July 26th, 2012


The Changing World -- and Winning at NetGalley

I got a good start yesterday, more than 5,000 words. Of course, I realized at nearly the 4,000 word mark that I'd skipped some things and was doing scenes out of order. I tried to convince myself that the new way was better than the synopsis, then realized it really wasn't. So then I went back and started filling in the missing stuff. As a result, I have chapter one done and the back end of chapter two. I still need to write most of chapter two leading up to the part that's already written, which may or may not actually end up being part of chapter three. To tell how critical that book soundtrack concept can be, I ran some errands this morning, but I hadn't yet burned the soundtrack onto CD, so I still had the soundtrack for the last book playing in my car -- and it really bothered me. At the next red light, I had to remove that CD and replace it with a generic "driving around" CD. I'll have to burn the new CD before the next time I drive.

While going through the process of getting book 5 published, I'm seeing how much and how rapidly the publishing world is changing. Granted, some of that may be the difference between doing it myself and going through a publisher, as I'm involved in a lot of things that were previously kept hidden from me, but even so, a lot has happened in this business since the last time I had a book published in the US, four years ago. A big one is NetGalley.

Back in the Ye Olden Days of 2008, the way publishers put books out for review was to mail a physical copy of the book. For long-lead publications (where they need the book months in advance to review it around the release date), they'd print up review copies that weren't the final proof and that didn't have the real cover. These were more expensive than the real book because they were printed in smaller quantities. Then they might do a second mailing of the actual book to places like blogs or web sites that had a faster turnaround time. Because of the cost of the physical book and the postage, they were pretty selective about where they sent review copies. At the same time, though, bloggers started being a lot more influential in spreading word of mouth while newspapers and magazines were decreasing their book coverage. That meant the publisher mailings were focusing on the places least likely to actually cover the book.

Now there's NetGalley, where publishers can offer electronic copies to reviewers. A lot of the time, the reviewers find the books instead of the publishers having to push them. The trick is that anyone can sign up as a reviewer on NetGalley, and then the publicist has to decide which of the "reviewers" requesting a book actually gets one. I spent about an hour going through review requests on Tuesday and will probably spend another hour today. In case you are on NetGalley, I thought I'd share what I'm looking for when I decide whether to grant a review request.

The main thing is to beef up your profile. I want to know what venues your reviews appear in and what your reach is -- how many subscribers, followers, etc., you've got. I need a link to your blog or site so I can get a sense of how professional you are, what your target audience is and how well my books would fit in. Without that information, you just look like you're trying to get a free book (if the only thing on your profile is "I love to read," you're not going to get a lot of review copies). I'm generally evaluating the profiles on the basis of how well it will get the word out -- is this person an expert, connector or influencer, in the terms of word-of-mouth marketing. An expert is the person you know has done the research already, so you can rely on their suggestions -- that friend you know follows the latest in tech gear, reads the reviews and magazines, so when you're ready to buy, you can ask him what to get. Or, in books, the person you know follows the industry and reads everything. A connector is the person with a network who can either reach a lot of people or who can reach the key people you need to reach. That could be someone with 50,000 Twitter followers or the hermit whose only friend is Oprah, but who is one of Oprah's most trusted friends (or is Oprah that influential anymore?). An influencer is someone people either trust or want to follow, whether or not they're an expert. This is why companies like putting things in the hands of celebrities. If people see a celebrity with something, they want it, whether or not they think the celebrity knows anything about it. You've hit the jackpot if you find an expert who has influence and who has a huge network, and that's generally what I'm looking for in evaluating review requests.

So, does it look like the blog or site has any readers other than the blogger's mom and sister? Do the readers interact or comment? Is there a friends list that shows a following? Are the other books reviewed on the site the kinds of things that readers of my books are likely to be into, and vice versa? I'm probably going to decide you're not a great fit if all the other books you review are things like erotica about threesomes or books on gardening. Is there some degree of professionalism involved? Are the reviews reasonably well written and avoiding major spoilers? I'm not looking for entirely positive reviews, but how predominant are the negative reviews and how nasty are they? Unless there's an audience so massive that any exposure is good exposure, I'm probably not going to grant a review copy to someone who seems to try to make herself look smart by gleefully trashing every book she reads.

What I've found interesting is that in the first batch of requests, none of them have been blogs I'm familiar with. That means I'm reaching places I wouldn't have known to target. I can go after the sites I know, but it's harder to target places I don't know about. However, the big question is whether this will add up to sales.

Now, since I spent the morning running errands, I'm off to get some writing done.