NetGalley Goes to Hollywood
Lindsey Rudnickas, NetGalley’s Digital Marketing Manager, had the opportunity to speak at last week’s HOLLYWOOD LIT RETREAT to a packed crowd of film/TV producers, authors, screenwriters, studio execs, media capitalists, production & media companies, and technologists. Her topic was “Book Buzz & Discoverability in the Future of Storytelling” and here is a transcript of her talk:
I want tell you a story about a really great party…
Think about the last time you decided which book to read next.
Were you in a Library? Or a bookstore? Reading the book reviews in a newspaper? On your computer, reading a blog or article?
Or maybe you were at a dinner party where a friend mentioned the book they just finished. Why is it that when a friend recommends a book, you’re more inclined to read it and love it? Why is it that certain forms of book discovery are more powerful than others?
We’re all more inclined to try something only after someone else has tried it first, and readers are the same way. And many of us have that drive to be the FIRST—we want to be part of IT, part of the MOMENT when the next big book becomes a big deal. Think about how many people love to say they read Harry Potter or 50 Shades of Grey before it became a success! We all want to be part of the party, and we want to bring our friends to the party. We want to discover something that moves us, and help our friends be moved by it too.
At NetGalley, everything we do is about this magic conversation that happens around books. People are already talking about books because stories are so important—they fuel our imaginations, our passions, provide humor and comfort and escape and wisdom. At NetGalley, we’re about being part of that conversation—not by talking about the books, but by being the facilitator. Let’s go back to that dinner party I mentioned earlier, and please indulge me while I flush out the metaphor.
This particular party is hosted by someone named NetGalley. All the guests come to the party armed with a love of reading and recommending. These guests are a chatty, book-loving bunch, and they know this party is for them. Many of them know each other, and talk often. But there’s also quite the mix of guests (as at any great party). NetGalley’s guest list is all “professional readers” yes, but that’s a wide net—high profile traditional book reviewers for major newspapers, librarians, indie booksellers, emerging and high profile bloggers who build buzz with real fans.
What they do after they leave the party varies, but they all come for the same reason—to find the next book that will make them feel something, whether that’s awe or rage—something they can express to others. Because these parties aren’t just about talking, but about discovery.
The guests talk about their host, NetGalley, too—asking each other which party they’ll be going to next, bragging about how often they’ve been invited in the past month. NetGalley works hard at being a great host by providing the necessities: a fun comfortable environment and good food.
At NetGalley parties, the food are the books—it’s no surprise our tagline is “Feed Your Reader”—and the plates and bowls and forks and spoons are all digital, shaped like Kindles and Nooks and iPads and computers. The guests get to choose the food that will likely interest them and fit their taste buds. And the best part is the guests can send their reviews and feedback right back to the cook (the author or publisher). NetGalley often helps with ice breakers and party games and other ways to connect the guests with the cook.
NetGalley also stocks the party with Concierges who are ready to attend to the needs of the guests and the cooks. This is where NetGalley thrives, this mentality of making sure everyone is having a good time, being fulfilled, getting their questions answered and shown around the place. NetGalley isn’t selling the food, especially since most of it is still in taste-testing mode, not yet ready to be added to the final menu. So the guests feel special, like they’re part of something, because they’re trying these new meals before anyone else—and then telling everyone they know to get ready, don’t miss out when this new item hits the menu, you just have to try it.
You’re probably wondering how this NetGalley person got to be such a good host. Because let’s be honest, parties are a lot of work, and it’s hard sometimes. You learn along the way. NetGalley is no different. When NetGalley’s parties first started in 2007, it was pretty homegrown (we joke it was more like a revival tent). The idea and passion and friendliness were there, but the ambience was a little bare-bones, and the guest list slowly growing. It wasn’t long before the money ran out. But good ideas die hard, especially if they come before their time. In 2009, NetGalley re-launched their parties in a new location with better lightning, but with that same fundamental passion for helping to launch books in this digital age. The guest list exploded and soon every major publisher wanted their books to be featured.
Of course there are tons of parties, every day, everywhere. People meet and talk and share recommendations all over the place. And NetGalley also helps guests host their own parties, in whatever way suits them best—on their blog, at a library or bookstore, in a newspaper. NetGalley knows that these parties (book recommendation) are changing. And publishers and authors want to know how to capture small pockets of influence and not just the finite number of traditional outlets. It’s no surprise that new books have a better chance of success when they’re launched into dedicated communities of interested readers.
I’ll share an example. In early 2012, NetGalley hosted a book for Disney Book Group called CODE NAME VERITY. NetGalley invited tons of guests, and tons of professional readers previewed the book. Hundreds of reviews were sent back to Disney and tons of buzz was sparked online, even after the party ended. It was one of those parties where everyone was glued to their smartphones, live-tweeting the whole thing. Everyone asked their friends if they made it to the party—if they didn’t, they urged them to try CODE NAME VERITY as soon as it hit the streets. And they did—it hit the streets to widespread critical acclaim, including many awards and bestselling status.
Then in May of this year, Disney told NetGalley about a new book from the same author—the much-anticipated ROSE UNDER FIRE. It didn’t take much convincing for NetGalley to get all the guests who loved CODE NAME VERITY to come back for this second party, and this time they knew to bring their friends. Even more professional readers downloaded this time, again spurring hundreds of reviews and tens of thousands of impressions for the book.
As you can see in the publisher’s quote here, they attributed much of the anticipation and success to what started at NetGalley.
“What happened on NetGalley with CODE NAME VERITY and then ROSE UNDER FIRE was fascinating to watch, because I think it sort of set the stage for what happened on the retail side. NetGalley readers were some of the first – and most passionate – readers of CODE NAME VERITY. It became a sort of viral Twitter thing – tweets of “Kiss Me Hardy” making everyone cry. Slowly but surely the book took off (it took almost a year!) and then when ROSE UNDER FIRE went up on NetGalley it was one of the most anticipated books of the year.” (Dina Sherman, School & Library Marketing Director, Disney Book Group)
What’s so powerful is that all those NetGalley members—the party guests—became part of the story of this book’s success. The future of book buzz and storytelling lies partly with the publishers, authors, content producers yes—but the most significant part lies with the readers, the fans. They are the ones who make or break a series, who build negative or positive buzz around a brand, who spread the word further than any individual marketing or advertising campaign can reach. This is why NetGalley’s next step is towards building out our social platform, to allow those reviewers and influencers to push their recommendations directly to their audiences from our site.
So when we think about the future of book discoverability, let’s not be afraid to have a little fun. Shake things up, throw a really great bash. Get everyone excited to be part of the story—by inviting them to the party.