Goodreads Blog

How “The Girl on the Train” Became a Runaway Success

Posted by Otis Chandler on August 12, 2015
If there's one word that sums up the publishing success story of this year's "it" book, The Girl on the Train, it is "speed." We've never seen any other debut novel achieve this kind of velocity on Goodreads:

  • The Girl on the Train built up more Want to Read shelvings pre-publication than any other debut novel in Goodreads' history.
  • It's been far and away the most searched-for book on Goodreads in 2015, with four times as many searches as the closest contender.
  • Flipping the behavior we see for a typical book, more people have been marking it as "Read" than people adding it to their Want to Read shelves for months.


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Kate Stark, Riverhead Books Marketing Vice President, told us "Goodreads played a major role in helping The Girl on the Train break out to early success. We knew that getting early reviews from Goodreads members would be critical. Once the word of mouth started and readers got excited about the book, the social side of Goodreads amplified the buzz it was getting to astounding levels."

It's the bullet train of books. But what catapulted the book into New York Times bestseller status so quickly? What made it the kind of debut book sales story the industry sees only every few years? With the book passing the epic 3 million copies sold milestone, we thought it was a good time to dig into the data on Goodreads to find out.

The first thing we discovered is that this is a story of how the passion of influential readers helped build that all-important early buzz. It's also a story of how the twin trends of social media and our increasing time on mobile devices helped translate that initial buzz into a word-of-mouth sensation at record speeds. With the growth in mobile, it's not surprising that more and more people are discovering, buying, reading and/or discussing books on their mobile devices. At Goodreads, more than 50% of our traffic comes from mobile (people using our iOS and Android apps, or using our mobile website). Almost half of the activity you see below happened on mobile devices, which was clearly a significant factor in how quickly buzz about the book spread.

Further contributing to the success of the book is the fact that interest in The Girl on the Train has been sustained. Look at the graph below and you'll see that thousands of people have been adding The Girl on the Train to their Goodreads shelves every day since late December.



Tracing the break out of The Girl on the Train

The Girl on the Train first came to our attention in September 2014, almost four months before it was published, when one of top reviewers, Karen, wrote a rave review. You can see the spike in Goodreads members adding the book to their Want to Read shelves after reading the review on the left of the graph below.



That initial round of interest from a trusted, influential member of the community led the book to briefly become a trending book on Goodreads by pushing it up our Popular Books lists and that helped more people discover the book.

Karen had received one of the 4,000 Advance Reader Copies (ARCs) that the publishers, Riverhead Books, had sent out to booksellers, readers and book critics in the media. (Sending out ARCs is a key part of the marketing by publishers and authors to build buzz around their books in the build-up to publication.)

We talked with Jynne Martin, Riverhead Books Publicity Director, and she told us that ARCs were particularly important for this book: "The whole Riverhead team fell in love with The Girl on the Train. People were reading it under the table in meetings! It's that compulsive. We knew that the key to helping this debut book break out was to get it into as many people's hands as possible. The story would take it from there."

To help kickstart awareness with Goodreads members, Riverhead Books ran two Goodreads giveaways in October 2014 offering members the chance to win one of 50 copies of the book. Almost 2,400 members entered and you can see the spikes in people adding the book to their shelves as a result (and their friends seeing the news in their Goodreads updates feed about people entering the giveaway and deciding to add the book as well).

December is where all of Riverhead's pre-publication work starts to pay off. There's clearly a groundswell of buzz that has built up as the number of searches on Goodreads are increasing (the green area in the chart shows the number of people who are adding the book to their shelves after searching for it). Media coverage is starting to come out, Riverhead's social media campaign is kicking into gear, and more Goodreads members are posting their reviews after reading their ARCs.

For the Riverhead team, seeing this surge of activity on Goodreads and the pre-orders coming in from booksellers further reinforced their confidence that The Girl on the Train had the potential to be a major bestseller. They decided to ramp up their advertising plans, and booked additional media interviews for the author, Paula Hawkins (who flew in from England).

January 2015 — Publication Month!



Publication date for The Girl on the Train was January 13, 2015. A flurry of rave reviews from major media outlets came out the week beforehand, increasing daily searches on Goodreads significantly. And thanks to the social network effect of Goodreads, word-of-mouth about the book grew exponentially as people discovered the book from updates by friends on Goodreads.

As a result of the huge numbers of people who had added The Girl on the Train to their Want to Read shelves and the high average rating from the pre-publication reviews, the book shot straight to the top of our Hot Books of January list and it was featured in our general newsletter and in our New Releases email (which each go out to 31 million readers). This caused a dramatic spike in people adding to the book to their Goodreads shelves in the week before publication.

Marketing around the book also included advertising, and campaigns on Goodreads before and after publication created spikes in interest (see the circled peaks in the visual). Not highlighted on the graph are the two additional giveaways that Riverhead ran in January that drove more than 5,000 entries — another sign of how much interest and demand had built up around this book.

Immediately post-publication, it's clear that the book has already achieved mainstream awareness — it's a rarity for a debut novel to get this popular this quickly. There are huge numbers of people searching for it on Goodreads and adding it to their shelves. More media coverage was coming out (we could only show some of the highlights in the visual) and people were talking about it as "the next Gone Girl."

Just two weeks after publication, news broke that The Girl on the Train had hit the number one spot in the New York Times Bestseller List. It's the kind of news that makes a book even more popular and is the beginning of The Girl on the Train reaching an even wider audience. You can see the huge spike in searches as the news comes out and the searches stay high in the days following. The book was about to go from bestseller to phenomenon — the kind of book that comes along maybe once or twice a decade.

Other influencers started talking about the book. For example, Stephen King — who has kept many a reader awake at night — was the first celebrity to tweet about the book, sharing that it had kept him up most of the night.



What's also very different about The Girl on the Train from other books is the speed at which people have been reading it. This wasn't a book people bought and then added to the pile on the nightstand. The Girl on the Train had become part of the zeitgeist — it was a conversation topic. And to be part of the conversation, you had to read it first, which people did in droves. You can see from the chart below that more people have been reading it than adding it to their Want to Read shelves for months, which is highly unusual for a book.



Many things have to come together to launch a book onto the bestseller list, but what The Girl on the Train shows us is:

  • Word of mouth has always been crucial in the publishing world, but now the growth of social media and mobile device adoption can help break out a book at an unprecedented speed.
  • Getting a book into the hands of influential readers months in advance of publication is more important than ever. While speed is the name of the game once buzz has built up, it takes time for that initial buzz to develop.
  • It takes multiple marketing tactics to promote a book. We've been able to share only highlights from a very successful campaign by Riverhead. Each of the tactics helped amplify the others.


Ultimately, though, at the heart of this story is a book that many readers have found "gripping," "a fantastic ride," and "a tightly woven mystery with painful secrets and startling truths revealed along the way." It's the kind of book readers can't help telling their friends about.

How did you first hear about The Girl on the Train?

Comments Showing 1-50 of 75 (75 new)


message 1: by sublimosa (last edited Aug 12, 2015 09:39AM) (new)

sublimosa Over-blown success of an enjoyable yet very average read.
I heard about it when a group (not associated with GR) I read with suggested it for a group read.


message 2: by Denisse (new)

Denisse Great article!

I loved this book. I just can't help my obsession with damaged characters.
My favorite book so far this year!


message 3: by Michelle (new)

Michelle I saw it as a special offer on Amazon, Kindle. It's an ok read but not worth the extreme hype, in my opinion.

I don't remember seeing a giveaway on Goodreads. US only most likely.


message 4: by Jan (new)

Jan I agree - overblown. Not a favorite.


message 5: by Jay (new)

Jay Man, I wish I had access to the statistical data GR has. I'd love to see the polularity of my favorite books rise and fall. :)


message 6: by Alicia (new)

Alicia Brooks Who CARES!? What a piece of crap "novel". If this is what people are buyoing, the lit world is in trouble.


message 7: by Michelle (new)

Michelle Jay wrote: "Man, I wish I had access to the statistical data GR has. I'd love to see the polularity of my favorite books rise and fall. :)"

Me too. Perhaps GR will put it on the description page for every book now...


message 8: by WendyB (new)

WendyB I'm sorry I read it. I wasted valuable time on this terrible novel that could have been spent reading something good.


message 9: by Luke (new)

Luke Marsden Michelle wrote: "Jay wrote: "Man, I wish I had access to the statistical data GR has. I'd love to see the polularity of my favorite books rise and fall. :)"

Me too. Perhaps GR will put it on the description page ..."


Most of this data is already there... Just click the 'stats' link (alongside 'recommend it' in the top right corner of the book's details page) and you'll see the history of numbers of shelf additions and reviews for any book. Hidden GR feature!


message 10: by Elaine (new)

Elaine Too much hype from the publishers. Overrated. A disappointment.


message 11: by Michelle (new)

Michelle Luke wrote: "Michelle wrote: "Jay wrote: "Man, I wish I had access to the statistical data GR has. I'd love to see the polularity of my favorite books rise and fall. :)"

Me too. Perhaps GR will put it on the ..."


Luke wrote: "Michelle wrote: "Jay wrote: "Man, I wish I had access to the statistical data GR has. I'd love to see the polularity of my favorite books rise and fall. :)"

Me too. Perhaps GR will put it on the ..."


Thanks Luke. I never knew that. Now I will be spending even more time fiddling on GR when I should be doing other stuff ;).


message 12: by Martha (new)

Martha sublimosa wrote: "Over-blown success of an enjoyable yet very average read.
I heard about it when a group (not associated with GR) I read with suggested it for a group read."


I completely agree with you. I enjoyed it, but it wasn't anything special. Kind of like the bookish equivalent of a bag of potato chips. Once you open it, you're going to finish it, but it isn't necessarily good for you.


message 13: by Suchismita (new)

Suchismita Panda Weird as it might sound,
I first saw the book in the hands of a girl sitting next to me on the train I was travelling home by.
I haven't read the book yet, but intend to change that soon.


message 14: by Mary Ann (new)

Mary Ann F.P. wrote: ""but what The Girl on the Train shows us is"...what happened with The Girl on the Train. Extrapolating from one anecdotal case to future anecdotal cases is normally not good science--not that goodr..."

Maybe it has something to do with the fact that Amazon now has a financial interest in GR, just saying.


message 15: by Charlotte (new)

Charlotte Gunther Cannot understand the popularity of this book. Perhaps it demonstrates the power of advertising? Like many of the commenters here, I found this book to be a complete waste of time. Skipped through the last few chapters just to get to the end already!

Why is that reviewers and promoters "Love" this book, while actual readers hate it? Overrated. over hyped.


message 16: by Wes (last edited Aug 12, 2015 12:34PM) (new)

Wes I decided to read it because it was heavily promoted as a best-seller, and perhaps there was a good deal on it. I just don't remember now. It was terrible and a waste of my time. A 1-star rating from me. I just can't understand all the hype about this book. A sad commentary on our society? Popular does not equal good.


message 17: by Jay (new)

Jay Luke wrote: "Michelle wrote: "Jay wrote: "Man, I wish I had access to the statistical data GR has. I'd love to see the polularity of my favorite books rise and fall. :)"

Me too. Perhaps GR will put it on the ..."


Dude, that's awesome! Thanks!


message 18: by FdBooks (new)

FdBooks Free Mi pare ci sia molta differenza fra il giudizio dei lettori e quello dei recensori...

Qui il mio articolo: https://goo.gl/BbNAmi


message 19: by Cary (new)

Cary Harvengt good idea for story, done in an average way. Main character was frustrating. Not worth the hype


message 20: by Ashli (new)

Ashli Barrera I actually saw it on my librarys website and decided to read the summary and it seemed interesting so i put it on my to read shelf. :)


message 21: by Ju$tin (new)

Ju$tin I feel like I have to read this book now... so I can have an opinion on it.

*Looks at the other 300 books on my to read list*

*sighs*


message 22: by Darnia (last edited Aug 12, 2015 06:38PM) (new)

Darnia A friend of mine told me that this book is overrated, but I haven't read it by myself yet. This article is encouraging me. I will try to read it right away :)


message 23: by Jonathas (new)

Jonathas Soares The novel is average at most and this whole debacle made me distrust Goodreads reviewers who liked it, such as Karen.


message 24: by karen (new)

karen Jonathas wrote: "The novel is average at most and this whole debacle made me distrust Goodreads reviewers who liked it, such as Karen."

oh no!! i'm sorry you distrust me!! i thought the book was fun, but i'm just me, and i think i would be terrified if i ever found someone with the exact same reading tastes as me because that would mean someone snuck into my home at night and cloned me, and i am NOT okay with that.


message 25: by Drew (new)

Drew I first heard about it from Wendy Darling and Emily May's reviews.


message 26: by Jessica (new)

Jessica I won an ARC copy through GR giveaways and read it before there was a huge buzz . However, if I had read it after the all the hoopla my review would probably have been different. I enjoyed it, but it didn't change my life or anything.


message 27: by Delta (new)

Delta karen wrote: "Jonathas wrote: "The novel is average at most and this whole debacle made me distrust Goodreads reviewers who liked it, such as Karen."

oh no!! i'm sorry you distrust me!! i thought the book was f..."


Great answer Karen! One of the great things about being a regular on GoodReads is spending time with your favorite reviewers and friends. After a while you learn whose tastes and opinions are similar to yours, and those are the ones who can point you toward books you are likely to love. Why would anyone expect a stranger to know what they like? Reviewers are telling us what THEY like, and the good ones tell us why. The really great ones (like Karen) make us laugh at the same time. It is up to the readers to use their own brains and interpret what the review says about their likelihood of enjoying the book.


message 28: by Mike (new)

Mike Abrahams Always wonder what the average rating figure is worth and whether for other Goodreaders this is a good indicator? For this book at 3.85 that puts it in the bottom 30% if I sort my Read shelf by avg rating (not a probable good read I guess) whereas say Steig Larsson's Millenium books show an avg rating of 4.2-ish. I don't find avg rating always reliable in YA books (4.x. something for the Divergent series I thought was overblown) but I wondered what other people think a 'worth reading' avg. rating is? Or is avg. rating pretty worthless?


message 29: by Delta (new)

Delta Mike wrote: "Always wonder what the average rating figure is worth and whether for other Goodreaders this is a good indicator? For this book at 3.85 that puts it in the bottom 30% if I sort my Read shelf by avg..."

There is a lot to consider when interpreting the average rating. The higher the number of raters, I think the more valid it tends to be. Always check the rating statistics for the breakdown. In my opinion a low average rating number is more meaningful than a high one. Many reader/reviewers avoid giving low ratings so that they can get more ARCs. If the rating is low, you can be pretty certain the book is a real stinker. When the rating is high, you cannot be so sure. If it is from a large number of raters and from some with whom you are familiar, your chances are a lot better for interpreting.


message 30: by Mike (new)

Mike Abrahams Delta wrote: "Many reader/reviewers avoid giving low ratings so that they can get more ARCs. If the rating is low, you can be pretty certain the book is a real stinker...."

Interesting. I'd never thought about ARCs being distributed only to reviewers who gave high avg ratings but it makes perfect sense (if you were a smart book publicist you might even check whether they gave high ratings to 'similar' novels I guess).

However, as you say, maybe you can avoid the possible ARC ratings bias by just making sure that the book has lots of ratings (500+ or whatever).


message 31: by Daryl (new)

Daryl Tay Except after you read the book, you realise it's empty hype for a sadly average book (at best) - for reasons numerous people have pointed out here and on the book's review page.


message 32: by Jessica (last edited Aug 12, 2015 06:47PM) (new)

Jessica I definitely would never have picked up The Girl on the Train if not for seeing it on Goodreads. Even though it's not usually the type of book I reach for, I liked it and I greatly preferred it to Gone Girl.

As a side note, I really liked this blog post in general. It was different, and I thought it was interesting to see exactly how social media and Goodreads factor into book marketing.


message 33: by Mike (new)

Mike Abrahams F.P. wrote: "Julius Caeser 3.63, King Lear 3.88, Shakespeare’s overall 3.85
Good Morning, Midnight 3.95, Rhys’s overall 3.61
Fahrenheit 451 3.95, Bradbury’s overall 3.98
Frankenstein 3.71, Mary Shelley’s overal..."


If I look at that list you could say that Shakespeare, Shelley, Conrad, Kafka (and possibly even Bradbury from my dim memories of Fahrenheit 451) are just not as accessible to modern readers and therefore the poorer avg sub-4.x ratings?


message 34: by April (new)

April I absolutely hated this book. I bought it and read it because of the hype on Goodreads. I wish I had ignored all I saw. Sometimes we should just go with our gut on what looks good to us. Never again...


message 35: by Dana (new)

Dana Meh, I liked the book. I think reading a book before crazy hype is always an advantage. As for reviewers rating everything high to get more ARCs, I would have to disagree. A lot of top reviewers do not have overly high average ratings, and just give their honest opinions.


message 36: by Dana (new)

Dana At the end of the day, as long as people are reading, I'm happy.


message 37: by Doseofbella (new)

Doseofbella I have not read this yet. The more hyped reviews get the more I want to move it up on my tbr list. I'm kind of a rebel that way. If the reviews are a positive then I may add it to my tbr pile, but reviews with a less than likeable expression seem to interest me more.
Happy Reading!


message 38: by Melissa (last edited Aug 12, 2015 11:37PM) (new)

Melissa I This is hands down my favorite blog post to date. Okay, maybe I've that once before or for all your blog posts, but this one hits a seriously intense and special place in my heart. I first got a copy of The Girl on the Train from the #Penguin #FirstToRead program. I had read at least half of the book in pdf format when I was lucky enough to win a print copy with an author friend of mine on instagram from #Riverheadbooks and this book, even as I type now, 'still' makes my heart race. Seriously, the more I type and think of it, the more my heart is pounding. 'This' book is 'the' book of its genre that I'd been searching for, for over 17 years.

Next to Eight Hundred Grapes by Laura Dave by Laura Dave these two are equally my 2015 and all time favorite books ever!!

Towards the end of "TGOTT" I was reading and my heart was racing so I quickly put it down, stared at it, had to see what was coming next, picked up, read a sentence or one paragraph and had to put it down again.....just to breathe. Gripping is an understatement. Ultimately, I couldn't keep it down. So what if I couldn't breathe....I absolutely had to know what was going to happen and at the last two pages, after reading this at a faster pace than I'd ever read a book, I forced myself to slow down because I couldn't deal with the fact that it was over.....I still can't!!!! It's one I'll read many more times and I've kept it at the forefront of sharing ever since....gifted it when I could, votes, picture sharing, link sharing.....

How my words are rambling here is exactly what this book did to me......and it. was. awesome!!!!! Every single spine tingling, suspense filled heart palpitation, the hand cramps from gripping the book too tightly, the forgetting to breathe while reading.....a coherent message about this book is nearly impossible for me.

Riverhead Books is my, whatever book they're logo is on, I'm reading it shelf!!

Apologies for typos above. I'm all worked up now. Yes, this book is 'that' incredible!! Fantastic blog post!!

description


message 39: by karen (new)

karen ♥ to delta!

as far as arcs go, i don't think they always result in higher ratings. for me, i was getting mine mostly from the free shelves at work, so there was zero publisher expectation that i would rate them higher for more freebies. of course, now that i have no job/no freebies at all, who knows what i will be driven to do for free books....


Laila (BigReadingLife) Martha wrote: "sublimosa wrote: "Over-blown success of an enjoyable yet very average read.
I heard about it when a group (not associated with GR) I read with suggested it for a group read."

I completely agree wi..."


Martha, This is the perfect way to describe Girl on a Train - like a bag of potato chips.


message 41: by Andrea (new)

Andrea It came on the heels of Gone Girl and was marketed as a similar read. Even the title is somewhat suggestive. Those who were still hyped by the Gone Girl movie, were starving for round 2. Those publishers knew what they were doing.


message 42: by Mike (new)

Mike It was one of the worse books that I've read in recent history


message 43: by Rho (new)

Rho I read the book last week and cannot understand why it is so high in ratings. None of the characters were well developed or believable- not that you have to like them but...... This book was a waste of time.


message 44: by Travelin (new)

Travelin Jay wrote: "Man, I wish I had access to the statistical data GR has. I'd love to see the polularity of my favorite books rise and fall. :)"

Last I checked, ever book has a "stats" feature charting how often it's been read/added.


message 45: by Kayla (new)

Kayla I work at a library so I kept seeing people requesting it & we have best seller copies of popular books and when I finally saw one lying around I quickly grabbed it. I read it and loved it!


message 46: by Jonathas (new)

Jonathas Soares karen wrote: "Jonathas wrote: "The novel is average at most and this whole debacle made me distrust Goodreads reviewers who liked it, such as Karen."

oh no!! i'm sorry you distrust me!! i thought the book was f..."


Hey Karen, I believe you gave us your honest opinion, but I daresay that you probably haven't read much in the crime thriller genre. I'm sure that if I read a romance novel that was perfectly acceptable, I could end up rating it 4 stars due to my lack of familiarity with the genre. In your case, there were dire consequences. I don't think you need to do anything differently; I just wish more people were independent thinkers, and didn't automatically take a reviewer's misguided opinion as gospel. Keep doing what you're doing though. If everyone in the world had more than 3,000 books on their 'read' list, it'd be a much better place.


message 47: by karen (new)

karen nah, i've read plenty of crime fiction. usually more in the backwoods noir/grit lit realm, but lots of psych suspense as well. and i still thought this was fun. i do not accept the full blame for the "dire consequences" of books being sold. i mean, look at the woman's day spike!! diabolical!


message 48: by Monica (new)

Monica Goodell I was really looking forward to this book after all the great reviews. Was disappointed. Wasn't that great and didn't find it very suspenseful. Was just ok.


message 49: by Priyanka (new)

Priyanka Now I'm Tempted to read this novel .......


message 50: by Kaizen (new)

Kaizen sublimosa wrote: "Over-blown success of an enjoyable yet very average read.
I heard about it when a group (not associated with GR) I read with suggested it for a group read."


+1


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