7.8 WRITING AS A CAREER: GOODREADS
There are many uses of Goodreads which authors miss out on. I think it’s a really neglected resource for writers. At first glance, it seems to be just about adding your ‘currently-reading’ books to your shelves, but it goes far beyond that. This is a community aimed specifically at readers, who are more likely than the audience on any other site to buy a book after hearing about it – and you need to target that audience as much as you can.
Your book’s listing
You want to get your books listed as soon as possible before release day – ideally, on the day the deal announcement goes live, so you can include a link to it on your social media when you share the publication announcement.
You can add a listing yourself, by searching for the title and then clicking ‘Add New Book’. Add in all the information you can, especially the ISBN – you need to keep this up to date, so people clicking the purchase links aren’t taken to a dead end. I see this so much and it’s really frustrating because that author is missing out on sales.
Once your book is listed, you can make an author page and claim your book. Fill out as much as you can on your profile, including an up to date author photo and biography. You can include affiliate links to your book in your biography too.
Take a look at your profile and make sure all your information is included on your website too – it’s a great guide to what people want to see about an author – blurb, title, cover, links to retail sites, genres, release date, other titles, author information, etc.
Set up your blog to cross-post onto your Goodreads profile. Goodreads promotes this in your friends feeds multiple times, so the content might be seen more widely here than anywhere else.
Your review of your book
When you add a book to your shelves, you have the opportunity to write a ‘review’ of the book. This is a great place for authors to post any information about their own book, which people will see when they’re checking the book’s listing for information and reviews.
This should be a hub for any and all information you have about your book. Affiliate purchase links, extra content links, fanart, details of the writing process, other books in the series (you can add these using html as a little clickable cover!), foreign editions – keep it updated from day one to long after publication date.
You want to be updating this regularly so it keeps popping back up in your followers newsfeeds. They will ‘like’ the review, which will keep it at the top of the community reviews so it’s the first thing people see when they visit the book’s page – and it will hide some of those negative reviews!
You should use the account to track your reading so you pop up in people’s feeds regularly even if you don’t have anything to share. It’s a great way to show people your personality through what you’re reading too.
You can also choose to add books to shelves with labels of your choice. I use these to track my favourite books of each year, as well as anything which inspired my books, or I used as research.
A great feature of Goodreads is the Book Stats, which you can access on the listing page. It shows you a chart of the number of times each day a book was added to users’ ‘to-read’ shelves. It’s a good way to track the success of marketing campaigns, as you’ll see a spike in adds when something has worked particularly well. When there’s a spike in adds, I can usually track that to a big event in the publicity campaign.
45 people added my new book to their shelves on the day of a convention, when people were buying early copies of the book and posting pictures online.
List an event for release day, and invite your whole friends list to ‘attend’ virtually. When people RSVP, it puts the link on their profiles, which gives you free marketing for anyone looking at their profiles. If 300 people RSVP, that’s 300 pages advertising your book – for free.
Example event: Help celebrate the publication of [book] with giveaways, competitions, a livestream and more!
Authors rarely use the status update function on Goodreads, which operates in a similar way to tweeting. If you have important announcements that you share on other sites, update your status here too.
These come up in Google search results, so adding quotes from your books increases the chance that people will discover your book when searching for ‘paranormal zombie romances with cats’, or whatever your topic is. They’re also featured at the bottom of your profile, so for a casual reader trying to decide whether to purchase your book, reading a good quote can make or break the sale.
I find that the quotes for my book include buzzwords like ‘love’ and ‘time travel’, so they tend to pop up in Google search results for those words when I’m searching for something.
If you’re unsure of which quotes to add, then buy an Amazon Kindle eBook of your book. The Kindle edition has a feature where popular sentences of eBooks are underlined, showing parts that multiple readers have highlighted. This means you can see exactly which parts people like the most.
As an example, these are the quotes that were highlighted in one of my books – ‘The Next Together’, since it’s been out the longest.
- To be honest, if I stopped joking around I’m pretty sure I’ll go to bed and never get up again. I’m only barely holding onto my sanity right now through a series of poorly thought-out puns.
- All throughout history they had been doing this, finding and loving each other and being ripped apart before they even had a chance to live.
- I don’t think there are any true heroes. Just people who ignore their survival instincts long enough to do something incredibly foolhardy.
- It doesn’t do any good to mourn for someone who is gone. They don’t care. Their story has finished.
- Will you marry me, Katherine? I want us to spend this life and the next together.
- “Did you have nightmares about it?’ He nodded hopefully and then said, completely seriously, “It was traumatising.”
- “A pencil. A PENCIL,” he said, with growing horror, staring into empty space as if at the horrific vision she had laid before him. He shook his head. “Some people just want society to collapse.”
From that I’ve learnt that readers like the romance, the humour and the intellectual thoughts about life. These are the things I should aim to include more of in my next books. And adding these quotes to my Goodreads page means that new readers will have a great idea of what they’re in store for when they read my books – and increased the discoverability on Google searches too.
Similarly, having your book on lists like ‘Best Science Fiction Romances of 2017’ means it’ll be one of the first results to anyone googling for a new read. It’s not possible to add your own book to lists anymore, so if you have a friend who uses Goodreads, you could ask them to do this for you.
Push for reviews
The best thing you can do online is get your book reviewed on sites like Amazon. This not only spreads the book by word of mouth, but increases the change of retails sites promoting your book through ads and profiling.
Kindly ask your followers to review your books on a retail site – perhaps in exchange for an incentive such as entry into a giveaway or a signed bookplate. If you’ve been thinking of doing a preorder swag campaign, I would consider this instead. Preorders down count towards Amazon ranks overall but reviews boost your book up the Amazon algorithms, so you want as many of these as possible.
Do not comment on reviews of your book by people you don’t know personally. Understandably, authors can be hurt by bad reviews of their books, which are very personal and important to them. It can be hard for them to see people write negatively about their creations – especially when entering the Goodreads culture, where reviewers posting gif-laden over-exaggerated reviews.
Sometimes authors feel they have the right to defend themselves against reviewers because it’s hard to separate a book from the author, especially for a debut. Sometimes, this leads to authors commenting on reviews of their books, which can be a minor embarrassment for everyone involved. Occasionally it can lead to more extreme reactions.
In 2014, Young Adult author Kathleen Hale stalked a blogger who left negative reviews of her debut. She looked up census reports, paid for a background check and drove to her address to confront her for using a false name online.
At the bottom of the page, Goodreads had issued the following directive (if you are signed in as an author, it appears after every bad review of a book you’ve written): “We really, really (really!) don’t think you should comment on this review, even to thank the reviewer. If you think this review is against our Review Guidelines, please flag it to bring it to our attention. Keep in mind that if this is a review of the book, even one including factual errors, we generally will not remove it.
“If you still feel you must leave a comment, click ‘Accept and Continue’ below to proceed (but again, we don’t recommend it).”
I would soon learn why.
Kiera Cass and her agent also left nasty anonymous comments on a 1* review on Goodreads in 2012, and called the reviewer a bitch on Twitter.
January 13, 2012: My review of The Selection went live on this blog and on GoodReads. Within hours, the first trollish comment appears on GoodReads, followed by repeated negative comments by “Anonymous” on this blog. Later that day, I discover that the author’s agent, Elana Roth, called me a bitch on Twitter. She and the author then publicly discuss trying to game the system by burying my review and upvoting positive ones instead. I published my status update (screenshots linked above) to the GR feed along with a few subsequent comments, and the whole thing exploded.
Obviously these are extreme examples of what not to do, but should authors read reviews at all? Even if it might help improve their writing to read criticism?
As an author, I had to decide months before my book was released whether I was going to read reviews of The Next Together. I found very quickly that positive comments are easily forgotten, but bad reviews are remembered for a long time – even if the good reviews far outnumber the bad. Personally, I only read reviews that we are tagged in on Twitter – and even then, only positive ones!
But should bloggers tag authors in negative reviews? While it is important for bloggers to remember there’s a real person behind the brand, we should also point out that reviewers do not have a responsibility to try to make sure they don’t hurt an author’s feelings. Reviewers are unpaid and unbiased and reviews are not for authors.
Authors (should!) understand that their books aren’t for everyone. Authors (should!) encourage reviewing and bloggers – they are huge parts of this community and personally, as an author, I am very grateful for their hard work.
It should also be noted that the current social media sites we use are all still very new. The rules and social etiquette can vary from site to site, with different interactions expected on Goodreads, Twitter and Tumblr. Goodreads has only been popular for four years. It’s very likely that the way in which we use these sites will develop over time.
People – authors and readers alike – also need to remember that books are pieces of art, and are therefore SUBJECTIVE. There’s no official mark scheme to assess how ‘good’ books are – you can’t really call books good and bad, because there’s too much variety to compare them to.
Got [a favourite] book in mind? Now go to Goodreads. Look the book up. Filter the reviews for 1-stars (because I promise you, it does have one stars). And smile. Because if people can rate your favouritest book in the whole world with one star, then of course people can rate your book that way, too.
Building a Network
To create a Goodreads following, go through your Twitter friends and check whether they have a link to Goodreads on their websites, and add them. You can then go through their Goodreads friends and add anyone who reads books related to your genre. Don’t be afraid to Friend people you don’t know on Goodreads – people tend to just friend anyone who reviews they like.
Go to the Goodreads pages of popular books in your genre and scrolls down to the Community reviews. Friend the people who wrote the most popular reviews. It’s likely you’ll have similar tastes in books and they’ll be interested in the same type of books that you write. They are also the people with the largest reach on Goodreads, so they’re good people to make aware of your books via seeing it on their feeds.
You should also (as with every social media account) add a link on your website, and you can say you’ve just started an account and ask people to friend you on Twitter.
Lauren James was born in 1992, and graduated in 2014 from the University of Nottingham, UK, where she studied Chemistry and Physics. She is the Carnegie-nominated British Young Adult author of The Loneliest Girl in the Universe, The Quiet at the End of the World and The Next Together series.
She started writing during secondary school English classes, because she couldn’t stop thinking about a couple who kept falling in love throughout history. She sold the rights to the novel when she was 21, whilst she was still at university.
Her books have sold over fifty thousand copies in the UK alone, and been translated into five languages worldwide. She has been described as ‘Gripping romantic sci-fi’ by the Wall Street Journal and ‘A strange, witty, compulsively unpredictable read which blows most of its new YA-suspense brethren out of the water’ by Entertainment Weekly.
Her other novels include The Last Beginning, named one of the best LGBT-inclusive works for young adults by the Independent, and The Loneliest Girl in the Universe, which was inspired by a Physics calculation she was assigned at university. Lauren is a passionate advocate of STEM further education, and all of her books feature female scientists in prominent roles. The Quiet at the End of the World considers the legacy and evolution of the human race into the far future.
Lauren is published in the UK by Walker Books and in the US by HarperCollins. She lives in the West Midlands and is an Arts Council grant recipient. She has written articles for numerous publications, including the Guardian, Buzzfeed, Den of Geek, The Toast, and the Children’s Writers and Artist’s Yearbook 2020. She lectures at the University of Cambridge and Coventry University, and works with Writing West Midlands, providing creative writing courses to children through the Spark Young Writers programme.