Deep River Books | Goodreads Basics for AuthorsMost of us are familiar with social media, particularly Facebook. Even those who don’t use it likely have someone close to them who does—perhaps someone who ushers them over to the screen to see the latest picture of their grandchild. So it’s not too big of a stretch when PR experts recommend cultivating a Facebook page for your book. And other social media, such as Twitter and Instagram, can feel like relatively natural ways to branch out.

Then there’s Goodreads. If you’ve spent much time exploring ways for authors to gain exposure, you’ve likely heard of this book site. Some of you may already be active there, whether as authors or simply readers. But for the rest of you, it may feel more foreign—fewer family and friends use Goodreads, let alone pester you to join them. So what’s the buzz? Could this website really be that important for your book marketing strategy? Is it even practical for you to learn to use it?

This month, driven by my own curiosity more than anything, I’ve decided to find out. Fellow Goodreads outsiders, read on for some basic information on the site and how it could benefit you and your book. Goodreads veterans, skip to the last section to brush up on basic tips for authors.

What is Goodreads?

Goodreads is a social networking site where readers connect with other readers, share recommendations and reviews, keep track of what they’re reading, and discover new books. Like on other social media, members can “friend” each other. They can also follow other members’ reviews, even if they aren’t friends. 

Interactions on Goodreads often go beyond individuals’ real-life friend circles. Group discussion boards dedicated to certain genres or reading goals connect readers from around the world. The Forbes article “What Goodreads’ Explosive Growth Means for Writers and the Broader Economy” by Michael Bernick takes special note of these book clubs, noting that “Goodreads now hosts over 20,000 book clubs.”

In addition to enjoying the community in these groups, readers become key influencers in what their friends and the greater Goodreads community read. Bernick quotes one active Goodreads member, retired Douglas Gordy, who relies heavily on the community’s input: “When I am interested in a book, I access the reviews and rankings from people who already have read the book. Often times when I am ‘on the fence’ about whether or not I want to invest time in a book, reading the reviews or the rankings will sway me, one way or the other.”

Okay, it’s great for readers. What about authors?

Bernick claims that writers have even more to gain from Goodreads than their readers. Because of this site, writers don’t need to know book reviewers at big newspapers or magazines to get the word out about their books. Instead, authors can bypass the gatekeepers and directly engage with the readers.

He goes on to quote the ways Goodreads claims to benefit authors:

“For authors, Goodreads helps with three key things” explains Patrick Brown, director of Author Marketing. “First we help them crack the problem of discovery which is the main problem that anyone who puts a book out into the world today faces. Next, we help them build their tribe of followers so that when their next book comes out, they have an audience of fans they can easily reach. Finally, we help them form and maintain a deeper connection with the people who read their books.”

Discovery, follower base, and deeper connections with readers? That does sound great.

Where do you start?

First of all, approach Goodreads primarily as a reader, not a writer. In her 2016 article “Go Where Your Readers Are: Goodreads!” social media strategist and author Frances Caballo writes, “You see, at its core Goodreads is all about the reader, not about using this platform to hawk your books. If you intend to start a Goodreads account for the purpose of merely acquiring readers and selling more books, you won’t succeed. And you might even be mocked.”

Yes, as an author, you’ll gain opportunities to interact with your readers, and promoting your book will be part of that—but Goodreads’ primary purpose is to give readers a way to connect with each other, not authors and publishers a place to market their books. Enjoy becoming a part of the community yourself—explore the site’s features, review your favorite books, add books to your “bookshelves,” and join groups. Perhaps see if any of your favorite authors are active on Goodreads.

In an interview with award-winning book writing coach Lisa Tener, Caballo expands on this:

Goodreads can provide visibility for authors and expand readership only after authors prove themselves as readers and members willing to help others in the groups they join.

This doesn’t mean you can only use Goodreads in your reader capacity, of course. Here are six steps you can take to be successful as a Goodreads Author, drawn from Caballo’s interview answers, the tips Goodreads’ Patrick Brown relates in the Forbes article mentioned above, and the Goodreads site itself:

1. Claim your Goodreads author profile.

It’s free and easy. Learn more about the Goodreads Author Program here.

2. Fill out your profile and dashboard.

Remember you’re here primarily as a reader, so if the bio on your book cover and on Amazon is mostly a list of your qualifications, you’ll definitely need something a bit more personal and creative.

Caballo suggests you “start adding the books you’ve read, rate them, and review them. Categorize your bookshelves by genre and every two weeks add one or more books that you’ve read.”

If you have a blog, you can sync it to Goodreads at this point, too.

3. Review other authors’ books.

Caballo emphasizes the importance of this: “If you want people to read your books, read books by other authors. If you want book reviews, take the time to review other books. I know this advice sounds simple but on Goodreads, reading and reviewing books are the best way to become noticed, aside from giveaways.”

4. Host giveaways.

Caballo’s perspective on this is even stronger than on reviews: “The giveaways are an important strategy to expand awareness of your books, and you should see a correlation between giveaways on Goodreads and book sales.”

Brown’s insight mirrors Caballo’s, according to Bernick:

Brown says this is a popular program with authors—especially debut authors who are trying to create awareness—as it helps drive early reviews and also has a built-in social amplification effect on Goodreads. When people enter a giveaway and add it to their Want to Read shelf, this creates a story in the Goodreads newsfeed that’s seen by their friends, which helps more people discover the book.

5. Use the “Ask the Author” feature.

This is a great way to connect with readers! Bernick relays, “[Brown] says it is often a big ‘reader delight moment’ when a reader hears back from an author who has created a book the reader has enjoyed. The writer is able to showcase answers on the author profile, giving other readers insights into the book.”

6. Have fun!

At the end of her interview with Caballo, Tener emphasizes the importance of this point: “If you have fun, you’ll stick to it, the fun comes through and affects others. You’ll spend your time well.”


Hopefully this helped explain the buzz about Goodreads. To answer the introductory questions:

Yes, Goodreads can be important in your marketing strategy, so long as you view it not just as marketing, but as a great opportunity to connect with other readers. And while new members may find Goodreads overwhelming at first, it’s actually fairly simple to use. If you give it a try, you just might find yourself enjoying the site’s community of fellow readers—even more than you enjoy the ways it benefits you as an author.

For more information, be sure to check out the full articles quoted above:

What Goodreads’ Explosive Growth Means for Writers and the Economy” by Michael Bernick

Go Where Your Readers Are: Goodreads!” by Frances Caballo

Goodreads for Authors: Why Forbes Calls It the Most Important Networking Site on the Internet & How You Can Benefit” by Liza Tener (an interview with Frances Caballo)