For those unfamiliar with NetGalley, it’s the well-established site where authors can upload their books for review by any of the site’s 300,000+ members. Publishers upload their titles, interested members request them, then the publisher has the option to accept all requests or pick and choose from among them. Member profiles may include such information as occupation, company, blog/review website addresses, and on which, if any, retail sites the member regularly posts reviews. ePub and PDF files are accepted; ePubs are converted to mobi if the user chooses to send it to their Kindle account using Amazon’s Send-to-Kindle feature. All titles MUST have an ISBN attached, even if only published electronically. Books are DRMed if requested, and are removed from the reviewers’ devices up to 55 days after the title is “archived” on the site (that is, when the publisher’s paid time is up). The exception is the mobi files created by Amazon’s send-to-Kindle option, and from my experience about 75% of reviewers send to Kindle. (Which negates any DRM protection, as well as any time limits you may wish to impose.)
Most of NetGalley’s members are book reviewers/bloggers, educators, librarians, bookstore owners and staff, and media and publishing professionals from whom a positive review (or reception) can lead to sales and increased interest.
However, as the site has grown it has also attracted a litany of bibliophiles just looking for free books. NetGalley does not demand its members review what they download — even though that is supposedly NetGalley’s raison d’être — and many readers leave only a rating, not a review, if they leave anything at all. NetGalley supposedly looks for serial abusers, and reviewers’ response percentages are added to their profiles, but it’s not foolproof (and a mere rating counts as a response). It is not uncommon for a publisher to receive only a 10–20% review ROI, which can be very disheartening. As one journalist put it, a book that received 156 requests (out of 300,000+ possible reviewers) and 24 reviews was considered a NetGalley success story.
You may notice I wrote “download” as opposed to “read” because that is another flaw in NetGalley’s system: you have no way of knowing how many members who downloaded your book actually read it. There is a tendency for members to download more than they can read in a reasonable amount of time, and often before they get around to reading your book it is removed from their device or is simply forgotten in the pile. Also, many of the members — in particular educators and librarians — are not there to review your book for retail sites but for peer publications, or are looking for possible acquisitions; one should never assume that no review equals no interest. But with no way to know one way or another, it can be difficult for the publisher to gauge NetGalley’s value for money. More importantly, most publishers are looking for reviews, in particular on Amazon, as this is the primary driver of sales. So is a 10–20% review rate worth NetGalley’s fees?
And those fees are high: USD $399.00 per listing for six months, or $599.00 for six months and a spot in a NetGalley newsletter (subject to availability). If your book garners 20 reviews, that’s approximately $20.00 per review. Members of the Independent Book Publishers’ Association save $50.00 off NetGalley’s fees, but your titles on the site are managed through IBPA’s account, not yours. IBPA lighten their workload by automatically accepting all NetGalley member requests as opposed to vetting them; this, along with the inability to manage your own titles, makes the meager $50.00 discount less attractive, in my opinion.
A few digital aggregators and independent author associations also have arrangements with NetGalley, and at a much better deal:
publishers pay anywhere from $30.00 to $59.00 USD per month per listing and can decide how many months they wish to participate. The aggregator INscribe Digital offers its clients access to NetGalley for $59.00 per month, while the non-profit writers’ organization Broad Universe offers the service to members ($30.00) and non-members alike ($45.00). Again, however, you relinquish control over your title, though INscribe Digital does vet reviewers if you select that option. IBPA, INscribe Digital, and Broad Universe deliver to their clients monthly reports generated by NetGalley that list the names and contact information of members who downloaded your book, and their reviews where applicable, but you cannot take advantage of the in-real-time reporting that is possible through having your own account. That said, these companies offer a good compromise between cost and ROI.
NetGalley produce a widget for your book that you can send to your email list to encourage them to join NetGalley then read and review your book there.
But this strikes me as much better for NetGalley than for you, the publisher: you are redirecting your hard-won email list to another site hosting thousands of other titles, and you can just as easily send that same list your book in exchange for a review. I would think your response rate would be higher with your established fan base, and you can make getting the free copy part of a contest or a membership perk.
NetGalley members can also click on a “like” or “don’t like” button for your book cover, which is a great way to gauge whether your cover is working or not.
Here are my tips for making the most of your NetGalley experience:
1. Put your best foot forward. NetGalley is not the place to test the waters of a work-in-progress. Nothing less than a properly edited, properly designed, ready-for-publication book is good enough for this site. A good book description is essential to stand out from the crowd.
2. Buy at least two months. One month is not long enough as many members download anything that looks interesting and you may be in a queue. But publisher feedback is that anything more than two or three months is a waste of money.
3. You will need to chase up reviewers. Many are happy to post to Amazon, Kobo, Google, and such (and do so automatically), but other reviewers only do so upon request. If they have posted a review to NetGalley or to their own website, ask if they would mind posting to the retailers’ sites. I got several Amazon reviews this way. It is OKAY to contact NetGalley reviewers; it is even expected, so don’t feel shy about doing so. Just don’t attack anyone who leaves a negative review. Ignore it and focus on the positive reviews.
4. If you see that there are people who downloaded the ePub but have not left a review, at the end of your time on NetGalley politely remind these members the book will soon be removed from their device. This prompts them to read your book if they still intend to.
5. If you see that someone has sent the book to their Kindle, you have more time to persuade them to read your book and leave a review. Send them a reminder at the archive point, then another reminder 2–4 weeks after that. Don’t be pushy, but do remind them that you have been eagerly awaiting their feedback. If you get an angry “Leave me alone; I decided I didn’t want to read your book after all” response, don’t reply, just move on.
6. NetGalley reviewers are enamoured with advance review copies. Being the first to read and review has cache with them. So once your book is ready for publication, create pre-order listings on Amazon and Kobo, then upload to NetGalley 2-3 months BEFORE you publish, and make sure the expected publication date is stated in your book description. This way you potentially have positive reviews prior to publication. Note, however, that many reviewers will prioritize their reading according to the expected publication date: though they may download your book in the first month, if it isn’t set to be published for another two months then the user may delay reading it until closer to the publication date.
7. In the United States, it is a legal requirement that if a reviewer receives a free copy of a product for review, they must reveal this in the review. Most NetGalley members know this, but many somehow do not. If necessary remind them of the requirement to write something like “I received a free copy of this book via NetGalley in exchange for an honest review” in the review. If they post a review and fail to do this, send them a polite note asking that the statement be added so as not to risk the review being removed. This is particularly important if these are advance reviews: a sudden influx of reviews for an as-yet-to-be-published book will raise Amazon’s red flags.