Thursday, February 28, 2013

Discoverability, Part II: How to use Goodreads to solve the discoverability problem

As we discussed in our last post, one of the most pressing problems currently facing publishers, booksellers, and authors is that of book discovery. Given the advancement of eBooks and the increasing numbers of self-published authors, the market has become inundated with content, leaving readers in a daze of titles and authors from which to choose. This trend has forced the publishing industry to question how consumers can find books at all, let alone their next favorite read.

Cue Goodreads, a social media site for finding and sharing books:

Goodreads' mission is to “help people find and share books they love” and, at the same time, “improve the process of reading and learning throughout the world.” With a growing community of over 14 million users, Goodreads enables avid readers and writers to share what they are reading, show how they are rating books, and recommend books to others. The site is quickly becoming one of the most popular platforms for readers to discover new authors and for authors to connect with new readers. By bringing together three important but simple components--authors, readers, and books--Goodreads believes it has found the answer to “discoverabilty.”

With publishers relying more and more on authors to market their books online, knowing how to navigate sites like Goodreads is crucial for anyone hoping to make his or her book successful. At JVNLA, we've met with Goodreads representatives to learn the best ways our authors can take advantage of the opportunities available. Below, we've compiled information about which aspects of the site can be the most useful for authors, along with examples of how our authors have used Goodreads in the past.

Build Your Author Platform

One of the first things to do when joining Goodreads is to claim your author profile and join the Author Program. Joining the Author Program allows you to personalize your profile, list the books you've written, share your favorite books with fans, publicize upcoming events, and write a blog on the site.

It is important to personalize your author profile as much as possible. Don't forget to add an author photo and bio. According to Goodreads, an author profile with a photo attracts more viewers and reviewers than an author profile without an image! On their profiles, authors can also post videos, eBook excerpts, polls, etc., all of which end up on the feeds of friends and fans.

Some great examples of how to best utilize your author profile include the profiles of our authors Lesley Livingston (here) and Christopher Gortner (here).

Promote Your Books

Giveaways: These are one of the easiest ways to make your books discoverable on Goodreads. Not only does a giveaway lend exposure to your book being given away, it also increases interest for any other books you may have written. Plus, readers who receive giveaway books are highly likely to write reviews for them. And the more people who review and rate your books, the more visibility your books will have. According to Goodreads, over 40,000 people enter a giveaway every day, and, on average, each giveaway has 850 entries.

Goodreads recommends running a giveaway for at least two weeks but no longer than a month. The site also recommend running two giveaways for a book over time: one a few months before publication to build buzz and reviews, and a second after publication to increase awareness that your book is purchasable.

One of the advantages of doing a giveaway before publication or during the galley stage is that many people entering the contest will add your book to their “To-Read” shelves. And once your book publishes, those who have added your book to their “To-Read” shelves will receive an email from Goodreads. That email might be just the nudge they need to go out and buy your book!

JVNLA hosted a giveaway for DARK LIE by Nancy Springer in the beginning of January, which you can view here. The giveaway lasted for a little over two weeks and garnered 2,384 entries. As a direct result of the giveaway, the number of people with DARK LIE on their “To-Read” shelves skyrocketed to over 1,180 people. The green in the image below shows that "To-Read" increase over time.

Wendy Webb, another JVNLA author, held a giveaway for her new novel THE FATE OF MERCY ALBAN in January, too, viewable here. Over 1,460 people entered the giveaway. Currently, over 1,090 people have THE FATE OF MERCY ALBAN on their “To-Read” shelves. The increase in "To-Read" adds, from mid-December through the giveaway period and then after the book's publication (in February), is shown in green below.

Join and Host Groups: Goodreads has numerous groups that members can join, from groups for author Q and As, to groups for book swaps, to groups for genre discussions, to book club groups. To lend you and your books more visibility, join a group that discusses a topic or subject related to you or your work. Don't forget that when you first join a group, you should slowly make your way into the conversation before mentioning your own work.

One example of a book club group is “Paranormal Romance and Urban Fantasy." Included among the book club reading list is Lesley Livingston's STARLING. An example of a group for genre discussions, on the other hand, is “A History of Royals.” C.W. Gortner, author of THE QUEEN'S VOW and many other novels revolving around historical queens, is a member.

Nancy Springer took part in another group, a featured author group, on January 24th, in which she discussed her new book DARK LIE and her past books, including the well-known ENOLA HOLMES series. Over the course of a day, over 70 people joined the group to talk with Nancy about what made her want to become a writer and what inspired her books. You can view the group discussion here.

Be an Active Goodreads Member

With any social media platform, your effectiveness is related to how much you interact with others. Authors should be active when using Goodreads by frequently adding and rating books on their shelves, updating their author profile, and interacting with other members on the site.

Remember, Goodreads is a place for readers, not solely a place for marketing purposes. You should not constantly promote your work on the site. However, if you join Goodreads and begin engaging with readers and different groups, you may be surprised to find out how much work you've done, without realizing it, that has made your book discoverable.

Friday, February 22, 2013

Discoverability, Part I: What the heck is it, and why does it matter?

It seems like one of the outcomes of the various conferences and seminars we attend throughout the year is hearing ad nauseum the next big catch phrase in publishing. A couple of years ago it was “vertical is the new horizontal,” and I spent weeks trying to wrap my brain around what that actually meant for the agency, our clients, and the future of the industry.

Over the last six months or so, I have attended a veritable alphabet soup of conferences from BEA (BookExpo America) to DBW (Digital Book World), with In Re Books (New York Law School's “conference on law and the future of books”) thrown in for good measure. The big catch word this time was “discoverability.” At the top of everyone's list of challenges facing publishing was “the problem with discoverability,” or how to connect readers with their “next great read.”

At a DBW panel called “Closing the New Book Discovery Gap,” I heard the challenge described as follows: “Discovery is audience development, and engaging that audience at the times and in the ways it wants.” Panelist Matthew Baldacci, vice president and associate publisher of St. Martin's Press, pointed out that doing this well has always been difficult for publishers.

For most of the last century, discoverability was handled by booksellers and driven by traditional review sources like The New York Times Book Review and Kirkus Reviews. Publishers would send their sales representatives into indie bookstores and national chains to present their lists of upcoming books, and the head bookseller or chain representative would order copies of the books they thought would be a good fit for their customers. Booksellers would then either hand sell those books to customers or set up displays to showcase them in their stores.

With the rise of online book buying through companies like Amazon and the advent and adoption of eBooks and devices like the Kindle, the iPad, and Barnes and Noble's Nook, much of that personal interaction and hand selling was replaced with algorithms based on “if you like this, you'll probably like that,” or “other people who liked this also bought that.”

A way to allow for better discoverability involves the meta-data of these algorithms, which are tags publishers assign to each book. Meta-data includes the obvious tags like “title,” “author,” and “cover image,” but also “similar titles,” “genre,” and “reviews.” Without proper and thorough meta-data, a book will not be findable when someone is specifically searching for it, let alone “discoverable”--meaning a reader won't be able to stumble upon it when looking for something similar.

Yet algorithms have not been shown to be as effective as publishers and online bookstores had hoped. In his recent blog post “Is Discoverability Even a Problem?” publishing and product development consultant Brett Sandusky explained this issue as follows: “Reading patterns are a) not linear, b) not logical, and c) not algorithmic.”

Another way to allow for better discoverability, then, involves publishers creating more direct relationships with their readers. The shining star in this arena is Harlequin. Harlequin has an identity its readers can recognize even when they are not 100% sure they are choosing a “Harlequin title.”

The challenge in the broader publishing market outside of Harlequin is that imprints are often nebulous in concept and identity. Until I started working in publishing I couldn't name a “Big Six” publisher, let alone one of their many imprints. Now that I have been in the industry for a number of years, I often cannot define what makes something a Crown title vs. a Knopf title besides the editor.

One of the ways publishers are working to develop direct relationships with readers and drive them to their “next great read” is Goodreads. Launched in 2007, Goodreads has grown to over 14 million users who have added over 460 million books to various “shelves” on the site. In “Closing the New Book Discovery Gap,” panelist Allison Underwood, senior marketing manager at Open Road Media, pointed to the fact that most people, including most readers, are influenced more by their peers than they are by an algorithm that can be manipulated to affect the book suggestions shown. Goodreads, driven by peer-to-peer book recommendations, offers a way to utilize peer influence online.

In his post, Brett Sandusky again hit the nail on the head when he said,
When someone recommends a book to you, you subconsciously analyse what you know about that person and their tastes in relation to your own, you determine based on their tone and description of the book whether you think it would be a good fit for you, you interpret, without conscious thought, body language which can influence how you feel about the recommendation. You also dip into your deep memory vault and remember the last time that person recommended a book to you and you hated it, so you are not going to take their recommendations seriously.
Or, perhaps the opposite: you loved her/his last recommendation, and so you decide to buy the next book she/he recommends. While sites like Goodreads haven't invented a way to incorporate body language into online forums, they do allow for natural, analyzable recommendations between peers to occur, as Sandusky describes.

In order to truly address the discoverability issue, publishers need to develop relationships with their readers in the places where readers are congregating to discuss books. They need to develop identities that will help readers make logical connections between their books, like, “I loved THE LITTLE STRANGER by Sarah Waters, published by Riverhead, so maybe I'll take a chance on THE LAST NUDE by Ellis Avery, because Riverhead published that as well.” Publishers ought to facilitate a dialogue between readers, authors, and themselves so meaningful relationships, book connections, personal recommendations--and discoverability--can thrive.

Image courtesy of CUMMINGS105 on
Discoverability: Just like finding a needle in a haystack
...except there are words involved, too

Friday, February 15, 2013

Prepare for a spine-tingling read in bestselling THE FATE OF MERCY ALBAN

“The thing that inspires me to think up a story is the place,” Wendy Webb says in an interview with Publishers Weekly for her newest book, THE FATE OF MERCY ALBAN, released from Hyperion this February. “When I go into or see an old house, I wonder, what could happen there? What secrets are lurking around every corner?”

As Webb writes in her guest post on She Reads, Glensheen Mansion in Duluth, Minnesota, sparked her first imaginings of Alban House, the family home around which THE FATE OF MERCY ALBAN revolves. Like Glensheen Mansion, Alban House was built on the edge of Lake Superior in the 1800s by a powerful family. Local legend has it that Glensheen is haunted, and Webb's novel is nothing if not a modern-day haunted house story.

In THE FATE OF MERCY ALBAN, Grace Alban has successfully avoided her family home for more than twenty years when her mother dies and she returns to attend the funeral and settle her mother's estate. Chilling discoveries soon follow concerning long-buried family secrets, a lost manuscript, and the decades-old mystery of a party at Alban House during which a famous author committed suicide and Grace's aunt disappeared.

Since its release, THE FATE OF MERCY ALBAN has climbed to the #3 spot on the Heartland Indie Bestseller List. It was an Indie Bound Next Pick and a Midwest Connections Pick. iTunes declared it among the Best Fiction and Literature of February. Some of the excellent reviews received so far follow:

“Webb plots a tale rife with dark family secrets, hidden passageways, love, intrigue and witchcraft.” --Kirkus

“If you're craving a good old-fashioned ghost story to scare you on these cold nights, this is it.” --St. Paul Pioneer Press

“This second novel by Minnesota Book Award-winning writer Wendy Webb has all the elements of a downright haunting story—and it is. But there’s also romance along the way to provide relief...Be prepared to be scared—and entertained.” --Star Tribune

“After reading this book, I plan to keep Wendy on my radar...THE FATE OF MERCY ALBAN is a chilling, good read!” --Cheryl's Book Nook Blog

“Webb has crafted a modern take on a classic genre--the Gothic ghost story… What did I love the most? The house--I want to explore all those hidden passages and back staircases to unused rooms.” --A Bookworm's World Blog

“Webb's novel had me hooked from the get go and I would not put it down until I had finished the last page...I got goosebumps a number of times whilst reading this book...I would definitely recommend THE FATE OF MERCY ALBAN to anyone and everyone who loves to read spooky novels” --A Bookish Way of Life Blog

“If Sarah Waters and Stephen King had a love child, it would be Wendy Webb!” --M.J. Rose, international bestselling author of THE BOOK OF LOST FRAGRANCES

“In the gothic tradition of REBECCA, Wendy Webb's intoxicating mystery follows one family's effort to confront the secrets of its own sordid past as they haunt the last remaining members of the storied Alban clan. Hidden passages, portraits with moving eyes, and the conflicting mandates of wealth, power, and love weave together to create a story that will send chills down your spine. Read in a well-lit room!” --Katherine Howe, New York Times bestselling author of THE PHYSICK BOOK OF DELIVERANCE DANE

A perfect read for a dark and stormy night.” --Phillip Margolin, New York Times bestselling author of PROOF POSITIVE.

Hyperion, February 2013

Friday, February 8, 2013

Jury votes a success for YOUNG THURGOOD

YOUNG THURGOOD by Larry S. Gibson was recently released by Prometheus Books! The only biography of Thurgood Marshall to be endorsed by Marshall's family, YOUNG THURGOOD chronicles the formative years of the man who would become the most important American lawyer of the 20th century.

Thurgood Marshall was appointed to the US Supreme Court in 1967 and served as an Associate Justice for 24 years. As a solicitor general of the United States and a counsel for the NAACP, he won 42 of 50 cases before the US Supreme Court. He was the chief counsel for the NAACP during Brown vs. Board of Education, and his landmark win transformed the American legal system and the country.

But before that, Marshall was just a kid growing up in Baltimore, Maryland. He argued on the debate team and found mentors among his high school teachers, then he went to law school, struggled to establish a law practice in the midst of the Great Depression, and held his first civil rights cases.

In YOUNG THURGOOD, Gibson covers these moments and more, weaving all the pieces of Marshall's background into a fascinating tale of how Marshall became the man who would challenge racial segregation and change American law.

Six hundred people attended Gibson's book launch in December at the Pratt Library in Baltimore, Maryland. Among them were Congressman Elijah Cummings, Maryland Governor Martin O'Malley, and Baltimore Mayor Stephanie Rawlings-Blake, all of whom presented introductory comments before Gibson spoke. Photos of the speakers and the audience are below.

From left to right, Rawlings-Blake, Cummings, and O'Malley

Gibson speaking before a packed audience

The Baltimore Sun featured YOUNG THURGOOD in a recent article, praising Gibson's “camera-like focus that registers both foreground and background.” Yet, in the article, journalist Mary Carole McCauley not only lauds the attention to detail present in Gibson's writing, she also highlights how this characteristic informs his attitude toward history, justice, activism—and his hope for the impact his biography of Marshall can make on its readers: “[Gibson] places immense importance on factual accuracy. For Gibson, a fact is as rough-edged and weighty as a brick. Stack a bunch of them together, and you build something that will stand for all time.”

Thurgood Marshall Jr. also raved about the level of details Gibson found regarding his father. When The Baltimore Sun called Marshall, he reportedly gushed, "Gosh, this book is just amazing....On every page are stories that are filled with detail that we didn't know anything about."

You can read the full Baltimore Sun article here. YOUNG THURGOOD has also been featured in articles in The Philadelphia Tribune (here), AFRO American (here), and The Daily Record (here), among others.

Check out a sampling of the wonderful reviews YOUNG THURGOOD has received below:

“Deftly evokes the atmosphere in which Marshall developed his talents and effectively sketches the many people and events that influenced him. A well-researched and engaging biography and a fine addition to Marshall scholarship.” --Kirkus

“The writing is unadorned and accessible...Gibson succeeds in making Marhsall's story immediate and vital.” --Publishers Weekly

“Gibson highlights Marshall’s youthful influences and the racial injustices that spurred him to be a passionate advocate for equality as he took on the lawsuits and campaigns that eventually led to the Brown decision. Photographs enhance this insightful portrait of a complex man.” --Booklist

“This book is as much a history of the black experience in early 20th-century Baltimore as it is a biography of Thurgood Marshall. Readers who are interested in Marshall’s early life will enjoy this book.” --Library Journal

“Gibson's vigorous account makes Marshall all the more human.” --Baltimore Magazine

An important work that reveals the early years of one of America's greatest civil rights heroes.” --Book of the Month Club

"Larry Gibson has produced the most accurate book ever published about my husband." --Cecilia Marshall, wife of Thurgood Marshall

A triumph of discovery and restraint, YOUNG THURGOOD transports readers into a vivid, indomitable black culture that equipped this legal giant to remake our world.” --Taylor Branch, Pulitzer Prize winning author of THE CLINTON TAPES

“I commend Professor Gibson's biography of Thurgood Marshall to every American who wishes to better understand our nation's ongoing struggle for universal civil rights.” --Elijah E. Cummings, Member of Congress

"Larry Gibson's painstaking research has produced a powerful and persuasive account of Thurgood Marshall's formative years and valuable new insight into the early years of the NAACP." --Benjamin Jealous, President of the NAACP

Prometheus Books, December 2012