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. goodreads.com, 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.

WHAT CONSTITUTES GOOD OR BAD STORE DESIGN?

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.

28 Comments

  1. So glad I came across this post on Twitter! I love your analogy with the 'wide aisles' very smart advice. Thanks so much. Bookmarking.

    Edge of Your Seat Romance

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    • You’re welcome, Raquel! Hope it helps.

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  2. Great post on Goodreads. I will be setting up an author page soon and these tips are very helpful.

    I really like the idea of adding background as a "review" of your own book. I think it's cheesy when authors give themselves ratings, too. Adding detail about why you wrote this or that gives the reader one more way to connect to you and the book, which is what we all ultimately want.

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    • Yes, exactly, Cyndi! I think it's a good thing for authors to remember that, when readers are searching for their books, they might not especially realize that their review of that book is, in fact, a review by the author. And so adding interesting content there can compel a reader to click through to your author profile and explore a little more.

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  3. Great, informative post :) I had a goodreads account for a short while, but ultimately deleted it because I felt bad giving books mediocre ratings and started inflating my ratings…then decided, if I'm not going to rate honestly, why be here at all? But I still love using goodreads as a reader resource, and maybe one day I'll set up an account again!

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    • Hey Kat, thanks for the comment! I really think that every writer has to navigate the rating thing his or herself and figure out what they’re comfortable with. You might feel okay with adding only books that are four-stars and up, or just adding a negative review when you feel very strongly about a book (which is what Jessica Day George does), or something like that. Though I add every book I’ve read, you’re definitely under no obligation to do that! Hope you decide to pick up the site again. :)

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  4. great post. i've been pondering how i want to use goodreads as an author, and you gave me some great insight. thanks!

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  5. Beth Revis pointed me toward your post, and I'm thankful she did. Just as her Social Media post is a great overview of all the social media tools available to authors, yours is a great summary of how authors can best use Goodreads. I love Goodreads myself, and use it as a reader. I'm nervous about when the time comes for my book to start getting reviews, though!

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    • It's ALWAYS nerve-wracking, Helen! I recently got my first review for an anthology I was in and immediately set to kvetching about it–and it was really very positive. Totally natural reaction, but it's one that I think we, as authors, just really need to learn how to work through. Anyway, I'm glad I can help.

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  6. I may have to do that … thanks, in any case. If nothing else, putting the favorites in my bio is a sure thing.

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  7. I still haven't found my goodread legs yet, but I plan to — thanks for a great post!

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  8. I think GR is/will become a force to be reckoned with, at least in YA fiction (and probably beyond). I’m already at the point where I think it’s odd if an author has no GR presence whatsoever.

    Great post, and I love the site redesign. The comments section looks really great and well-organised!

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    • I think so, too! It's almost disorienting when I go to add an author on GR and they're not there.

      And glad you like the look of the site. Can't wait to make the interroblog similarly pretty. ^_^

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    • It’s the same for me. I think it’s cool when authors connect with their readers through goodreads and blogging. It shows a certain level of enthusiasm for your fan base.

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  9. Thanks, Phoebe!

    Okay, so maybe I am a moron, but I can’t find help on this and the GoodReads author instruction page doesn’t seem to tell you how, either … how do I add a list of favorite books? Do you just append it to your bio?

    And is there a way to change the book (of yours) that shows up on your home page / dashboard list? I’m sick of staring at Sails & Sorcery. ;-) (Nothing wrong with it, I just want to stare at a different book for a while …)

    Apologies for picking your brain. I thought you might know. :-/

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    • Hmm, I've been combing through the author profile trying to figure it out. I have a specific shelf of favorite books (which is how I created my sidebar widget on my webpage) and I thought I had to set to display them, specifically, on my GR Author page but it doesn't seem to be working right now.

      As for the other question, sorry, I'm not sure! You might want to check their support boards. I only have one title to my name, myself, so I'm not sure about switching.

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  10. Oh, finally — such a helpful blog about Goodreads and what works and doesn't work. I have to admit, I'd been sort of terrified of showing up there, fearing that I would intrude in readers' conversations and make everything just awkward, if not worse. This has helpful tips that I can use, without feeling like I'm stepping on toes. Thank you!

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    • You're welcome! Glad I could help. Just try to do your best to be friendly and respectful (good rules for any place, really!) and I'm sure you'll do fine. :D

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  11. Very interesting post, Phoebe, thanks! A question for you… I must admit that I'm squeamish about reviewing other authors books. So for the most part, I just list a book as "reading" or "read", but I don't give a star rating and usually don't give a review either (this is also partly because I'm always in a rush!). But now I'm thinking that just adding a book without any comment is terribly useful…what do you think?

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    • Hi Abby, thanks for the comment! I think it really depends on your own goals–if you're using GR to track your own reading, I think it's just fine to add it without comment. But like I said, if you want to make your profile more useful (and give people a reason to friend/follow you), it's a good idea to add just a few lines of notes about a book. It could be just positive impressions or thoughts–that extra information really increases the utility of your profile, which makes it more likely that people will (inadvertently, maybe!) stumble across your own work.

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  12. I just ran across this post after searching for some guidance on using Goodreads as an author. I set up my profile a few months back and then basically fled the site because I found it overwhelming!

    This is a very helpful post—thanks!

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    • So glad I could help, Melissa!

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  13. Great post on goodreads. As an author, I'm still learning the proper etiquette of these readers sites and commentaries like this help a lot.

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    • Glad I could help, Stephen!

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  14. I think Goodreads and Pinterest are amazing tools for authors. Very visual.

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  15. I think Goodreads and Pinterest are great for authors. They allow feedback without being spammy and they allow conversation around a visual centre. Pinterest is very good for book covers, sharing them and discussing.

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  16. LOVE it! I totally agree. I can’t stand being sold to, never mind being spammed to. And I really hate having my butt touched!

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