Wednesday, April 05, 2017

Goodreads – love it or hate it

Barbara here. As part of the build-up to the September release of my next novel, THE TRICKSTER'S LULLABY, my publisher sends out periodic emails with promotional suggestions. Yesterday, the subject was Goodreads. The publisher is planning a giveaway, and wants me to be involved in the promotion, claiming that Goodreads is becoming the single most important social media site for authors and readers to connect. I sighed. More social media? I am active on Facebook, make the occasional stab at Twitter when I have something timely to announce, write this bi-weekly blog, and try to keep my website up-to-date with news and events.

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.

8 comments:

Eileen Goudge said...

Great post, Barbara. Like you, I was in the dark about Goodreads, so I read a book on the subject that helped me learn to navigate it. I find it useful and do occasionally post reviews of books I've read. As for engaging in the reader groups, I don't - they don't seem to welcome anything that remotely sounds like a plug (I was dunned for merely mentioning I was an author). According to the book I read, the best & easiest way to amp up your Goodreads footprint is to write a really great author profile. Something that might get a reader to think, "Hey, if he/she writes this well, I should check out his/her novels." Check out Gilllian Flynn's profile and you'll see what I mean. Another useful thing I learned. For an instant "feel good" you can use the filter on "community reviews" on a book page of yours to display only four and five star reviews. A bit of a cheat, but we all need an occasional pick-me-up in this lonely world.

Barbara Fradkin said...

Thanks, Eileen, very helpful suggestions. I know there's a lot to learn; I just need to find the time to learn it, LOL.

Tari Hann, owner of Kitts Kloset said...

I'm just a regular mostly cozy mystery reader who uses Goodreads. I do like that I can connect it to my Amazon account so that once I finish an e-book, I leave the review immediately and it also gets published on Goodreads. I hope Google isn't upset about the duplicate content but it sure saves a little time. I've found a lot of different books I probably wouldn't have known about from Goodreads, it's kind of fun and makes me accountable to have the "update progress" feature for a book I'm reading. I have found that the groups are not quite as active as the FB book groups I'm in but that's ok. I joined a couple just to see what they were all about. All in all I like it and the fact that I can make a to-read list that others can see as well as see some reviews I might not otherwise see. I've noticed that some FB friends are not as quick to friend you on Goodreads which is ok too. I don't need a ton of friends there to do the little bit I like to do and look at every day at GR.

Barbara Fradkin said...

Thanks for the helpful comment, Tari, GR seems to be a platform that is growing. I have one question about friends. I get notices that so-and-so is now my friend on GR. Does this mean I have to confirm the friendship, the way we have to in Facebook? Tech dinosaur here!

Sybil Johnson said...

I admit that GR mystifies me at times. I just haven't had the time to really delve into all the possibilities there. I have an author page, do giveaways there for ARCs and such. I think I've gotten one question that I've answered, plus answering some of the stock ones they have. I do reviews of books I read, but generally won't do ones for books people I know have written. Makes me feel uncomfortable. I don't read my own reviews. I obsess over them. And I mean obsess so I don't get any writing done. I know there's other stuff I should be doing, but so little time...

Re: friends. I don't think you have to confirm friendship, but I really don't know.

Barbara Fradkin said...

Thanks, Sybil. I think you are already doing quite a bit! I also think it's really hard to know what effect it is having. But I just discovered there is a service the libraries use, called NoveList, which is directly synched to GR, so readers see both librarian reviews and GR reviews.

ps I too hate reviews.

Sybil Johnson said...

I hadn't heard about NoveList. Thanks for the info.

blogcutter said...

Our local public library in Ottawa (probably in other cities too) allows not just librarians but also individual readers to post their own reviews and ratings. I tend to pay attention to their reviews because I figure they have less of an axe to grind than some Google or Amazon or Facebook exec...