can be used and processed in different ways to make decisions. A big challenge is knowing how much to rely on the tools at your disposal and how much to rely on your instincts. An effective decision is made based on a blend of experience and data. The best approach is understanding your data, the behavior of trends, as well as your audience, and don’t let the data blindly drive your decision.”
Our marketing team shared tips for creating compelling eBlasts in our Proven Strategies Series. They advised that when writing the content of your eBlast, less is more. Including an entire book description will likely overwhelm a reader, or increase the chance they will lose interest before taking action. Readers scan emails quickly for info that is relevant to them, so divide text into short paragraphs. And remember that a prominent headline (at the top or center of your eBlast) is your second chance at a strong first impression (after the email subject line). Is your headline clear, impactful, intriguing?
NetGalley Sales Associate Katie Versluis works with our community of self-published authors. She has seen first-hand how authors have responded to critical reviews or DNF (Did Not Finish) reviews.
She told NetGalley Insights that while DNF reviews “may sting after the years of work you just put into this book, they can actually be quite useful to you as you position yourself in the book world.” She advises authors to think about why a reviewer decided not to finish their book. “[Your book] may simply not have been their cup of tea, but [a DNF review] may also bring an entirely new understanding to your book that you hadn’t thought of yourself. In the past, I’ve worked with an author who did a complete re-editing on their book because an early DNF review alerted them to language they didn’t realize was offensive. The review certainly wasn’t “nice” to receive, but it became a blessing in disguise.” Sometimes critical reviews can help you better target the right kinds of readers, or tweak your marketing copy. For example, if you have been promoting your book as YA, but critical reviews are saying that it’s too young for a teen audience, consider positioning it as a Middle Grade book instead. Or, if reviewers are expressing surprise at the content, consider revising the way you are describing your book. You want to entice readers, but you also want to find the readers who are most likely to enjoy your book as it is.
Publishers are always trying new strategies on NetGalley: Using tools in new combinations, putting new kinds of books on the site, changing how they grant access to their titles. Chronicle recently started sharing cookbooks on the site, which has been a successful experiment for the. Cynthia Shannon, Food and Lifestyle Marketing Manager at Chronicle, described their recent pivot to cookbooks on NetGalley.
“There is a lot of potential to sharing cookbooks on NetGalley and we are looking forward to exploring more ways to further optimize our NetGalley strategy. Adding cookbooks to NetGalley was a new strategy for us for Spring 2019, and I was pleased to see the overwhelmingly positive response. We saw many NetGalley reviewers commenting on the beautiful photographs and the level of complexity of the recipes or ingredient procurement, and how much they were inspired to try some of the recipes. More importantly, they’d comment about how they can’t wait to get a print edition of the cookbook so that they can add it to their collection. Chronicle Books prides itself on creating beautiful, physical objects that people will want to buy for themselves or as a gift, so having these endorsements helps customers make their book buying decisions. We’ve increased the number of cookbooks we share on NetGalley in advance of publication for our Fall 2019 list—for example, we have Tartine, Ama, and American Sfoglino, three of our most anticipated upcoming cookbooks, available for review on NetGalley now—and we’re exploring the many tools and services that NetGalley offers to further connect with reviewers.”
We look forward to sharing more new strategies from across the publishing industry with you in 2020!
The lifecycle of a book, taking advantage of Firebrand and NetGalley
In every department in a publishing house, teams are working as hard as they can to publish books that they believe in. But sometimes we can get lost in the day-to-day and lose sight of the big picture. It can be hard to connect your daily work to the work your colleagues are doing, and to see yourselves as fitting into the same overall efforts.
To refocus our attention on the big picture, Director of Sales and Education at Firebrand Joshua Tallent and VP of Business Growth and Engagement at NetGalley Kristina Radke gave a presentation at the Firebrand Odd Year Community Conference that demonstrates an overall workflow for a book through various Firebrand services, including NetGalley.
The goal of this workflow is to demonstrate departmental interconnectedness; how acquisitions, production, and promotion are linked — how one informs the other.
Tallent told the audience that he sees clients come to NetGalley and Firebrand to solve specific problems: To help them send metadata more effectively, to get more control over printing specs, to track P&Ls, to build pre-publication buzz. And while NetGalley and Firebrand can certainly provide tools and processes to fix these pain points, focusing on the individual issues can be limiting.
“I’ve seen many clients lose the institutional awareness over time about the many ways we can help them solve new problems. That has led to companies looking at other solutions, not even knowing that the software they’re already using can do what they need.”
Using Simon & Schuster imprint Gallery Books’s The Book Charmer by Karen Hawkins, Radke and Tallent showed how a title might move through Firebrand and NetGalley services most effectively, from acquisition through publication, and even rejuvenate the backlist. Gallery used a number of these tools in their actual launch of The Book Charmer, and graciously allowed us to use their book to demonstrate how all of the Firebrand services can link together. This example includes recommended use of the Firebrand and NetGalley tools.
During the Acquisition phase of a project, Title Management provides publishers with robust tracking functionality, helping them manage submissions and ideas and plan for each project’s success. Title Management can help with budget planning utilizing a powerful Profit & Loss system and production planning templates.
For The Book Charmer, the Gallery team could create contracts and contract templates within Title Management and, once the acquisition was complete, use Title Management to start collecting metadata and assigning tasks across various teams. Getting the details right in Title Management is critical to everything that follows!
Around 5-6 months in advance of pub date, the team could send initial metadata feeds through Eloquence on Demand.
Before the data was sent, Eloquence Verification ensured that the metadata met industry requirements. These metadata feeds ensure that the details consumers see about the book are consistent and correct.
Once the book was a few months away from its pub date, Gallery Books made it active on NetGalley, using metadata sent through Eloquence on Demand. This made title setup a breeze. NetGalley was used to garner early reviews and buzz, and generally raise the visibility of the book before it went on sale. Gallery Books could add NetGalley as a Marketing Campaign in Title Management, too, allowing them to keep track of this among the other efforts they were putting forth for this book.
Once the book was live in NetGalley, Gallery Books received requests and feedback, plus early data. To get the most out of NetGalley, Gallery Books used targeted marketing to drive requests. They made particular efforts to target librarians and booksellers through inclusion in the ABA Digital Whitebox and the Librarian newsletter.
The Gallery team used consumer-facing platform, BookishFirst, to entice avid readers with a First Look at The Book Charmer, building pre-publication excitement through the use of a giveaway and gaining access to in-depth reporting through BookishFirst.
Through the launch process, the Gallery team updated their metadata and their keywords in Title Management, ensuring that the feedback they were receiving through NetGalley and Bookish First was informing the marketing copy.
Both Firebrand’s Keywords service and the NetGalley Advanced Word Cloud allow them to add keywords that repeatedly pop up in reviews on NetGalley and beyond. These keywords are important to discoverability across all retailer platforms, and using real audience-generated words ensures they’re as effective as possible.
At the same time as publicity and marketing teams were promoting The Book Charmer on NetGalley and BookishFirst, feeding the data they learned back into metadata, the production team was hard at work. Using Title Management, they managed printing specs, planned production costs, and handled inventory management, sending out purchase orders to their printer—all very critical details that affect the finished product and the publisher’s bottom line.
As the ebook file approached completion, the production team could load the file into FlightDeck through the Title Management interface. FlightDeck lets publishers check for any lingering issues with their ebook files before they send them to retail partners for fulfillment.
As The Book Charmer grew closer to its pub date, the Gallery team could continue to track marketing promotions, including social media campaigns and printed promotional postcards, within Title Management. They kept track of tasks, specs, and design details.
Once The Book Charmer hit its pub date, the Gallery team could use the contact information they had gathered in the pre-pub phase from NetGalley and BookishFirst to re-engage their audiences on those platforms. Letting people know that the book they reviewed is now on sale is a great way to get these early fans talking about the book and to boost sales and reviews.
Plus, in addition to using Eloquence on Demand to distribute their metadata, Gallery could take advantage of Eloquence on Alert to track changes happening to their titles across retailer sites, including alerts if cover images don’t match across different retailers, if list prices or sale prices change, if a title’s sales rank increases, if the number of reviews or star rankings change, or if they lose their buy button to a third party seller on Amazon.
Through the journey from pub date to the backlist, the Gallery team can continue to update The Book Charmer’s metadata and feed it out to retailers, ensuring that the data is always relevant. They can create new or updated Keywords to see how that might impact sales for a backlist title, and test updated EPUB files in FlightDeck. They can use Express Purchase Orders within Title Management to create a single purchase order for an entire list of reprints. They can re-activate its NetGalley listing for a limited time when they publish a sequel.
Every tool can be used in different parts of the publishing process, and the insights gathered in each stage and through each tool can be used to inform the others.
How NetGalley uses data to frame decision-making and help books succeed
One of the core principles at NetGalley is our focus on data. We give publishers the tools to help them understand and use their data as strategically as possible, and we use data to guide the development of our service.
When we work with publishers on a strategic level, and as we continue to build new features in NetGalley, we are thinking about what data is most valuable to publishers. When we meet with publishers, we hear that you would like more ways to correlate your marketing efforts with activity, or better understand your audience. It’s important for us to know which metrics are most important to you in the pre-publication phase, and how you’re using your results to understand what’s working for your books.
And as much as we are encouraging publishers to look at their own data, we are doing the same for ourselves.
Since early 2019, NetGalley has been working closely with Mandy Fakhoury, our on-staff data scientist, to delve into our own data. She has helped us examine how publishers are using the site, which tools are most used (and how effectively), and how industry trends are manifesting on NetGalley.
For example, with Mandy’s help, we learned which categories within the NetGalley catalog saw a lot of interest, but had relatively few titles listed. We shared the results of that research to encourage publishers in those categories to capitalize on what we learned.
Mandy shared a bit about her work as a data scientist for NetGalley and Firebrand, plus a tip about how lay people can become more comfortable using hard metrics to guide their decision-making.
What is the role of a data scientist?
The role of a data scientist is extracting meaningful information from data. My job is focused on data management, modeling, and business analysis. The process for any data scientist is defining the problem, collecting the data, understanding and exploring the dataset, and analyzing and communicating the results and findings. Ultimately there’s a question to be answered or a problem to be solved, therefore the majority of my time is spent making sure the data is ready to be analyzed. The remainder of my time is spent on creating models or analyses that give insightful meaning or show certain trends that answer or solve the problem.
What have you observed about how publishing engages with data, compared to other industries?
Publishers require data to make clear decisions to innovate and better serve their customers. Like other industries, data is a crucial part of the decision-making process. As an example, most industries use historical trends which allows them to identify which areas have been successful and which ones need improvement. In the publishing world, historical trend is about identifying which genres yielded the most sales and which titles sold the most.
Any favorite project you’ve worked on for either Firebrand or NetGalley?
I can definitely say I have learned more about natural language processing (NLP) and text analysis within both Firebrand and NetGalley. I have become more familiar with the data that goes into the publishing world. On the Firebrand side I have learned the trend of publishers owning or losing a buy button, as well as whether a sale price is different than the list price provided by a publisher among other insights. On the NetGalley side I have created a Word Cloud based on reviews from members [now live for NetGalley Advanced clients!]. Doing the Word Cloud, I got more comfortable using Flask as well creating applications in R Shiny. I have also gotten a deeper understanding of sentiment analysis as well as text classification and the quality of a text. Overall, every project teaches me something new and that is my favorite part; with data science you never stop learning.
Any advice for non-data scientists to become better at using hard metrics to guide decision-making?
Decision making is a critical aspect of success or failure. In this new era, data has become a key part of the decision-making process. Once a problem has been clearly defined, it’s a matter of collecting the appropriate data needed to answer our problem. Data provides us with the information that can be used and processed in different ways to make decisions. A big challenge is knowing how much to rely on the tools at your disposal and how much to rely on your instincts. An effective decision is made based on a blend of experience and data. The best approach is understanding your data, the behavior of trends, as well as your audience, and don’t let the data blindly drive your decision.
A dedicated data scientist is invaluable to the growth of NetGalley for Kristina Radke, VP of Business Growth & Engagement.
“Mandy is dedicated to helping us understand all of the activity on NetGalley and find real answers about the use of our site, both by publishers and members. It’s so important to how we plan NetGalley’s continued growth. A gut feeling just isn’t enough to make business decisions! I don’t want to just think about data and activity–it’s critical to my role to understand it and use it to get better and better. I love working closely with Mandy as she collects and analyzes our data, and making space to consider what that data means to us going forward.”
Lindsey Lochner, VP of Marketing Engagement, explains that publishers benefit from our increased investment in data analysis.
“Lately we’ve been hearing more about data analysis from many of the publishers we work with, whether they have an official data scientist (or team) in-house, or their individual marketers have an increased focus on the data available to them. As our clients dig even further into their own data, it’s our goal to help provide some of the missing puzzle pieces that fit into the entire picture of how a book is performing. Mandy helps us visualize and analyze the specific activity and review data that we gather from our platform, so that we can present that back to publishers to help widen their scope.”
When we launched NetGalley Advanced in January 2019, we did so to give publishers even more early data. And as we continue to build out new features and functionality within NetGalley Advanced, every update we are releasing is to help publishers discover a deeper understanding about how you (and any associated imprints) are using the site. Publishers can see how members are interacting with their titles, and how their actions (both on and off NetGalley) affect NetGalley activity, and more.
We’ve shared some of those data-driven best practices here on NetGalley Insights, including tips on how to develop a data strategy, how to best use the Snapshot PDF, and takeaways from high-performing marketing campaigns in our Proven Strategies series.
We’ll be sharing more dispatches from our internal research here on NetGalley Insights.
How Random House used NetGalley data to refine their marketing messaging and proactively find engaged readers for a big summer debut
Taffy Brodesser-Akner is by no means an unknown writer. As a staff writer for the New York Times magazine with a prolific Twitter account, she already has an audience. But when launching her debut novel, Fleishman is in Trouble, the Random House team treated her book just like they would for any debut novelist coming out with a big summer book.
They dug into NetGalley data to see what was resonating with readers about her book , used NetGalley reporting to find fans of comp titles, and targeted book club leaders and readers. Plus, they leaned on Brodesser-Akner’s own self-promotion efforts via social media.
Jess Bonet, Marketing Manager at Random House, shares how she helped turn Fleishman is in Trouble into one of the hottest summer reads, and a New York Times bestseller.
How did Taffy Brodesser-Akner’s unique position as an established writer and debut author guide your campaign strategy for Fleishman?
For Fleishman, we pulled out all the stops as we would for a debut author: Heavy consumer-reads push on platforms like NetGalley and GoodReads and major book club leader outreach. Random House has a built-in book club platform called The Random House Reader’s Circle. Using that platform, I was able to reach book club leaders through the RHRC newsletter, social media and physical mailing address lists. I also targeted Instagram book clubs like Pure Wow that ran pre-pub giveaways to engage their fans. I provided book club leaders with eCards featuring blurbs and media praise for Fleishman is in Trouble.
But what was unique about this project is that we were also able to use Taffy’s strong platform (she is a natural on social) to drum up excitement in the months leading up to publication. s.
We also ran advertising on the New York Times website to convert fans of her journalism into fans of her new novel.
Plus, we ran advertising in Shelf Awareness and included a link to NetGalley on the landing page for easy bookseller access.
How did you involve Brodesser-Akner in launch campaign?
Brodesser-Akner played an integral role in the launch campaign for Fleishman is in Trouble. She did a fantastic job promoting the book on social and making her fans aware that her debut novel was coming soon, even though she did not specifically promote its NetGalley listing on her own channels.
How did you proactively engage NetGalley members and communicate with them?
We shared NetGalley widgets with reviewers of other Random House titles in the same category. I pulled Feedback Reports for users who requested similar Random House fiction titles, and gave access to people who rated the comparative titles 4 stars or higher.
We also emailed all reviewers [who submitted Feedback for Fleishman] and provided them with social assets on publication date to push reviews to retailer platforms and get the book in as many social feeds as possible. Social buzz was one of the major drivers of this campaign, and it continues to grow which is wonderful to see.
You included Fleishman in two different NetGalley newsletters in March 2019 – Women’s Fiction and Debut Authors. Why were these newsletters and this timing the right marketing choice for you? What impact did you see?
For the blasts, we knew we wanted to capture both audiences: Women’s Fiction readers and the spotlight for Debut Authors. The fact that they were both in the same month was a great benefit to us, because it drove more awareness on the site, creating a snowball effect that led to increased number of requests driving to publication. For members subscribed to both newsletters, it’s always great to hit that audience again and make the reader feel like this is a book of the moment and read because they are seeing it everywhere.
How did you go about managing requests for such a popular title?
We were liberal with accepting requests for this title because we wanted to saturate different segments at the same time. We wanted to get engage booksellers, Instagram influencers and bloggers, as well as librarians.
Which NetGalley reports or analytics are most important to you and your team? How do you use them?
The Feedback Report is the tool we most commonly use. It’s so helpful to see what’s resonating with readers before a book goes on sale, so we can adjust our messaging accordingly. Around 3 months before a book goes on sale, our team will meet and discuss review feedback, largely from NetGalley, and adjust copy as necessary.
That’s truly my favorite part of using NetGalley: being able to see feedback in real-time about what readers are actually responding to, versus our messaging. We came to realize that readers were really responding to Taffy’s raw honesty about dating and marriage in the 21st century, so we played that up in our ad copy and our copy feeding to retailers.
Jess Bonet is a Marketing Manager at Random House, working on campaign planning and marketing strategy for authors including Chelsea Handler, Brené Brown, George Saunders, Jia Tolentino, Téa Obreht, Salman Rushdie and more. In her spare time she writes and produces an upcoming comedy-horror web series, Are You Afraid to Adult?
Interviews have been edited for clarity and length.
Read the rest of the NetGalley case studies here!
FOR IMMEDIATE RELEASE
October 1, 2019—NetGalley LLC, the industry-standard provider of secure digital review copies and marketing solutions to readers of influence, today launched NetGalley Advanced for UK, French, and German publishers. Available in the United States since January, the premier level of service helps publishers track and analyze NetGalley trends across divisions, and make strategic decisions earlier.
NetGalley continues to dovetail with publishers’ current marketing, publicity, and sales strategies, while expanding their pre-publication reach to new audiences. Called “NetGalley Premier” in France and Germany, NetGalley Advanced gives marketers and publicists access to tools that will help them spend less time executing strategies and more time refining them. Plus, new charts and customizable reports help publishers understand how their strategies are working, and if they’re reaching their engagement goals. New insights about audience, correlations between promotions and activity, and simplified title management ensure that employees at various levels of a publisher’s organization have what they need to make the most of pre-publication efforts.
“NetGalley Advanced has been well-received by publishers in the U.S.,” says Kristina Radke, VP, Business Growth and Engagement. “We’ve continued to introduce new and expanded features every month since the launch in January, and now feel that this powerful tool is ready for European publishers. I’m excited to see how publishers in these markets will use the early insights about their strategies, title activity, and audiences.”
Learn more about NetGalley Advanced by watching the most recent demo here.
Interested publishers should contact your local representative:
NetGalley provides every publisher with a wealth of early data and analytics about each of your titles to bolster your marketing efforts and inform your overall strategy, including easy ways to follow up with approved members using the Detailed Activity Report and Feedback Report.
Today we’re focusing in on the Snapshot PDF Report, which is available for every title listed on NetGalley. It contains data points that can assist publicists, library marketers, social media teams, and others, as well as high-level decision-makers looking at overall trends.
The Statistics section of the Snapshot PDF shows a title’s general performance (Impressions, Reviews) as well how members are following through. You can look at the relationship between Impressions, Clicked to Read, and Feedback to see how your pipeline is working. And if you aren’t converting as much Feedback as you’d like, consider how you are communicating with those members who Clicked to Read. Are you following up with them and enticing them to read and review? Or, if your conversion rates are high, analyze what you are doing right and apply that method to other titles.
Reasons for Request provides early indicators about what aspects of your books are resonating with readers. You can use this information in two ways – both to see what is working, and to see where there is room to try a new strategy. If, for example, most NetGalley members are requesting access to a book based on the description, you know that copy is effective and catchy. If most members are requesting based on the author, you can capitalize on that personal connection in your ongoing marketing and outreach. On the flip side, if only a few NetGalley members are telling you that they’re requesting a book because they keep hearing about it, you can tell that you might need to be showing that book in more places and more proactively building word-of-mouth buzz.
NetGalley members can express an opinion about a book’s cover design, whether or not they request it. If you see plenty of thumbs up in the Cover Rating in your Snapshot PDF, you know that you have an especially compelling cover. Consider using it – rather than, say, author photos – in marketing campaigns and social media posts. If a NetGalley member is only lukewarm on a cover design, they won’t usually downvote it, so consider downvotes to be strongly held opinions. If you find yourself receiving more downvotes for a cover than you’d prefer, consider repackaging the book if there’s time. If you don’t have time to redesign your book’s cover, you can still take that intel into your design meetings for future books.
The Opinions section of the Snapshot PDF, downloadable as the Opinions Report, can guide your targeted followup and help you curate a list of the NetGalley members who are most engaged in your books. When members submit feedback for books on NetGalley, they are asked questions specific to their member type. For example, booksellers are asked if they are likely to handsell the title, if they would suggest that their store purchase the title, if they are interested in the author visiting their store, plus given the opportunity to nominate the book for the Indie Next list. You can read all about our member-specific questions here. After looking at this information, you might consider reaching out to interested booksellers to arrange author visits, or offer to connect media to the author for an interview. You might Auto-Approve every librarian or bookseller who nominates your book for LibraryReads or the Indie Next List.
For more ideas about how to use NetGalley data and reports, reach out to us at firstname.lastname@example.org. We’d be happy to chat!
Michelle Vu, Director of Business Intelligence & Data Management at Houghton Mifflin Harcourt, is implementing automation at HMH while keeping humans front-of-mind
Automation in publishing, as in any other industry, can seem risky. Workers wonder what will happen when their job can be done – in part or in full – by a computer program. For example, how will interns break into the industry if there are no galley envelopes to stuff and send?
But where some see cause for concern, Michelle Vu sees opportunities. In her role as Director of Business Intelligence & Data Management at Houghton Mifflin Harcourt, Vu is working across divisions at HMH see how automation could make workflows smoother and more effective. She is fostering honest dialogue about pain points throughout the book publishing process. Vu is using automation to give her colleagues more space to do the creative and thoughtful work that humans are uniquely good at, and that is required to shepherd great books into being.
She recently gave NetGalley Insights an inside look at how she thinks about automation and how she is implementing it at HMH.
How do you define automation?
Automation takes a process typically performed by a human being and uses technology to either remove the human element completely or create a hybrid of the two. We’ve seen many forms of automation throughout history, mass production and the assembly line, chat bots, Alexa and Siri, and the thermostat in our homes. It is easy to forget modern conveniences are the result of some form of automation.
I see automation as an opportunity to improve employee satisfaction by reducing the amount of boring but necessary tasks we each do every day.
One of my favorite hotels to stay at in Boston is the Yotel in the Seaport District. Walking into the lobby, you check in at a kiosk with the credit card used to book the room, the machine creates a security card for entry to your room and prints a receipt with your room number. Automating tasks like check-in and setting up room access frees up the concierge to do the very human work of making a visit special through personalized recommendations. If I need recommendations for things to do, there is a human being at the concierge desk whose time was not spent processing my stay but rather guiding me to the exciting things Boston has to offer. I realize this type of interaction (or non-interaction) may not work for everyone, but I find the experience very liberating.
You use the framework of Human+ to think about incorporating automation. Tell us what that means to you.
Human+ is building a digital workforce of software bots, machine learning, and artificial/augmented intelligence to work alongside and complement our human workforce. Identifying and segregating tasks that robots excel at with speed and accuracy (processing invoices, sifting through reams of financial data) from tasks that humans do best, especially those requiring subjective reasoning and creativity. To me, this means recognizing there really is a way to do more with less. By offsetting our talent with the aid of technology, we could invest more of our time with innovation.
How are you integrating automation into workflows at HMH? How and why did you take on this role?
We have been using software bots in the HMH trade division for the past six years on a much smaller scale and only within the data group. Our bots function to automate the retrieval, manipulation, and ingestion of data from external sources (think point of sales, daily ebook sales, etc.). It was not until recently that HMH implemented an enterprise level RPA (robotics process automation) program. Recognition of and support of RPA organization-wide has not only helped us ramp up automation projects; it has given us the visibility needed to expand beyond data ingestion into business processes.
Last year, our corporate automation team reached out to me to become a member of the advisory board for the RPA initiative. As the head of data and analytics for the trade division, RPA has been an area I have been wanting to explore for several years. To be perfectly honest, I knew very little about automation, but since I already work closely with our Publishing Operations team on workflow and processes, this was the perfect opportunity to dive right in!
What are the psychological, cultural, or social implications of integrating automation into publishing?
Evangelizing automation from an empathetic perspective is the most important thing for a successful RPA implementation. Ask a person at any level from various industries and they are sure to be overwhelmed, doing the job of two people or simply cannot find enough time in a day to finish their work. It’s important to remember that automation is not just a series of meetings to go over process improvements nor is it the new shiny IT project. A grassroots approach would be most effective, so people are less inclined to view automation as a mandate or a cost-cutting initiative. Having people create their own areas of efficiencies allows for greater ownership and accountability over their processes.
I think of automation as a shift in our culture and rethinking the way we work and what we call “work” from a holistic point of view. It is not biased toward return on investment or reduction in staff, but rather a long-term approach for employee engagement and innovation. Traditional publishing is often hierarchical in structure with divisions and imprints focusing on each of their own processes. Honest conversations between departments about automation can help break down the silo mindset and engage employees to think bigger picture where they can add the most value to the book production life cycle.
What responses have you been getting from colleagues when you are automating parts of their workflow?
I am fortunate to be working with such a wonderful group of people at HMH, who have reacted to my questioning and probing into their work with curiosity and excitement. My role is to foster discovery sessions where we uncover and unravel processes, asking why we are doing something and what kind of results are expected. I’ve received positive feedback even during the discovery phase where we are stepping back and breaking down tasks. Not all projects are good candidates for automation, but the conversation itself has had a positive impact in people’s work in an empowering way. Having the support of upper management is key. I am grateful to have a management team that understands and realizes this is an opportunity to create powerful changes in our definition of work.
Which kinds of jobs have already been affected by automation? Which roles do you anticipate will be impacted next? How will it change entry-level positions?
The types of automation we’ve looked at have been administrative type tasks that are being done by non-admin people. For example, an editor submitting author advance payments or accounts payable invoices or a production manager tracking the status of shipments from freight carriers. We are looking at tasks and not necessarily entire jobs. For entry-level positions, I expect automation could potentially mean fewer admin duties and more meaningful work.
In the case where entire jobs are being eliminated, some companies transition and train the people affected by automation to manage and even build the actual bots. It makes sense since they know the process best and can troubleshoot and fix issues.
What hopes or plans do you have for the future of automation in publishing, either at HMH or across the industry?
I would like to see vendors of publishing software integrate automation features into their applications by improving the management of production schedules and having a more targeted approach to workflow based on user profile. From a contracts, permissions, and sub rights perspective, using NLP (natural language processing) for semi-structured data in managing contracts and royalties would improve accuracy of data management and tracking of licenses. It would be interesting to integrate bots into the manuscript editing process that could potentially reduce the number of passes and streamline the workflow. One of our next big projects at HMH is to automate certain parts of metadata management to resolve data discrepancies, missing data and potentially even have bots create new data.
Michelle Vu is the Director of Business Intelligence & Data Management at Houghton Mifflin Harcourt, where she heads the data and analytics team for the HMH Books and Media division. In her thirteen years of experience in trade publishing, she has led many metadata initiatives to improve workflow efficiency and generate product discovery. Michelle is passionate about delivering insights in meaningful ways, facilitating increased productivity and driving effective decision-making. Most of her free time is spent baking, cooking, eating, talking about food, and all things cats.
Interviews have been edited for clarity and length.
Tips and success stories from NetGalley’s marketing experts
The NetGalley marketing team loves collaborating closely with our clients. We’re working with publishers and authors every day to help put their books directly in front of the NetGalley members who are most likely to read, review, and advocate for them. Since our clients are so diverse (from the “Big 5” houses to self-published authors, and publishers of all kinds of books—bestselling fiction to nonfiction and academic, religious, graphic novels, children’s and YA, cookbooks, and beyond) our marketing team has seen first-hand which strategies have worked to engage many different kinds of readers.
Our first Proven Strategies post covered how to grab a reader’s attention with a strategic subject line. Now, our marketing team is sharing tips for the next step: optimizing the design and content of a dedicated eBlast, one of NetGalley’s most popular marketing programs.
Not every publisher or author has the budget or bandwidth to create unique eBlast designs in-house. That’s ok! You don’t have to design an eBlast in order for an eBlast to succeed. NetGalley’s marketing team has a standard eBlast template that can easily incorporate any art or assets. For example, images you’ve used as Facebook or Twitter covers (like The Bromance Book Club), or graphics from your website or from the jacket art itself, to match the book’s overall branding and achieve a more cohesive look.
The call to action (CTA) should clearly tell the recipient what to do next—and should fit your goal for that campaign. Before creating your eBlast, think about what you want from the recipient: requests, limited-time downloads, wishes, reviews, pre-orders, purchases? Highlight the CTA with color, placement and text treatment. We use standard “button” images that mirror the recognizable action buttons of the NetGalley site, so that recipients can easily spot where to click in the email.
Plus, make sure to preview your email design across multiple devices and email clients, so you know how it will render for recipients who are reading your email on mobile devices, on their computers, or elsewhere. Our team will help test, too!
Remember that, like all of us, the recipients of your eBlast are busy and have short attention spans. It is highly likely that they won’t spend very long on your email, so it’s key to design that email with efficiency and readability in mind. Keep the CTA “above the fold” so the recipient can see it without having to scroll too much. Can the recipient answer what, why, and how after just a few seconds of looking at the email?
And, be sure to include the book’s pub date prominently so they know the best time to submit and post their review. Bookish’s Executive Editor Kelly Gallucci told NetGalley Insights: “My pet peeve is definitely when emails don’t contain enough information. It’s most helpful for me when the author, book title, genre, and pub date are as up-front and clear as possible.”
When writing the content of your eBlast, keep in mind that less is more. Including an entire book description will likely overwhelm a reader, or increase the chance they will lose interest before taking action. Readers scan emails quickly for info that is relevant to them, so divide text into short paragraphs. And remember that a prominent headline (at the top or center of your eBlast) is your second chance at a strong first impression (after the email subject line). Is your headline clear, impactful, intriguing?
Don’t forget to leverage high-profile relationships. Highlight if your author is already a bestseller, or if there are any exciting crossovers into television or film. And if you have quotes from industry professionals or big-name authors, include those but keep blurbs brief.
We also recommend considering your secondary goals for the campaign, in addition to the main CTA. For instance, in addition to driving requests on NetGalley, do you also want the book to get more nominations for LibraryReads and the Indie Next List? Include a nomination reminder with deadlines (but only if the eBlast is being targeted to librarians and booksellers). Or, in addition to driving Pre-Orders, do you also want to build an author’s brand and social following? Consider including a short author bio, plus a photo and social media links. Do you want to increase brand awareness for your company or imprint? Make sure to highlight your logo and link to your publisher page on NetGalley so members can “favorite” you.
Have questions or need advice? Ask NetGalley’s marketing team – email@example.com! We’re here to help, and want to help your book succeed. And, be sure to subscribe to NetGalley Insights so that you don’t miss our next Proven Strategies post.
You already know that NetGalley is a data-driven service. But did you know that in addition to giving publishers access to book-specific information about performance and member interest, we are also working with our own data scientist to dig into site-wide activity? We’re looking at data across publishers, categories, and years to examine trends and help publishers capture NetGalley members’ attention.
In this article, you’ll learn about opportunities you may be overlooking to reach readers interested in some underserved categories on NetGalley.
As a general rule, NetGalley functions as a microcosm of the book retail market. The titles and categories that perform strongly on NetGalley tend to also sell the most once they go on sale. This means that publishers can use NetGalley as an early indicator of success. The top 5 most popular categories on NetGalley are Teens & YA, Mystery & Thrillers, General Fiction, Romance, and Sci Fi & Fantasy. But there are plenty of other categories where you’ll find an enthusiastic readership on NetGalley!
Our data scientist helped us compare median impressions versus number of titles in each category on NetGalley, and we were able to discover which categories have a hungry audience and opportunity to expand the number of available books.
The data set includes all books on NetGalley.com that were published between January 1 – December 31, 2018. We looked at the median impressions (views of the title details page) to ensure that extreme outliers of activity would not skew the data too much in one direction or another. The median number refers to the midpoint of the observed values, meaning that there is an equal probability of falling above or below it.
While looking at this data, we discovered several categories with high median impressions (lots of views), but a relatively low number of books in the category. This means that there is less competition for more views! Here are a few examples:
By comparison, some of the very popular categories like Romance and Mystery & Thrillers included many more titles, making the competitive field more challenging. (Romance: 706 median impressions and 2,224 titles. Mystery & Thrillers: 748 median impressions and 1,523 titles).
Keep in mind that some of the highest performing titles within these underserved categories are cross-listed in a second category. While this does mean that some of the impressions for these titles likely came from members browsing other categories, the success of cross-listed titles indicates the effectiveness of the strategy. Publishers can assign two different categories for each book on NetGalley, which we always recommend for increasing discoverability.
For example, Bad Man (which was one of the top-performing Horror titles of 2018) is listed in both Horror and General Fiction. This means that members who were browsing in either Horror or General Fiction were able to discover Bad Man, and request it if it piqued their interest. If they browsed in both categories, they saw it twice! In total, only 13 books were cross-listed in these two particular categories in 2018. Similarly, Honeybee was one of the top-performing New Adult titles in 2018, and was cross-listed with Poetry. Some of the most common category combinations include General Fiction + Mystery & Thrillers, Romance + LGBTQIA, and Teens & YA + Sci Fi & Fantasy.
Publishers also took advantage of on-site marketing to give their titles a boost in these categories. For example, The Kill Jar benefited from Category Spotlights in both Nonfiction and True Crime while it was active for requests, as well as a Dedicated eBlast targeted to members interested in True Crime and a list of comp titles—all of which helped it to become one of the most successful True Crime books on NetGalley in 2018.
If you ever have questions about how to best position your titles on NetGalley in order to connect with readers who are most likely to advocate for your books, email firstname.lastname@example.org.
We are continually working with our data scientist to delve deeper into publisher and member activity, and will be sharing more of our findings here on NetGalley Insights. Subscribe to our weekly newsletter so that you don’t miss any upcoming data-driven strategies.