Goodreads Blog

Case Study: How St. Martin's Aligned the Stars for All the Ugly and Wonderful Things

Posted by Suzanne on June 01, 2017
"The Goodreads Choice Awards Deal for All the Ugly and Wonderful Things launched the book onto the bestseller list for the first time, four months after publication. It was a true Goodreads community success story!"
-Laura Clark, Associate Publisher, St. Martin's Press

When looking at the success of All the Ugly and Wonderful Things by Bryn Greenwood, it's easy to forget the challenges it first faced. Turned down by 122 literary agents, the story tackles unconventional characters and discomfiting situations. But when St. Martin's Press executive editor Laurie Chittenden read it, she knew she had to publish it. "We're willing to take risks at St. Martin's," says Chittenden. "A book doesn't have to fit within a box for us. I knew we had something special when people from across the house I'd sent the manuscript started emailing saying they had fallen in love with it."

All the Ugly and Wonderful Things is about a young girl, Wavy, with a violent meth dealer for a father and an addict for a mother. One night everything changes when Wavy witnesses one of her father's thugs, Kellen, a tattooed ex-con with a heart of gold, wreck his motorcycle. Greenwood says that one motivation to write this book "was the feeling that stories like this need to be told, and not for shock value. We don't all have neat, well-lit childhoods, and sometimes the things that nurture us seem wrong to people looking in from the outside."

Today, All the Ugly and Wonderful Things is New York Times bestseller, and has more than 28,000 ratings on Goodreads, with an impressive average rating of 4.14. (The greater the number of people who have read a book, the harder it is to maintain such a high average rating.)

Looking at the road the book traveled to bestseller status, Patrick Brown, Director of Author Marketing on Goodreads, said, "All the Ugly and Wonderful Things really demonstrates the importance of the Want to Read shelf on Goodreads. The St. Martin's team deftly combined different marketing tools on Goodreads to build up a sizeable audience of readers that helped them get the attention of our Editorial team, and later a nomination for the Goodreads Choice Awards. This then gave them a launch pad for a major sales opportunity. Of course, all of this would never have worked without Bryn Greenwood writing a riveting story that readers can't stop talking about."





November 2015 - June 2016: Building Early Word of Mouth with Influencers on Goodreads

Right from the start, the St. Martin's team knew All the Ugly and Wonderful Things would need to rely heavily on word of mouth, so they focused on getting copies into the hands of Goodreads members as early as possible. They kicked off the campaign in November 2015, nine months ahead of publication with their first Goodreads Giveaway to drive awareness and start building the number of readers with the book on their Want to Read shelves. They also gave out ARCs through NetGalley and sent copies to the top 450 independent bookstores in the country. Over the course of the pre-publication campaign, 1,000 advance copies were sent out to booksellers, early reviewers, librarians, and readers.

Early reviews started appearing on Goodreads in Fall 2015, with readers praising the book for its complex characters and heartbreaking story.

St. Martin's ran additional giveaways in January, February, March, and April to keep driving discovery of the book. A key benefit of running a giveaway on Goodreads is the social amplification effect: as people enter the giveaway, their friends and followers see a post about the book and the giveaway in their Goodreads newsfeed, driving more discovery of the book. Another way that Goodreads helps boost entries is by automatically sending a free email to people who already have the book on their Want to Read shelf letting them know about the new giveaway. Readers love the opportunity to win a free book they are already interested in, and each time they enter, this further increases the social amplification effect.

Word-of-mouth started to spread as readers started receiving and reviewing their giveaway copies. Emily May, a top Goodreads reviewer, gave it five stars in May, which gave the book it's biggest spike (569) in Want to Read shelvings so far. St. Martin's kept building the buzz by running another two giveaways before publication, and by including All the Ugly and Wonderful Things in presentations at BEA to librarians, booksellers and media.

By the end of June 2016, all of this early promotion had led 7,146 WTR shelvings and 361 reviews for All the Ugly and Wonderful Things.



July 2016: Catching the Goodreads Editorial Team's Attention

The level of interest in the book and the growing number of positive reviews caught the attention of the Goodreads Editorial team. Deciding which titles to feature in our Editorial newsletters and blog is based on data about books trending on Goodreads. "When we looked at books coming out in August 2016, All the Ugly and Wonderful Things really stood out for the amount of love it was getting from our members," says Danny Feekes, Managing Editor, Goodreads.

The Editorial team selected All the Ugly and Wonderful Things as one of the Fiction books to feature in the New Releases email sent to 40 million readers on July 26, 2016. This drove another major wave of Want to Read shelvings in the two weeks leading up to publication.

The Editorial team also chose Bryn Greenwood for the August Debut Author Snapshot Interview in the general newsletter sent to 35 million readers on August 2, 2016, helping more readers discover the book and add it to their Want to Read shelves in the week before publication.

August 2016: Ready for Publication Day! Book Already Has 14,600 Want To Read Shelvings and 628 Reviews

As a result of their marketing efforts, by the time publication day came on August 9, 2016, the St. Martin's team had successfully gained the interest of more than 14,600 Goodreads members who had added it to their Want to Read shelves, which put it in the top 100 most-shelved books prelaunch on Goodreads in 2016. Even more impressive, thanks to distributing ARCs through Goodreads giveaways and other initiatives, All the Ugly and Wonderful Things already had 628 reader reviews on Goodreads before publication.

With the book coming out, St. Martin's doubled down on their marketing. They booked one of our most popular book marketing products, the Personal Selection Email. This gives publishers the opportunity to send a warm, friendly, and unique email from an author to their fans and includes links to retailers to convert these interested readers into buyers just as the book comes out. St. Martin's was able to target the audience they had created for this book on Goodreads—the people who had already added the book to their Want to Read shelves.

In addition to strong early trade reviews in Publishers Weekly and Kirkus Reviews, it earned rave reviews by Bustle, USA Today's Happily Ever After column, The Associated Press (which saw pick-up by the Houston Chronicle, Minneapolis Star-Tribune, San Diego Union-Tribune, San Francisco Chronicle, and The Washington Post, to name just a few), and many Midwestern newspapers (including The Kansas City Star, Lawrence Journal-World, St. Louis Post-Dispatch, and Wichita Eagle) at publication. It was later included in many best of the year round-ups (e.g. the East Bay Express, New York Daily News, and St. Louis Post-Dispatch).

All the Ugly and Wonderful Things was also selected by the Book of the Month Club as the debut selection for the month of August. A follow-up email from Book of the Month Club to their subscribers in late August, as well as discussion by popular Goodreads reviewers in comments on their reviews and more Goodreads members posting their reviews, led to a surge in Want to Read shelvings, which were then amplified by Goodreads newsfeed posts, driving even more readers to add it to their Want to Read shelf.

September - October 2016: Maintaining the Momentum

The author is always central to the success of book marketing, and Bryn Greenwood certainly played her part both on and off Goodreads. She had already answered several questions on Ask the Author on Goodreads before publication, and continued to do so in the weeks and months post publication as a way to engage with fans.



Greenwood also did some fun and creative marketing of her own, including offering a signed bookplate and handmade keychains and necklaces for people who shared sightings of the book "in the wild" (in bookstores, at the library, people reading it on the bus) on social media. She also offered to share deleted scenes with her fans via her newsletter to celebrate each time the book reached a milestone in Goodreads reviews.



And she continued to share new information about the characters and the timeline of the book in her blog to give additional context for reader discussions.



November 2016: The Break Out Moment with the Goodreads Choice Awards

By all accounts, the book was a success. The story could be over now, as for most books, three months post publication is when interest and sales may start to slow down. But for All the Ugly and Wonderful Things, this is when things really took off. Why? On November 1, 2016, Goodreads announced the nominees for the Goodreads Choice Awards, and All the Ugly and Wonderful Things was a contender for Best Fiction. Nominees for the awards are selected based on the data from the hundreds of millions of books added, rated, and reviewed on Goodreads in the previous 12 months--it's a high bar and recognizes the standout books of the year. The nomination drove the most dramatic spike in adds to Want to Read that All the Ugly and Wonderful Things had ever seen (2,565), and the interest stayed high during the three voting rounds in November.

St. Martin's also added another giveaway to the mix to extend the discovery through the Goodreads Choice Awards and further promote the book.

Ultimately, All the Ugly and Wonderful Things came in second in the Best Fiction category. "We were all blown away by this," says Laura Clark. "The book was competing against some amazing books by big-name authors like Liane Moriarty and Jodi Picoult, and it had won the hearts of enough readers to earn second place. I think it's a testament to the power of the unconventional and compelling story that Bryn wrote. What was doubly satisfying is how influential the Goodreads Choice Awards are, introducing the book to an even wider audience of readers."

As we've seen with other winners and runners-up in the Goodreads Choice Awards, the announcement of the winners in early December drove significant numbers of adds to Want to Read shelves across all the categories. For All the Ugly and Wonderful Things, this generated the biggest one-day spike in discovery to date, with 3,869 readers adding the book to Want to Read and creating a step-change in the number of adds to Want to Read in the following days--just in time for the crucial holiday season.



December 2016: Converting Want to Reads to Sales with Goodreads Deals

It was at this point that the Goodreads Deals team called St. Martin's with a special offer. Goodreads Deals had launched earlier in 2016 and the team came up with the idea to run the first-ever special event focused on deals for winners and nominees of the 2016 Goodreads Choice Awards. To maximize the opportunity, Goodreads invited the Kindle team to offer the deals to their customers on the same day, and St. Martin's extended the ebook downprice to all of their ebook retailers.


The deals went out by email on December 27, 2016--just in time to help all the people who had received new ebook devices over the holidays find great books to read on them.

"The biggest strength of Goodreads Deals is that we send the email to both our subscribers and to any of our members who have one of the books on their Want to Read shelves so they don't miss out on a deal for a book they're already interested in," says Roshni Patel, Head of Digital Merchandising at Goodreads. "St. Martin's had done such a great job of helping people discover the book, that when the deal arrived, people immediately wanted to take advantage of it. And thanks to the book getting the kudos of a nomination in the Goodreads Choice Awards, any readers unfamiliar with the title knew it was a book readers loved, making it an easier decision to give it a chance."

The accolades for All the Ugly and Wonderful Things continued in December when the Book of the Month Club sent out a press release on December 14, 2017 including Bryn's book as 1 of the 5 finalists for their inaugural Book of the Year. Following voting from their members, All the Ugly and Wonderful Things was declared the first ever Book of the Year on December 28, 2017.

January 2017 - All the Ugly and Wonderful Things Hits the New York Times Ebook Bestseller List

As a result of the huge number of sales driven by the Goodreads Choice Awards Deal, All the Ugly and Wonderful Things catapulted onto the New York Times Ebook Bestseller List published on January 4, 2017 at #9. All the more remarkable was that this happened four months post publication.



When Laurie Chittenden called to give Bryn Greenwood the good news, there was a pause, some excitement, and then suddenly, Bryn said "Oh shit, I promised I'd get a tattoo that said 'Lucky motherfucker' if I made the bestseller list!"

Learning from All the Ugly and Wonderful Things' Success

The St. Martin's team understood their marketing strategy from the start: this was a book where it was essential to get as many people reading, reviewing, and talking about it as possible. To accomplish this, they successfully used several key tactics on Goodreads:

  • Foster early buzz for the book: Multiple Goodreads Giveaways built early awareness and got the book into the hands of early reviewers so they could write those crucial early reviews
  • Keep building on the momentum: St. Martin's didn't rely on one or two tactics to promote the book. Reader feedback on Goodreads was one of the earliest signals that they had a strong book on their hands so they kept building on this with more giveaways—offering more copies as they got closer to publication. In total, they offered 165 print copies through the pre-publication giveaways (in addition to digital copies via Netgalley.) But they didn't stop there. St. Martin's kept up the giveaways post publication and saw dramatic jumps in entries--thanks to having built up a large audience of readers who would automatically receive the free Goodreads email about the giveaways.
  • Leverage Goodreads' book marketing services in publication month: Thanks to the effort the St. Martin's team put into getting the book on Want to Read shelves, they were able to take advantage of direct mail advertising that targeted the exact audience they created and drive sales.
  • Convert the interest on Goodreads into more sales: Working with Goodreads Deals, St. Martin's was able to target all of the readers who had the book on their Want to Read shelves with an incredible deal that created a "must-buy" moment. Combined with promotion from the ebook retailers, the sales put the book on the New York Times Ebook Bestseller List for the first time.

Summing it up, Lauren Friedlander, Associate Marketing Manager, St. Martin's Press, says, "The outpouring of love from the Goodreads community has been overwhelming and heartwarming—this book is near and dear to my heart, and I wanted everything in the world for it! Goodreads really played a tremendous role in the sensational attention this book has received."

Comments (showing 1-31 of 31) (31 new)

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message 1: by Shannon (new)

Shannon Mullen Thanks for this article!! Definitely some lessons on ways to build support from the amazing community of Goodreads readers. Lots to take away from this article as I try to continue to build momentum for my first novel following tomorrow's book launch! See What Flowers


message 2: by Brian (new)

Brian Turner Cheers for posting this! I'm now going to copy this model of success for my next book, by seeking 122 rejections from agents. ;)


message 3: by Ashen (new)

Ashen I recently self-published 'Course of Mirrors,' set up a week's give-away, and was pleased that near 400 readers applied within days. Three five star reviews made me happy.
But reading this article today made me despair. Remarkable efforts and support went into making this book visible (I congratulate the author and St Martin's Press.) But I ask myself, what chance is there for a self-published potential best seller with a sequel in the making? I'm on my own, with no funds for marketing. Any advise for me? https://courseofmirrors.wordpress.com/


message 4: by Charlene (new)

Charlene Antrobus Brilliant post! Thanks for sharing :)


message 5: by Dee (new)

Dee This is an excellent article. I would've liked to have seen a paragraph between "Turned down by 122 literary agents..." and the point at which St. Martin's Press editor Laurie Chittenden chose to publish the book. That's a huge step for writers--finding an agent, then the agent finding a publisher. Regardless, I found this all quite helpful! :)


message 6: by Cynthia (new)

Cynthia Shannon Ashen wrote: "I recently self-published 'Course of Mirrors,' set up a week's give-away, and was pleased that near 400 readers applied within days. Three five star reviews made me happy.
But I ask myself, what chance is there for a self-published potential best seller with a sequel in the making? I'm on my own, with no funds for marketing. Any advise for me? "


Hi Ashen! Self-published authors definitely have their work cut out for them, but you might find inspiration from how these self-published authors managed their careers. Good luck!


message 7: by Ashen (new)

Ashen Cynthia wrote: "Ashen wrote: "I recently self-published 'Course of Mirrors,' set up a week's give-away, and was pleased that near 400 readers applied within days. Three five star reviews made me happy.
But I ask ..."


Thank you Cynthia. ☼ I'll look into these connections.


message 8: by G.H. (new)

G.H. Eckel It's exciting to see this blueprint for success. It took St. Martin's to really lean in on this novel. Remarkable. Especially after 122 rejections. Who was the agent that accepted? I'd love to know the advertising budget used here.

I've tucked this article away to use in the coming months. I think most authors are looking for the marketing version of a silver bullet. This seems like such a bullet. Thanks!


message 9: by Suzanne (new)

Suzanne Dee wrote: "This is an excellent article. I would've liked to have seen a paragraph between "Turned down by 122 literary agents..." and the point at which St. Martin's Press editor Laurie Chittenden chose to p..."

Hi Dee, it is a fascinating story. Bryn tells the journey herself here: https://bryngreenwood.wordpress.com/t...


message 10: by G.H. (new)

G.H. Eckel a paragraph between "Turned down by 122 literary agents..."

Thanks for the link to Bryn's blog post about getting an agent. I liked it when she said the business is random, chaotic, and a little cruel. As an author, you have to be comfortable with luck and chaos. 122 rejections. In the end, a query didn't get her book published. It took an agent reading one of Bryn's previous novels to seek her out. As Bryn said, it was like Lana Turner being discovered in a Malt Shop. Crazy and wonderful.


message 11: by Chrys (new)

Chrys Cymri So, over 1000 books were sent out as part of a marketing campaign. That alone is something most of us self pubs could never afford. This article is interesting for anyone who has a publisher behind them, but not much use for the rest of us.


message 12: by Dee (new)

Dee Suzanne wrote: "Dee wrote: "This is an excellent article. I would've liked to have seen a paragraph between "Turned down by 122 literary agents..." and the point at which St. Martin's Press editor Laurie Chittende..."

Wow, that was AMAZING! Required reading for all hopeful authors....


message 13: by Katherine (new)

Katherine Mitchell Chrys wrote: "So, over 1000 books were sent out as part of a marketing campaign. That alone is something most of us self pubs could never afford. This article is interesting for anyone who has a publisher behind..."

Chrys, I totally agree with you. I have very little computer savvy and while I sign up for everything, I have not succeeded. I did giveaways and listen to this, I PAID serious money to a Publicity office to get me some coverage. Should I mention their name? They got me nothing. Nothing. I had to get my own book signings and interviews. But I want to write. That's all I want to do. There is only so much time in a day.
I wish you well!
Katherine MK Mitchell


message 14: by Chrys (new)

Chrys Cymri Hi Katherine

All this week I've been offering my novel 'The Temptation of Dragons' free on Kindle. I've had 1500 downloads thus far, and I'm quite pleased about that.

I plan to write a blog about what I've done. I guess the easiest way for you to read it--if you're interested--is to follow me on Goodreads.


message 15: by Brian (new)

Brian Suiter Congrats! that's awesome!


message 16: by Chrys (new)

Chrys Cymri I think the video I released the week before might have helped. So far, on Facebook, it's reached 2734 people and had more than 1300 views. Here it is on You Tube:

https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=rdZHw...


message 17: by Nicole (new)

Nicole Evelina I have to say I'm really frustrated. Every time Goodreads does a case study, it includes the Personal Selection Email. Yet, when I've written in to support and asked them how to get access to that as an indie author (twice now), they tell me that they don't recommend emailing people that way. Which is it, a best practice (in which case, how do the rest of us use it?) or not recommended?


message 18: by Cynthia (new)

Cynthia Kirkwood TURN ON, TUNE OUT, in which a British composer turns outlaw in L.A., will be released by Amazon as an e-book on the 17th of June; it is available now in print.

All the Ugly And Wonderful Things is a great story. Congratulations to Bryn Greenwood, St. Martin's and Goodreads!

But must I spend this much money to be read?


message 19: by Cynthia (new)

Cynthia Shannon Nicole wrote: "I have to say I'm really frustrated. Every time Goodreads does a case study, it includes the Personal Selection Email. Yet, when I've written in to support and asked them how to get access to that as an indie author (twice now), they tell me that they don't recommend emailing people that way. Which is it, a best practice (in which case, how do the rest of us use it?) or not recommended? "

Hi Nicole! The Personal Selection Mailer is in fact an advertising product. You can inquire about that here. The support team is right in that we do not recommend reaching out to reviewers individually, as some might perceive it as spam. Here's another article that explains the best practices of engaging with readers on Goodreads. Hope this helps!


message 20: by Brian (new)

Brian Suiter I would absolutely love to get any feedback.
Love a community of like minded readers!

https://www.amazon.com/Recusants-B-Su...


message 21: by Chrys (new)

Chrys Cymri Hi Brian

Feedback on what?

There are some really good review groups on here, if you're looking for book reviews. Here's the one I'm in: https://www.goodreads.com/group/show/...


message 22: by Brian (new)

Brian Suiter Chrys wrote: "Hi Brian

Feedback on what?

There are some really good review groups on here, if you're looking for book reviews. Here's the one I'm in: https://www.goodreads.com/group/show/..."

Thoughts on the book...thanks for the heads up on book reviews.
My sincerest apologies I cam kinda awkwardly bumbling along here.....


message 23: by Chrys (new)

Chrys Cymri There are better threads for that on Goodreads--just have a good look around! Do make sure you have a good cover and that you've had the book edited by someone else.


message 24: by H.S. (new)

H.S. Stavropoulos This is very enlightening. I had no idea what Goodreads could offer authors. Thank you!


message 25: by Groovy (new)

Groovy Lee First, it starts with a good story which this author obviously has. But, when you have an entire "team" with a giant budget working their connections to promote such book, that's one thing.

Try being a self-published author with very little budget-wise and no inside connections. We work just as hard at promoting ourselves and our books, but we're limited as to how high we can go. It can be very frustrating at times, but I love to write, and even if I sell one book, I'm happy. (Frankly, I like doing it on my own and not having teams of people pulling at me all the time to complete this and that)

And I'm happy for Bryn Greenwood and her success.


message 26: by Charlene (new)

Charlene Smith Thanks for the good advice, I’m passing this on to all my writing students.


message 27: by Clare (new)

Clare O'Beara Thanks, always nice to read a success story.


message 28: by Trevor (new)

Trevor Barton It's good to know that "a book doesn't have to fit within a box" at St. Martin's. It's also good to know how Goodreads Giveaways really works.

I'm using self-publishing as a step towards approaching agents with future work, and I don't know where I'd be without Goodreads.

Trevor Barton


message 29: by Molly (last edited Jun 26, 2017 11:12AM) (new)

Molly Ringle As other writers here have said, this would be a dream come true indeed, but what I mainly learn from this article is that Goodreads (and others) noticed a book becoming popular and decided to help it become even more popular. Plenty of us have had Ask the Author switched on for years, and have been doing Goodreads giveaways for years too, and are seeing nowhere near this level of success. I have to think that the "having St. Martin's Press willing to spend thousands of dollars on you" part is kind of the key here--along with having a good book!


message 30: by Ella (new)

Ella Primrose It's true. It's really all about fostering a relationship with your readers. I've been focused on writing and now that Im getting more in tune with my readers I want to reach out to more people. Goodreads has always seemed so daunting to try to comprehend. I usually have to poke around to find how to post to my goodreads blog! It's like facebook was for me at the beginning.


message 31: by Manisha (new)

Manisha Gupta Got some great insights on book promotion here. I was always under the impression that promoting a book well in advance might lead to readers' excitement and enthusiasm dying down by the time it is launched. Thanks a lot for this! it is going to help me in my upcoming book release. Planning to start promoting it ASAP.


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