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

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Monday, February 10, 2014

NetGalley for Indie Authors - Part Deux, One Year Later

See my original post on NetGalley for pricing and how to form an indie author co-op to take advantage of NetGalley opening it's doors to indie authors.

UPDATE 5.2015 - I have suspended my Netgalley coop (personal time-factor reasons). If you're looking for a Netgalley coop to join, check with Anne Victory.

After a year of being in NetGalley, I wanted to share the results experienced by my 20-indie-author co-op.

The quick view: NetGalley isn't for everyone, but has significant advantages for some.

OVERVIEW - What is NetGalley and why use it?
NetGalley is a review service that connects books to potential reviewers. Authors put up their books, reviewers make a request, and authors approve the requests. Advantage: no more soliciting people to review your book... instead they come to you! Disadvantage: primarily cost ($300), but also potentially negative reviews.

The Data
Each of my 20 authors had one slot on NetGalley - which meant they could put up one title at a time, but then they could swap out that title for another as many times as they wished. In general, the first "flush" of review requests fade after a month, but after that a steady, slow trickle of requests will still come in.

My 20 authors posted 74 books over the year, averaging almost 4 books per author.

Takeaway #1: NetGalley works for authors with lots of titles.
Because the flush of review requests dies off after about a month, putting a new title up every month or so will keep the requests coming. For an author with only one or two titles, there will be much less activity. I ended up "loaning out" my spot to several MG author before my middle grade, Faery Swap, came out, just so the space would get used. And so I could see how MG titles fared on NetGalley. This actually benefitted my title when it came out, because I had already identified (and subsequently could query directly), NetGalley users who were interested in MG books.

Takeaway #2: Genre matters (just like always)
New Adult Romance, YA Romance For The Win!
Impressions = people who see your title
Clicks = people who actually click to download your title (once approved)

If this makes you think, I must start writing New Adult Romance immediately, you are not alone.


Takeaway #3: Genre isn't the only thing
Clearly, New Adult Romance gets more impressions (people looking for that genre) and thus more clicks (people actually downloading the book)... however, look at those numbers! That's a lot of people viewing and clicking on your book - you're gaining visibility, even if only 15% (on average) are approved to download, and only 10% of those (on average) actually review. 

My Personal Experience
Let's take Open Minds (YA SF) as an example - 1473 people viewed it, 306 were approved and clicked to download, and I walked away with 23 reviews. Now, if my $300 for the year were ONLY for that book, one might think the price a little steep. On the other hand, a good blog tour can easily run you $300, and you could end up with less people viewing, reading, much less reviewing the book, than these results on NetGalley. If Open Minds was the only title uploaded, I would say it was comparable to your average blog tour. However, I had several other titles rotate through on NetGalley: Closed Hearts, Debt Collector (a couple times, for different combinations of episodes), Faery Swap, and Third Daughter (soon). That doesn't count my friends' three MG titles I also uploaded along the way. This goes back to Takeaway #1: NetGalley works for authors with lots of titles.

Middle Grade on NetGalley
In spite of the low numbers of impressions, clicks, and reviews for middle grade titles, I actually believe NetGalley is a great opportunity for Middle Grade indie authors. Why? Mainly because you're reaching librarians, teachers, and other middle-grade-gatekeepers that are generally hard to reach any other way - and, as a bonus, they tend to be very nice reviewers! If you only have middle grade books, especially if you only have ONE MG book, I would partner with other MG authors to buy partial-year shares of NetGalley, rather than spend the full $300. Personally, as an author with several non-MG titles and one MG title, NetGalley worked well for my MG title, giving me access to people who had already read one of my books and who also had an interest in MG. Again, having multiple titles helps make NetGalley work better.

Non-fiction, Historical Fiction, Christian Fiction
These genres are least effective on NetGalley - and unlike Middle Grade, I think there are better ways to reach the audiences of these genres outside of NetGalley.

Takeaway #4: NetGalley is fishing in a different pond.
When I evaluate a promotional service (Bookbub ad, Goodreads giveaway, Blog Tour, NetGalley), I'm looking not just at cost and payback (in terms of sales or reviews), but whether I'm reaching the same readers over and over, or reaching new ones. NetGalley definitely seems to be a different pond of readers - and they're self-selecting, clicking on your title because they are interested in reading.

Downside: Negative Reviews
8-15% of people who download on NetGalley actually review... and some of those reviews are pretty harsh

The biggest complaint from my authors was the harshness of the reviews (followed by the low quality of the reviews). I think it's accurate to say that NetGalley reviewers are harsher than Goodreads reviewers, who in turn are more harsh than Amazon reviewers. This isn't always a matter of the reviewers having higher standards (a well-written, but negative, review can be just as helpful to a book as a positive review) - a lot of times the reviews were simply cursory and negative.

At the same time, the good reviews are really good.

I recently uploaded Faery Swap to NetGalley, and I already have two very nice, positive reviews. Partly because middle grade reviewers tend to be less harsh. However, my experience with my other titles has been similarly positive - I've escaped most of the truly harsh reviews, plus I tolerate negative reviews better than some authors. So my outlook on the experience is more positive than the average, as evidenced by the fact that many of my 20 authors are not choosing to sign up for another year, citing the negative reviews (and low number of reviews) as their primary reasons.

Takeaway #5: Reviews can be harsh; if that's a problem for you, NetGalley may not be for you.
You can ameliorate some of the harsh-review-effect by being selective about who you approve for review requests, but if your book attracts harsh reviewers (for content or whatever reason), NetGalley is going to be harder on you than any other place. 

For me, on balance, NetGalley is worth the $300 investment. This is because I fit the profile of someone who will get the most out of NetGalley: I have lots of titles, I'm generating several new titles each year, and my books generally review well, so I avoid the harshest reviews that can come with NetGalley. I look at the cost as comparable to what I would pay for a blog tour service, but that investment allows me to "tour" several books a year and reach a host of people I wouldn't otherwise reach. I'll be re-upping for another year, so...

...I'm looking for new authors to join my NetGalley co-op! (CORRECTION: ALL FULL UP - within hours! Indie authors, you rock.)

Here's the profile of someone who will do well on NetGalley:
1) Author has a backlist of titles and plans to publish more works in the next year - at least 4 titles overall to upload to NetGalley (backlist + future works), but more is better.
2) Author's books generally review well, but when s/he gets a harsh review, they can tolerate it without having it destroy their day.
3) Author's genre is not one of the least-effective ones on NetGalley (Non-Fiction, Historical Fiction, Christian Fiction). Middle Grade is a special case (see above).
4) Author is willing to invest funds ($300 for one year) in gaining reviews/exposure without the expectation that sales will automatically follow.


  1. I don't think any of my publishers use NetGalley, but I'm on there as a reviewer. This info is really interesting.

  2. I don't have a back list yet, but I do have a MG book coming this summer and one day I'll have a back list. I'll keep this in mind. Thanks for sharing and for compiling this data for the rest of us.

  3. This wouldn't make sense for me right now, but I'm spreading the word!

  4. Thanks for this review of the service. NetGalley has intrigued me, and especially with a New Adult title. Did you notice whether a title seems to get the same action in its first month even if the book's been out for a few years? Also, I notice there's no Adult Romance on your charts---is that because it's not a category your books are in or is there not much interest in that on NetGalley?

    1. I'm sure adult romance would do well - all romance does. New Adult is just the type of titles I had in my group! And yes, you still get the same action for a new title as one that's been out a while - the NetGalley audience is vast. It's a certainty that your title is new TO THEM. And there doesn't seem to be a problem with people expecting ARCs anymore. I think the users have adjusted to the books not all being ARCs finally.

  5. I'd be able to fill a slot after about August or so. If anyone has something ready to go now and wants to split a slot with me, let me know. :)

  6. Oh my goodness! Coincidence ... or fate? ;-) I've been trying to figure out how to get more reviews for all my books and this morning I've been considering NetGalley. I spent some time searching Google for other authors' experiences, and then I remembered that you'd mentioned a NetGalley author co-op last year some time. (Possibly in an Indie Recon post). So I thought, Let me go to Susan Kaye Quinn's blog and search for NetGalley. She's probably posted about her experience at some point. And I get here and it's your most recent post!

    Okay. So. I'm definitely going to be sending you an email :-)

  7. Hi Susan, thanks so much for this thoughtful recap of your first year with NetGalley---it’s been a pleasure to work with All Night Reads and we’re looking forward to continuing the relationship. It’s been interesting for us to learn from indie authors, who approach the publicity and review process very differently than traditional publishers.

    Can I highlight a few other points for you to consider?

    You didn’t mention the ability for authors to invite their contacts to view titles using our email invite widget. This is one of the key tools being used across the site so that key media contacts, bloggers, reviewers, librarians and other influencers can be invited to view your title on NetGalley. When you invite via a widget, the title is twice as likely to be downloaded and reviewed. This is a great tool for authors to use when they are reaching out to pitch their title(s), and an essential complement to receiving requests from members.

    Regarding reviews---it’s really important to note that NetGalley doesn’t publish reviews on our site, and that it’s entirely up to the author or publisher which members they approve to read and review their title. I would also highlight, as you did, that close to 50% of our community aren’t reviewers at all---they are booksellers, librarians, educators and media who are using the site to preview content for purchasing recommendations.

    I’m really glad you noted the overall impression numbers for titles on NetGalley---as we see traffic to the site grow, and new members joining (averaging over 1,000 new members per week), the value of the site as a discovery and exposure platform will continue to increase. We’ve added a lot of new features in the year that All Night Reads has been with us, including a new member profile, new types of feedback, and new ways to share feedback socially. And we have a lot planned for 2014!

    Thanks again for your support of the service, and please keep the suggestions and comments coming.

    Susan Ruszala
    President, NetGalley

    1. Susan, thanks so much for stopping by!

      Readers - I would add that Susan (and the entire NetGalley team) have been super responsive all along and very indie friendly! I noted that in my first post (linked above), and it continued to be true throughout the year. Susan makes an excellent point about the widgets, an invite tool I recently used myself. And as more and more people sign onto NetGalley, it's quickly becoming a standard way to easily transfer ARCs from author to reviewer (rather than sideloading, which can be tricky at times). The idea of NetGalley as a publicity tool is just going to grow as more people come on board, and as I briefly mentioned, it's "dipping into another pond" - this is especially important for MG books, but really, every author should always be looking at ways to reach different ponds of readers, so this is important regardless of genre.

      Susan - Thanks again for stopping by and for your comment! I look forward to what NetGalley has coming up in 2014!

  8. Definitely something I'd like in on in the future. But til my sequel is out, I can't justify the cost. Great to know tho! Funny, I did hear some say the reviews are really harsh on NA authors, and they wouldn't do it again. So this is very interesting.

  9. Thanks for posting some information about MG. Information for that genre is hard to come by!

  10. I'd love to do this in the future as neither of my small press pubs use Netgalley.