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How to Read Books for Free on NetGalley and First to Read

I've been reading books for free by reviewing them on NetGalley for two years now.

NetGalley's new look

NetGalley's new look

Reviewing Books on NetGalley

If you love reading e-books and want to read advance reading copies (e-arcs for short), then NetGalley is the website for you. I've been reading and reviewing books for the site for a long time. If you’ve read my two book reviews for As the Crow Flies and Chip off the Ice Block Murder, those two books were from e-arcs I’d read for the site.

It’s free to join, and all you need is time to read a book or two. You don’t get paid for reviewing e-arcs, but you do get the book for free, and you’ll be helping the author and publisher when you provide feedback about the book. If you have a book blog, website, and/or review on Amazon, Good Reads, Shelfari, or social media, you can help spread the word.

How I Got Started

I started with two authors and their street teams on Facebook and via email to join NetGalley and receive my copy for them. When I've read the e-arcs and sent in my review, I let them know on Facebook and email that it’s done. I read six reviews back then. Last year, it was 12, when I averaged one per month. This year, it’s two per month. If you’re an avid reader who loves a good book, let me tell you how to get started.

How to Sign Up

To join NetGalley, all you need is an email address and an e-book reader. Kindle is preferred. But if you have a Nook, a Blackfire ebook reader, Sony or Kobo e-reader, you can read it via the Adobe Digital Editions format, too. If you don’t have an ebook reader, like when I first started out, you can read it on your computer’s desktop. (I’m doing it right now since I’m having spacing issues on my Kindle.) It doesn’t hurt to have a backup plan.

As for the email, they would email what e-books are available right now, what’s coming up next, and other news to get you hooked. Mainly, the publisher would let you know if you’ve been approved or if they have denied your request. More on that later.

Last year, NetGalley revamped the website that I first saw two years ago. It’s user-friendly and really organized. I wish I had an old screenshot of the previous website. But as you see with this screenshot I took last month, it’s so much more. To be a reviewer, you need a screen name, hook it with your Kindle email address, and create a profile with a bio about yourself as a reviewer. If you’re a bookseller or a librarian, you would select that for your profile.

Avoid Denied Requests

Make sure you check their regional preferences for readers. If you see a flag symbol for a country, that’s what they preferred to hear feedback from. For example, I selected two titles from a British publisher last year and was declined. So if you see a flag from the US or Canada, for example, on the book cover page, you wouldn’t have a problem. As a shortcut, you can see the flags by moving your mouse over to the cover.

Book Selection

After you’re all set, you can pick what genres you like to read in both fiction and nonfiction genres. It can range from romance to biographies, including teen/YA, picture books and middle grade. Mine was mystery/thriller, romance/woman’s fiction, Christian, and sometimes, but rarely, sci-fi and teen fiction. So you can select any that applies to you for your selection. There’s no limit.

If you have a favorite publisher you like to read, whether it’s a traditional publisher, a small/indie publisher, or even an e-publisher, you can just select the publisher listing by giving it a heart. I usually heart mine if it’s a publisher that has accepted my reviews and give it the favorite preferential treatment.

On the website, you have a choice of selecting the book that’s available now to read, what’s been added, what titles that’s been requested the most, by author or title, or even by the date that it’s being published. Just take a peek at their book covers and read the description of the blurbs to see if it interests you. You can be interactive by voting, if you love the cover art design, which has been a new feature. If it’s something you would like to read, you can hit the link, read the full description, and request the title. You can pick a new author you would like to read or a favorite author that has listed their new book for you to read there.

If you wondering about checking out a book that was published a month ago or a year ago, that would be all right. You might be lucky if it’s the paperback version of the book or a newer re-issued book, like for romances, for example. Just check the archive date since those older books are shelved in the back of the listings. A Facebook friend of mine and fellow NetGalley member read a book from a couple of years ago and was able to do it. But newer is always better and fresher.

Create a Full Detailed Bio to Avoid Rejection

Another way you can get declined is your bio not being fully detailed. This also happened to me last year by the same British publisher when they wanted me to update my bio with more details. I did and replied back to them and never heard a word, knowing I was declined. So you rarely get declined for a review, except if it’s out of region. Make sure your bio is updated and detailed.

This is your virtual bookshelf on the NetGalley site.

This is your virtual bookshelf on the NetGalley site.

NetGalley's easy feedback form

NetGalley's easy feedback form

How to Review a Book

One way or another, you receive an email from the publisher accepting or declining your request. If it’s a traditional publisher and its imprint, it would be before a month before the book’s released. For example, if you selected a book with a May 24, 2015, publisher date, you would hear from a publisher on or around April 24, 2015. If it’s a small publisher or an indie publisher, you would hear from them within a week, usually a couple of days, depending on what day you requested the book, If you select a book from Amazon, there’s no waiting time to read their book. You automatically receive the copy and start reading!

When you do hear from the publisher, the book will be added to your virtual bookshelf on the website for you to read. That’s when you should start adding it to your Kindle, computer or other ebook reader. Make sure you mark your calendar for the pub date, so you won’t forget. Keep an eye on the archive date. That’s when the publisher archives the book when the book can’t be transferred anymore. This happened to me last month when I was locked out to read a book since the archive date had passed. Lucky for me, that same author was on Good Reads doing an e-arc giveaway and contacted me with a copy to read on my computer. I was lucky to get her book done and on time. So when you first get your book, do it before the archive date, and do it before it expires, like the day before the date.

The rule of thumb for reading a book, depending on your schedule, is to get the book done early if you can. Before the date is best, right up until the day before; on the same day works as well. What happens if you’re late sending a review in? No worries. This happened to me this year and last year. Just get it done the best you can, even if it’s a few days late or a week late. Like the old adage, better late than never. NetGalley won’t fault you for it.

How to Give Feedback

Doing a review on the feedback form is very easy. Just like for Amazon, Good Reads, Shelfari, and maybe your own book review blog scale, you can give a book a star rating from one to five stars. Then you have a choice of posting your review in the box, or if you have a blog, you can post the link and the title of your blog in the boxes below it. Then it would ask you three yes or no questions: Are you reading the book for publication? (The answer is always yes). Would you recommend it to a friend or buy it yourself? (It depends if you love or hate the book on how you answer.) And would you be interested in receiving email updates from the author? (Over here, it’s up to you, since there’s no wrong answer here.)

If you have any comments for the publisher, which is applicable, you can write them down in the box. That’s it! Just hit the send now button since it would be sent to the publisher. Your feedback percentage would go up and will go down a tiny bit every time you request a book to review. Now you can go back to the catalog and request another book.

Cool Features

There are three other things you should know about NetGalley: pre-approvals, badges and sharing reviews. All of this stuff is really cool and makes the site more interactive with its members than before.


There are two ways you can get pre-approved for books you have to read, too. One is by email when it’s available now to read and request. I’ve gotten them in the past but passed on them. You can decide if you want to read the book if it interests you. Another way is by the publisher itself. This happened to me last year before I read a second book from the same author. It’s really cool! If you do get pre-approved, it would show up on your profile page. If you see a book you like by the publisher, you don’t have to wait for them to approve your request. Just download it to read, and off you go!

Blog Badges

If you have a blog or website to review books as I do, you would instantly receive a professional reviewer NetGalley badge to upload on your virtual bookshelf when you sign up. It’s encouraged to post any badges you receive from the site to let blog readers know you use the site. It also lets publishers know that you actively participate on the site and increases your chances for approval. Every new member starts with that badge and can earn two other badges.

If you provide feedback for 80% or more of their approved titles, you will receive this badge. I’ve recently gotten mine back in February and added mine to my blog. Also, you can earn a top reviewer badge if three or more of your review have been added to the Netgalley title details page by the publisher. To where which have been added, go to your shelf and under Feedback sent to see an icon next to the titles where your reviews now appear on its Title Details page. I haven’t gotten this one yet and would love to earn it someday.

Social Sharing

This was a newly added feature to the new website last year. You can also spread the word and share your review on Twitter, Facebook, Pinterest, and other social networking, including HubPages. (I haven’t done this yet, and will start this month.)

How to Review Books on First to Read

There’s one other book reviewing website I wanted to let you know about; it’s called First to Read, and it's from Penguin Books. It works a little bit differently than NetGalley. If you’re on Facebook, you can sign up and join on their website with your email account. Every month they send you an email with eight to ten selected books for you to read. For example, I just received an email yesterday about the titles to read for June release dates. If a title interests you, you can request a copy or claim the title. When you sign up and join, you receive points for every time you visit the website, make a request, claim a title or send in a review.

To request a copy, hit "request copy." Your odds are 50/50 of receiving it. On the bottom of the cover, it shows you how many titles are available. So you might get lucky: your name may be drawn, depending on how many copies and people are requesting it. (Since I first started last fall, I’ve lost out on four copies.) You should receive an email whether you’ve received a copy or not.

Another way is to claim a title. You can do this if you have 1,000 points or more. This way automatically advances your chance of picking the title. If you get it, you'll go down 1,000 points. I recently did this last month, before the same title was also available on NetGalley. If you want to do both e-galley websites, you can do that and give the publisher two glowing reviews.

On your profile page, you see the link where you post your review for the title you read. Just write it down in the box and send it to the publisher. Like NetGalley, you can also share your review via Facebook and Twitter.

Enjoy a Good Book!

There you have it! Now it’s your turn to read free e-arcs and send in excellent reviews to the publishers and the authors, as well. Happy reading!

This article is accurate and true to the best of the author’s knowledge. Content is for informational or entertainment purposes only and does not substitute for personal counsel or professional advice in business, financial, legal, or technical matters.


Kristen Howe (author) from Northeast Ohio on November 30, 2016:

Yeah Marlene! That's pretty cool. Which author? Good idea. Feel free to shot me an email if you have questions.

Marlene Bertrand from USA on November 29, 2016:

I enjoy reading and writing reviews. I JUST signed up for Netgalley yesterday. An author approached me and asked me to review his book through Netgalley. I signed up, downloaded the book to my Kindle and the rest is like you explained here. Your article is very helpful. I did a quick bio, but now after reading your tips I think I will go back and tweak my bio to make sure I get approved for more reviews.

Kristen Howe (author) from Northeast Ohio on November 29, 2016:

Hey Amy. Thanks for stopping by my friend with your awesome words of kindness and encouragement. I'll consider it next year, after I work on my Arizona one this week, before I shoot in off to you for final feedback. E-books are popular and the review sites are great to come by to discover new authors and new books to read. Keep in touch my friend.

Amy from East Coast on November 29, 2016:

Great hub. You are an awesome writer. I opt for good old fashioned bound books but I will definitely keep Netgalley in mind when I decide to take the switch. This is another one of your hubs you might to submit to a niche site. Maybe letterpile. Just a thought

Kristen Howe (author) from Northeast Ohio on February 18, 2016:

Thanks Marlene for stopping by and commenting. It's real easy to read e-arcs on your computer or e-reader. You're welcome.

Marlene Bertrand from USA on February 18, 2016:

This is really interesting. I didn't know such a method existed for book reviewers. I enjoy reading and have the opportunity to do book reviews for authors wanting books reviewed before their books are released. I just kind of fell into it by chance. I don't get paid for it, but, my reward is being able to read books for free. I figure it is the least I can do for a free reading. I mainly read self-help books and have met some amazing authors. Netgalley and FirsttoRead sound like great places for book reviewers to participate. Thank you for the information and sharing your experience.

Kristen Howe (author) from Northeast Ohio on June 16, 2015:

Thanks Patricia for your lovely and angelic kind thoughts. You should check either website out.

Patricia Scott from North Central Florida on June 16, 2015:

This is a very thorough review. I am not familiar with this site but it sounds like one that some people might enjoy.

Angels are on the way to you, Krsiten. ps

Kristen Howe (author) from Northeast Ohio on April 26, 2015:

Thanks for stopping by Poetryman. It can be depressing, but if you avoid those issues, you would have better chances for acceptance.

poetryman6969 on April 26, 2015:

Getting declined seems like it would be pretty depressing but an interesting avocation nonetheless.

Kristen Howe (author) from Northeast Ohio on April 19, 2015:

My pleasure, Linda. It doesn't hurt to squeeze some reading time in.

Linda Bilyeu from Orlando, FL on April 19, 2015:

Interesting concept for getting books is a win/win situation for authors and readers. Readers get to read free books and authors get free reviews. I lack book reading time and unfortunately writing time, but I appreciate you sharing these sites.

Kristen Howe (author) from Northeast Ohio on April 19, 2015:

Thanks Catherine for stopping by and commenting, and saving it for future use. I always make time to read between hubbing and chores every day.

Catherine Giordano from Orlando Florida on April 19, 2015:

This is very interesting. Unfortunately, ever since I started writing for Hubpages, I don't have any time to read. I just write and do the other tasks of a good hubber. Voted up. I'd love to read and do reviews and I will save this for future reference.

Kristen Howe (author) from Northeast Ohio on April 18, 2015:

You're very welcome Flourish. New books from new and favorite authors, My pleasure.

FlourishAnyway from USA on April 18, 2015:

I've never heard of this, so thanks for profiling this. It sounds like a good source for new books to blog about, especially if one reads quickly.

Kristen Howe (author) from Northeast Ohio on April 17, 2015:

My pleasure. Sorry for the double post. It all depends on my cats.

Jo Alexis-Hagues from Lincolnshire, U.K on April 17, 2015:

Thanks kristen, amazon maybe my best bet. Hope you're having a wonderful day.

Kristen Howe (author) from Northeast Ohio on April 17, 2015:

Hi Jo. You mainly need an agent and a publisher to get your book submitted to Netgalley or First to Read. If you do it via Amazon, I'm sure you can do it fine. Finding the time can be tricky and hard, unless you have free time. Thanks for the visit.

Kristen Howe (author) from Northeast Ohio on April 17, 2015:

Good questions, Jo. You go to the website and select the books you want from the publishers to read. On Amazon, you can do it. But otherwise, you need a publisher and an agent. True, finding the time is hard.

Jo Alexis-Hagues from Lincolnshire, U.K on April 17, 2015:

Great article, very useful. Unfortunately, finding the time is the problem, but this seems like an excellent idea. How do they choose which books to review, can any writer get a book review on Netgalley? I'll be back to reread in more detail.

Kristen Howe (author) from Northeast Ohio on April 17, 2015:

You're welcome Alicia. I've found out about it, two years ago. It's a really social interactive website. My pleasure.

Linda Crampton from British Columbia, Canada on April 16, 2015:

Reading books from Netgalley sounds like an interesting and enjoyable activity, Kristen. I don't have the time to read extra books at the moment. I'd hate to give a book a bad review, too, even if didn't like it! I'll keep Netgalley in mind for the future, though. Thanks for sharing the information. I've never heard of this website before.