Reddit, the self-described front page of the internet is a powerful platform for connecting with enthusiastic and vocal readers. For a primer on Reddit and some ideas for engaging with its communities, check out our recent introductory article. Like any online community, Reddit has its own norms, its own lingo, and its own unique forms of communication. One of the most influential forms of Reddit-specific communication is the AMA.
AMA, which stands for Ask Me Anything, has its roots in early online forums like AOL chatrooms, Slashdot, Something Awful, and others. But it was on Reddit that the form was codified, popularized, and brought into the mainstream.
To conduct an AMA, a user will offer a brief description of themselves, and then open themselves up to a barrage of questions by writing “AMA.” Then, the floodgates open for any user to ask a question. One of the most commented-on AMAs from 2018 was from a Reddit user receiving Universal Basic Income. (UBI is a guaranteed stipend given to every citizen within a governed population.) They wrote “I am receiving Universal Basic Income payments as part of a pilot project being tested in Ontario, Canada. AMA!”
Unlike other forms of interviewing, AMAs tend to have an informal tone, giving Redditors a peek behind the curtain into the lives of either very famous people, or people with unusual lives. They can let authors and fans relax around one another, giving conversations a more casual tone, as opposed to a formal book talk Q&A. For example, in Bill Gates’s 2018 AMA, he answered Redditor questions from “What’s your favorite prime number?” to “What’s the most “treat yo self” rich guy thing that you do?” The answers were “2” and “having a nice house with a trampoline.” The thread contains over 10k comments.
Redditors discover these on dedicated AMA subreddits like r/IAmA or r/AMA, or as a feature on a subreddit dedicated to a different topic. For publishers and authors, relevant places to look for AMAs are r/books, r/writing, or genre-specific subreddits like r/fantasy or r/unresolvedmysteries.
AMAs let authors connect with readers to talk about a new book, answer questions about an older book, or talk about favorite characters. Plus, they are more convenient and less costly than a traditional book tour. For shy authors, an AMA can offer a way to speak authentically with fans while remaining in their own homes. They are not only more intimate than other kinds of interviews, but also more democratic. Readers don’t have to live in a major city or buy an advance ticket. All they have to do is be online at the right time to get a chance to talk to an author whose work they love.
There are a number of ways that publishers and authors can use AMAs to connect with Redditors.
Inspiration and Fan Appreciation
Beloved YA fantasy writer, Tamora Pierce went on Reddit to do an AMA under the r/books subreddit, answering questions about the inspiration behind favorite characters and listening to Redditors who have been reading her work for years. This AMA happened a few months after the US release of Pierce’s most recent book, Tempests and Slaughter.
Demonstrating Subject Expertise
Another way to use AMAs is to focus on yourself as an industry expert, to grow your own brand presence by offering advice. Eric Smith, literary agent and YA author took to Reddit to answer questions about everything from querying to MFA courses, to balancing his “agent brain” and his “writer brain.” While offering up some free advice, he was able to successfully position himself in front of Redditors as an expert in the industry, raising both his own profile and that of his agency, P.S. Literary.
Authors can also give writing tips during an AMA, both giving a behind-the-scenes look at their own process, and letting them give aspiring writers useful tips.
USA Today bestselling author Penelope Bloom answered questions about her writing process, in addition to book-specific questions during a 2018 AMA. She gave advice about balancing romance and plot, writing a sex scene, and how she manages her prolific career alongside parenthood.
Redditor, moderator of r/fantasy, and NetGalley member MikeOfThePalace describes the benefit of AMAs to authors. “We [are] offering them a chance to talk about their books to thousands of potential new readers, and they could do it at home in their pajamas instead of having to go traveling to a convention or a book tour. It made for an easy sell…As long as they’re ready to answer questions, it’s fine. If they come into it ready to have fun, it’s great.”
MikeOfThePalace also notes that AMAs are best used with authors who already have an established presence. If an author’s platform isn’t strong enough to have a fan base eager to ask them questions, an AMA risks getting very little traction.
Before hosting an AMA, make sure to promote it so that your audience will see it. Unless your author is so famous that they will immediately go viral if spotted on Reddit, make sure to tell the fans to be on Reddit at the appointed time so that they can join in on the limited-time conversation.
For authors and publishers interested in hosting an AMA, the first step is to contact AMA@reddit.com and send a short pitch about the author and the book. The Reddit team will be able to help you figure out which subreddit is the best fit for a potential AMA and help prep for it. You can learn what you need to set up an AMA and use this sign as a template for a proof photo to demonstrate that you’ll be doing an AMA. Then, once you’ve contacted Reddit to help schedule your AMA, they recommend getting in touch with the community moderators of the subreddit where the AMA will take place.
Cassidy Good, Reddit community manager told NetGalley Insights, “The most important factor in having a successful AMA is good prep work. This includes crafting a good title and thoughtful introductory text, which will encourage people to join in and ask questions. It also includes considering the best placement for the AMA. For example, an author who writes true crime would be very popular in r/UnresolvedMysteries as the community is already devoted to discussing crime. The more aligned the AMA topics is with the discussion themes of the community, the more successful it will be. This is why niche and specific communities often have very thoughtful AMAs.”
While Reddit AMAs might not be the right fit for every author, their success represent the ways that author reader interactions are being reshaped in the digital age. These interactions are increasingly happening on digital platforms, through social media, and with the expectation of deeper intimacy or honesty than a reader might expect to find in a traditional reading and Q&A. Whether or not AMAs are a good fit for your authors or your goals, it’s important to remember what makes AMAs resonate, and to take those lessons into your marketing strategy sessions.
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 promotions.
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. We Are Bookish 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 – firstname.lastname@example.org! 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.
Anyone who works in the book industry is, in a sense, a content curator. But a curatorial eye looks different for different segments of the industry: for agents, marketing departments, booksellers, critics, and influencers.
Stephen Sposato, Manager of Content Curation at Chicago Public Libraries told NetGalley Insights how he and his team think about their roles as curators for their community, and which resources they use to make sure that they are best meeting their patrons’ needs.
Unlike an independent bookstore, which caters to the current interests of a neighborhood, librarians need to consider a wider demographic and a different set of needs. With 80 locations, over 2.6 million books in circulation, and 1.7 million patrons, Sposato and his team are curating for a massive and diverse community.
Sposato told Insights, “We’re expected to provide access to books for a lot longer (sometimes even after they’re out of print). We also tend to offer materials people need for short term help but don’t particularly want to own, such as resume books, SAT prep books, or books on dieting and fitness. The public expects us to offer access to all books in perpetuity, but the reality is we have limited resources and must make choices every day about the collection, and so librarians are curators in this sense.”
Here are the resources that Sposato and his team use to curate the offerings for Chicago Public Libraries.
“We actually order most new mainstream books because we serve a large city and we can count on wide demand. For us the trick is to correctly anticipate the level of demand and to order the right number of copies. We check the previous track record of the authors of new books and look at the performance of similar books. We are committed to stocking a collection that is “current, diverse and responsive,” as it states in our library’s most recent strategic plan, and at the same time we need to be fiscally responsible with our funding.”
“We stay on top of the coverage of forthcoming and new books pretty well. Aside from the opportunities I just mentioned, publishers work with library distributors like Ingram and Baker & Taylor who helpfully create lists of forthcoming titles each month. And librarians across the country also discuss forthcoming titles on social media and contribute to the monthly LibraryReads list of the top 10 titles recommended for readers each month.”
*Librarians from NetGalley can nominate books for LibraryReads directly within their account!
Library Marketing teams
“We don’t have as much direct contact as we could ideally, but the bigger publishing houses and some of the mid-size publishers have staff devoted to library marketing, and we receive regular email newsletters from them, as well as notices about forthcoming books, including some access to advance copies. When we can attend professional conferences, there are often opportunities to see them present forthcoming books in person and meet with them in exhibitor booths. We also receive some catalogs by mail. Our publisher reps also tend to be extremely helpful when we contact them with requests by email.
We’ve had great success with publishers sponsoring author visits, and we’ve even started experimenting with “book buzz” events for the public as when Penguin Random House came and pitched new books directly to our patrons or we invited smaller local publishers to showcase their newest titles. We also had the opportunity to partner with Macmillan recently who worked with a mystery book club at one of our branches to promote some new mystery titles.”
Sposato hopes to expand his collaborations with publishers. “With the demise of some big [bookstore] chains over the last couple decades, there are fewer physical places for people to discover new books, movies and music. We see libraries playing an increasing role in discovery, and we think that’s of long-term benefit to publishers, so more dialogue would be great. I’d also like to see more proactive inclusion of libraries when launching books of local appeal: we need to know about big Chicago books before anyone else. And while book stores tend to be found in the wealthiest neighborhoods in order to have the best chance of survival, we have a presence in more diverse neighborhoods. We love it when publishers are open to discussing the needs we see throughout our entire society.”
How do you or your marketing team work with regional librarians? Email us at email@example.com. We’d love to feature your strategies!
Stephen Sposato is the manager of Content Curation at Chicago Public Library, overseeing selection and readers’ advisory. He has over fifteen years of experience in collection development and readers’ advisory. He has written for Library Journal as a reviewer and as a contributor to the Reader’s Shelf column. He has provided extensive RA training, given presentations at BookExpo, the Illinois Library Association and the American Library Association, and currently serves as a member of the Board of Directors for LibraryReads. You can find him on Twitter at @stephensposato.
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.
Repackaging books with new covers, new back cover copy, or even a new titles is one of the tools in a publisher’s arsenal to give a book more life. Whether making decisions about the trade paperback design after the hardcover has been on sale, or discussing changes to a backlist title that’s been acquired from another publisher, Sourcebooks uses a lot of data to support their repackaging efforts.
Sarah Cardillo, Director of Publishing Operations at Sourcebooks shares how she and her team use sales numbers, comp titles, and audience responses to guide their redesign strategy.
1. Consider a book’s total positioning, in addition to sales
When we are looking at the trade paper edition of a hardcover release, we start by looking at sales – how many [books] did we actually sell, what percentage of the inventory sold through within the first 6-8 weeks, and did it sell at the level we had expected it to sell? We look at retail sales [as well as] library sales. Sometimes a book might not sell at our expectations at retail, but may have landed very strongly with the library markets.
If we are looking at the cover for a book that was previously published by another publisher, or perhaps self-published, we look at how the book was positioned as a whole. So, we start even further back than the cover. We think about the title, the story hook, or positioning, and the category the book will be shelved in. Even if the book had relatively strong sales, some of these other factors may give us insight into how to launch the book at a new level for Sourcebooks.
2. Involve everyone in the process
Since we start by looking at sales, the decision begins with the sales department and the marketing team. The marketing team weighs in with what they were seeing at the point of launch. Did they get the reviews they’d hoped for, the media placement they’d planned? Do they think the media had an impact on the sales (or lack thereof)? We may also discuss what the consumer reviews look like. Sometimes we see that consumers are most excited about a particular aspect of the book that we did not position against – that we didn’t address on the cover or with the back cover copy.
If this was a previously published book by another publisher or self-published, then the conversation may start with editorial – again though the editorial team starts with how they want to publish the book for their list – once they determine that positioning, the art director will review and make a recommendation on the cover direction.
In most instances, the design team is brought into the conversation when there’s already a recommendation on the table to repackage.
3. Pay attention to comp title performance
We rely heavily on data – and comp titles provide data. We may see that a design trend has faded or taken off and so we rethink our packaging to fit into that trend. We research the categories and subcategories in depth to provide expertise on what works (and what doesn’t) when positioning a book into a certain category. We want to make sure that the consumer who reads a particular type of book knows at immediate glance that this book is for him or her. We want to make sure that our cover fits within the design space of similar books, but also stands out or stands above the other books. That the consumer sees it and knows it’s what they like to read, and that they care enough to pick it up.
4. Listen to your audience
I would say most repackages are driven by external market considerations. If we believe the current cover didn’t help sell the book, a new cover has the chance to reach a different audience – where your hardcover may have been packaged more like a romance, but your reviewers really like the mystery in the story – a repackage could lean toward the mystery aspect. So it’s still based on content, but now external factors are telling us to reposition against other aspects of the content.
A good example within the romance space was a repackage we did for a book that we published as a trade paperback title – The Curl Up & Dye by Sharon Sala. Sharon Sala is a New York Times bestselling author in the romance space, but this trade paperback did not land the way we had hoped. But when we released her second Blessings, Georgia book, I’ll Stand By You as a mass market romance, we saw that her numbers were very strong in the mass market space and that people really loved her Blessings, Georgia setting. So we then repackaged The Curl Up & Dye as a mass market romance with a new title, You & Only You. It was already set in Blessings, Georgia, but we did not market it that way for the original trade paperback release. When we put it in mass market we made sure to communicate to the consumer via the packaging that this was set in Blessings. The one thing about mass market books and authors is that they often write within a “world” and the consumer is trained to look for copy on the cover (or in online metadata) that indicates a particular book is part of a particular series, or world. The success of I’ll Stand By You showed opportunity and a market – but more specifically that her customers were in that space already – she had success with other publishers in the mass market space, and keeping her where her customers were but then also packaging her new titles in a cheaper format allowed her to grow her reach both with existing customers but also with customers who read similar mass market titles by other authors. Plus, the lower price presented less of a barrier for entry for new customers.
5. Remember your deep backlist
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 right now and seeing what books sold well but could get new life with an illustrated cover direction.
6. Capitalize on the success of a repackaging campaign
If the sales increase, we can attribute part of that to the cover, of course, but we know other factors may play a part, too. The change to a more affordable format and the repositioning of the back cover copy are also important. When we see a repackage working really well, we’ll consider what we did and if there were elements that we can use from that repackage to guide the cover for the author’s next book or similar books in the same genre.
7. Think about repackaging at all stages of the publishing lifecycle, including acquisitions
Our goal in repackaging the Poisoned Pen Press backlist titles [which Sourcebooks acquired in 2018] was to give them a more cohesive look across authors and series and to have more immediate recognition for consumers. We wanted to make sure that the consumers who devour mystery titles but have never heard of Poisoned Pen would recognize the books as mysteries that they’d want to read. We felt that, while there were many strong covers on the books, there was room to help drive consumer awareness even more. To use our experience designing for this market to increase sales.
Sarah Cardillo is the Director of Publishing Operations at Sourcebooks, one of the 10th largest publishers and the largest woman-owned trade book publisher in North America. She began her career as a production editor with Publications International (now Phoenix International Publications) but since joining Sourcebooks twelve years ago, she has grown her professional reach exponentially. As director of publishing operations, Sarah oversees numerous key departments, including the award-winning art and design department, and the production, manufacturing, and editorial production departments. She utilizes her project management and change management knowledge to build workflows and increase efficiencies across publishing operations. At the onset of the digital transformation, she rebuilt the standard bookmaking process to seamlessly integrate ebook production into the workflow. Her passion for organization and process has transformed the way departments communicate within Sourcebooks. Sarah has both a bachelor’s degree in written communication and a master’s degree in corporate communication and change management.
Results from a NetGalley & IBPA joint survey
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.
During Tech Forum in Toronto this spring, we were thrilled to hear Jordyn Martinez of Simon & Schuster Canada encouraging the audience to dig into data available to them to drive their sales tactics. One of the tools she recommended is Google Trends, a free service that allows anyone to look at Google search trends over time.
Google Trends plots search interest over time on a graph with the x-axis as time and the y-axis as overall interest.* In this example, we can see that most people are searching for summer reading in early June. A marketer looking at this data might see that she should use “summer reading” as an advertising hook beginning in late spring, and tapering off as summer continues.
Google Trends also allows you to compare search terms against one another.
You can see how many people are searching for different genres, and when.
In this example, you can see that people are searching for romance novels and nonfiction titles at mostly comparable rates – they have similar same peaks and valleys, except for a spike in nonfiction searches in mid-December. This is likely a result of last-minute holiday shopping. Romance searches are fairly steady, with small peaks around the holidays and in late summer. When compared to one another, this shows us that interest in nonfiction fluctuates more seasonally, while romance remains steady. It also might indicate that people are buying romances for themselves and nonfiction for others.
Google Trends also allows you to look at top locations for searches, showing publishers where interest is, in addition to when.
Google Trends’ location map can help you learn where your target audiences really are. In this search for “Best Romance Novels,” we can see that most searches are in Massachusetts, Colorado, Minnesota, Tennessee, and Virginia. You can also drill down to find the metro areas where your chosen search terms are most popular. Publishers looking to make a splash with a new and steamy debut romance novel should make sure to target these states and cities with advertising and/or book tour stops. This tool can help publishers break out of a static approach to regional marketing, where the same roster of cities and states get standard amounts of marketing energy. Instead, publishers can start to develop a more dynamic and data-driven regional strategy.
Some advertisers use Google Trends to capitalize on brief viral spikes in public interest by creating of-the-moment ad campaigns. In this example, we can see a sharp increase in interest for “Old Town Road,” the viral song originally by Lil Nas X featuring Billy Ray Cyrus. An advertiser might note during the uptick that they can tie in a product to the hit song, or the flash of interest in cowboys. We recommend using this strategy sparingly. It is time consuming to chase trends effectively, plus audiences can tell if a company is more interested in riding waves of buzz than in building lasting, trusting relationships with consumers.
For publishers, Google Trends is best thought of in the long-term. It can show you whether your genres are getting seasonal, cyclical attention or a steady thrum throughout the year. You’ll know whether you should be pitching your books as holiday picks if interest in their genre spike around December. Plus, you’ll be able to better focus your attention beyond the major markets; how to truly cater to your audience wherever they are.
Jordyn Martinez of Simon & Schuster Canada told NetGalley Insights, “Google Trends is really useful for any department, particularly acquisitions, sales, and marketing. In terms of sales, I use it to see what the Canadian population is searching for, to see if there’s room for growth or if what I’m selling is tapping into a trend. It’s especially useful if I want to know whether a trend has shifted at all, whether there seems to be more or less demand. It’s information that I can bring to my buyers, so that we can make educated decisions on how to position the book.”
*The data in GoogleTrends is all indexed to 100, meaning that whenever the line reaches 100, it represents the moment in time when there were the most people searching for that term. It does not refer to a percentage of overall Google searches or number of users. This also means that the max interest will represent numbers of people. The peak for “Game of Thrones” searches will cover a wider swath of the population than the peak for “Spring Book Club Picks,” although both will be indexed to 100. Google News Lab gave a nice overview here.
Check out more tips and news for data-driven decision making from NetGalley Insights here.
Originally published on Bookish.com.
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 CAKE Literary makes space for new voices and untold stories, “baking” diversity into every book.
According to the most recent statistics from the Cooperative Children’s Book Center at the University of Wisconsin Madison, there are more children’s books about animals than there are about African, African Amerian, Asian Pacific Islander, Asian Pacific Islander, Latinx, American Indian, and First Nations children combined.
Sona Charaipotra is one of the many people in the publishing industry whose work is changing those statistics. As an author and co-founder of CAKE Literary, she is bringing more diverse books into the world. She recently told NetGalley Insights what kinds of stories she is passionate about sharing with the public, how it feels to be making room for underrepresented voices in publishing, and what’s on the horizon for CAKE Literary through 2020 and beyond.
What is the origin story behind CAKE Literary?
Dhonielle and I met the first day of class in our MFA program in Writing for Children at the New School. We bonded pretty quickly — talking about our favorite books and TV shows and sharing our work over pepperoni pizza at Patsy’s. One of the things that always came up in our conversations was how rarely we got to see ourselves as the hero of the story as kids, a fact that held true for my own kids even back in 2012. So we decided to do something about it, both with our own stories and eventually in founding CAKE Literary, which is a boutique book packager with a decidedly diverse bent. Like Alloy or Glasstown Entertainment, we’re not a publisher or an agency, but specifically a packager, which means we come up with fun, creative, big concepts, find the right voice to tell the story, then walk the writer through the publishing process.
What need does CAKE Literary serve in the industry? What problem does it address or what hole does it fill?
A lot of times with publishing, especially when it comes to stories by people of color, it’s easy to presume that pain is what sells. But I think recent successes have shown time and again that we are also allowed to celebrate the joy in our communities. Our focus is on lifting marginalized voices and showing that we, too, can be the ones to save the day, to find love, to become heroes of our own joyful stories. I think the joy part of it is so critical. Yes, our stories tackle meaty, real issues, but they also put fun front and center.
How are diversity and inclusion “baked in” to CAKE Literary as a central part of its business model & vision?
We envision the diversity of our stories to be organic, in the sense that it’s ever-present, but it’s not the main thrust or plot of the story. It’s in the very bones of the world building, and it helps shape and define every part of the character and point of view. It’s truly baked in, in the sense that it sort of disappears the way an egg does when you bake a cake — it’s necessary and ever-present, and you can’t really remove it. You wouldn’t have the same cake if you did. Our first series, Tiny Pretty Things, is pitched as Pretty Little Liars at a cutthroat Manhattan ballet conservatory — completely high concept and fun, right? But it’s got three very different POVs, and each is grounded in who the girls are as people. Gigi is black, from California, and the new girl. June is half-Korean, from Queens, and struggling with both food and family issues. Bette is white, blonde, and the classic legacy. These cultural, socio-economic, and racial factors define the very different experiences each of these three girls have in the very same setting. The diversity is organic and inseparable, a big part of the story without becoming the whole story.
What does it mean to you to be a spacemaker – shepherding unrepresented voices into the mainstream?
It is honestly my favorite part of the job. Only now am I beginning to see representations of something akin to my experience on the page, but my kids will have so many more options. That’s astounding. They are devouring all these stories that serve as reflections, but also all the stories that offer them windows into other experiences. And it’s a profound thing to find a voice that needs to be lifted, to be heard, and help them navigate the publishing process, to share both the highs and the lows with them, because, let’s face it, publishing can be a very rough ride, especially for marginalized writers, and you need that safety net to fall into. There are people who held the door open for me and Dhonielle, and we are thrilled to pull others through it, too. Because as the latest CCBC numbers show [seen below] there’s still so much work to be done.
Who else is doing work to make publishing a more equitable and diverse industry?
There are so many people who continue to push. First and foremost, I have to point to the inimitable Ellen Oh and the whole We Need Diverse Books team, which includes Dhonielle and Olugbemisola Rhuday-Perkovich, as well a slew of amazing volunteers who have been working tirelessly now for five years and counting. The change that they’ve affected is profound — as others have said, this has become a movement, rather than a moment. And then there are the #diversityjedi teachers, educators and librarians, who keep the critical conversations going, like Dr. Debbie Reese, Dr. Sarah Park Dahlen, Cheryl Willis Hudson, Ebony Elizabeth Thomas, and others. And there are editors, publishers, who have been championing change for years — Andrea Davis Pinkney, Alvina Ling, Zareen Jaffrey, Namrata Tripathi, Beth Phelan, and others. And of course storytellers, booksellers, and book champions, like Glory Edim, Saraciea Fennell, Hannah Oliver Depp, Preeti Chhibber, Renee Watson, and others. [Check out Preeti’s interview with NetGalley Insights here!] The voices are there, and they’re doing the work.
How does your work as an author influence your work with CAKE, and vice versa?
I think it goes hand in hand. Dhonielle and I had to use our own work — our first series, Tiny Pretty Things — to launch the company before anyone would begin to take us seriously. We had to go through the process and experience ourselves, and bring the lessons that we learned from it with us. Luckily, we had some great mentors along the way, and a strong community of fellow authors who were super-supportive too. Hopefully we can give back in the same way, by being there as mentors to new writers as they make their way in publishing, too.
Your new YA book, Symptoms of a Heartbreak comes out on July 2 through Macmillan/Imprint . What qualities make it a CAKE book?
Symptoms of a Heartbreak is a classic CAKE project. It’s fun, high concept and hopefully a delicious read, and the organic diversity informs every part of it. I pitch it as Doogie Howser meets The Mindy Project — it’s about a 16-year-old girl genius doctor who’s doing her first real medical internship — and falls in love with a patient. It’s got a classic romantic comedy structure, but Saira’s background as an Indian-American teen informs so much of her family life, her work ethic, her point of view, the micro and macro aggressions she faces in her work and life. It also informs the way she views love and romance. You can’t take that out of the character or the story itself and have it remain the same.
What’s next for CAKE, through 2019 and beyond?
Ah! We are so excited about what’s cooking! This year alone, CAKE has six books landing on shelves, including the second installment of the Love Sugar Magic series by Anna Meriano (Harper/Walden), The Battle by Karuna Riazi(Simon & Schuster/Salaam Reads), The Trouble With Shooting Stars by Meg Cannistra (Simon & Schuster), A Match Made in Mehendi by Nandini Bajpai (Little Brown), and Tristan Strong Punches a Hole in the Sky by Kwame Mbalia (Disney/Rick Riordan Presents)! Several of these titles are available on Netgalley now, by the way!
We’ve got a lot of amazing things lined up for 2020 and beyond, and everyone should definitely stay tuned for lots of TV and movie news coming up, too! Plus, our next venture is into the realm of adult fiction with our LayerCAKE imprint. But we’re always on the lookout for amazing, unique voices. That’s the best part of this job, really — getting to find these astounding new voices and then share them with the world.
Bio: The author of the YA doc dramedy Prognosis: Love And Death, Sona Charaipotra is not a doctor — much to her pediatrician parents’ chagrin. They were really hoping she’d grow up to take over their practice one day. Instead, she became a writer, working first as a celebrity reporter at People and (the dearly departed) TeenPeople magazines, and contributing to publications from the New York Times to TeenVogue. These days, she uses her Masters in screenwriting from NYU and her MFA in creative writing from the New School to poke plot holes in her favorite teen TV shows, like The Bold Type — for work of course. She’s the co-founder of CAKE Literary, a boutique book packaging company with a decidedly diverse bent, and the co-author (with Dhonielle Clayton) of the YA dance dramas Tiny Pretty Things and Shiny Broken Pieces, as well as the upcoming psychological thriller Rumor Game. She’s also the interim editor of the Barnes & Noble teen blog.
Interviews have been edited for clarity and length.
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