Dear Writer-Friends,

I've been self-publishing since 2011, and I've shared the knowledge I've gained in two books: the Indie Author Survival Guide, Second Edition, and For Love or Money. I'm not an indie rockstar or a breakout success: I'm one of thousands of solidly midlist indie authors making a living with their works. These books are my way of helping my fellow authors discover the freedom of indie publishing. Write on, writer-friends!

S.K. Quinn, Independent Author of Science Fiction

CLICK HERE TO GET YOUR QUICK START GUIDE TO SELF-PUBLISHING and to be notified when the 3rd Edition of the Indie Author Survival Guide releases!

Monday, May 6, 2013

NetGalley for Indie Authors

This, my friends, is the maturation of the indie publishing revolution.

Sue Waxes Philosophical For a Moment
Q: What makes indie publishing revolutionary?
A: It removes the middlemen and middlewomen and provides a marketplace where the seller (author) can directly interact with the buyer (reader).

That direct-marketplace-connection model is what makes indie publishing efficient, affordable, and win-win for both the producers and consumers of books. That model is spreading to other areas of indie publishing, slowly but surely, like an avalanche in slow-motion, rumbling down the mountain and transforming everything in its path.

ACX is a great example of this model: indie authors post their ebook projects, narrators audition, and ACX plays matchmaker to produce content (audiobooks) that benefit both. Easy, efficient, profitable - this is what makes it so successful.

NetGalley is another example of this model taking root. NetGalley is a clearinghouse for connecting books and reviewers. Previously, only publishers had access, but given that 25% of Nook sales are indie titles, NetGalley has taken the bold (and profitable) step of opening its doors to indie authors. But, unlike Vanity Publishers and other cretins who try to soak naive indie authors, NetGalley understands that serving indie authors is the best way to grow their business. They're providing a valuable service by directly connecting reviewers and authors in an efficient way that saves everyone time (and money). Win and win.

Onward to the details...

NetGalley for Indie Authors
What Does NetGalley Do?
NetGalley provides a place where authors/publishers can upload their ebooks (ARCs or older titles) and reviewers can request a copy for review. If approved, NetGalley readers will read and review the titles.

Two ways for indie authors to join NetGalley:
  • Individual indie authors can upload their ebooks to NetGalley. For $400, you can post one title for six months.
  • 20 indie authors can form a co-op that will have access to 20 title slots for one year. Each individual author can swap out as many titles as they wish during that year. Cost $300 per author.
I went for option two and formed an indie author co-op called All Night Reads:

NetGalley only wants to deal with one contact person (that's me), but because indie authors are awesome, everyone pitches in to help manage the workload. I'm the organizer. I gathered the people, managed the money, set up the Google Groups, and troubleshoot problems with NetGalley. Volunteers from the group handle the file uploads and review request approvals. And because 20 brains are better than one, everyone in the group contributes ideas like setting up a facebook page or a Goodreads group for our co-op.

The set-up was fairly easy. NetGalley runs webinars to train you on using their software (which my volunteers also took), and the support from NetGalley is awesome. Like I said, they "get" indie authors.

Example: NetGalley uses ISBNs to track their books. I said, "indie authors don't always have isbns." They said, "you can use any unique 13 digit number." SCORE. 
Once you upload a title, reviewers can request a copy for review. It's up to you to decide whether to grant that request or not.

The reason to use NetGalley is that it gives you fast and easy access to the 120,000 bloggers, journalists, librarians, booksellers, and media people who use NetGalley. That's a mind-boggling number, and it's borne out by the experience of All Night Reads authors - review requests started immediately upon upload. This is in part because your titles are listed on the "recently added" list:

NetGalley has a great report that shows how many requests, downloads, and reviews you have for each title.

Within a day of getting All Night Reads started, we had 11 titles live in the catalog, with 446 approved requests, of which 286 downloaded right away and 1 person had read and reviewed. ALL IN ONE DAY.
After a week:
19 titles
2,216 approved review requests (2,185 actually downloaded)
36 reviews

Per title, approved requests ranged from 32 to 269 (average 123), with non-fiction, and my novella/serial at the bottom of the list, and sexy NA/YA romances at the top - which shows the strong effect of genre. On average, within a week, there were two reviews posted per title.

Upsides to NetGalley
1) Reviewers come to you - once everything is set up, the review requests just roll in. It's good for reviewers - they get to browse for books they like - and it's good for authors - they just have to approve the requests. No more time-intensive (on both sides) individual querying. Win and win.

2) When the reviews are good, oh man are they good - there are a lot of high profile reviewers on NetGalley, and there's no discrimination between Big Six published books and indie novels. So, finally, indies are truly getting access to the same reviewers as everyone else. Now, reviewers can tell if your book is indie published, so you're not fooling anyone. But most appear to just download based on book interest. Which is how it should be! And when the review is good, they're very well done.

Downsides to NetGalley
1) Approving requests takes time - you can auto-approve everyone, but out of the 120,000 people on NetGalley, there are definitely some looking to download free books and give them all 1stars. There are also many, many legitimate reviewers, some very high profile. So, it's worth weeding through and making sure to only approve the serious ones, but that does take time.

2) Negative Reviews - Even with careful screening, reviewers are incentivized to leave a review, even if they really disliked a book (for whatever reason - maybe just not the right genre for them). NetGalley reviewers get "ranked" and their ranking is affected by the ratio of how many downloads they have vs. how many reviews. If they don't like a book, they will definitely review it anyway in order to keep their rankings (and get more books). We've already seen some really harsh reviews. It's the "free book effect" where the less a book costs (NetGalley is basically free downloads), the more likely the reader is to download - which means they may download before fully reading the description or deciding if the book will really interest them. Then they'll review harshly because your romance has romance, as opposed to science fiction, which is what they wanted.

My personal experience so far has been great, even though I'm on the bottom of the list of review requests (likely because it's a serial, and just the first episode at that). But even at the "bottom," I've had 58 approved review requests and 3 reviews in one week. One review was not good - and I don't mean a negative review, because the reviewer didn't have anything negative to say about the story or the writing, they just blasted the fact that "serials suck." Which tells me they likely didn't read the description before downloading. However the two other reviews were excellent:

Closet Geeks: " Quinn managed to outline an entire new world and the main character. The plot is fast paced, but despite that and its length, it doesn't feel rushed. And though the story obviously just started, I like where it ended. No massive cliffhanger which will make waiting for future episode bearable. And most importantly it left me wanting more!"

Zoela Books: "Wow, this book is off to an amazing start, an epicly great short read where we get introduced to the world and the characters as well as a hint of trouble with this first “episode” of the series. First we are introduced to Delirium, a debt collector or as I like to think of it as a futuristic grim reaper."

This is in just ONE WEEK of being live on NetGalley. Granted, the review requests drop off once you're not "newly listed". But with the co-op we get to swap out books. I plan to leave Delirium up for a while, then put up Open Minds. I'm really looking forward to my upcoming new releases, which I'll now have a great way to provide ARCs to people.

Overall, well worth the $300 investment and time spent to organize. And I can see the benefits multiplying in the year ahead.


Q: Can I upload old titles or only ARCs? 
A: Netgalley started out as a way to provide ARCs, but you can upload old titles as well. I even uploaded Delirium (DC1), which is just the first episode of a serial, about the length of a novella - totally doesn't fit any criteria. But Netgalley doesn't restrict what you can upload, and people are requesting it. However, if your title is not an ARC, you may want to make sure you make note of that in the description.

Q: Do you have to approve every request?
A: No. NetGalley has a ranking system for reviewers, and they have a profile, so you can take the time to investigate each one and make sure they are legit reviewers. Most are, but there are definitely a few that are just signing up to get free books, or who have a track record of leaving only one star reviews. 

Q: Is the Co-op a better deal than going solo?
A: I believe so. With the co-op, you can swap multiple titles throughout the year; going solo, you only can do one title for six months. Plus the co-op is cheaper. 

Q: Do all genres get requests?
A: Yes, although some get more, just like some genres sell better. Like romance. Especially New Adult romance. Holy wow, I should write one of those books because they fly off the shelves. :)

Q: $300 seems like a lot of money. Is it worth it?
A: I believe so, for three reasons: 1) you can easily pay that amount for a couple of blog tours, and my year's worth of NetGalley can be used for as many books as I like, and 2) it's becoming increasingly difficult to query bloggers directly (this system facilitates reviewers finding the books they like), and 3) the pool of NetGalley reviewers is not only vast, it's diverse. I've got librarians and media people, as well as book bloggers and Goodreads reviewers requesting. It's a different pool of readers than I normally have access to.

Leave your Q's in the comments and I will try to A them. :)

Interested In Joining a NetGalley Author Co-Op?
My co-op is currently full, but others are out there - check the KindleBoards to see if anyone is offering spots!


  1. I always wondered exactly how NetGalley made money. This is fascinating stuff! And it sounds like it's working out excellently for you.

    And whoa to how well Karen's doing!

    1. Me? *looks around* What? I'm doing well? *fist punp* Yessssssssssssssss.

  2. Thanks, Susan, for this post. You've just given me something else to think about for my book release later this year. :D

  3. Thank you for sharing this, Susan! I do have a question. Do you think it matters that all of the authors in a co-op be writing in similar genres? Say for example that some were writing young adult paranormal romance, and others were writing adult literary historical fiction (or whatever other two genres that couldn't be more different) would that hurt the co-op in terms of visibility?

    1. The only "visibility" that the co-op has is under the "publishers" listing. Which, frankly, I would be surprised if people go looking for a publisher first, then scroll down to see what they're offering - unless that publisher is already branded (like Harlequin). Most people (according to NetGalley) browse by genre lists and by newly listed.

      Our co-op has a wide range of genres, and I don't see it hurting anyone.

    2. Thank you! That's awesome to hear! :)

  4. Awesome way to break it down, Sue! I'm looking forward to putting it to use w/the new Dragonfly books... squee! :o) <3

  5. Thanks for the information, Sue! Sounds great - and thanks for the link to Anne.

  6. Sent this to a friend. It's a great article just to know how NetGalley works!


  7. Thanks Heather. :)

    Glad you sent me here, although I cannot afford $300... I'm saving up for the copyeditor! Still, definitely something to keep in mind for a later date. Thanks for the lowdown Sue! X

  8. Over the past six months or so, I finally opened up an account with NG. Thank you so much for sharing all this information; so amazing! I'll be sharing this, for sure.

  9. This is so cool. I'm definitely going to look into starting a co-op with other solid indies. :) Thanks for the info, Susan! I've been wondering about this for a while now.

  10. Susan, thank you for this post, very informative. Here's a question for you - I used NG for my first book with good results. Therefore, I decided to list the second in the series on there. I see that you have a series too.

    If a NG member reviews the first book and it's lukewarm or bad - what are your thoughts on approving them for the second? I want to reward the process of requesting and reviewing (as opposed to requesting and doing nothing at all), but I don't know how I feel about that. Some lukewarm reviews say they want to read the second book (this baffles me), so I know it's not just that they're requesting a free book.

    Thanks for your thoughts.

    1. I've never understood people who dislike the first book in the series, but read the second. I barely have time to read second books when I LOVE a series. But it's up to you the criteria you use to review.

      For regular readers, reviews of any kind are awesome, even if it's one line. Even if it's negative. Because that's what readers responses to the book are, and other readers should be able to see that. Professional reviewers on the other hand, I expect to leave more than one-line "this book sucks!" reviews. If they leave a real, thoughtful review, just didn't like the book, I have no problem with that. As for approving the second book, when they didn't like the first... if they seem like they're just using the book for sport (to tear it apart), then maybe no. If they're hoping the series might get better, and they're willing to give it a try, then yes.

      Just my thoughts... I haven't been in this situation personally. YMMV

  11. Susan,

    Thank you for giving me some perspective. I think you're right, a well-thought out review is better than no review, even if it's not their taste. This reviewing business is new and mystifying to me, as well as a little bit heart stopping at times. Ha. That's good, makes it stronger.

    Thanks for your insights!

  12. I may venture into this late 2013/2014. Thanks for your insights, Susan.

  13. Your thoughtful review of NetGalley has been included as background information on a BOTHSIDER issue:

    Q: "Is NetGalley a worthwhile investment of time and money for book publishers and independent authors?"


    1. Nice! Thanks for the link love!

    2. p.s. I clicked on the link but it went to bitly instead?

  14. Thank you for this amazing Info. I am doing this with my co-op and this was highly informational. Thanks again for your insight.

  15. My book will be published in about two weeks. Do you think it's too late to use NG?

    Also, there's a $350 option if you do this through IBPA,but I can't see why it should be cheaper.

    Excellent article - this is the only NG information I've managed to find from an author's point of view.

    1. Miv - even the $350 option is less desireable because you still only get one title - from my experience, requests will drop off after a few weeks. Having multiple titles is where you really get the bang for your buck. And I've put up titles that have been out for 18mos, so I don't think there's any real time restrictions.

  16. I'm very interested in NetGalley. So the big question is are you selling books?

    1. NetGalley isn't for selling books, it's for garnering reviews, exposure, possibly stocking in libraries. It's not a promotion in the sense that you're looking for a return in terms of sales.

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  19. Thanks for this informative post. I've been looking into how to participate in NetGalley and am now considering creating a co-op for romance authors. You've given me a great starting point.