Goodreads Blog

How do books get discovered? A guide for publishers and authors who want their books to find an audience

Posted by Patrick Brown on February 17, 2012
We've all fallen under the spell of a truly great book. But where did we originally hear about it? How did we come to choose that particular book from among the literally millions of books in the world? Did a friend hand it to us and say, "You have to read this!" Or did we hear about it on NPR's "Fresh Air"? Or was it a Goodreads Recommendation that convinced us to give it a try?

From the publisher's perspective, discovery has always been shrouded in mystery, a sort of alchemical process through which readers find books they love. With a community of more than 7 million people and 250 million books shelved, Goodreads is uniquely equipped to shed some light on this eternal question. On Wednesday, our CEO Otis Chandler gave a talk at the Tools of Change conference in New York City presenting some data that helps get at one of the most pressing questions facing the publishing industry today—how do readers discover books?

What we found is that readers discover books in several different ways. While this may not seem surprising, it should serve as a reminder to authors and publishers that no one promotion or marketing technique is enough. To successfully promote a book, you have to reach out to readers in a variety of ways.

Below is a pie chart of the various methods Goodreads members use to find books on the site:

One of the biggest things we learned—or should we say confirmed—is the power of word of mouth. Searching for titles on Goodreads is the top way people find books for their to-read shelves. That means they first heard of it elsewhere—likely from friends or the media. Search represented the method of discovery with the widest distribution of titles, from the very popular to the very obscure.

Some of the methods for finding books, such as the registration process for Goodreads, favor very popular books. We want to make sure you see something familiar when signing up, so we show books that many readers have liked. But other methods of discovery, such as updates from your friends and searching for specific books and authors, are better for finding more obscure books.

Our Goodreads Recommendation Engine has been incredibly successful since we launched it last September. It was designed to show you interesting mid-list books (books that are neither best-sellers nor completely unknown titles) that you may not have heard of. As shown in the graph below, we succeeded. This makes sense, as nobody needs an algorithm to tell them about a best-seller. It's also worth pointing out that on the lower end our recommendation engine has a minimum threshold of several hundred ratings so we know enough about a book to be statistically comfortable recommending it. So authors, if you know of a strong comparable title to your book and you are able to market your book to those readers—and they respond by adding your book to their Goodreads account—our recommendation engine will notice this correlation and be even more likely to suggest your book to the right readers.

To find out more about where people initially hear about the books they read, we ran a survey of more than 3,200 Goodreads members, asking them how they discovered books. The results were somewhat surprising.

As you can see, most Goodreads members get book recommendations from their friends, either on Goodreads or off. Conversely, very few Goodreads members rely on Twitter and Facebook to hear about new books.

And, as we've shown previously, an appearance on a popular NPR program or The Daily Show can give any book a "pop" on Goodreads. It's worth noting, though, that maintaining that level of interest in the book relies on word of mouth. (In the graph below, the blue line shows the number of times A Slave in the White House was added after a member searched for it, and the brown curve shows the number of times the book was added because a member had seen a mention of the book in a friend's update.)

Discovery happens in a multitude of ways, and a successful marketing campaign should take that into account. But there are a few strategies that seem to work well.

Our best advice is to work hard to establish your core fan base. The more momentum on Goodreads you get, the more it will build. Encourage your readers to rate and review your book on Goodreads. This will not only help generate word-of-mouth buzz, which is essential for a sustained promotion, but also help get your books onto the appropriate book lists and onto the Goodreads Recommendation engine. Our Listopia lists are a great source of discovery for our members, including lots of mid-list titles. They tend to be specific, such as World War II Fiction or Pacific Northwest Books, so having your book on the right list can make a huge difference.

If you're an author who already has a following, be sure to promote your book heavily to your existing fans and fans of similar authors. Add a Goodreads badge or widget to your Web site or blog and encourage your readers to add your books and become your fan. If you're just starting out, reach the right readers with an advance giveaway.

For more interesting data on how readers discover their books, be sure to explore the full slideshow below. We look forward to bringing you more of this kind of in-depth information that could only come from the world's largest site for readers and book recommendations.

Happy reading!
Otis, Kyusik, and Patrick

Comments Showing 1-37 of 37 (37 new)

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message 1: by Trina (new)

Trina Nice article. So glad I found this site.

message 2: by James (new)

James Jackson Fantastic read !!!

message 3: by Emelie (new)

Emelie Really interesting! But I was surprised about the best-sellers doesn't get recommended. People can miss those books too!

message 4: by Alexie (new)

Alexie Aaron Brilliant! Lots of great information. Spurred on a lively debate in my living room this morning.

message 5: by Margayle65 (new)

Margayle65 I read quite a few book blogs and reviews by people whose choice I respect (especially on NPR, where I've discovered some of my favorite authors). Book club friends' recommendations and reviews are another great source, as well as my sister's book club choices.

message 6: by Emmly (new)

Emmly Jane Very informative article. Thank you for sharing.

I admit I still judge a book by its cover. Even being a 95-98% digital reader only, if the cover and/or title does not grab me, I will not even click on the description. I scan covers and titles in Amazon's top 100 lists (both paid and free). If it is someone I have never heard of, I will get the free sample before making a purchase though.

Many blessings,
ej (

message 7: by Bridget (new)

Bridget Bowers Very cool. Thanks for sharing the information. I know that I often get my next book by friends or family recommendations. It is nice to see how other people find their next read.

message 8: by Nancy (new)

Nancy If I'm in the mood for a particular type of book, I'll look at the 4 and 5 star books on the appropriate shelves of my goodreads friends. I search out friends on goodreads with similar tastes (love that compare books feature) who have read a lot of books and have a lot of personalized shelves.

message 9: by Hope (new)

Hope Baugh I agree that this is an interesting article(!), but I wish there had been more emphasis on the role that librarians and public libraries play in promoting both individual books and reading in general. According to the bar graph in this presentation, 54% of people discover books at their library. I know from working in a public library that people of all ages discover books via library displays and booklists, and through in-person conversations with library staff and with each other at the library. Also, many people's only access to the Internet (i.e., to GoodReads, to authors' websites, and to online stores) is at their public library. I love what someone told me recently: "Libraries don't milk the publishing industry, they fuel it."

message 10: by Anne (new)

Anne I think you left an important source for discovery off your list: book reviews. I read newspaper reviews, NYTimes Book Review, Booklist, and others for my main source of information about new books and titles I might like to read. I rarely like any recommendations from friends (or online recommendations) as reading tastes vary widely.

message 11: by Petra X karma should have given me a Ferrari (last edited Feb 21, 2012 01:01PM) (new)

Petra X karma should have given me a Ferrari The (very enjoyable) article should be renamed, "How do books get discovered? A guide for publishers and authors who want their books to find an audience with Goodreads members" for accuracy. Surveying your own audience and applying the conclusions across the board really isn't cricket.

I know very many older people who do not use computers for much, if at all, who mostly find books from their libraries and from newspaper and public radio reviews. Perhaps with the push towards electronic media this audience just isn't sexy enough and is difficult to survey, but they are a market increasingly important to publishers as they actually buy print books on a regular basis.

Again, not fitting in with the push towards electronic media, there is the Luddite breed of independent bookseller. Last year 9% of all the books sold in my shop were hand-sold, recommended by my staff or myself to customers we had got to know. Its all very well pushing electronic media to people, but a recommendation engine that doesn't recommend books unless they have had hundreds of ratings isn't going to find
Bronze Age Economics: The First Political Economies or
A Society Without Fathers or Husbands: The Na of China or the absolutely amazing
Civilizations : Culture, Ambition, and the Transformation of Nature, all of which books I hand-sold this morning.

The comment from tourists I hear most in my bookshop after, "Do you sell postcards?" (no) and "Do you have a bathroom? (yes but only for customers), is that I have an amazing selection of unusual books and they'd never expected to find a place like this in the Caribbean. These are the people I hand-sell books to, books they've never heard of but that are, after a few minutes chat, ones I can see they would be interested in.

Your article doesn't consider these at all, because you are are an online company, but libraries, bookshops, print books and niche authors deserve some consideration, no? Or perhaps no, perhaps the view that if the public doesn't buy something then they don't want it (even if they didn't know about it and might have wanted it if they had known) that the market will decide is the only view that counts in a society where the most important economic activity is online companies selling data to companies that place ads. and the more homogenous, the more mid-range the audience, the easier it is to market to them.

Rant over!

message 12: by Paola (new)

Paola Calvetti Very Interesting article!
paola calvetti

message 13: by Kat Kennedy (new)

Kat Kennedy Excellent article. Thank you for that information.

message 14: by Aubrie (new)

Aubrie Dionne Very helpful! Thanks for posting.

message 15: by Ruby (new)

Ruby Barnes Fascinating stuff and thanks for sharing. The size of Goodreads and the sample size mentioned suggest that your figures are a good representation of this internet-savvy reading public.
It's a real challenge for new authors like myself to get up to that hundreds to-read rating for the recommendation engine to kick in. The Goodreads groups are great places to interact with people (and I'm a member of several as a reader and others as an author) but I think it's really key that spam and hit & run with promotions are kept to a minimum. Goodreads does that well, unlike facebook and twitter.

message 16: by Alicia (new)

Alicia Street Wow, this is a great article. Thanks so much!

message 17: by Diana (new)

Diana Thank you for providing these statistics! As an author, this information is invaluable to me.

message 18: by Bryan (last edited Mar 23, 2012 11:56AM) (new)

Bryan Thomas Schmidt To me this is just a PR post designed to elevate Goodreads. There are many way people find books. This is just how they may do it related to Goodreads. Not applicable beyond that. As an author, I'd have liked to have seen something broader and less obviously biased. Sorry, but you talk as if Goodreads is the only way people really find books. It's complete bull. And it looks so manipulative.

message 19: by Sarah (new)

Sarah Tun I found this really informative and helpful as I launch my first book! Thank you.

message 20: by Sakuntala (last edited Apr 30, 2012 05:39PM) (new)

Sakuntala Gananathan Thank you, Goodreads, for this informative article.

message 21: by Leslie (new)

Leslie Kohler Interesting how social media ranks so low. Need to concentrate on what is effective. Thank you for the info!

message 22: by Rajuda (new)

Rajuda Bestseller lists are becoming more and more promotional, choosing to support authors and publishers rather than readers. Most of the book-reviews also fall in this category. Social media or friends' suggestions, though not intentional, are often subjective. That leaves me with resources like 'Goodreads Recommendation Engine'. And before picking up a book, a quick peek into it will certainly not hurt!

More than publishers and authors, it is the reader who is increasingly finding it difficult to 'discover a good book to read'!

message 23: by gj (new)

gj indieBRAG This was great info all authors need to see. It is our soul purpose to get attention for self-published books that may not be getting the attention they deserve. We are constantly trying to spread the word and Goodreads has been a great source,

message 24: by Jo (new)

Jo Bender There are a thousand ways to let readers know about a book. As an author and former marketer, I'm having a lot of fun finding sources for my new unique fictional
look at today's West.
The story starts in Nevada and ends in Montana. It begins in a casino in Winnemucca. I phoned the manager of Winners and told him, "I've written a story about your casino." Before he can respond, I hear a voice in the background saying, "You have a call from the gaming commissioner," and the manager replies, "Tell him to hold," so I knew I had caught his interest.
That's the first, and important, bit: what's the story about? If it's an adventure, I'm interested.
Back to the marketing of Rusty Springs, the first in my series of the folks in the Rusty Springs Valley, of Montana. The first story is a mystery. A stalker is getting more vicious for our Nevada blackjack dealer so she leaves town and rents a mountain cabin in Montana.
Will media in Montana be interested in a story about Montana? As Walt Steigleman, one of my news journalism profs at the U of Iowa, said, "People are interested in a dog fight on the corner IF it's their town."
I envision being a book vendor at the big weekend rodeo event in Winnemucca the end of February and also at the huge gathering for the Shooting the West, a photo seminar. The book's signage will be: Here's a mystery about YOUR town. It's a fun read for both cowboys and cowgirls.
Life can be dull if you don't add a little verve or excitement. When my bachelor friend said, "I'd like to find a nice woman," I said, "You don't want a "nice" woman, do you?" And, he replied, "No, should be someone who is exciting and be a good at doing the things I can't do, like being hostess for things."
So, getting people interested in what I've written is much harder work than doing the actual writing and rewriting."
But, doesn't being a book vendor in a cowboy town sound like quite an adventure?

message 25: by Sarah (new)

Sarah Tun Yes, I take your point: 'So, getting people interested in what I've written is much harder work than doing the actual writing and rewriting." Sometimes I just want to pack it in and write for me myself and I. Then I think, the message matters - so I keep on plugging!
Thanks for your thoughts!

message 26: by Jo (new)

Jo Bender A young mother who is a teacher wrote a book about a twelve-year-old whose logger father lost his job and the family is concerned about money. She's written ten letters to agents who tell her that if she would write a book about vampires, they'd be interested. She listens to authors and asks their advice. She attends writers conferences.

"What I'm learning," she said, "Is that now that I've written a book, I'll have to spend so much more time marketing the book after it is published."

Success for her she said "Would be to find an agent who will find a publisher who will do the marketing. Then, I can quit my job and just write books."

message 27: by Antony (new)

Antony Qauvatare Very interesting and informative, but there is always an element of luck, which comes to some writers when they get known. J K Rowling owes her luck to the young daughter of a publisher, when she insisted that he publish her work. Best regards from @trinuwan

message 28: by [deleted user] (new)

Thank you so much for sharing this powerful information with us, readers and authors! I also had great ideas when watched some of the slideshows! I am new here and am enjoying this community and platform so much!

Isis Sousa, author of Art of Isis Sousa & Guests: Fantasy Digital Painting Techniques & Video Lectures

message 29: by M.c. (new)

M.c. Oliveira Petra X wrote: "The (very enjoyable) article should be renamed, "How do books get discovered? A guide for publishers and authors who want their books to find an audience with Goodreads members" for accuracy. Surve..."

message 30: by Pamela (new)

Pamela Cash Good Information.

message 31: by J.H. (new)

J.H. Walker Thanks Goodreads, for being so informative.

message 32: by Bella (new)

Bella Forrest This is such fantastic information.

message 33: by Celia (new)

Celia Conrad I thought this was very interesting. So much emphasis is put on Facebook and Twitter and I think that those are good vehicles in building following but maybe not so good in terms of converting to sales of our books.

I agree with what Gordon says - you have to work hard at it like any other business.

Thank you for the information!

message 34: by Igor (last edited Apr 04, 2014 01:27AM) (new)

Igor Ljubuncic Very useful info, thanks!

message 35: by Caitlin (new)

Caitlin Hicks Petra X wrote: "The (very enjoyable) article should be renamed, "How do books get discovered? A guide for publishers and authors who want their books to find an audience with Goodreads members" for accuracy. Surve..."

Thank you Petra for your rant! Excellent points. I love the experience of being in a bookstore, and part of that is getting recommendations from the staff. It's akin to the feeling of Christmas morning. Keep up the good work.

message 36: by Caitlin (new)

Caitlin Hicks Hope wrote: "I agree that this is an interesting article(!), but I wish there had been more emphasis on the role that librarians and public libraries play in promoting both individual books and reading in gener..."
OMG I can't believe I'm interested in this post, too. The library! Almost invisible in my world today and yet I love going in and indulging. 54%! I'm going to get my book (tbpublished in 2015) in the libraries!

message 37: by Mattias (new)

Mattias Lönnqvist Interesting article, but as a reader I hardly ever bother about the recommendation engine. I have tried using ut, and sometimes even tried to fine tune it to get better recommendations, but after reading this I realize why it hardly ever shows anything interesting to me.

The problem, for me, is that I mostly read non-english books, and in particular Swedish books. Not translations (although I read those sometimes) but books written in Swedish. They rarely have enough ratings to show up in the recommendation engine, so instead I have to rely on what friends read to find Swedish books I might have missed.

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