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

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

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

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

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

Thick comes out in paperback on October 1.

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

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

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

What were your goals for Thick on NetGalley? 

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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


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

Read the rest of our case studies here!

*Interviews have been edited for clarity and length.

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Case Study: Smoke, Roots, Mountain, Harvest by Lauren McDuffie

How Chronicle is using NetGalley to promote their most anticipated cookbooks

We love when publishers experiment with their titles on NetGalley, especially to try new categories, expand the tools they use to promote their titles on and off the site, and how they involve the authors in the process. That’s why when we saw how Chronicle promoted Smoke, Roots, Mountain, Harvest by Lauren McDuffie, we knew we wanted to share their strategies. 

Chronicle recently started putting cookbooks up on NetGalley, using Read Now availability to save time and ensure the widest possible reach. They are using NetGalley data and reporting to guide internal strategy and to equip their sales teams with early analytics. And, in the case of Smoke, Roots, Mountain, Harvest, involving the author in creating special multimedia extras like a Spotify playlist, and encouraging her to share member reviews on her popular Instagram page.

Cynthia Shannon, Food and Lifestyle Marketing Manager at Chronicle shares the steps behind Smoke, Roots, Mountain, Harvest’s success: 

What were your goals for Smoke, Roots, Mountain, Harvest on NetGalley? 

We wanted to drive early awareness of this debut cookbook by getting reviews in advance of publication. NetGalley is a great way to distribute the eARC of the book among readers who talk about books, whether on NetGalley, Goodreads, Twitter, or their personal blog. It was a key tent pole in our early marketing strategy, which also included the author producing a video trailer and creating a Spotify playlist.  

What did you learn about how cookbooks are received by the NetGalley community?

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.

How important is it for you to have reviews that address the recipes in addition to the other aspects of this book (or other cookbooks)? 

We were curious to see how readers would respond to the unique structure of the book, which is organized by seasons and weaves personal stories and anecdotes about growing up in the Appalachian South with modern recipes and cooking techniques. Reviewer response was overwhelmingly positive—the average rating for the book is 4.3 stars—with many also commenting on the beautiful photography that make this cookbook stand out from the rest. While it’s very regional, we were happy to see that it appealed to readers all over the country.

We loved that Lauren McDuffie created a special Spotify playlist to go along with her book! Tell us how and why you chose to include the playlist in your launch strategy. 

The book was inspired by a song (Emmylou Harris’s version of “Country Roads”) so it seemed like a natural way to evoke the feeling of Appalachia through another medium that could be used in tandem with the book. After all, it’s not unusual to listen to music while cooking, or creating a playlist for a dinner party! It also provides further connection with the author, who took the lead on compiling her favorite songs. We shared the link to the playlist wherever we could incorporate it online, and it provided the author with another way to talk about the book on her blog, Harvest and Honey, and on social media in an authentic and charming way


We ultimately received more than 1,500 impressions and nearly 50 reviews, much more than if we had limited the accessibility.

Smoke, Roots, Mountain, Harvest was available as a Read Now title. Tell us why that was the right availability setting for this book. 

We needed to get the book into the hands of as many readers as possible since the NetGalley audience was going to be critical in driving awareness in advance of publication. We were not concerned about it cannibalizing sales. By allowing readers to access the book as Read Now, it minimized the impact on our limited bandwidth to approve each and every interested reviewer. We ultimately received more than 1,500 impressions and nearly 50 reviews, much more than if we had limited the accessibility. 

How did you use the data and reports available for Smoke, Roots, Mountain, Harvest

We included the link to the NetGalley listing and highlights of reviews in reports to the sales team. This helped shed insights into how customers were responding to the book, so that they could share those insights with their buyers.

Did you share the NetGalley listing for Smoke, Roots, Mountain, Harvest outside of NetGalley? 

We were pleased to see more than half of NetGalley reviewers cross-posted their reviews to Goodreads, which the author in turn shared on Instagram stories. [Learn more about how publishers are using Instagram stories here]. This is a great example of how one marketing activity can be repurposed across multiple platforms to appeal to different audiences

We’re still exploring the many ways to utilize NetGalley in our marketing campaigns. We definitely recognize the value of getting those early reviews to inform our strategies; in fact, we’ve increased the number of books we’re sharing on NetGalley this Fall and will continue to look for new ways to engage with the audience. I have some ideas, and am looking forward to trying them out! 


Cynthia Shannon oversees the marketing for the Food & Lifestyle products at Chronicle Books. Prior to this she worked at Goodreads, Berrett-Koehler, John Wiley & Sons, and Other Press. She was named a 2016 PW Star Watch Honoree and is a graduate of the Stanford Professional Publishing Program as well as New York University. She lives in San Francisco. 

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Interviews have been edited for clarity and length.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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


Laura Gianino is a publicity manager at Harlequin/HarperCollins.

Interview has been edited for clarity and length.

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

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London Book Fair: Making a more inclusive book industry

The London Book Fair is one of the largest annual gatherings for the book industry, particularly for agents and publishers looking to trade in international rights. Between March 12 – March 14, attendees who were not sitting in the Rights Hall or dashing to meetings sat in on seminars, strolled the booths, and met colleagues from around the globe who also made the trip to Olympia London.

Where the Book World Comes to Meet

Each year, the London Book Fair focuses on a particular market from around the world. This year the spotlight was on Indonesia. Made up of thousands of islands and religiously diverse, Indonesia was able to showcase their books and culture to a global audience. The Indonesian book market is as diverse as its many thousands of islands, titles are produced in many different languages, and few are translated into English. Theirs is a growing market, with an increasing international presence. Fiction – short stories, in particular – are popular in Indonesia. Indonesian readers read across a broad number of topics, but myths, spirituality and beliefs seem to be at the forefront of Indonesian publishing.

Throughout the Fair, we found that the most prevalent theme was inclusivity. Genres and formats that are growing in the industry are the ones best able to connect with a diverse audience. By making the publishing industry more diverse, it takes steps to become more inclusive.

Diversity refers to the different kinds of people who are involved in an industry, or the different kinds of stories that are told. Inclusion refers to an overall atmosphere that is welcoming to different kinds of people, including those who have been traditionally marginalized within the industry.

Diversity

One of the biggest aims of the publishing industry over the last few years has been that of creating books with more diverse characters, written by more diverse authors. Whilst the industry is heading towards having greater diversity, there is more that needs to be done. Actor, author, and TV presenter Cerrie Burnell highlighted, during the Diversity: Where’s the Issue panel, that diversity within books, children’s books in particular, needs to be more normalized. She said it should be as “normal as observing it when living and walking around London.” Author and illustrator Rose Robins took a similar stance, suggesting that neurodiverse characters should be included more in literature, rather than treated as plot devices. (That’s one of the reasons we loved The Kiss Quotient – check out our recent case study here!)

To connect with audiences from different backgrounds, the publishing industry needs to become more diverse as a profession, in addition to publishing more books with more diverse characters. Speakers from HarperCollins, SAGE Publishing, and EW Group touched on this in their panel on building a more diverse and inclusive industry. Efforts to make publishing houses more diverse need to start from the recruitment stage to keep the industry vibrant.

Poetry

At LBF19, we saw that poetry is on the rise. Poetry sales in January 2019 were at an all-time high, growing by 12% according to Nielsen Bookscan. The recent success of poetry has been attributed to its being more inclusive and diverse than other book genres, with more young people than ever buying and engaging with poetry. The success of Rupi Kaur, writing about her experience as a woman and as a daughter of immigrants, as well as Charly Cox, indicates that there is a huge audience eager to see themselves reflected in the books that they read. And with platforms like Instagram, poets have new ways of reaching younger, digitally engaged audiences. More traditional forms have also found a new audience, with Robin Robertson’s The Long Take the first work of poetry to be nominated for the Man Booker Prize. Sales of poetry have been building for the past few years, and it looks like 2019 will continue to see an upsurge of interest  in the popularity of poetry.

Audiobooks

Unsurprisingly, of all the formats discussed at the London Book Fair audiobooks continues  to be on everyone’s radar. According to Nielsen figures the sales of audiobooks have increased by 87% in the UK since 2014. The popularity of audiobooks has been linked to the trend of podcasts and engaging young men in particular with a different format of reading. But audiobooks have seen a rise overall and the boom seems set to continue for 2019 and onwards. (Check out some of our podcast coverage here.)

Nonfiction

Nonfiction is also a hot topic, as both adult and children’s nonfiction sales have increased in the last year. For adult nonfiction, a large proportion of the success comes down to feminist titles and inspiring books such as Slay in Your Lane by Yomi Adegoke and Elizabeth Uviebenene, Bloody Brilliant Women by Cathy Newman and Dolly Alderton’s Everything I Know About Love. As nonfiction has become more diverse in its scope, it has drawn in new audiences.

We were encouraged to see the book industry slowly moving towards being more inclusive, with publishers and authors having great successes on more diverse books. Different formats and genres are reaching new audiences and encouraging a whole new generation of readers.Keep up with the rest of our conference season coverage by subscribing to NetGalley Insights!

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