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?
One 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:
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!