NetGalley Book Review Program: A Case Study

by | Jul 20, 2016

Most publishers (large and small) struggle with making their titles visible. In the trackless jungle that is the modern book-buying world (the Amazon?), getting your book reviewed is an essential part of helping it find its audience. In the old days, publishers would send review copies to newspapers, magazines, local TV and radio shows, all in the hope of making sure that the book’s target audience had a) heard about it and b) heard good things about it (hopefully). Nowadays, few local papers or shows do book reviews or features. So what’s a publisher to do?

NetGalleyOne answer is to use a review service. NetGalley is the premier digital distributor of review copies, advertising itself as:
 

“an innovative and easy-to-use online service and connection point for book publishers, reviewers, media, librarians, booksellers, bloggers and educators.”

I’ve used their services twice, most recently for my teen novel Risuko, and thought my experiences might be illuminating.

Both times that I’ve signed a title up for NetGalley, I’ve gone through the Independent Book Publishers Association, of which I’m a member. My membership gives me discounts on various marketing opportunities, including NetGalley. For $349, I got a six-month run on the service, and for another $150, I was placed on an email blast with other independent titles.

I uploaded Risuko to NetGalley through IBPA last December, six months before the book’s mid-June release. Since then; I’ve gotten over 250 responses, with a few more still dribbling in. Most of the have been from reviewers (largely bloggers and Goodreads habitués, but a few from commercial media), but nearly ten percent have been from librarians and about five percent from booksellers, whom I’m continuing to follow up with.

As each person posts a response, NetGalley generates an email including:

  • Their email address and name
  • Their overall rating (on a five-star scale)
  • Any feedback or review they might have
  • Whether or not they like the cover
  • Whether or not they like the description
  • Whether they want to hear from the author or publisher
  • If they’re a reviewer:
    • Whether they’d buy the book for friend (if they’re a reviewer)
    • Where (if anywhere) they’ve published/posted their review
  • If they’re a librarian:
    • Whether they’ll be ordering the book for their library
    • Whether they’d recommend the book to:
      • their patrons
      • book clubs
      • a number of library reading lists
  • If they’re a bookseller:
    • Whether they’ll be carrying the book in their store
    • Whether they’ll be hand-selling/recommending the book to their patrons

Obviously that’s a lot of useful data.

Some folks just leave a rating, but most leave a few sentences to hundreds of words of feedback — positive or negative, it’s (nearly always) helpful. Often they share the URL of their online review, which you can link to in your own social media or quote from on your website. If they say they want to hear from you, you can follow up with them, but you can also add them to your mailing list (though it’s important to ask first).

And of course, I contacted all of the five-star reviewers and asked them to post on Amazon. :-)

The reviews were generally positive, which is nice — though, obviously, not all were. As an example of how the feedback can serve as helpful marketing research, the most consistent knock I got was that my description made the book sound (even) more action-packed than it was. I used that feedback to tweak the blurb, and am using the original “Can one girl win a war?” tag for the series — which it fits better. A number of people also commented that the book felt more like a middle-grade book (aimed at 10- to 13-year-olds) than a young-adult one (aimed at 13- to 18-year-olds) — I listed Risuko in both categories. That was good to know from a marketing point of view, though the later books are going to get more adult.

The largest takeaway? Literally EVERYONE loved the cover:

Risko on NetGalley

This wasn’t a surprise (since everyone I’ve spoken with has loved Bookfly Designs’ cover for Risuko), but it was certainly gratifying to know!

In my approaches to major news outlets and to important bloggers in my genre, I was able to include a link to download the ebook directly from NetGalley. Although the listing hasn’t led to reviews in any major publications (yet), it is the main reason that I had over two hundred ratings and a hundred and fifty reviews on Goodreads on Risuko’s publication date. And over two dozen NetGalley reviewers (in particular, some of the most positive ones) re-posted their reviews on Amazon once the book was available there. Since social proof is very important, it’s difficult to understate the impact of increasing the number of reviews visible at points of decision/sale.

The one downside that I can see: because I first uploaded the book six months pre-launch, folks are sometimes responding to early proofs. I didn’t think to ask the folks at IBPA to update the files until three months had gone by, and so some of the feedback was less useful. Also, because IBPA is the “publisher,” you don’t have direct access to all of the feedback on NetGalley’s dashboard, but IBPA forwards all of the reviews on to you.

For what it’s worth, I had used NetGalley once before, for the historical romance Laura English. We uploaded just before the book launched, and got a much smaller response — maybe a dozen reviews. That book also had a beautiful cover — but the author didn’t market it very aggressively. I’m not sure that it makes as much sense if you’re not months out from launch.

Has the listing generated more Risuko sales than it’s cost? Not yet — but the number of reviews I got will almost certainly help keep the book selling going forward.

I guess my advice is this: if your book is not in too small a niche, you’ve got a good cover and a well-thought-through description, and you’re planning on doing a fair amount of momentum-building outside of NetGalley, the service is an excellent way to create some buzz.

Back to our regular ebook programming next time!

 
Photo: pixabay.com

tbd advanced publishing starter kit

15 Comments

  1. Kevin S Chambers

    Hi David,

    Question. I just joined IBPA and ordered there netgalley service. From what I’ve read I have to request reports from them to see downloads and reviews. Was this true yon your end?

    Reply
  2. Jaylee Jayles

    I’d be really interested in seeing an update to this, now that we’re almost 3 months out, on whether or not you’ve seen an uptick in sales. As a VERY small-time self-published author, the cost of putting a book up on netgalley is staggering ($300 is so incredibly not in my budget) but I’d be willing to save up and do if there was a considerable sales payoff. However, I haven’t seen anyone do any research on this? Everyone is excited by feedback and reviews, but I’m not sure if that is worth the financial cost for someone like me with an extremely tight budget.

    Reply
  3. Chris Lawson

    Hi: I found your article very interesting. I rely on NetGalley often to get advance galleys for books to review. I then post my review on Amazon, of course.

    Occasionally, some publishers don’t approve my request to review their book. I’ve always been puzzled by why an author would NOT want free publicity on Amazon. (This happens more on Edelweiss. I’ve noticed that Hachette is the worst.)

    Reply
    • David Kudler

      Chris,

      Yeah, I know that can be frustrating. My titles are pre-approved — I don’t force NG members to request the book. However the big publishers are trying to limit the copies they send out to “real” reviewers/buyers/influencers — folks who work at newspapers, radio stations, libraries, schools, etc., or who have large following on their site/blog.

      It’s not fair, I know, and I think it’s short-sighted, but they don’t feel as if giving away copies to rank-and-file book bloggers is worth their time.

      Reply
  4. Susan Ruszala

    David–just wanted to say thank you for sharing your experience with NetGalley. We appreciate it and are glad you received such positive feedback.

    We all loved the cover, too.

    Best,
    Susan Ruszala
    President, NetGalley

    Reply
    • David Kudler

      Susan,

      Thanks so much! I’m launching another author’s book next fall (and hoping to launch book two in the series that Risuko began), and am planning on using NetGalley to launch both.

      A question: the last couple of emails that I received from IBPA (as responses have trickled in) lacked any data but the description, the name, and the email address — no answers to whether they wanted to be contacted, etc. Did you change what was reported or did they simply not fill in that information?

      Reply
  5. Nadine Bailey

    I am a teacher-librarian in an international school and I read books from NetGalley all the time – and my kids at school love it when I share information about books with them that haven’t been released yet – I’m happy to see it’s win-win for the author and the librarian. It’s just sometimes hard to find books since there is so much there!

    Also some publishers are very discriminatory to teacher-librarians not living in US / UK or Australia, I guess they don’t realise that TL’s in international schools have pretty reasonable budgets and buy books globally not just nationally!

    Reply
  6. Rebecca Vance

    I am a reviewer for Net Galley and have a review blog for debut authors. I have had so many requests that I had to close for submissions. I am considering limiting my reviews to Net Galley only. I haven’t been able to actually review for Net Galley yet. It is a time constraint issue, plus I’d be able to choose those I wish to review on my own timetable. I think by doing this, I may have a better traffic to my blog. Net Galley is great. Many publishers request me to review for them.

    Reply
  7. Yudron Wangmo

    Thank you for your review. Two questions. You indicate Netgalley is best for publishers who have a long lead time before publication and yours was much longer than us typical Indies. Is your thinking that the reviews are not much use because they come in slowly?

    Also, what is your reasoning for large genre books only? Are their readers mostly genre fiction readers? Do they have a broad array of categories, or only the most common?

    Reply
    • David Kudler

      Yudron,

      I made the choice to give myself more than a year to market the book and get it ready for publication; it was a great choice. The book is the better for it.

      No: my experience (based on just two books, so I may be mistaken) is that requesting reviews post-publication gets fewer people to respond and creates less of a buzz. Does that make sense? I was trying to build a certain amount of groundswell — and to an extent, that worked.

      As for the second question, yes, they have a wide number of genres (my book was available in both the Middle Grade and Young Adult categories), and their reviewers seem to be fairly representative in their interests. However, since you’re paying for access to that reviewer base, it may make less sense if you’ve got a really small and well-defined niche. Frances Caballo, below, writes books about social media marketing for authors. That’s a topic that most of us here are very interested in — but I’m not sure that enough people at NetGalley would be interested enough to make posting there worth the $349. Make sense?

      Reply
  8. Sahara Foley

    How timely. My small publisher has had a partnership with NetGalley and is now expanding to include all of our titles. I’ve read some feedback that the reviewers from NetGalley can be honest, but brutal. Now, I’ll be waiting anxiously to see what kind of results I’ll get with my books. Thanks for sharing your thoughts and experience.

    Reply
    • David Kudler

      Thanks, Sahara!

      I wouldn’t say that the reviewers were brutal, since it was clear that they were all bibliophiles — but they sure were honest. Remember, the agreement is that they’re supposed to give their honest feedback. I haven’t crunched the numbers, but I’d say that the average review was more or less consistent with the reviews I’ve gotten on Goodreads. (NetGalley reviewers — like all recipients of ARCs and other freebies — are supposed to note somewhere in the text that they received their copy in return for an honest review.)

      Goodeads reviews tend to average between half and three-quarters of a point lower than on Amazon. Why? Well, the folks who leave reviews are motivated. On Amazon, the motivation tends to be that they really loved or — less frequently — really hated the book/toilet plunger/whatever. Folks who were mezzo-mezzo don’t tend to leave reviews on Amazon.

      But NetGalley and Goodreads (and Librarything, etc.) reviewers are always motivated — they signed up to review, and they love books. So you’ll get a lot more 3s and 2s than you would on a retail site.

      The other thing I kept reminding myself was the old marketing truism: even a negative review is better than no review. A scattering of luke-warm and pan reviews give the positive ones more validity — it looks less as if you’ve signed up your whole family and the classmates from every school you ever attended to review the book.

      And of course, if there are consistent criticisms that keep popping up, then the reviews are a wake-up call: you need to rethink your book or (as was the case for me) your marketing strategy. If the reviews really are running more negative than positive, a rewrite is probably in order.

      In any case, best of luck! Let us know what you find.

      Reply
      • Frances Caballo

        David: I agree with your assessment of 3-star and 2-star reviews. All reviews are good and not everyone will like every book they purchase or read. For my first book, I hired an expensive blog tour company that contacted high-trafficked blogs that writers visited. The only condition was that the reviewer give an honest review. Fortunately, 99% of the reviewers liked my book and even left comments on Amazon. I’m not troubled by reviews that are less than 5 stars because I don’t expect everyone to like my books. I don’t like all the books I’ve read although I like most of them. But there will always be a book that some people think could have been better or could have received better editing. All reviews, even those that aren’t 5-star, are okay with me.

        Reply
  9. Frances Caballo

    David: This is excellent advice. I can’t help but wonder whether NetGalley would work for me. I write social media books for writers and I think it might be too small of a niche, or would it? I’d love your feedback on that. I am confused about one point you made. You said that IBPA was the publisher. I had assumed that you self-published this book, or did I read what you wrote incorrectly? I’m a member of IBPA and still learning about all of its layers of services. I think NetGalley seems like a good service for those authors in popular niches who are willing to wait six months before launching a book. Thanks for highlighting this IBPA service and discussing your experience. It’s a helpful post. The more feedback we can get pre-publication, the better our books can be. (See you at the next BAIPA meeting!)

    Reply
    • David Kudler

      Thanks, Frances!

      I suppose you could do some market research — folks who got the eARC from NetGalley are supposed to add something like “I received this book from NetGalley in return for my honest review.” Search in your niche on Goodreads (or elsewhere) and see how many folks post such notices in their reviews.

      I will say that most folks who post on NetGalley are also members of NetGalley (as I am). And since a lot of the folks who use the service are small or self-publishers, there might be a fair amount of interest in your subject!

      I look forward to seeing you at BAIPA.

      Reply

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