Using authentic, creative enthusiasm to connect with new audiences
Having previously published nonfiction, Chelsea Fagan knew she’d need to tap into a new audience with her novel. Creating an author platform is no easy feat, and in this interview Chelsea shares more about how she pivoted to reach fiction audiences with organic, authentic efforts.
What were your initial goals in listing A Perfect Vintage on NetGalley? Did those goals change or evolve over time, and if so, how?
My initial goal was to reach a wider audience with my novel – since my previous books and current platforms are in the nonfiction space, I wanted to find new readers in my new genre (romance) in an organic and mutually beneficial way. This didn’t particularly change with time.
A Perfect Vintage is your debut novel, but it’s not your first book. How did your prior experience inform your independent publication process this time around?
I’m very familiar with the publishing process, and have always been extremely hands-on with my other books, even when traditionally published. So I basically knew how I wanted to do everything, and really enjoyed the ability to have control over the creative and marketing decisions.
A Perfect Vintage was named a 2023 Harper’s Bazaar Best Beach Read, received praise from bestselling authors like Ashley C. Ford and ST Gibson, and was covered in BookRiot and The Skimm, among others! What role did you as an independent author play in securing media coverage for A Perfect Vintage?
I’m lucky that I’ve worked in media essentially my entire career, and I have a fabulous marketing partner with whom I’m profit sharing on the book, so between the two of us we were able to secure a lot of really organic, authentic media coverage between people we knew or had worked with over the years. I took a lot of care in sending out galley mailers with personalized notes and ribbons, even doing themed gift boxes for some recipients – and though that whole process took a lot of time and energy (and standing in line at the post office), it was hugely worth it. People respond to authentic creative enthusiasm.
What strategies, tools, or features in your NetGalley client account did you find most useful in turning NetGalley members’ impressions and requests into Feedback and reviews?
I found it to be quite seamless all around, but I did like being able to see a bit about the profiles of people requesting – if they’re someone who doesn’t at all read my genre typically, that person might be a lower priority than someone who is a big fan of the space.
Now that A Perfect Vintage is published and out in the world, do you have new or additional goals while you continue using NetGalley as your title is still active on the platform?
Making sure it has as wide a level of visibility as possible with booksellers and librarians!
As we alluded to earlier, in addition to your work as a novelist, you are the founder and CEO of The Financial Diet. How did founding and running your own business prepare you for your debut novel’s publication?
I’m very organized, thorough, and single-minded when it comes to pursuing professional and creative projects I’m passionate about. I understand media, I understand creating healthy business models, and I know what I can afford to invest (both in terms of time and money). I also enjoy a four-day workweek at my primary job, so I was able to dedicate regular time to this project without overwhelming myself.
On a personal note, I am obsessed with your cover image! Could you tell us a bit about it? Who was the artist? Did you go through multiple drafts?
Thank you! It’s an original oil painting that I commissioned from the artist Elizabeth Lennie (whose work I love, and whose paintings have previously been licensed for books such as Every Summer After). I hope to continue working with her throughout my romance career, as the cover has been such an integral part of this book’s success!
A Perfect Vintage was selected for free Homepage Placement on NetGalley about a month and a half before its publication. Two weeks later, it was a Featured Title on NetGalley in the Beach Reads (Fiction) theme. What effect did NetGalley Promotions have on your book’s performance?
It automatically reached a much wider audience – when I began this process, I was very reliant on my own platforms, which luckily are sizable. But those features especially allowed me to meet readers who weren’t previously aware of my work.
I understand music was a key influence for A Perfect Vintage — it has its own playlist! How has music shaped your writing?
In every way! As my primary work is more serious, educational content about finance, I want my romance work to be purely about vibes! Enjoying myself while writing is of the utmost importance, and having a fabulous playlist to accompany the process is essential to maximizing the joy. (And people have really loved it, about 1,500 people have saved it on Spotify alone and a lot of people have told me it’s been their favorite summer playlist – I’m honored!)
What’s next for you? What do your readers have to look forward to?
Really exciting things are happening over at The Financial Diet – a fall tour (the theme will be money & love, tying together my two big focuses this year), a totally revamped video series, etc – and then I’m starting work on my next summer romance, which I’m excited to place on NetGalley as soon as it’s ready!
Chelsea Fagan is a writer, home cook, and the co-founder and CEO of The Financial Diet. She lives in Manhattan with her husband and dog.
Why a self-published, New York Times bestselling author didn’t tell her audience her latest book was on NetGalley
Author of the New York Times bestselling Hearts series, Claire Contreras, had never considered using NetGalley until she was getting ready to share the first book of her new series, Half Truths. When most authors use NetGalley, they use it to broaden their reach to new audiences and engage more deeply with the readers who are already following their work. Claire Contreras did something completely different. She didn’t make any announcements to her social following or newsletter subscribers about her latest book being on NetGalley – instead, she’s using it exclusively to find new readers.
In this case study, Contreras shares her unique NetGalley strategy, plus her perspectives on self-publishing versus traditional publishing and how she uses social media to connect with her audience.
I’d seen my friends who are published traditionally on NetGalley in the past and figured the publishing houses must have a good reason for using NetGalley, I just didn’t think it was something available to me. I spoke to a friend of mine who’s hybrid (traditionally and self-published) and she told me a lot of librarians read her books via NetGalley and that sold me on it. Before that conversation, I didn’t know how to reach librarians. Once I got on [NetGalley], I realized it wasn’t only librarians, but also media and educators as well as bloggers I wouldn’t normally have reached. That was when I realized NetGalley was a brilliant concept.
How did you get the word out to your audience about your NetGalley listing?
I didn’t. I used NetGalley solely for people I couldn’t reach myself. I feel it really puts the book in front of people who otherwise wouldn’t have seen it. I wanted to get more attention from librarians, media specialists, editors, and [other] people who don’t normally read me.
One of the reasons I didn’t announce to my readers that my book was on NetGalley was that I wanted to see how many new readers I would gain from the site. I was pleasantly surprised that a lot of the members had never read me before, as that was one of my initial reasons for turning to NetGalley. I have incredible readers, but there’s always room for more. I think in this particular case, the cover drew a lot of attention.
[I was most surprised by] the amount of people that requested the book. I was in complete shock to see Half Truths on the front page of most requested for weeks!
Half Truths is going to be part of a series. How are you using NetGalley to build anticipation?
With Half Truths specifically, I knew from the start that I would turn it into a series of standalones (standalone books in the same “world” – academia, different secret societies).
Because I’m using it as a promotion tool for the series, I’m approving a specific group of people. When I get closer to releasing information about book two, I’ll give away a lot more copies to readers (non-librarians/media) for reviews. I like to test things out and give it time to settle so I can see what’s working and what’s not.
I [also] have a mailing list – a snail mail list – that I put together when I was promoting the first book and I fully intend to use it again to send clues out in the mail to my readers as to what they can expect.
I believe pre-marketing and post-marketing are both powerful. However, I hope to have my next book in this series up on NetGalley a lot sooner than the first.
You are both a self-published and a NYT-bestselling author. Tell us a bit about why self-publishing is right for you.
When I first decided to publish, I fully intended to go the traditional route. My college professors and mentors were completely against me self-publishing, and I understood why. It was frowned upon and not something we completely understood. I decided to take a chance and self-publish my first book on a whim, just to see what happened. I figured if no one read the book, I could always take it down and query agents. The book did better than I anticipated and I gained a pretty steady readership, so I stuck to it. It was unexpected, but so far the control and freedom [I’ve gotten from] being self-published has been great. That’s not to say I wouldn’t go the traditional route. I would definitely love to work with traditional editors and be with a traditional publisher when the time is right.
I use social media as a get-to-know-me tool. I find that a lot of people follow me there because they want to know what I’m doing or what my thoughts are on certain things (as random as they may be). I’ve also built a following from my cancer journey, which I shared from the time I was diagnosed in 2014 to today. I keep them up to date with my health and some of my personal life because I think it’s important for people to know that they’re not alone. Sometimes it’s hard to conceive that others are going through struggles when you see them smiling all the time in pictures, so I keep it real with them.
What (or who) are the resources you go to to keep up with industry trends and to make your books as polished and professional as possible without the infrastructure of a traditional publishing house?
I don’t follow trends. I write things that I can’t stop thinking about and try to package them in a way that’s appealing to the masses, but as far as trends go, they are constantly changing and I can’t keep up with most of them so I try not to pay attention to them. I pay attention to the things I can control, which means making sure I have good editors, proofreaders, and cover designers.
When can members expect to see the next book in the series on NetGalley?
I don’t want to say much because I don’t want to spoil it, but I will say . . . You’ve been summoned 😉
Claire Contreras is a New York Times bestselling author who
traded her psychology degree to write fiction. Don’t worry, she still
uses her knowledge on every single one of her characters. She’s a breast
cancer survivor (x2), who was born in the Dominican Republic, raised in
Florida, and currently resides in Charlotte, NC with her husband, two
adorable boys, and French bulldog.
*Interviews have been edited for clarity and length.
As a self-published author, you might think that the hardest part is over once the book is complete. But once a book is ready to go out into the world, it still deserves the same level of attention and care that you gave it throughout the writing, revising, proofreading, and design process. As an author, you might not have formal marketing or publicity training, or the budget to hire someone who does have that kind of experience. But you can still give your book a professional launch.
While every book is unique and will have slightly different goals and timelines, we’ve used our experience working with everyone from indie authors to the largest publishing houses to develop a framework that you can use to guide your own unique launch strategy. You can also download this launch schedule.
The most important takeaway from this timeline is to plan your promotions a few months before your pub date to create ongoing and increasing excitement for your book.
Different contacts should be given access to your book at different times, according to their needs. For example, any major media contacts will need a much longer lead time than a Goodreads reviewer or BookTuber. Plus, if you can secure early media attention, it’ll be easier to get interest from those consumer reviewers. Work towards getting some early blurbs, and then use those blurbs to bring in new readers, on NetGalley or elsewhere.
And once you have made initial contact with these different kinds of readers – consumer reviewers, digital influencers, librarians, media, and booksellers – be sure to follow up with them right before pub date. Put your book back on their radar, encourage them to share their reviews on retail sites and with their audience, where applicable.
When you put your book out into the world you are hoping to find its biggest champions and most devoted fans. But, of course, no one book will appeal to everyone. Especially for first-time authors, receiving critical reviews and feedback can be frustrating and disheartening. It never feels great to read a critical review of your work, but there are some important things to keep in mind to help you consider critical reviews in a constructive and level-headed way.
Look at reviews for similar titles
If you want to get a sense of what kind of feedback you can expect for your book, take a look at how NetGalley members and consumer reviewers have responded to similar books. Browse the catalog to find these and you’ll start to get a qualitative idea of the spread of opinions when looking at comparative titles to your book. Make sure that when you are looking at reviews of comp titles – either on NetGalley or elsewhere – that you are looking at books in a similar genre and from a similar author or publisher. For example, if you are a debut thriller author working with an indie publisher, try looking at thrillers from other indie publishers rather than books written by well-established authors at the biggest publishing houses. Plus, for an extra reminder that even the most beloved books still get critical reviews, check out these one star reviews of The Great Gatsby.
Remember that star ratings are relative
Star ratings are entirely subjective. For some reviewers, a 5 star review might be reserved for their absolute favorite books – the ones they’d bring to a desert island and the ones that they give as gifts to friends year after year. For others, the same star rating might that a book was an enjoyable afternoon diversion. The same general principle should be applied to lower star ratings, as well. A 3-star review might be a positive review in the eyes of the reviewer, full of thoughtful and useful observations about your work.
We know it’s hard not to get hung up on these numbers when ratings may affect algorithms for discovery on certain platforms (this is not the case on NetGalley), but keep in mind that reviews and ratings are not something you can police. Since they are subjective, each reviewer has to make this decision for themselves.
Resist the urge to respond
When you read reviews, you might be itching to reach out the reviewer and tell them why their interpretation is misguided or to defend your book. This is a perfectly natural desire, but we recommend resisting the impulse. We all know that tagging authors in critical reviews is poor internet etiquette, but it does happen. If you get tagged in a negative review on social media, the reviewer who is tagging you is more likely to be looking for some social media attention rather than providing you with meaningful feedback. Don’t feed the trolls. Plus, when authors try to defend their work on social media, it often ends up reflecting poorly on the author, rather than prompt a thoughtful consideration from the reviewer. This urge affects established authors as well as debut authors. Even Zoë Heller, author of Notes on a Scandalwrote in the New York Times that she has mentally composed replies to the critics who she feels have slighted her. But, crucially, she has never sent them.
Glean valuable data in critical reviews
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.
DNF reviews contain valid feedback
NetGalley Sales Associate Katie Versluis works with our community of self-published authors. She has seen first-hand how authors have responded to DNF reviews (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.”
At NetGalley, we recognize that DNF reviews can be valuable, but that they don’t always provide the same kinds of intel as regular, full reviews. That’s why if a NetGalley member does not finish a book, they can close the feedback loop by selecting the Will Not Give Feedback option. This allows them to move a title off their Shelf and give authors and publishers the reasons why they did not finish a given book.
Give yourself time to develop a thick skin
Receiving critical reviews are always challenging, but it will get easier over time. Be patient with yourself when you find yourself dwelling on critical reviews. Talk to your editor, agent, publicist, and fellow authors to get tips on how they recommend handling critical reviews, and learn from their experiences. Remember, you are looking to build a community of readers who love your work, not convincing people that their opinions are mistaken. Try to focus on the positive reviews!
Stuart Evers, author and Assistant Director of NetGalley UK keeps in mind a quote from Yann Martel, author of Life of Pi. Martel made a distinction between good-bad reviews and bad-bad reviews. Good-bad reviews point out genuine flaws and can be useful, if uncomfortable to receive.
Evers told NetGalley Insights, ”I found this very helpful when dealing with negative reviews – and also helpful when reading any review I receive. A good bad review essentially says, I understand what the author was trying to achieve, but I don’t think they managed it. These can be difficult to read, but ultimately they can offer some insight into your work you hadn’t seen before. Use this to improve your writing; don’t sit there and mope about it. Better a good-bad review than a bad-bad review…A Bad-bad review is when a critic doesn’t get what you are trying to achieve, measures it against the wrong criteria, or fundamentally doesn’t engage with the text. You’re going to get some of these, and these are the most hurtful. However, they can be dismissed precisely because your book is not at fault. It might seem unfair, it might seem vindictive, but you just have to remind yourself: this is a bad bad review and I can dismiss it.”
Above all, professionalism is key
Remember to treat anyone you encounter during the publication process as a fellow publishing-industry professional. This includes the editors, designers, and beta readers you work with before your book is finished, as well as any reviewers or media who you encounter in the pre-pub or post-pub phases. Reagan Rothe of Black Rose Writing works with over 500 authors and shared this framework, “Try to take a professional approach and keep your choice of words constructive. Think about how you would speak to a coworker, your boss, an employee, or even a respected family member.”
Even if you are frustrated or feel that you have been treated unprofessionally, keep an even tone in any communication you have about your book. As an author, you have now joined the publishing industry as a whole, which means that everyone from your publicist to book reviewers and even booksellers are, in a sense, colleagues. Be sure that all of your communication with them reflects that understanding.
How have you learned how to handle critical reviews? Did you receive some crucial advice early in your career that has helped you? Share your strategies with us at firstname.lastname@example.org.
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.