NetGalley is a platform that traditional and independent publishers both use to garner free reviews for books that are either upcoming or already on the market. Last month, I joined a co-op group to have my debut novel A Fallen Hero listed on NetGalley for a month. I’m here to break down my expectations, experiences, pros and cons, and my recommendation about whether this is a worthwhile marketing technique.
What exactly is NetGalley?
Great question! Although I’d heard of NetGalley prior to joining the co-op, I wasn’t really sure what all the fuss was about. NetGalley is a place for publishers to list ebooks to download for free. While the platform is primarily geared toward ARCs (advanced reader copies, aka pre-publication), you can also list books that are already available on the market.
NetGalley members can join for free and have access to tons of ebooks. The expectation with this is that you are a librarian, bookseller, blogger, journalist, or an avid reader who is willing to write reviews for the books you download. You get a free book; you’re expected to reciprocate with a free review. Not everyone follows this protocol, but it’s highly encouraged, and NetGalley will score you based on the number of reviews you write in relation to the number of books you download.
So, in a nutshell, you list your ebook on NetGalley for free, and you get free reviews in return. All in all, pretty good deal. Reviews are extremely beneficial to help your book get noticed and populate in searches, and it’s much more economical for indie authors to give away free ebooks than free print copies.
How do I get my book on NetGalley?
While being a member is free, signing up as a publisher and listing a title is not. In fact, a six-month title listing directly through NetGalley is $450 USD. If you’re an indie author on a tight budget like me, you probably also grimaced at that price tag. But know that you do have a few cheaper options rather than signing up through NetGalley.
One way to go is joining the Independent Book Publishers Association. If you’re an independently published author, membership would cost $139 USD annually, and then the NetGalley listing fee is much cheaper. You can choose to list for you book for three months (NetGalley does not offer this on their own; it’s exclusive to the IBPA program) for $199, or six months for $399.
I did consider this option, but instead, I decided to go with an even more economical choice. I joined a NetGalley co-op program.
How does a co-op work?
Rather than you navigating the nuances of NetGalley yourself as an individual publisher, you’re joining a group of authors that have come together to secure multiple slots under a single entity. You are essentially renting a slot from the group. There is a single organizer and point of contact, which means you aren’t responsible for setting up the title details, troubleshooting issues, or communicating with NetGalley.
While that’s definitely a perk, I was especially interested in the price point. With the co-op that I chose, I had the option to pay $400/year for a slot and swap multiple titles in and out, or $45 for a single title for one month (again, NetGalley doesn’t give you a monthly option on its own). And in all honesty, if you just want to list a single title, having your listing up for one month is the best deal you can get. NetGalley displays books in the order they’re uploaded. With so many new books coming in, your listing is going to be pushed back farther and farther every day, which means the number of review requests will decrease the longer your listing is active. It makes more sense to list your book for a month, and then go back and relist it again if you want, pushing it up to that first page all over again.
*Let me take this opportunity to mention that I do not earn any money from this review, and I cannot guarantee that the pricing I’ve listed is the same as when I wrote this article.
What were your expectations when you decided to join the co-op?
Getting reviews had been something that I’d really struggled with. I wasn’t sure NetGalley was a good option, so I had to do some research before I committed. Here’s what I found.
Reviews tend to be harsher.
This made me nervous. Was it worthwhile to get a lot of reviews if my average rating suffered? My research indicated that when it comes to book reviews, Amazon tends to be the most generous; Goodreads can be more critical; NetGalley reviews can be downright harsh and also lower quality. So, brace yourself for the worst. If that’s something that will bother you, maybe you don’t want your book on NetGalley.
You’ll get good exposure, even if that doesn’t translate into reviews.
What that means is not every person who downloads your book is interested in writing a review. And that’s not necessarily a bad thing. Librarians and booksellers are known to download books that interest them, and if they like the book, they may consider purchasing copies for their shelves. There are also editors for magazines and book websites that are on NetGalley as well; you might get lucky and end up with a media feature.
Fiction tends to perform much better than nonfiction.
This was a plus for me, as my novel falls into the YA fantasy/sci-fi genres. But if you’re weighing the pros and cons of listing your memoir on NetGalley, keep in mind that your genre isn’t going to bring in as many reviews as you might expect.
Did you have a good experience with the co-op?
I would recommend the Victory Editing NetGalley Co-Op and strongly consider working with them again. Prior to joining the co-op, I did not have any affiliation with Victory Editing.
Anne, the manager of the group, was a pleasure to work with. She answered all of my questions and provided a concise set of instructions to get my title set up on NetGalley. I did not have any troubleshooting issues or confusion. There were some technical issues regarding the payment to the co-op, but Anne was professional, understanding, and flexible.
As for NetGalley itself, I had a mixed experience. To start with, people didn’t like my cover! And honestly, this shocked me, because I’ve had so many people comment on the cover at signing events and on social media. A few have described it as “creepy,” but nobody ever hated it! NetGalley users are able to click a thumbs up or thumbs down to indicate whether they like your cover, and at no point in time did I ever have a majority of thumbs up. This would have been a serious blow to my ego (I designed and created my own cover and have always been rather proud about bringing my vision to life) if I had listed the book on NetGalley earlier and hadn’t had the multitude of compliments beforehand to soften the blow. Naturally, I had the urge to click through a ton of other titles to see how my competition was being rated.
I’d say 95% of the other books had a positive cover reception, which only aggravated me more, especially since a lot of the covers looked like typical stock images that hadn’t been uniquely designed for the novel. I even found a book that was literally a solid beige cover with sans serif text—no graphics, no patterns, just a beige background with plain text—and it ranked better than mine with more thumbs up. After seeing that one, it was easier to shrug off the negative reception.
I liked that I had control over who downloaded my title. This option is not always available depending on how you list your title on NetGalley, but it was through this co-op. People had to submit a request for my title, and I had the power to either approve or deny the request. This gives you the ability to check out the person asking for your book. You have access to view their profile and see their country, average star rating, percentage of likeliness to write a review (calculated from number of downloads compared to number of posted reviews), favorite genres, type of reviewer (would they post only on NetGalley? Goodreads? Personal blog?), et cetera. You can also read their past reviews posted on NetGalley. I rarely declined anyone; the only one I said no to was a reader whose preference was romance and nonfiction—two elements that are most definitely not in my book.
My number of requests was fairly low in comparison to other titles listed in my co-op. Some books had 300+ review requests; mine ended somewhere in the 30’s. It seemed to be very hit-or-miss. And mine was a miss. I did get some reviews, so I wouldn’t say it was a total loss, but the number was not nearly as high as I was hoping.
That being said, I also wasn’t the lowest in the co-op. This could have been attributed to my genre, my synopsis, my cover, or even my following. Although I’ve been working on growing my base, some of the other authors in the co-op might have had a much bigger audience and been advertising their newest ARC to their fans. My book was not an ARC and had already been on the market for over a year.
As I’d mentioned, I was nervous about harsh reviews. This was why I vetted all of my requests; I’d learned in my research that a contributing factor to bad reviews was people clicking on titles without reading the synopsis or looking at the genre, then giving you one star and writing “I wanted a romance story” when reviewing a book on warfare, for example.
I did get my first one-star review ever. But honestly, it was almost a relief; I’d been dreading my first one-star review ever since the book was published in 2018. It felt like the bandage had finally been ripped off and I didn’t have to stress about it inevitably coming anymore. It’s done and over with. And the reviewer, although she didn’t like my story or writing style, was professional enough to not post the review on other sites like Goodreads and Amazon, and for that, I was grateful.
I approved several booksellers and librarians to download my title. I don’t know if any sales came out of the deal, but that part of my initial research turned out to be accurate. My requests were a mix of regular reviewers, booksellers, and librarians. I didn’t hit the jackpot and encounter any magazine editors.
While the book was on NetGalley for a month, my social media coordinator reached out to ebook reviewers on Instagram to get some extra reviews. You have a unique link that you can give out to reviewers that allows them to bypass the approval process, so we took advantage of that.
Like many authors and artists, I put my soul into my work, and I’m always extremely anxious when I know a new review is coming in. This experience helped me toughen my skin a little and brush off criticism.
People don’t like my cover? Eh, oh well. I’m still proud of what I’ve created, and I have zero regrets about deciding to not use a generic stock image instead. If I could go back in time, I’d still publish my same cover.
One-star review? Ouch, but okay. That person didn’t like the book, but that happens. And the novel was good enough to win the Literary Titan Gold Book Award earlier this year, so I need to step back from the negativity and focus on the accomplishment, not the one person who disliked it. Can’t please everyone. (That’s so hard to drill into the head of a chronic people-pleaser!)
I would consider posting my title on NetGalley again and leveraging the listing to contact more ebook reviewers on social media, and if I do, I will absolutely go with the Victory Editing Co-Op as my first choice again. The price tag and monthly slot makes the most sense, especially on my budget. As I mentioned, I enjoyed working with Anne and recommend her co-op for anyone interested in giving NetGalley a try.
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Please share your feedback in the comments! I’d love to know if anyone had a similar, better, or worse experience on NetGalley, and if you have any recommendations or tips.