I have an author profile on Goodreads and I know my books get reviewed there, but I have never been able to figure out how to use it for promotion. I don't use it as a reader because I get more than enough book suggestions from friends, book discussions, conferences, reviews, etc., and although I recognize the value of reviews for both readers and authors, I don't review or list any books I am reading. After twenty years in the writing community, many of my close friends are writers and I treasure my place in the community. Reviewing books, even positively, opens up the potential for misunderstandings, hurt feelings, and other conflicts. For example, "You reviewed her book, why not mine?"
Increasingly, as publishers' publicity and touring budgets are reduced and professional review sites dry up, social media have become essential promotional tools. Authors are building relationships directly with readers in cyberspace. I actually enjoy this; readers have become friends and, when writing gets too lonely or discouraging, nothing lifts the spirits better than a message from a reader who enjoyed my book and eagerly awaits the next. But there are limits to the time I can devote if I also want to write that much-anticipated next book. There are limits as well to the amount of promotional book chatter that people want to see on their news and message feeds.
So my heart sank when I read the message about Goodreads, and I decided to conduct a very informal, very unscientific survey of my Facebook friends yesterday to find out whether they used Goodreads to find book recommendations, and whether they posted or read reviews, joined groups, interacted with authors, etc. My Facebook friends are a mix of fellow authors, family and personal friends, readers and other book people, and people I have met only in cyberspace (so far). By the end of the day, I had 83 comments. It was a topic that excited both readers and authors, many of whom are asking themselves the same questions as me. I appreciated all the people who took the time to share their experience and advice. All the comments were very interesting and useful.
First of all, there were wide differences of opinion. Many authors who replied have, like me, some Goodreads presence but aren't sure how to use it. However, a few of the more tech savvy ones are very active in linking it to their other social media and find it an extremely valuable way to reach new readers. They believe because it is a site dedicated to books only, without the extraneous chatter of Facebook or Twitter and because it's frequented mainly by active, avid readers, it is like one giant online book club. And unlike Facebook and Twitter, there's less blatant author self-promotion. Its main aim is to help readers connect to books and to discuss, review, and compare books. So the algorithms that produce book suggestions and comparisons can really help readers find new authors they might like. The key here is "new" readers. Other social media strengthens existing relationships; Goodreads creates new ones.
Some authors replied they did join discussion groups and post reviews, but many did not, preferring to use the Q&A options, giveaways, and links to other social media. Giveaway offers elicit hundreds of responses, and even if only a fraction of those actually check out the book, it's a big reach. Several authors noted that discussion groups disapprove of authors who promote their own work in the group, so that strategy could backfire.
The comments from readers were eye-opening. Some didn't use it at all but most used it to some extent to get recommendations or to check the reviews of a book they were considering. Some get book recommendations almost exclusively through Goodreads. They read the synopsis and a sample of reviews before deciding whether they would like the book. One bookseller noted that customers would check the book reviews on their iPhone before buying the book in their store. Libraries are also using Goodreads to help them find new books. Increasingly as a society we are relying on on-line peer reviews when making consumer choices, whether it's booking a hotel or finding a restaurant, and the book world is no different.
As a final exploration in this world of Goodreads, I went on the site to look at my own author profile. Someone, not me, has kept it up to date; all my books are on there with their synopses and covers. The feature "Ask me a question" has been enabled, although I have received only one question, from a reader in Holland, so that's worth at least ten, surely. One of the beauties of the internet is that the whole world is accessible. No national or continental boundaries. My books all have decent ratings and reviews, and although reading reviews is often upsetting (we only ever see the negatives), I am grateful to everyone who takes the time to post.
My informal survey suggests that Goodreads is an increasingly important and powerful tool for both readers and authors. It used to be that authors (and publishers) fretted about the number of Amazon reviews, but I think Goodreads now has a far greater reach. Anyone who signs up can review a book on Goodreads, whereas only Amazon purchases can be reviewed on Amazon, which limits the numbers. For example, my latest book FIRE IN THE STARS has 86 ratings and 29 reviews on Goodreads but only 9 reviews on Amazon. So a reader looking for the most information on a book will probably check out Goodreads. I'm well aware that it is owned by Amazon, and thus is ultimately a tool for Amazon to sell books, but it's certainly clever. And judging from reader engagement, it's providing a real service.
My conclusion... I need to step up my game. I enjoy Facebook and will continue to share news and nurture friendships, but I need to find room in my day for this new player. For a start, I will try to link my social media sites together so that each pushes the other, and I will start a dialogue in the Q&A section. I will "like" and comment on some of the reviews. I'm not sure I will review any books myself, unless they are written by total strangers, but I may make a few book recommendations and put a couple of books on my shelf. But in that, I must tread carefully, and still save most of my day for writing my books. And walking my dogs, and seeing my friends and family. And having a life...
What are your thoughts? Your experiences, good and bad, with social media and the ever-growing reach of Goodreads.