Marketing: Anatomy of a St. Martin’s Hit Built on the Goodreads Platform

In News by Porter Anderson

In a BookExpo presentation on a case of using Goodreads to generate sales support for a publisher’s new title, the platform’s virtuous circle of social amplification is clear.

This chart shows the ‘Want To Read’ shelvings of Bryn Greenwood’s ‘All the Ugly and Wonderful Things’ by Goodreads members to early May. Image: Provided by Goodreads

By Porter Anderson, Editor-in-Chief | @Porter_Anderson

A Conscious Strategy

In a session at BookExpo on Thursday (June 1), Goodreads‘ communications lead Suzanne Skyvara presented one of the case studies that are drawing new attention this year to the platform.

As is the case with the development of the new OptiQly analytics platform for performance of titles on, many publishers are looking at pathways to success seen on Goodreads. Case studies offer a chance to quantify and chart the moves that might be most beneficial for marketing departments.

Now with some 60 million users reported by the Amazon-owned company, the Goodreads membership is said to have flagged 1.8 billion titles and contributed more than 65 million book reviews. Goodreads’ only real rival for reading and writing in terms of scale is Wattpad. And, of course, the two platforms have different missions: Goodreads is about readers of books and their recommendations, while Wattpad is about reader engagement with writer’s on-site generation of serial stories.

Published last August by St. Martin’s Press Thomas Dunne All the Ugly and Wonderful Things by Bryn Greenwood, the novel today is a New York Times bestseller with 28,948 ratings from readers on Goodreads at this writing, 5,033 reviews, and a rating of 4.14 of five stars, considered an achievement, especially with so many ratings factoring into the mix: many people are liking this book.

As Publishing Perspectives has learned from Skyvara, however, the novel was turned down originally by 122 agents. Its challenging story has to do with drug addiction and relationships involving children, and it was picked up at last by Laura Clark, a St. Martin’s associate publisher who appeared at BookExpo with Skyvara.

Clark credits the title’s Goodreads support for its arrival on the Times list four months after publication, and Goodreads has supplied Publishing Perspectives with a précis from Skyvara’s presentation.

In a prepared statement, Goodreads’ author marketing director Patrick Brown is quoted, saying, “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.”

And Skyvara has crafted a timeline for the steps by which this process moved the book forward.

An Early Start

Suzanne Skyvara

Nine months prior to publication, the publisher used the Goodreads Giveaway—a competitive device by which Goodreads members vie for free copies—not only to get the books into some hands early but also to prompt Goodreads members to list the title on their virtual “Want To Read” shelves.

Off-platform, the publisher also issued advance reading copies (ARCs) to the States’ top 450 independent bookstores and to bloggers and reviewers via NetGalley. Some 1,000 advance copies went to booksellers, reviewers, librarians, and readers.

As many will point out, this is the capability of a major house at work. Getting 1,000 ARCs into effective media channels is going to produce effect. Sure enough, early review were showing up on Goodreads in the fall of 2015. St. Martin’s ran more giveaways.

Amplification within Goodreads’ social network comes with giveaways—each time someone enters a giveaway, their followers are alerted to that book and giveaway. And those who shelve a book as “Want To Read” are also notified by email that they can enter a giveaway.

Influential reviews play a role in scenarios of this kind. Skyvara cites a review from a Goodreads member named Emily May whose critique gave the book a big spike in shelvings. (It’s an amusing sidelight that Goodreads is a place in which it’s a positive thing to be “shelved.” In most other applications, the term would mean that something has been delayed, shoved aside, placed on hold.)

By the end of June 2016, there were 7,146 “Want To Read” shelvings for Greenwood’s book, and 361 reviews.

This chart tracks the effects of the Goodreads Choice Awards recognition of the Greenwood book and a ‘Goodreads Deal’ email offer that capitalized on the winning titles of the awards program. Image: Provided by Goodreads

Points for Publishers

Bryn Greenwood

You can see a much more detailed account at the Goodreads blog site, where Skyvara is posting a written edition of her presentation.

One boon to this book’s success—again, probably because of the extensive exposure St. Martin’s had made of the title to the platform’s enthusiasts—was a second-place showing in fiction for Greenwood’s novel in the annual Goodreads Choice Awards.

Publishers might want to note a set of four takeaways that Skyvara offers as lessons from the All the Ugly and Wonderful Things example—at the website, she provides more explanatory notes with them:

  1. Start early in creating buzz for a title.
  2. Keep building on the momentum by deploying more than one effort to push those those all-important “shelvings.”
  3. Utilize such marketing tools as direct email during the month of publication, based on the “What To Read” crowd developed by the early appeals.
  4. Consider using discounts to convert more interest into sales.

In this case, a “Goodread Deals” emailing fell into inboxes shortly after Christmas, the traditional big boost in ebook sales. The book would enter the Times’ bestseller list in January.

About the Author

Porter Anderson

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Porter Anderson has been named International Trade Press Journalist of the Year in London Book Fair's International Excellence Awards. He is Editor-in-Chief of Publishing Perspectives. He formerly was Associate Editor for The FutureBook at London's The Bookseller. Anderson was for more than a decade a senior producer and anchor with, CNN International, and CNN USA. As an arts critic (Fellow, National Critics Institute), he was with The Village Voice, the Dallas Times Herald, and the Tampa Tribune, now the Tampa Bay Times. He co-founded The Hot Sheet, a newsletter for authors, which now is owned and operated by Jane Friedman.