J.S. Leonard

Strangers to Fans

There's no greater anguish than watching your book's launch go cold...freeze up. Fear sets in and says you aren't doing enough. But, you have another book to write. Maybe a day job to hold down. Kids, family. You have a life to live. And these merciless questions persist and pound on your mind, among them: Why is no one reviewing my book? Where do I find fans? How can I grow my audience? UGGH

Tim Grahl defines outreach as converting strangers to fans. This is what his book Your First 1,000 Copies is about: building a machine that churns out those unacquainted with your work to those who can't get enough. Outreach is your rocket fuel and is vital for all authors in all walks of authordom—and is crucial for independent authors.

Imagine launching your next book with over thirty glowing Amazon reviews. To launch with blogs talking up your book. To hear comments like "Your book was one of the best I've read in years." To discover superfans—living, breathing, bonafide ideal readers (not the stuff of personas). While there's a lot to outreach—it is arguably the hardest part of the writer's journey—this article will focus on a few tricks with which I've had great success.

NetGalley is an ebook catalogue of upcoming releases for which book reviewers, journalists, librarians, booksellers, and educators can register and request your work.

Get this.

Six weeks before Modern Ritual's release date, only a handful of folks had read it. My beta-readers gave it the run-through and my copy-editor swabbed it clean, but that was it. Not a single review. No other attention. And you need attention before a book comes out—to agitate the hive and wake up the bees. It so happened that I stumbled on Tim Grahl's Hacking Amazon series. This immediately informed my release strategy and I went to work gathering my friend's emails to offer them a copy of my book in exchange for an honest Amazon review. It worked remarkably well. Watch the series.

One of those reviewers happened to be a librarian—library friends are fantastic by the way, they know lots of stuff pertaining to your career. Anyway, she mentioned that I should consider submitting it to NetGalley. Net-a-who? I didn't even know what a galley was. In publishing terms, galleys are a "printer's proof" and are distributed to influencers for review before release. NetGalley plays on this theme. It is an ebook catalogue of upcoming releases (all genres) for which book reviewers, journalists, librarians, booksellers, and educators can register and request your work.

The NetGalley

I purchased a 6-month listing with a highlighted placement. This drained from my bank $599. Yes, that money could have saved countless endangered species or doubled my rations for the upcoming zombie apocalypse. Oh well. I trust my librarian friend and I was willing to experiment. I'd do it again.

So, this is how NetGalley works: a polite support person sets up your account and publishes your book to the catalogue from which reviewers can start downloading a DRM copy. You are off and away. Four things happen at this point.

  1. You get requests to view
  2. You approve or deny requests
  3. People vote on your cover
  4. You wait for reviews

My highlight placed Modern Rituals beside four other books. Turns out, after a long overdue visit to a Barnes and Noble, some of those books lined the New Releases shelves. These were from large publishers. My small indie title was now sitting with big hitters. This opened my eyes to NetGalley's reputation—it is a trusted source for kindling the buzz flame. Purchasing a listing will build your book's credibility—some reviewers don't consider a book "legit" unless they see it on NetGalley—and will give you a good idea of your future ratings.

I approved 99% of the requests. I didn't know who would like the book, so I took the shotgun approach to get a feel for the demographics. My fancy pair of Hindsight 20/20 Goggles have clarified in high-resolution how this could have backfired. Badly. It could have led to a deluge of negative reviews at launch—I don't suggest auto-approving unless you are willing to deal with that scenario or unless you have some other system in place, like Hacking Amazon, to counteract it.

When the reviews started rolling in, I realized something: NetGallians are not only strangers but staunch supporters of good fiction like templars defending a holy artifact. They care only to support excellent writing. It teaches you to leave your emotions on the front porch. It teaches you to respect readers' time. There are a lot of books out there, and you are but an atom in that cosmos. I received a fair amount of praise for Modern Rituals, but there were a few outliers that fell sideways-left-and-right in love with it. And that's what made the whole ordeal worth it. I found my superfans.

The Higgs Boson of Fandom: Superfans

Superfans are elusive creatures. They will say beautiful and lovely things about your book in their review—they will have told their friends and proclaimed to the world that they have discovered a new author worth fighting for. They are why we write. And within their souls lies mounds of gold—dragon guarded gold—that, if claimed, can buttress your outreach strategy with iron partitions. You can sometimes find them on Goodreads and Amazon, but Goodreads discourages authors from contacting reviewers—for good reason, mostly. Amazon makes contact near impossible. But NetGalley—Oh! NetGalley—straight up gives you their email (if the user provides it—and most do).

Email circumvents the dragon's fire. Now you have an open door to the gold mound, to enriching your outreach strategy. Reach out to those superfans and thank them for the review. Then politely ask them:

  • Who are your favorite authors?
  • Where do you learn about new books?
  • (If you need this) Are they interested in becoming a beta-reader?
  • (If they haven't) Ask them to review your book on Amazon and/or Goodreads

End the email with an offer to help them in some way. Tell them they've been auto-approved for your future NetGalley titles. For some kooky zealots, I have offered to send them a signed copy of the book. Joy drenches every letter of their OMG YES reply. And, damn, does it feel good. I don't know about you, but they are why I write.

Great, Now What?

It's time to research your superfans' favorite authors. See if you can collaborate with them somehow. Perhaps write a guest post. Interview them on your blog. Create an anthology together. These writers are not your competition, they are your allies. Team with them. It will make you visible to their fan base and they to yours. Your readers will most likely enjoy them. Everyone wins—rainbows and unicorns will dance around your merry alliance.

Then look at the sites your superfans frequent. Can you submit your book for review? Do they allow guest posts? Get in. These are ripe fields ready for the picking—and will open you to audiences that likely contain more superfans, whom you can mine for other ripe fields and other targeted audiences. Starting to see the cycle?

You may also see a pattern emerge in the age, gender and overall attitude of your superfans. You can even put faces on them and then merge these in your mind's eye into a crystal-clear "ideal reader." This creates an accurate mental model that can invigorate and inform your future writing.


This is but one tiny outreach strategy. It has worked marvels for me and I hope it does for you. Remember:

  • NetGalley is worth the cost if you know what you are after
  • Find superfans and build a longterm relationship with them that helps you find more superfans, then: rinse, repeat
  • Employ Hacking Amazon if you are concerned about a review-less launch

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