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How Readers Discovered a Debut Novel: A Case Study

19 November 2012

From Goodreads:

How do I get my book in front of the right readers? How do I help readers discover my books? How do I stand out from the hundreds of thousands of other book titles competing for attention?

. . . .

Why is discovery increasingly a problem? There are two major reasons:

1. There are more books being published now than ever before. According to Bowker, there were more than 350,000 titles published in 2011. This is up significantly from previous years, and the growth is largely because of the exploding popularity of self-publishing; self-published books account for 150,000-200,000 of those books. To give you some sense of the number of books available to readers today, there are about 5,000,000 titles that at least one person on Goodreads has shelved. If you’re a publisher or an author, that represents a lot of competition for your books.

2. The other big trend that’s making discovery a challenge is the shift from buying books in physical stores to buying books online. Online sales currently represent about 39% of all sales (Bowker), and the adoption of ebooks is fueling this shift. Online discovery, however, at least in an ecommerce setting, has yet to equal the serendipitous experience of wandering the aisles of a bookstore and happening upon a new book.

With 12 million members, Goodreads has unparalleled insight into how readers discover books. One of the best ways to see how our members find books is to track the interest in a specific title. For this presentation, we chose Slammed, by Colleen Hoover.

. . . .

The book didn’t get a lot of attention those first few months, which illustrates how tough it can be for a first-time author. But Hoover smartly took matters into her own hands, running a pair of Goodreads giveaways in late February and early March. These are free for authors/publishers to set up—the only cost is in mailing the book to the winners. It immediately got the book onto people’s shelves and generated a few reader reviews, which is vital for any new book.

Then, in late March, a few prominent bloggers in her genre wrote about the book, spreading the word to their many followers on Goodreads through their reviews. A few of them even liked it so much they ended up virtually handselling the book to specific readers: an author’s dream!

. . . .

Colleen Hoover herself said:

“I believe one of the best things about Goodreads is the interaction fans can have with their favorite authors. I’ve met so many great people through Goodreads who have helped me more than I could have ever imagined. Bloggers I met through Goodreads are always willing to promote any new announcements I have and to share teasers or character interviews. Without Goodreads, I wouldn’t have been able to connect with them on the level that I have, and I’m grateful for that.”

For Slammed, that initial buzz paid off in a big way. In late April, the Goodreads Recommendation Engine picked up the book. On average, a book needs to have several hundred ratings before it starts to be included by our algorithm. From that point forward, it became the dominant way that Goodreads members discovered the book. That’s the blue section you see in the graph.

Link to the rest at Goodreads


11 Comments to “How Readers Discovered a Debut Novel: A Case Study”

  1. Although this study focused primarily on the effects of promotion via goodreads I found it informitive. If we had a study such as this for each of the various promotional channels out there it would go a long way toward figuring out which avenue to take for diffirent genres. I’ve noticed that young adult does well with goodreads while adult thrillers seem to lag behind.

    I’m still looking for the best promotional/discovery engine for the adult thriller but it seems to be in a constant state of change. Almost makes you want to adopt DWS advise and just “set it and forget it”. I never stop working on the next book, but it would be nice to find a formula that works so you can spend less time on promotion and more time writing.

    • What worked for me was: get a half-way decent review on a well-read review site, and a handful of Project Wonderful ads. Free ones.

  2. See, I think that the real key to this was the quality of the book, not the promotional channels. This:

    “….a few prominent bloggers….liked it so much they ended up virtually handselling the book to specific readers”.

    I think a good book requires some promotion, but then it will sell itself. The real key is the quality of the writing.

  3. I think it’s a combination of a good book and good marketing and finding your audience. If it’s not a good book it won’t matter how well you market it or give it away.

    If you have a great book, but don’t find your audience and spend zero time marketing, same result. Or you might even get a bad review if the wrong person reads your book and doesn’t ‘get it’. So be careful who you choose for professional reviews or even to give away as freebies. Perspective matters.

    Even good books don’t sell themselves anymore than any good product does. I’ve seen this happen with handmade goods sellers. They have a great product. They think they can hang a virtual shingle out and the world will be a path to their door. Then nothing happens and they go out of business two years later for lack of sales. Why? No one knows they exist.

    They didn’t bother to learn about Google SEO, or tags, or the benefit of short time freebies or awesome sales. OR socialize with the right audience.

    Everybody loves a sample! You and your book are a product and you have to move it like such. I hate social media, but I’ve gotten used to it because when used well it can work. I’ve taken my book to my craft shows this month and sold a few after people showed an interest, then we discussed it and me, then I offered them my promotional price which I explained as such(I’m breaking even) but I want them to take a chance on me. Then I showed them my Goodreads link inside and nicely asked “If you enjoy it and it’s convenient, I would love a review because getting noticed is the hardest part for any new author.”

    In this day of too much internet, people like social connection with the artist. They like feeling like they’ve done a good deed. If they met the writer and liked him/her and the book and they’re much more likely to leave a positive review and tell their friends. Maybe even share the book!

    I haven’t sold a lot like this, but who knows, the right person might help and it’s early. This is only part of my early marketing plan and I’m only in week 3 of my book’s release.

    My family is supportive too. They’re busy making plans to go door to door to our few indie bookstores left and sell to them. My dad used to be a salesman and then delivered for UPS, so he knows most of these managers. We’ll see what happens. *shrugs* But you’ve got to try and have a great support system.

    But you can’t waste too much time marketing because you need to keep writing. You need to build a library of work and prepare for the success which might come your way.

    It’s all very insanity-making.

  4. Of course, what Goodreads discovered is of no use to authors whose books are in digital format. Goodreads doesn’t allow giveaways for ebooks.

    • It’s not that difficult to create a trade paperback. CreateSpace accepts PDFs made from Word files. The hardest part is the cover design. I’m selling more paperbacks than I am ebooks to date, though that’s partly because my novel is YA.

      Best of all, CreateSpace doesn’t charge you a dime to do it, unless you opt for expanded distribution. There are plenty of how-to files. Give it a shot.

  5. Did no one else read this and get the feeling that Goodreads was writing a commercial for how great they were? Naming one author and saying her success was because of Goodreads is a useless anecdote. Mary Sisson has a good article in her last few posts about this kind of thing and why it’s not useful.

    • Yep, that’s exactly the feeling I got. Thanks for putting it into words. Ugh! “We’re great, and you will be too if you use us. And if you’re not, then you must be doing something wrong.” Ick. That was the vibe I got from it.

    • Of course it was self-promotion. What website doesn’t self-promote?

      Hey, it’s free. I’ve got nothing to lose, so I set up my author page and will see if a couple of book giveaways do anything for my sales. Took about half an hour to set up, and I’d been meaning to do it anyway.

      I’m perfectly happy to throw as much stuff at as many walls as it takes to make my book stick. Sure, I wrote a good book. But if nobody knows about it, then it stays a good book, unknown.

      New writers have to market themselves. Book sales don’t just happen.

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