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Judging a Book by its Reviews

I have good news, and I have bad news.

The good news is that, in the era of eBooks and low-cost graphic design, readers are less inclined to judge a book by its cover.

The bad news is that it’s never been easier to judge a book by its reviews. And well-contemplated reviews are increasingly rare.

NetGalley (www.netgalley.com) seeks to address this problem by facilitating online reviews for a wide range of authors, from indie first-timers to best-sellers. Pay their fee, upload a digital copy of your manuscript, and they will make a digital copy of your manuscript available to hundreds of thousands of ‘professional readers’ – bloggers, media, educators, librarians and booksellers.

Authors (or publishers) have the choice of restricting copies to only the readers they approve, decisions often based on the reader’s profile or past reviews. Or you can open the title up to all NetGalley members without vetting them individually – a greater risk, with a potentially greater reward. (There are no guarantees that reviews will be favourable, though readers mostly stick with their preferred genre and use a logical method for evaluating titles. Mostly.)

Authors can also choose a number of additional add-ons, from direct email campaigns to being part of monthly newsletter distributions. A typical NetGalley run lasts for six months and costs USD$450 (USD$699 if it includes a newsletter spot). Three-month listings can be purchased by members of the International Book Publishers Association (IBPA) for USD$199. Direct email campaigns can run into the thousands.
In terms of actual results, a regularly listed title might receive a few hundred ‘requests’, which may in turn generate perhaps twenty or thirty reviews along with some additional library sales, bookstore orders and blog posts. My debut novel Rum Luck was available for a six month period and promoted via a NetGalley newsletter – it was the subject of around a dozen blog posts and about 80 reviews total – 40 on Goodreads and around 35 on Amazon.com and Amazon.ca combined.

Even the least expensive NetGalley listing may exceed the budget of many crime writers. A no-cost alternative is to give away eBook ARCs via LibraryThing (www.librarything.com), which allows authors to distribute up to 100 eBook ARCs per giveaway. (Fair warning – I have not attempted this myself, and have heard from other authors that LibraryThing readers grade on a harder curve.)

Overall, I found my listing on NetGalley to be worthwhile – particularly for a debut novel. A six month run was probably more than I needed, as most requests were placed in the first few weeks. An IBPA listing should be sufficient for most. Next time, I would book as early as possible (six months or more) to get my choice of newsletter slots. I would also make my title available to all NetGalley members, rather than evaluating readers one at a time. And I would run a LibraryThing giveaway as well.

This post originally appeared in the Crime Writers of Canada publication Crime Beat in January 2018.