How Readers Discovered a Debut Novel: A Case Study

Posted by Otis Chandler on November 14, 2012
How do I get my book in front of the right readers? How do I help readers discover my books? How do I stand out from the hundreds of thousands of other book titles competing for attention?

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.

Comments Showing 1-50 of 168 (168 new)

message 1: by Anju (new)

Anju Gattani This is excellent! Thanks so much for sharing with us authors and helping us learn more along the way!

Will absolutely add this to my favorites:)

Anju Gattani
Duty and Desire by Anju Gattani

message 2: by Dee (new)

Dee DeTarsio Brilliant! Slammed is a great read, (and Colleen Hoover is a very cool author, with an amazing rapport with her fans!). I loved the behind-the-scenes overview of her path to publication—very interesting!

message 3: by Lea (new)

Lea i love love love these books. they are amazing i connected with these boioks personally and it was a way for me to get about with my father passing away. its definitly a tear jerker but i love it and have re read them like 4 times and it never gets old.

message 4: by Mindi (new)

Mindi What a great way to promote the website/app and the author/book! Slammed & Point of Retreat are amazing books I really hope this article pushes it even farther over the top on the charts! I downloaded the Goodreads app to my iphone about a week ago and it already has been put to great use.

message 5: by Colleen (new)

Colleen Hoover Wow! Thank you to Goodreads for this case study, it's definitely surreal seeing it from this point of view. And thank you for giving us authors a way to get our books into hands of readers. I'm sure there are a number of authors, including myself, who owe a lot of our success to the power of Goodreads.

message 6: by Autumn Review (new)

Autumn Review I love Slammed and Point of Retreat. This is such a great article. It really shows readers/reviewers/authors that spreading the word really works.

message 7: by Michelle (new)

Michelle I loved this book and it's sequel Point of Retreat. I found out about them as recommendations on my Kindle. I do use Goodreads and have left ratings for both books here. It is interesting to me to see all the different ways self publishers use to get notice for their book. In this case, it is well deserved!

message 8: by Laura (new)

Laura Loved your books and I'm new to Goodreads, but not sure I could live without it now.

message 9: by Renate (new)

Renate I love Slammed..I love point of retreat..and I love Colleen Hoover. She just writes amazing books..but she is also an amazing far as I can know ofcourse by reading her blogs and facebook. I love how she interacts with the fans of her books.

message 10: by Melanie (new)

Melanie I loved the book slammed Colleen Hoover is a great author. And I go on goodreads all the time to find books that are of my interest

message 11: by Alyssa (new)

Alyssa WOW! That is facinating! I'm so happy for Colleen. She is AMAZING. She always gives away books and e-readers on her blog - which also generates interest and buzz around her books. I know in my case, it was my sister that had heard to Colleen's books. My sister won a signed copy of Slammed and a signed copy of Point of Retreat, BEFORE it was published again by Atria. Then, my sister recommended the books to me, and I was hooked. I eventually won Atria-published signed copies of both books from Colleen, which is amazing in itself because SO MANY PEOPLE love Colleen's books and want to get signed copies. I think that Colleen has done a fantastic job with self-promoting her books, and obviously, it has really paid off. I mean, come on. Slef-published to publisherd to MOVIE?! That's crazy-awesome. I totally commend her efforts and her talent as a writer. I supposed none of the self-promotion would have really worked out if the books weren't that great. And I love that Colleen, as well as Tammara Webber, Jamie McGuire and Abbi Glines are pioneers of the New Adult age level! I love that right now, it's just about perfect for me (I'm a little young for this age level actually).

Thank you for the amazing post! I love the spread of information you have here. I think other self-published authors should read this!

message 12: by Zap (new)

Zap I've always loved reading but the hobby was reignited by 50 Shades of Grey. After reading that, I started looking for books similar to it, and search engines always point me to Goodreads. One thing led to another and that's how I've read 40 books in the last 4 months. I know that's not too much compared to other bookworms out there, but you gotta give me some credit. I work two jobs and I'm taking my masters! The book suggestions are accurate--just exactly what I'm looking to read. I really like the lists and I try to read the top 20 of my favorite lists of books!

And what's even more interesting, Slammed inspired me to write poetry! Me! I'm not the most creative person, but I wrote a slam! Gotta admit that I'm a but dense with poetry but just reading the book inspired me to write one. It's entitled Why I Love Reading. Maybe I'll post it here if I win the eReader. :) Anyway, thank you dear authors for the amazing characters that you've introduced to us. You all inspire me to write my own novel as well! Thanks to Goodreads, that might not be a very distant dream! :)

message 13: by Madison (new)

Madison What I've loved about Goodreads? Well it's what helped me meet so many amazing indie authors. I was looking for something new to read, came on here, and before I knew it, I had books coming out my ears! :) It's been amazing to connect w/ so many avid readers, fellow bloggers and the most fantastic authors. It's a great go-to for people not sure what the want to read next, but knowing what they like. I always recommend it (other than my blog :) ) to people looking for a great jumping off point.

message 14: by Kim (last edited Nov 14, 2012 02:09PM) (new)

Kim Late to the party since I did not read this when some of my friends did and I first started seeing buzz about it on Goodreads and blogs. But just finished and loved them both! Cannot wait til book 3. I love GR! It keeps my to be read list full!

message 15: by Dana (new)

Dana Ferrell Love this author, her books, her sense of humor, her family and her pretty face! Thanks for featuring her in your article. The graphs are very intriguing.

message 16: by Shelly (new)

Shelly Goodreads pretty much got me back into reading after nearly 10 years :) I've found so many awesome authors, books & met some incredible people. I spend more time on here than any other website! I'm permanently logged in and the webpage is always open :)

It's thanks to Goodreads that I got to read Slammed which was such an awesome book!

message 17: by Stephanie (new)

Stephanie I love the way you can see what the author has coming out and also how the series is in order so you don't have to chase down each web site when it is all right here!

message 18: by Redheaded (new)

Redheaded Bookworm I have found so many amazing books and authors through GoodReads. I like to go through my Friends' lists and check out the books they enjoyed. Most of them like the same books I do.

message 19: by Tessa (last edited Nov 14, 2012 02:18PM) (new)

Tessa This is an interesting article! LOVE goodreads and your books :) goodreads is like having a best friend that has read all books and can really let you know what is good.

message 20: by Jodie (new)

Jodie Goodreads is where I come to get recommendations on books I have loved and want similar, but also where I come to pimp out my favorites. I don't read as many reviews as I used to as, imo, even reviews without spoilers can have an influence over the read. It took me a long time to work that out! I visit Goodreads each day updating my 'shelves' but also searching for my next read :)

message 21: by Tammi (new)

Tammi This was an interesting article. I loved Slammed & Point of Retreat! I enjoy using goodreads to track all of my books & my TBR list! I've also gotten some great book recommendations from looking at the lists of the bloggers/authors/friends that I follow on goodreads!

message 22: by Nicole (new)

Nicole How awesome! Your books are amazing Colleen!

message 23: by Debi (new)

Debi Barnes- Mean Girls Luv Books I love this book. I just joined goodreads and can't stop reading to figure out how it all works.

message 24: by Maria (new)

Maria Noriega Coleen you are amazing and I loved Slammed and Point of Retreat and look forward to reading more of your work.

message 25: by Jennifer (new)

Jennifer That is awesome. The books were brought to my attention by my sister. I love how word of mouth really helps bring new authors to mainstream attention.

message 26: by Toni (new)

Toni Hamel <3 your books...

message 27: by Jenni (new)

Jenni Great article; it's interesting to see how indie authors and their books take off. Goodreads is how I found out about Slammed, and many other fantastic books, too! I regularly visit the site to find out about other books/authors I might never find otherwise.

message 28: by Araxi (last edited Nov 14, 2012 02:18PM) (new)

Araxi Not only is it an exceptional book Colleen Hoover is so accessible to her fans. She connects whenever she can and she is one of the most relatable authors out there. Her success is so well deserved and so thankful for the goodreads community to allow us to make such connections not just with the authors but with likeminded readers!

message 29: by Andrea (new)

Andrea This is fascinating! I love Goodreads and am so thankful that some of these authors are getting the attention they deserve.
I use GR as a wish-list more or less to store all of the books that I come across that sound interesting. Also love to hear what my friends are currently reading.
Yay for Goodreads!

message 30: by Veronika (new)

Veronika Great article! I'm amazed how many books are published! When I'm searching for my next read, the first think I do is checking out Goodreads! I'm maybe a little addicted to it too :D I love the community and that everybody is as obsessed with books here as I am :D
Congrats Colleen for your success! Both Slammed and Point of Retreat were amazing!

message 31: by K3 (new)

K3 That is absolutely fantastic. GoodReads is an awesome site. A great tool for authors, fans, book clubs..Colleen is not only an amazing author, but she is also an amazing person!. So proud of her acomplishments!

message 32: by Liz (new)

Liz Incredible!! I love Goodreads, because there is no drama and this is where I met some fabulous Indie Authors. They are so down-to-earth and really connect with their fans... They so deserve the recognition!! Thank you Goodreads!

message 33: by Ann (new)

Ann I love Goodreads. It keeps me posted on some of my favorite authors and keeps me aware of new books that I would overlook otherwise. Also enjoy the reviews that are posted. Thanks for such a great source of information for an avid reader.

message 34: by Adrienne (new)

Adrienne Excellent article. I first found out about Slammed from a book group on Facebook. Now I get my recommendations from not only my FB group but Goodreads.

message 35: by L (new)

L I love goodreads, it's how I first learned about Slammed and many other indie-published novels. My recommendations are always spot-on. Can't wait for the next release by Colleen Hoover!

message 36: by Sheri (new)

Sheri I love being able to discover new books & authors on Goodreads as well as reading the reviews from readers. It helps me determine whether or not I want to read a specific book. I also enjoy the interaction with people I don't know personally but share similar taste in books.

message 37: by Angela (new)

Angela Ackeret guld Thanks to GR for helping me find several great books in the last couple of months. I would not have found and fell in love with Slammed without them!

message 38: by Jen (new)

Jen Love this author and love Goodreads! I have discovered many authors I would have otherwise overlooked because of friend recommendations on Goodreads. Congrats Colleen!!

message 39: by Amy (new)

Amy I love Goodreads because I get to follow all my favorite authors. I picked up The Sea of Tranquility a few weeks ago because I saw Colleen was reading it. I absolutely loved it! Thanks Colleen! Wishing you continued success! Can't wait to read more Will and Lake :)

message 40: by Christie (new)

Christie Goodreads has definitely become an addiction for me! I wasn't really much of a reader until I found goodreads and got my nook. Goodreads is where I get almost all of my recommendations and Iove the ability to easily click and add a book to my to read shelf! Love, love, love goodreads!

message 41: by Lisa Survillas (new)

Lisa Survillas My fave thing about Goodreads is that you can find books with descriptions and reviews easily as we'll as keep track of what you are reading and want to read to make it easier to buy later.

message 42: by Alexis (new)

Alexis LOVE GOODREADS! I've found some of my favorite books just through connecting with others who have the same taste as me. Colleen Hoover rocks!

message 43: by Cassie (new)

Cassie I love being able to go and see my favorite authors and my TBR list. This book is on that long list, and I can't wait to read it.

message 44: by Carmen (new)

Carmen Hudspeth I love that I can keep up with books I've already read and by rating them it generates a list of books that I should try. And 99% of the time I love the books it recommends for me!! I just love goodreads

message 45: by Julia (new)

Julia Just LOVE this. Just discovered Goodreads a week ago or so. HOW did I not find this sooner? 400 books on my kindle and suggestions/reviews/lists being the #1 way I find my next read. LOVE the site. LOVE Colleen's books. Great article :)

message 46: by Melissa (new)

Melissa I want to read it so bad next on to read list oh ya Colleen is a awesome person and writer I don't have to read it to know that I love you Colleen

message 47: by Poison IV (new)

Poison IV I love the recommendations from other Goodyear members

message 48: by Melissa (new)

Melissa GOODREADS is awesome I love it I get on it almost all the time recommend it to every one!!!!!!!

message 49: by melissa (new)

melissa I love goodreads! I get so many recommendations that are great, there aren't enough hours in the day to read!!!

message 50: by Kimberly (new)

Kimberly I'm so excited about this site! I've spent 25 + years of my life thinking I was turned off by reading for No reason other than "I just don't like to, it's boring and I can't focus on it". Call it ignorant, call it narrow minded, call it what you will BUT, finally I've opened my eyes to the world of fiction novels and I-Am-In-Love. I've read 6 books in less that 3 weeks ... TWO of those being Colleen Hoovers' Slammed and Point of Retreat. I'm so thankful to have stumbled upon the exciting world of reading(finally) and a website that helps direct my steps in choosing books! Great article and GREAT AUTHOR.

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