2 Ways to Make the Most of Goodreads


I really admire the folks at Goodreads, not just for their site, but also for the data they share with the industry, including tips for authors. (If you’re not familiar with Goodreads, imagine a Facebook for people who love to read books.)

The recent Goodreads author newsletter offered a number of gems helpful for any author with an upcoming release. Unfortunately, they don’t seem to archive their author newsletters online, so I’ll have to summarize what they said.

(And if the Goodreads people are reading this: Please, please, please archive your newsletters with this information. I’d be tweeting and sharing it if you did.)

1. Reviews are essential.

No surprise there, right? The same is true of Amazon. According to Goodreads, reviews on their site help your book stand out in two ways.

  • They help new readers discover your book. The more people review your book, the more visible it will be. Goodreads reviews also appear on sites like Powell’s, Google Books, and the Sony Ebook Store.
  • They help readers take a chance on an unknown book. Goodreads says, “Books with no written reviews are added, on average, by 7 people, while books with just five written reviews are added by more than 40 people.”

 2. Giveaways are a powerful promotional tool.

According to Goodreads, here are the top techniques behind successful advance giveaways.

  • Give away as many copies as possible. This goes straight back to Point No. 1. Goodreads says, “If your goal is to get reviews, it makes sense to give away a lot of books. Nearly 60 percent of giveaway winners review the books they win, so the more books you offer, the more reviews you are likely to get.”
  • Run your giveaway for two weeks to a month. Goodreads says, “Giveaways less than two weeks run the risk of not getting enough entries, while a four-week giveaway will generate more entries. We recommend that you offer giveaways for one month.”
  • You can run a second giveaway. Goodreads says, “We recommend two giveaways: one about three months before publication to build prerelease buzz and reviews, and a second to increase awareness when your book hits stores. Both will result in a lot of people adding your book to their to-read shelves.”

Goodreads also mentioned that when Diana Gabaldon used their “giveaway widget” for a recent giveaway, it attracted more than 5,000 entries. Plus interest in her other titles spiked at the same time. Goodreads also encourages the use of ads to spike giveaway entries. (Giveaways with ads get more than 50% than average response.)

Keep in mind—what’s true on Goodreads is probably true for campaigns you might be running on your own site. But if you’re not already active on Goodreads, you should give it a shot. (Go visit my author page to get started and get a feel for what it’s like.)

Do you use Goodreads? Have you used it for author marketing and promotion? If so, I hope you’ll leave a comment about your experience.


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Jane Friedman has 20 years of experience in the publishing industry, with expertise in digital media strategy for authors and publishers. From 2001–2010 she worked at Writer's Digest, where she ultimately became publisher; more recently, she was an editor at the Virginia Quarterly Review, where she led digital strategy. Jane currently teaches writing and publishing at the University of Virginia and is a columnist for Publishers Weekly. The Great Courses just released her 24-lecture series, How to Publish Your Book. She also has a book forthcoming from the University of Chicago Press, The Business of Being a Writer (2017). Jane speaks regularly at conferences and industry events such as BookExpo America, Digital Book World, and the AWP Conference, and has served on panels with the National Endowment for the Arts and the Creative Work Fund. Find out more.
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  1. I recently joined Goodreads author program. Should have done it ages ago. I can already see the benefits. 

    Wholeheartedly agree with you that Goodreads should archive their author newsletter. The first one I got cited the info you referenced, and I’d love to read some back issues for additional help.

    As always, Jane, you deliver. Many thanks. 

    Jim H.
    Author of Moe — “…woe to him who is alone when he falls and has not another to lift him up!” Eccl. 4:10

  2. This post came at a good time for me. I hosted a Goodreads giveaway for a children’s historical fiction book I self-published late last summer. Over 300 people requested it, more than I had expected, which helped a lot with getting the initial word out and getting some reviews. 

    You have nudged me to do a second give-away for Black history month (the book features Oscar Micheaux), which I just listed now and am waiting for approval. I want to follow it up with a discussion of some kind.What I need to do, too, is simply immerse myself more on Goodreads, not just as an author but as a reader. It’s just a matter of making the time.

  3. Jane, I was a Goodreads subscriber for a while but I found it to be somewhat like your/Porter Anderson’s (former?) Writing  on the Ether column: too much information to digest easily, and too much that I wasn’t interested in. Any suggestions on how to use Goodreads more effectively?

    • I think the key is (1) being very selective about the types of notifications you receive—or else turning them all off and (2) using either groups or tags to ensure you’re in the right community of readers to see/receive good recommendations.

      If you know of a couple people you admire who have the same taste as you in books, following their reads or friending them is a good way to get started.

  4. I just finished my first Goodreads giveaway for a literary mid-grade novel. I had about five hundred people enter for a chance to win two copies and am pleased with the number of new readers who have added my title to their list.

  5. I love Goodreads. It is a great way to find other like-minded readers. If I see a review that I love, I’ll stalk their books and reviews. Goodreads is a game-changer for me as a reader!

  6. Another suggestion I would add is to join groups on Goodreads appropriate to the genre you write for and introduce yourself. 

    You can then add your books to their shelf and do a little self-promotion if the group allows it, but without overdoing it or spamming. Be visible on the site as a reader, commenter and reviewer as well as writer. It’s a friendly place! The only problem with Giveaways is that you can’t do them if your book is only epublished.

  7. Ooops my comment got lost in cyberspace. Repeat — thank you for posting this, it’s so helpful. BL, at http://barbaralambert.com/

  8. I have an author page on Goodreads and plan to do all this…if I could get past not knowing what I’m doing.  LOL.  My debut novel comes out Apr 3 in paperback, and right now I don’t have a great e-version, I only have page proofs, which are .pdf and hard to read for a reviewer.  I think in March there will be better review copies, (I’m not getting ARCs) but to me that’s cutting it close.  So I’m not sure how to handle the “giveaway” portion of this issue.  Any advice?

  9. I have self-published several books and have had others published by major publishers. Although Goodreads may work for some authors, there are many more effective ways to market books.  Generally speaking, when you are doing what a lot of other people are doing, this is not a great way to market books.

    Also, my bet is that people who are attracted to giveaways or free stuff are not the biggest book buyers.

    I am not against giving away books given that I have now given away over 13,000 copies of my books (at a cost of over $40,000 to me). There are many better ways to promote your books than by giving them away on Goodreads, however.

    Bob Baker offers something much more powerful ideas about book marketing in his blogpost at:


    Pay particular attention to these words of Bob:

    “Reconsider all of your marketing tactics. One of the biggest promotional mistakes you can make is doing something just because that’s the way it’s always been done before. Just because everyone else pursues book reviews, bookstore distribution, library sales, and media exposure in a certain way (or even Twitter, Facebook and LinkedIn), that doesn’t mean you have to.”

    “Don’t mindlessly follow the flock. Be different. Think creatively. Get focused on how you can most effectively reach new readers and fans — regardless of how the established authors or “experts” (including me) say it needs to be done.”

    Here is a great quotation about creativity that also applies to creativity in book marketing:
    “What Is Your WOW Factor?This applies to both the servicethat you provide to the worldand the way you market it.Make it edgy, make it snappy,and make it punchy.Even make it raunchy — butmake it different!Real different!”— from “Life’s Secret Handbook ”

    Ernie J. Zelinski Best-Selling Author, Innovator, and Prosperity Life CoachAuthor of How to Retire Happy, Wild, and Free(Over 150,000 copies sold and published in 9 languages)and “The Joy of Not Working”(Over 250,000 copies sold and published in 17 languages)

    • So, if I were to summarize your advice, it would be, “Marketing is a creative exercise. The only limit is your imagination.”

      Couldn’t agree more.

      Most writers need some idea of the basic-basics of marketing before they can even understand how what you’ve said is true. To that end, I offered some of that here, for those who are interested: http://writerunboxed.com/2011/09/23/a-checklist-for-marketing-your-e-book/

  10. Goodreads is a Godsend but Goodreads need to expand their giveaways to include ebooks, since these can now be “gifted” from Amazon (Kindle books) and Barnes & Noble (Nook books).  We’re a small publisher and have moved almost exclusively to ebooks because of the high costs of paper books (distrbutor fees and returns (in almost any condition at any time), storage costs, postage, etc – you get the idea).

  11. Hi,
    I joined Goodreads about 6 months ago on the advice of my Mum who is always a font of good advice.  I’m glad I heeded her.  I have had positive exposure, it has driven traffic through to my website and blogs; the giveaways have generated a lot of interest and I have had great reviews from previous winners.  I also find that my books rank highly on a google search through Goodreads.  I also continuously run a giveaway for my titles.

    I have only good thing to say about it and highly recommend for authors.

  12. I’ve run several Goodreads giveaways, and I hate to quibble with the GR folks (they are awesome), but I’ve had a different experience with giveaways – I’ve found that I get the most TBR adds during the beginning and end of the giveaways (when it’s listed on the “just listed” and “ending soon” lists) and (of course) when it gets up on the “most requested” list. I think their strategy of running it for a month (to get higher on the most requested list) is sound for books that are slower to attract entries, but I think it depends a lot on the book being offered (my first book garnered a lot less entries/contest than my most recent one). I’d also quibble with the idea of giving away a lot of books (at once) – I look at a GR giveaway as a 1 week ad. For the price of a single paperback, I get a week of exposure on one of the top book-networking sites on the planet (which is more valuable than gaining possible reviews from winners). I think you gain more exposure by a series of 1 week giveaways than a longer 1 month giveaway. 

    But in fairness, I’m going to run a 1 month giveaway to compare! :)

  13. I just signed up, learned about GoodReads last night. I’m excited about seeing not only how it can help me with promotions but also how it can improve my experiences as a reader.

  14. I do use Goodreads, though I don’t have anything to market or promote, so I use it to find new books to read and manage my TBR list. You have some really fantastic tips here, however, so when I do have something to give away, I’ll definitely be referring back to this post. 

    Thanks for sharing this! 

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  17. Hi Jane.

    Great post. I liked it so much I linked to it myself…I’ve been writing reviews on their site, which I do think drives readers to me. Haven’t set up an author page yet, though.

  18. Hi Jane! This is a great article. I have done giveaways in the past for my books and it worked great. However, I didn’t think about doing a second giveaway. Great advice and something I will have to try for my next book.

    Have a fantastic week!

    Penny Zeler

  19. Oops! I guess it’s a Monday! My hands were typing faster than my mind was working and I just realized I spelled my name wrong, LOL! Correction:
    Have a fantastic week,
    Penny Zeller :)


  20. I had that newsletter too. It did cross my mind that giving away a lot of copies would probably end up counter productive for midlist authors. With postage figured in, it would cost me about $15 per book. Reviews would have to make a LOT of people buy my books (at a 5% royalty I make 50c for each $10 book sold) for me to break even. E-book giveaways are a lot cheaper to handle but e-books are easy to “lose” in the email archives.  I tend to file emailed books in “read when time” whereas a hard copy book reminds me of itself by hanging about on my table or bookshelf until I read it.

  21. I had that newsletter too. It did cross my mind that giving away a lot of copies would probably end up counter productive for midlist authors. With postage figured in, it would cost me about $15 per book. Reviews would have to make a LOT of people buy my books (at a 5% royalty I make 50c for each $10 book sold) for me to break even. E-book giveaways are a lot cheaper to handle but e-books are easy to “lose” in the email archives.  I tend to file emailed books in “read when time” whereas a hard copy book reminds me of itself by hanging about on my table or bookshelf until I read it.

  22. Thanks for the insight Jane. A few people had suggested building an author profile on GoodReads and this article has made up my mind to do so. I will definitely use it for my paperback novel coming out in december, but I am also publishing an e-book early next year (no hard copy version) and I am wondering if you have any suggestions for e-book giveaways. Or should we all just lobby goodreads to allow e-book giveaways?!

    • Yes, Goodreads should be lobbied to allow e-book giveaways!

       Speaking just for myself, I refuse to accept or buy print books unless I’m using them in the classroom, or the author is Alain de Botton.

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  26. Hi Jane,

    Thanks for the recap about Goodreads.  I have a related question.  I am a fairly new author to Goodreads (October 2011) and I wonder about accepting friend requests.  Do most authors accept friend requests from readers they don’t know?  Is there any down side to your knowledge or to the knowledge of those who are commenting on this post?  Thanks so much.

    Terry Helwig, Author
    Moonlight on Linoleum: A Daughter’s Memoir
    Simon & Schuster, October 04, 2012

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  29. I just joined Goodreads and I thought just by way of introduction that I should ask a really dumb question (it was between this and saying something really dirty, pursuant to Ernie Zelinski’s comment about taking risks below). Once my publisher gives the green light I will join the author program, but I am stuck on one minor detail. Imagine, it’s 3 months ’til publication and you want to follow the pro’s advice and run a pre-pub pre-lube giveaway on Goodreads. But…how do you give away something that does not exist? Is it an IOU? I guess a free IOU is better than no IOU at all. So maybe I just answered my own really dumb question! (stay tuned for next comment: something really dirty for Ernie!)

    • Some publishers create galleys or “advance reading copies” (ARCs) for pre-publication marketing and promotion. (ARCs get sent to pre-pub review outlets such as Publishers Weekly, Library Journal, etc.) So some authors give away the ARCs.

      But of course you can also promise a copy once the book is published.

  30. I was introduced to Goodreads by a friend and fellow author, but I am not the greatest at computers. I am trying to figure out how to put my new blog posts on there. Can you tell me how it’s done? Do I first need to be published before I can? Thanks!

  31. In an odd incidence of synchronicity, yesterday I took Jane’s webinar on website design for authors. (I recommend it!)

    I had to click on this link when it appeared in my feed.  I’m glad I did. As a debut author these marketing tips are invaluable. I know it is important not only to market broadly; it’s important to market well.


  32. This is a very insightful blog and helps answer some of the questions I had about the Goodreads author program. I do have one additional question that doesn’t seem to be covered in their FAQ’s…I am anticipating releasing a (probably self published) novel relatively soon and wonder how Goodreads will help me as a smaller author gain readership. Specifically, do you get notifications whenever someone adds or reviews your book? I see that goodreads provides a graph summary but it seems that having notifications of individuals would allow me to look at the user profiles and perhaps see what other books they are interested in, allowing me to target future Goodreads ads .

    • I ran 2-3 campaigns, and I didn’t like the result. I believe GR puts too many steps between the ad and the actual action: the reader can simply place your book into his “to read” pile and never actually buy it. But you still pay for that click.

      You can link your GR ad to your Amazon page directly, but I had seen that the GR folks are still more reluctant to buy off the bat.

    • I see nastiness in both places, but don’t know what might explain it being worse on Goodreads, except that it feels more “private” than Amazon’s very public reviews.

    • To review a book on Amazon takes an effort – and as such, my theory is that you’re more likely to do it if you like the book. On GR, feedback is instant, part of the “shelving” exercise that you do anyway.

      For example, I believe the ability to leave the rating without the actual review contributes to the lower scores. Recently, a reader put a “1” rating on my book and placed it to the “Abandoned” shelf. That same reader didn’t review my book on Amazon.

      As result, my book is 4.6 out of 5 on Amazon, but only 3.8 on GR (after 40-50 reviews).

  33. Thanks, Jane.  You mention a Goodreads “giveaway widget.”  I am not able to find info about such a widget on Goodreads.  Is this available from Goodreads?  Please point me in the right direction.

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  37. I’ve done two Goodreads Giveaways with poor results. Despite 1200 and 800 entrants respectively, it’s not brought sales – despite my book having 18 x 5 star reviews on Amazon. I find the site difficult to navigate so maybe i’m just not using it right but i’ve been disappointed so far.

  38. Just jumping in about widgets! The Giveaway widget only becomes available when you schedule a giveaway. You can access other widgets, though, via your profile. Click on the dropdown triangle next to your little profile picture thumbnail on the top right of any Goodreads page, and select Edit Profile. From there, click on the Widgets tab. There are a few choices, all easy to tailor, then you can copy & paste the code easily onto a WordPress site if you have one (or send to your designer if you don’t!).

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  40. Hi! I did a GR giveaway for my second novel. I’m pretty sure neither of my winners read my genre (I looked at their bookshelves). I’m not even sure one of them spoke English. I’ve heard the same thing from several other authors in my genre (one had a winner politely decline the book once they won it! They were utterly appalled at the subject matter–subject matter clearly described in the blurb and just as clearly visible on the cover).
    I read somewhere else that the “best practice” is to give away as many books as possible. At least 10, but 20 would be better (the more free books out there, the more reviews you’re likely to get.) I pay in the neighborhood of $10 for each author copy I buy from my publisher. I don’t know about anybody else, but I can think of better ways to spend $100 to $200 advertising my books elsewhere. (And that’s not counting the cost of postage, which is another couple of bucks per book–more if you follow other “best practice” advice and open contests up to overseas readers. I spent almost $40 grand total in postage on my giveaway, plus the cost of books).
    Long story short: I don’t do GR giveaways anymore. I’d rather do blog hops and blog tours or find other ways to target readers in my genre (or at least close enough to it that there’s a chance they’ll enjoy their prize).

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  42. Thanks for the suggestions. I am also new to Goodreads as I just published my first book: “Service, A Soldier’s Journey: Counterintelligence, Law Enforcement, and the Violence of Urban Education.” I am enjoying the process of marketing and building my various platforms and thing Goodreads is an excellent opportunity and has the potential to succeed where Facebook and Twitter cannot. I will be looking into offering some giveaways very soon – and this article was helpful in pointing me in that direction.

  43. Are reviewers these days as concerned about getting “the scoop” on the newest books as they used to be? One consultant told me that if my book was older than four months reviewers wouldn’t be interested in it. I’ll admit I did not do nearly enough pre-release preparation for “Hack”, my debut, distracted perhaps by the thought that my publisher would do more. My question: is it worth soliciting reviews for a book that’s now 16 months old?

    I got a lousy taste in my mouth after a few months with Goodreads because I was buried in communications from us authors and having trouble finding readers of contemporary non-genre literary fiction. When “American Corporate” comes out this summer, I’ll be ready!

    Thanks, Jane.


    • If you’re seeking traditional reviews in traditional media outlets: yes. It’s pretty much a 3-4 window. For other types of reviews—reader/customer reviews on Amazon, Goodreads, etc—those can happen any time and have a positive effect.

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  45. I self published my book. I haven’t done any marketing but I have been referred to Author Marketing Ideas. Is there any word on their reputation? I can’t seem to find any except from AMI itself.

  46. Jane – do you know how to see who has added your giveaway to their TO Read lists? GR says I have some 700 and I would love to offer a few free e-books (in hopes of getting a few more reviews). Thanks.

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