goodreads tips for authors

How to be using the goodreads?!

I’ve been meaning to put this post together for awhile, but then a blog post by Beth Revis where she shares social media tips got my butt in gear., a social networking site focused on books, can be a pretty intimidating place for an author. The community there is very reader-centric, with its own mores, and a heavy focus on consumer book reviews (scary!). Having been a member there as a reader for over three years, I thought I’d share some tips on the best ways to use the site to connect with readers.

The first step is to look over the page the goodreads staff has provided on their author program. I’d highly recommend that you follow their instructions on building an author profile (complete with linked books, videos, a stream of your blog, and so on). I’d also recommend that you take advantage of their suggestions for networking with readers:

Take control of your profile
Make your profile a dynamic destination for curious readers. Here are some of the features you can use on your profile. Here’s what they recommend:

  • Add a picture and bio.
  • Share your list of favorite books and recent reads with your fans!
  • Write a blog and generate a band of followers.
  • Publicize upcoming events, such as book signings and speaking engagements.
  • Share book excerpts and other writing.
  • Write a quiz about your book or a related topic.
  • Post videos.
  • Add the Goodreads Author widget to to your personal website or blog to show off reviews of your books.Promote your books

Get the word out!
Here are some of the promotional tools available on Goodreads:

  • Sign up to advertise your book to up to the Goodreads Community—4,400,000 readers!
  • List a book giveaway to generate pre-launch buzz.
  • Lead a Q&A discussion group for readers.
  • Participate in discussions on your profile, in groups and in the discussion forums for your books.

The tools provided by the goodreads staff are very effective. In a quick poll of my goodreads friends (some of whom are very highly ranked reviewers on the site), many cited the Author Q&A boards as favorite places to connect with writers. They enjoyed the opportunity to engage in book-centric discussion with the creators of books themselves.

They also recommended that you (yes, you) try to be like Margaret Atwood. Oh, if only we could all exude such awesomeness!

But taking advantage of goodreads built-in opportunities doesn’t need to be the end of your site participation. Now, keep in mind that a lot of authors don’t do goodreads very well. Some authors use it as an opportunity to repeatedly spam readers, sending them recommendations for their books over and over again, or ending every message or comment with something like, “Don’t forget to pick up my book, an April 2012 release with Jerky Writer Press!”

Writers, let me tell you: spamming people is not cool. And it’s also not a very effective way to sell books. I think of this as the “butt-brush factor.” Paco Underhill, a researcher who studied the sociology of mall lay-outs (no joke), wrote that women who are jostled from behind in a store are most likely to bolt from the mall without having bought a thing.


UNDERHILL: A lot of women are uncomfortable in narrow aisles–what I call the “butt-brush” factor. If you want them to stop and browse where there’s a high rate of conversion to purchase, you need to have wide aisles.

Having an author spam you when you really just want to talk about books is kind of like having your butt touched. Leave “wide aisles” around your readers–give them space so that they don’t feel violated.

Another way to create these “wide aisles” is to be careful about responding appropriately to reviews. This really boils down to one thing: don’t respond to negative reviews given to your books or books by your author-friends. I know that it’s hard–I know that sometimes you really, really want to correct misinformation, or give a reviewer career advice, or maybe even show that you can roll with the punches.

Don’t. Just don’t!

The vast majority of reviewers will construe author presence on negative reviews as threatening. They’ll see it, correctly or not, as an attempt to stifle conversation. I know that it feels really unfair, but it’s an ugly truth of the author-reader relationship: readers interpret authors as having power in these kinds of exchanges (and they do have the legitimacy of a publisher or readership behind them, even if writers see the power differential differently) and so get kind of freaked out by these butt-brushes. It’s a really, really good idea to refrain from commenting completely if you don’t want to totally alienate readers who might be watching the exchange. If you can’t do that, my biggest recommendation would be to set up a goodreads profile, and then avoid the site completely.

As a note, some goodreads members view all author interactions on reviews this way. They cite this Ilona Andrews blog post, and discuss how any reminder of an author’s presence makes them uneasy, even if they liked a book. I think these feelings are stronger in YA, thanks to the recent #YAMafia dust-up, and they’re certainly not the feelings of all reviewers on goodreads (some reviewers, of which I’m one, really love when an author tells them they liked a review. I mean, Megan McCafferty tweeted me. Squee!), but I think that it’s worth being aware of these feelings, and to know that they’re issues of debate within the community.

So if you can’t respond to reviews, and you can’t spam readers, what can you do?

You can use the site as a reader, of course!

This might seem counterintuitive, that utilizing a site like this as a reader could possibly help you sell books. As Beth Revis said in her blog post:

I didn’t to add it because, really, I mostly just use GoodReads to keep track of what books I’ve read and what books I want to read. I set up the author page there, but do very little to maintain it. So I definitely welcome any others who would like to share!

But ironically, using goodreads in this way is a terrific way to connect with potential readers. Because the books you love are sometimes (though not always) a pretty good indication of the way that you write. I’d recommend that, minimally, any author on goodreads list their favorite books with a small paragraph or two explaining why you love them. Maggie Stiefvater is one of many authors who does just that. Jessica Day George is another, and her brief (mostly positive, but occasionally negative) reviews are a great way of learning about the things she values in writing. Sherwood Smith is one of my favorite author/goodreaders in this regard. Her profile makes it clear that she’s a reader (like us!) and is really there because she loves books:

I’m here on Goodreads to talk about books, as I’ve been a passionate reader as long as I’ve been a writer–since early childhood.

I’m not going to rate my own books–of course I love them, or I wouldn’t have written them. If anyone is interested in what I was trying to do with this or that book, I’ll put that under my own ‘review’ of my stuff–otherwise, I’m mostly here to talk about my own reading.

I will never bombard this list or any other hounding people to read my books.

The benefit of adding reviews is that it makes your profile useful to readers on another level. goodreads members are there to talk about books–honest, and fairly intelligent discussion is the cornerstone of the community. I would always rather add an author as a friend if I know that I’ll also get smart, like-minded (or not! Discussion and disagreement are exciting when we’re talking about books) book recommendations from them, rather than just spam. And I love Sherwood’s idea of adding her thoughts as a review of her own books. Here’s an example of what she does, on her review of Wren to the Rescue:

I wish they would show the original covers, which are so very much nicer.

This series was conceived when I was in high school. What happened was, a friend from Dutch Indonesia asked me somewhat wistfully to write a story with a heroine who wasn’t tall, with pure white skin and golden hair and blue (or emerald) eyes. So I proposed writing a story about a brown girl with brown eyes and dark curly hair . . . but another friend scolded me, saying that a WASP like me should not presume to write about a minority heroine, as I did not know the least about how minority people felt while living in WASP-majority America.

So I compromised, letting Wren’s stripey hair be a secret signal for the fact that she wasn’t all white–in later books I slipped in her brown skin, and made her short and round, rather than tall and elfin.

I kept all that when I rewrote it for publication in 1990

This adds utility and interesting content to her profile, whereas the practice of just rating your own book five-stars and saying something like, “Duh! I WROTE it!” adds nothing.

One last caveat, on positive-only reviews. Readers understand why some authors choose to never negatively review a colleague’s book. For the most part, we respect that, even if we feel differently. But do keep in mind that in a community that values thoughtfulness and discussion, really gushy, unbelievably positive reviews on every single book you’ve read are viewed as a little eye-roll worthy. They’re not really useful, and kind of just noise. Again, we understand why a practice like that exists, and you’re not required to negatively review anyone (though it might increase the utility of friending you for readers if you do). It’s just kind of silly, and not in keeping with the general tenor of the site.

What is in keeping with it is respectful, lively discussion and a love of books. And you love books, right? So hop in.