How Readers Discovered a Debut Novel: A Case StudyPosted by Otis Chandler on November 14, 2012
These were the questions I was asked to address at the annual PubWest Conference last month. This conference is distinct as it features mostly smaller and mid-size publishers, most of whom are located west of the Mississippi River. The dilemmas these publishers face, however, are anything but unique. Discovery—how to get readers to find and choose your books—remains one of the biggest challenges facing all authors and publishers, regardless of size.
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. Slammed is a great success story, and it represents an author (and eventually, a publisher) making great use of the Goodreads platform. What's especially useful about this case study is that this was Colleen's first book so she was starting from complete anonymity.
The graph above shows the various methods Goodreads members used to discover Slammed. As you can see, Slammed was published in early January of 2012. 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! If you've read Malcolm Gladwell's book The Tipping Point, you'll have heard of Mavens. These are the people who, once they discover something they love, just can't resist evangelizing about it. And they are influential because people trust them. Thanks to our fun, passionate community, these book-loving mavens are hanging out on Goodreads. 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.
By the summer, the book hit the New York Times bestseller list for e-books and it was then picked up by Simon & Schuster's Atria Books imprint. They came out with new e-books in August and with print books in September. And look what happened toward the end of August: it was added to a few Listopia lists, including Best Books of 2012, which is another way Goodreads members love to discover books.
It's important to note that this has been a very well-received book. After more than 20,000 ratings, the average rating is 4.4 stars out of 5. In fact, this has contributed to the book being included as a nominee in this year's Goodreads Choice Awards in the Young Adult Fiction category. We launched the Opening Round of voting for the awards two weeks ago. This has stimulated further interest in the book as people browse the categories looking for books to vote for and discover new books to read. You can see the bump in people adding the book to their "to read" shelves in this graphic.
Books added stats for Slammed.
With so many different ways to discover books, it's important for an author or publisher to think like a conductor. You have a whole orchestra of tools at your disposal—from giveaways, to targeted advertising, to author chats, to blog outreach—it's up to you to make the symphony crescendo. It's also important to understand how each instrument works, when to best employ them and how to use different ones to amplify others, as there is no one easy way to facilitate discovery.
For even more info, check out my full presentation below.
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