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Repeat After Me: “Goodreads Is My Friend”

Please welcome guest Sonja Yoerg [1] to Writer Unboxed today!

Sonja grew up in Stowe, Vermont, where she financed her college education by waitressing at the Trapp Family Lodge. She earned her Ph.D. in Biological Psychology from the University of California at Berkeley and published a nonfiction book about animal intelligence, Clever as a Fox (Bloomsbury USA, 2001). Penguin/Berkley publishes Sonja’s novels: HOUSE BROKEN (Jan 2015), MIDDLE OF SOMEWHERE (Sep 2015) and ALL THE BEST PEOPLE [2] (May 2017). She lives with her husband in the Blue Ridge Mountains of Virginia.

We’re so glad to have her with us today to talk with us about Goodreads [3] and to dig a little more deeply into how authors can use it wisely.

Learn more about Sonja on her website [1], and follow her on Twitter [4] and Facebook [5].

Repeat After Me: “Goodreads Is My Friend”

Most authors I know have a love-hate relationship with Goodreads. On the one hand, the social site boasts 55 million readers; ignoring it is like manufacturing Mickey Mouse ears and refusing to sell them at Disneyland. On the other hand—and you know what I’m going to say—are the reviews, demonstrably harsher than those on Amazon. Goodreads members can, for instance, rate without reviewing, or even reading. My favorite thing to hate about Goodreads (I have a list) are members who pervert the star system, giving one star, say, to a book they want to read soon and five stars to ones they may never get around to. Such creativity and insouciance thrives in the wacky world of Goodreads, as do trolls, spiteful, hateful trolls. Sigh. Some days I play “Here Comes the Sun” five times and down a shot of tequila before opening my Author Dashboard.

And, yet, I maintain that Goodreads is my friend, and should be yours, too. I read my reviews, every single one. Perhaps I’m masochistic but there’s a practical reason: shutting down spoilers. Many readers believe the mark of a great review is a faithful retelling of the entire plot. You can flag such reviews and ask the Goodreads Support team to hide the text. In my experience, they are very responsive. I also learn from reviews: I learn about my books and I learn about human behavior, the good, the bad, and the hypercritical.

Even if you decide to skip the reviews, or haven’t yet published a book, you can make Goodreads work for you:

Be a Goodreads reader.

The site is for readers, so be a reader other members want to follow.

Keep your bookshelves current and like other reviews from time to time.

Make a shelf of your all-time favorite reads and any other shelves that show your personality and taste. I have a shelf called “short-big-books” and another called “surprise-inside.” Do not create a shelf called “did-not-finish.”

Rate books and write reviews. I recognize this is a potential minefield for authors. You want to write an honest review but then again you can’t possibly love every book. Most authors deal with this by only rating and reviewing books they like. Some even state in their profile that they are five-star only reviewers. I’m pretty much a three-star-and-up reviewer. Don’t feel you have to leave a lengthy review or even a glowing one. Pick something you noticed about style or characterization or pacing and write about it. An intriguing review will lead readers to your profile—and to your books. If you don’t have published books yet, you’ll gain book-loving friends.

Be a Goodreads friend.

I’ve met some wonderful people on Goodreads; isn’t that the point of social media? The trolls are far outnumbered by astute, voracious readers who leave thoughtful reviews and think the world of writers. Meet some of them! If you are as lucky as I have been, they will be among the first readers to whom you send your latest book for those all-important early reviews. I met one of my most faithful readers because I commented on her review of a book I’d recently read. A discussion ensued. Out of curiosity, she picked up my debut and we’ve been chatting about books—and life—since.

Be an interesting Goodreads member.

[2]Whether it’s an author page or a reader page, your profile shouldn’t read like a resume. Add a little flair that will make people want to follow you and get to know you. Link your blog to your profile so readers can see your posts without traveling to your website, and if you have book-related events, add those, too. Some writers use the event feature for “events” such as price drops, cover reveals and the christening of their grandchildren, then invite all their Goodreads friends to each and every one. This is spam, so don’t be tempted. As with other social media, relentless self-promotion doesn’t work.

Be a smart Goodreads giveaway host.

I know. Writers want to sell books, not give them away. But if you are on Goodreads for no other reason, you ought to be there for the giveaways. When members enter a giveaway, the book is added to their to-read shelf unless they un-check the box, and it stays there, a little thumbnail reminder of previous, if fleeting, affection.

If you’re a traditionally published author, you might protest that your publisher takes care of giveaways. Fine, but that doesn’t mean you can’t politely educate them.

Publishers often run giveaways for too long.

The green line shows the number of new members who added my most recent book to their to-read shelf in response (mostly) to giveaways. There are diminishing returns with each giveaway because people who have already added the book enter subsequent giveaways. That’s good! The graphic shows that all the adds occur in the first few days and the last few days, so there is no point in stretching it out, other than to delay getting the book into readers’ hands. Sure, you might want a week or so to promote the giveaway, but anything longer than two weeks is pointless.

I begin giving away books as soon as possible, starting with homemade galleys typically only sent out for blurbs. I beg for as many of these as I can get. Readers don’t care if they have real covers, but in case they do, I state that in the giveaway.

Publishers often give away all the books at once. Again, to increase the number of to-reads, several shorter, smaller giveaways are more effective. Ask your marketing department how long they plan to run the giveaways and how the copies will be distributed among the giveaways. Tell them Sonja sent you.

So, pop a Xanax and head over to Goodreads. Update your recent reads, jazz up your profile, pick up some new followers and see if maybe, just maybe, it’s a better place than you thought. If you use the tools at your disposal and use them wisely, Goodreads might become both a friend and a boon to your career.

Have thoughts on Goodreads or a trick to share? The floor is yours!

About Sonja Yoerg [6]

Sonja Yoerg [7] grew up in Stowe, Vermont, where she financed her college education by waitressing at the Trapp Family Lodge. She earned a Ph.D. in biological psychology from the University of California, Berkeley and wrote a nonfiction book about animal intelligence, Clever as a Fox (Bloomsbury USA, 2001) and four novels: House Broken, Middle of Somewhere, All the Best People, and the upcoming True Places (1/19). Sonja lives with her husband in the Blue Ridge Mountains of Virginia.