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How to Drive Book Discovery by Working with Influencers

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by Otis Chandler, co-founder and CEO, Goodreads

Otis Chandler

Otis Chandler

Ask authors and publishers about the biggest challenge they face, and chances are the top answer you’ll get is book discovery.

Yes, it’s been the number-one challenge in the industry for years, but it’s getting even harder to deal with now that millions of books are published every year. Mass media, already the preserve of bestselling books and authors, is scaling back on book coverage. Doom and gloom reports are coming from all parts of the book industry.

But from my vantage point at Goodreads, the book industry is alive and kicking. Every month, our members discover another 14 million books they want to read, and they write 1 million book reviews. The excitement about books in our community of 40 million readers is palpable.

Looking at our data, we have noticed that there’s a key change authors and publishers need to embrace. The book discovery landscape is clearly fracturing, and that presents opportunity along with challenge.

If you’re focused just on getting a review in the New York Times or on NPR (still very worthy goals for many titles), then you’re missing out on a wealth of new ways to help a book break out. As the number of media outlets covering books becomes more and more limited, the smartest authors and publishers are now looking to improve discovery by building relationships with what we call “mini-influencers.”

We see three types of mini-influencers having an impact on book discovery:

  • notable readers
  • authors
  • influential readers

Notable Readers

Chandler 1To witness the power of this group, look no further than Bill Gates and Mark Zuckerberg. A few years ago, they wouldn’t have been the first names to come to mind when you thought of people who give great book recommendations. Yet today we can see the impact of Bill Gates’s summer reading recommendations and Mark Zuckerberg’s next book picks by looking at adds to users’ Want to Read shelves on Goodreads.

For example, Mark Zuckerberg chose On Immunity by Eula Biss for his Year of Books challenge in February, and Bill Gates shared it as one of his summer reading recommendations in May. Check out the spikes and ongoing lift in attention from these two announcements.

It’s not just major names who are sharing book recommendations with their fan bases. E-mail newsletters and book clubs hosted by notable people are doing that too. Look at Farnam Street Blog, Philosopher’s Notes, and Product Hunt Bookclub, for instance. They’ve built audiences of tens of thousands of fans who are eager to learn more about the books some of their favorite public figures and thought leaders are reading.


Fans are also looking to their favorite authors for trends and ideas in their genres of choice. This goes beyond the well-established tradition of book blurbs. More and more authors are starting to share regular book recommendations as they work to maintain ongoing relationships with their fans. For example, Gretchin Rubin does this very effectively with her three monthly picks; Ryan Holiday has attracted a following of 40,000 for his monthly reading recommendation e-mail; and Daniel Pink features interviews with authors of new books in his irregular e-mails to 83,000 fans.

Examples also feature fiction, of course. Patrick Rothfuss writes hugely popular reviews on Goodreads that his 58,000 followers read. To see how his reviews work both as a way of introducing a new book to readers and as a way of reinforcing his relationship with his fans, check out his well-liked review of Neil Gaiman’s The Ocean at the End of the Lane. Other novelists who use book reviews to connect with their fans include Lauren Oliver, Roxane Gay, Rick Riordan, and Ayelet Waldman.


Influential Readers

10-15 IBPA Magazine -FINAL (dragged) 1-page-001Influential readers are the starting point for building awareness and anticipation. They differ from what I’ve called notable readers in that you and I haven’t heard of most of them and probably never will. But they are influencers in their own particular areas, and they focus strongly on the types of books they love, which makes them powerful rallying points for certain audiences that publishers otherwise might struggle to reach.

Book bloggers, BookTubers (many of whom crosspost on Goodreads), and popular Goodreads reviewers often provide the first spark for igniting conversation around a book. When they really love a title, they practically hand-sell it to their friends, who, in turn, rave about it to their friends. Thanks to the power of social platforms, the effect can be like word of mouth on steroids.

Chandler 3One great example of this kind of mini-influencer is Aestas Book Blog. If you’re not into romance, you probably haven’t come across the reviews Aestas posts on Goodreads. But romance authors know that a great review from Aestas can rocket a book up the charts. When Aestas reviewed The Life Intended on May 2, 2015—five months after the initial flurry of buzz around the title when it was published—the review drove more than 400 adds to Want to Read Shelves, a 200× increase on the number of daily adds compared to the average during the previous month. It’s that kind of kickstart that can bring a book out of obscurity and into the limelight.

The Upbeat Overview

While getting your books in the hands of mini-influencers is becoming increasingly important, it’s not always easy. Coming to understand which readers are most likely to be interested in which titles requires a lot of research and patience. But our data shows clearly that a strong combination of reviews and recommendations from multiple mini-influencers repeatedly proves decisive on Goodreads, and there’s no reason a similar approach can’t be extended outside our own platform too.

In short, the good news is that the increasingly fragmented book discovery landscape we now have to navigate provides more and more opportunities to connect with influencers. Fruitful, passionate conversations about books can now be found everywhere. You just have to find and tie in to the ones that relate to your books.

Otis Chandler is the co-founder and CEO of Goodreads, the world’s largest website for readers and book recommendations. Launched in 2007, the site has since grown to 40 million registered members who have added more than 1.1 billion books and written more than 43 million reviews.

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