First, the common reasons for approvals and declines aren't some big secret. Most publishers provide information on how they decide whether to approve or decline. You can find this info on NetGalley by going to "Browse Publishers", selecting a publisher, and then clicking on "Approval Preferences". Granted, some publishers have minimal info and others have none at all, but many have a lot of detail which might apply to other publishers too, even if they don't advertise it. Just from reading over the approval preferences of some of the publishers I request from the most, I gleamed the following:
- Start a blog. In my experience, the biggest reason for receiving a decline is due to not having a blog. Many publishers (Penguin, for example) clearly state that in order to be approved, you must have a blog (and provide a link to it in your profile) - posting reviews to Goodreads and/or Amazon just isn't enough. Before I started my blog, I had 8 approvals and 13 declines, and since starting my blog, I've had 21 approvals and only 6 declines. So my approval rate went from 38% to 78% just from having a blog.
- Request early. Keep in mind that many books/publishers have a maximum amount of approvals and if you don't get your request in there soon enough, you may be declined simply because they've maxed out their approvals. The only way to reduce the chance of this happening is to check NetGalley for new titles often and request ASAP. Some publishers will tell you in their decline email that they've maxed out, but not always.
- Request books in your country. Another big reason for decline is requesting a book not available in your country. There have been occasions when, for example, someone in the US requested a UK book and got approved, but that's rare in my experience. It depends on who has the distribution rights for the country you're in.
- Keep your ratio up. NetGalley recommends you keep your ratio of feedback to approvals above 80%, while at the same time there's lots of reports that the ratio isn't all that important. So which is it? Well, it depends on the publisher. You will likely still get some approvals even if your ratio is below 80%, but at the same time there are publishers who want to see that you will review their book, sometimes within a certain time frame, which is less likely to happen if you have a bazillion NetGalley titles still waiting to receive feedback. Particularly, if you already have unread approvals from the same publisher you're requesting from again, they may not approve you until they see you followed through with the ones they already gave you. St. Martin's Press, for example, makes it clear in their approval preferences that your ratio is very important to them. So while you may still get approvals even with your ratio below 80%, it is best to keep it above 80%.
- Provide your blog stats. Some publishers want to see that not only do you have a blog, but that it's active and gets enough regular traffic to make an approval worth their while. For example, Kensington Books, Ballantine, and Bantam Dell all say that your blog "should be updated daily or almost daily and have a significant number of followers". Berkley/NAL/Signet want to see a mention in your NetGalley profile of an average or approximate number of unique visitors to your blog per month, and how many reviews you post per week. They also make it clear they are currently only approving blogs which have 1,000+ followers. So provide as many stats on your blog in your NetGalley profile as possible, and if your stats don't meet their requirements, don't expect an approval.
- Keep your blog content relevant. Many publishers want to make sure that your reviews are reaching the right people. Personal blogs that include non-book related content like where you went for vacation last week will often get declines. They want to see your blog is dedicated to books reviews/promotion. Additionally, if your blog is dedicated to a specific genre of books, such as mine is dedicated to history related books, do not request books outside this genre. I'm unlikely to get approved for the next Janet Evanovich book when I run a blog strictly for historical fiction and history books.
- Publish your review around the time of the release date. The whole reason most publishers do this is to build up a buzz around the book during the time of it's release. Different publishers request different timelines. Some may instruct that you post a review no sooner than one week before the release date, others may say two weeks, or one month. Without wishing to check the publisher's preferences every time, I play it safe and always try to post within a week before or after the release date. If a publisher finds that you're posting reviews too far in advance, they might start declining you.
- Make sure your valid email address is visible. In your NetGalley profile, you have the option to make your email private or visible to publishers. Many publishers require for approval that your email address is valid and visible to them so they can contact you if need be.
- Include your Facebook/Twitter handles in your NG profile. Push your blog reviews out to your Facebook and Twitter feeds and make sure your handles are listed on your NetGalley profile, including stats on how many followers you have. This may not always been a requirement but publishers like to see that your reviews are reaching as many people as possible, utilizing social media to the full extent.
Not all publishers have all of these requirements but it's good to include them all if you want to maximize your chances of getting approved. Please comment below if you've come across any other factors that might influence your approval rating!