Most authors write books with the hope of reaching a mass audience—a network of “lay readers,” so to speak, who buy and consume books because they enjoy them. It’s a good goal, and one to keep front-of-mind throughout the writing, editing, and publicity process. But savvy indie authors would do well to consider another, smaller (but possibly more influential) network—that of “professional readers.”

Sandra Poirier Smith, a book publicist who works with self-published authors, describes professional readers as “book reviewers, bloggers, educators (from elementary schools to universities), librarians, bookstore owners and staff, and media and publishing professionals.” Their numbers are smaller, but their sphere of influence tends to be larger. And, if they take interest in a book, chances are their readers, followers, and customers will take interest, too.

One way many self-published authors access this type of reader is through NetGalley, a service that enables publishers and authors to upload books to its website prior to publication and allows “professional readers,” such as reviewers, to request copies. But, because the service can be pricey, and competition among authors steep, it’s best to do some preparation before taking the plunge.

How It Works

To put a book on NetGalley, authors will first need to complete a contract and submit a payment form. Most authors will likely select from one of the following pricing options: the basic six-month listing option, which is priced at $399, and the Marketing-Plus-Title listing, priced at $599, which includes placement in the NetGalley Newsletter. Indie authors who are members of the Independent Book Publishers Association can take advantage of the organization’s relationship with NetGalley. Through the IBPA partnership, indie authors can list their books at discounted prices ($349 for a standard six-month listing; $499 for a package enhanced by marketing features). In addition, IBPA will do most of the work involved in adding books to NetGalley and processing requests.

Standing out From the Crowd

NetGalley is a popular site, both with publishers and professional readers. According to Susan Ruszala, NetGalley’s president, the service has more than 230,000 members and more than 40,000 reviews are submitted each month via the site. These numbers are encouraging, certainly, but they can also be daunting: with so many publishers vying for attention, and so many professional readers to reach, how can an indie authors set themselves apart?

Aside from having a catchy cover and a clean manuscript—pre-publication doesn’t mean pre-edit—authors should make their profiles as robust as possible. Publicist Sandra Poirier Smith recommends including an “author bio and social media, video [and/or book trailer], blog and Web site links” and “any praise, testimonials, or trade reviews.” Authors should also “make the sure NetGalley community knows if [they are] available for blog tours, book club participation, giveaways, interviews, etc.”

Book descriptions should also be informative, but not over-explanatory. “For fiction, the goal is to entice, but don’t give away the ending,” says Smith. “For nonfiction, list the book’s benefits or the problem it will solve.”

Because certain book genres are more popular on NetGalley than others, authors should also take care to identify the category or categories to which their books belong. Listings for fiction are more numerous than for nonfiction and, within fiction, certain genres prevail. “If you’re considering volume, our most popular genres are no surprise,” says NetGalley’s Ruszala. “Teens & YA; Mystery & Thrillers; Romance; Adult Literature/Fiction; Sci Fi & Fantasy; Biography all perform well.” But the majority doesn’t necessarily constitute the whole. Ruszala adds that “many professional publishers…use NetGalley to reach educators or professors.”

Ben Cameron, a book publicist based in the UK who works with self-published authors, says writers should avoid shoehorning their titles into popular genres, hoping to be carried along by someone else’s wake. Listing books “in categories that are popular, rather than categories that best describe their books,” is a mistake, he says. “NetGalley reviewers can be brutal if they do not like a book or if it is not what they were expecting.”

Smith adds that authors should be patient with reviewers who request copies of their books. “It takes time to read a book and post a review” and professional readers “have their own timeline,” she says. She recommends authors “politely follow up with those who have expressed interest in their book—thanking them, offering giveaways or other appropriate interactions based on the type of reader.” As for the negative reviewers? “Do not engage.”

A Work in Progress

Smith, who has been using NetGalley in her publicity efforts since 2009, says she “can’t say enough about the value of the service.” She recently helped promote a women’s interest title on NetGalley. The author received more than 200 requests in about six weeks, and more than 30 reviews have been posted through the NetGalley portal. A business book she helped promote has received only 20 requests, but one of them was from an editor at The Wall Street Journal.

Still, she says, the site’s magnitude can be overwhelming. “For a self-published author, it can be intimidating and complicated to upload a book and understand how to best display the book, and then evaluate, approve, and interact with this community,” she says.

Cameron, who uses NetGalley as a standard part of his publicity campaigns, recently helped promote a self-published title—The Many Lives of Ruby Iyer, by Laxmi Hariharan—on NetGalley. Within four weeks, the book received 156 requests and 24 reviews—a NetGalley success, by any measure.

In general, though, he finds the disparity between the number of requests and the number of actual reviews disconcerting. In addition, “reviewers do not always post their reviews on Amazon, Goodreads, or anywhere else where it can be useful to authors. While NetGalley is the best way that I know of to get honest reviews, I would really like to see books getting more reviews and those reviews being posted more widely.”