Expert publishing blog opinions are solely those of the blogger and not necessarily endorsed by DBW.
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 No. 1 issue in the industry for years, but it’s getting increasingly difficult. Millions of books are now published every year. Mass media, already the preserve of the rarified best-selling book and author, is scaling back its book coverage. Doom and gloom reports are coming from all sides.
But from our vantage point, the book industry is alive and kicking. Every month on Goodreads, our members discover another 14 million books they want to read and write one million book reviews. The excitement about books in our community of 40 million readers is palpable.
Looking at our data, the key change authors and publishers need to embrace—and it’s a change that’s both an opportunity and a challenge—is that the book discovery landscape is fracturing.
If you’re just focused 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 your 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 build relationships with what we call “mini influencers.”
I spoke about these mini influencers at a recent panel at the IDPF Digital Book 2015 conference at BookExpo America a few weeks ago, but I’d like to share more about how authors and publishers can better leverage their power to meaningfully improve discovery.
Here at Goodreads, the three types of mini influencers we see having an impact on book discovery are:
- notable readers
- influential readers
To 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 gave great book recommendations. Yet today we can see the impact of Bill Gates’s summer reading recommendations and Mark Zuckerberg’s next book pick with the noteworthy increase in 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 that are sharing book recommendations with their fan bases. There’s also been a growing trend in email newsletters and book clubs hosted by notable people. 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 to shape 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 realize the opportunity to maintain an ongoing relationship with their fans by sharing regular book recommendations. 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 email; and Daniel Pink features interviews with authors of new books in his irregular emails to 83,000 fans.
Of course, readers want to hear great fiction recommendations, too. Patrick Rothfuss writes hugely popular reviews on Goodreads that his 58,000 followers love to read. As an example of how his reviews work both as a way of introducing a new book to readers and of reinforcing Rothfuss’s relationship with his fans, check out his well-liked review of Neil Gaiman’s The Ocean at the End of the Lane.
Influential readers are ground zero for building awareness and anticipation for key titles. They differ from what I’ve called notable readers in that you and I won’t have heard of the majority of them and probably never will. But they are influencers in their respective genres, and are incredibly focused 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 cross-post on Goodreads) and popular Goodreads reviewers are often the first spark in igniting conversation around a book. When they really love a certain title, they practically hand-sell it to their friends, who in turn rave about it to their own friends. Thanks to the power of social platforms, the effect can be like word-of-mouth on steroids.
One great example of this kind of mini influencer is Aestas Book Blog. If you’re not into romance, you probably haven’t come across her reviews on Goodreads. But for romance authors, a great review from Aestas can rocket a book up the charts. Aestas reviewed The Life Intended on May 2, 2015, a good five months after the initial flurry of buzz around the title when it was published in December 2014. Nevertheless, Aestas Book Blog’s review drove more than 400 adds to Want to Read Shelves, a 200x increase on the number of daily adds compared to the average during the previous month. It’s the kind of kickstart that can bring a book out of obscurity and into the limelight.
Both the opportunity and the challenge for publishers and authors today is that there are so many different ways to reach readers. There’s no silver bullet that will send a given title to the best-seller lists.
And while getting your books in the hands of mini influencers is becoming increasingly important, it’s not always easy. It requires a lot of research and patience in order to understand which readers are most likely to be interested in which titles. Still, a strong combination of reviews and recommendations from multiple mini influencers has repeatedly proven decisive on Goodreads, and there’s no reason that with a little creativity and diligent experimentation, a similar approach can’t be extended outside our own platform, too.
Indeed, the fragmented book discovery landscape we’re now faced with navigating also means that the opportunities to connect with influencers have expanded. Fruitful, passionate conversation about books can now be found everywhere. You just have to look for it.