Wednesday, 13 February 2013

Five Goodreads Do's and Don'ts

So earlier this morning I got linked to a blog post series for authors on how to use Goodreads that quickly devolved into some 100% Bad Advice, namely that you should PM all the readers in the groups you're a member of with a sloppily disguised form message telling them about your books (but saying you're not going to pressure them into buying them or anything, so that makes it all okay, right? WRONG!!!)

Anyway, I thought I'd add my own two cents into the discussion by giving you some guidelines about how I personally, as an author and a reader, use Goodreads: both the things I encourage, and the things that I avoid at all costs. Oh and just by the by, I've written this list hoping you already know the basics like "don't 5 star your own books" and "don't argue with reviewers" and all that.

Five Don'ts:

1. Don't spam people with event invites.

Just because someone has trusted you/liked you enough to add you as a friend doesn't mean they want invitations for your release days, every blog post on your fourteen stop tour, your cover reveals, your live facebook chats. . . Honestly, I don't like this function at all. I almost never say "yes" to invites, and sending me one is pretty much a guarantee that I'll defriend you immediately. The only exception I can see if if you know I live in, say, Atlanta, and you're doing a book signing there next week and you're a big name author whose books I actually read and love. I also give leeway to publishers who use the invite feature in the same way as using a newsletter. One message a week, AFTER I've signed up for the publisher group knowing that weekly invites/emails would be a part and parcel. Use invites the same way you'd use an email list: have them be "opt-in." On that note, don't use the PM system to spam people, either. In my entire time as a Goodreads user, I've PMed people out of the blue exactly twice. Every other message I've sent has been in response to something they've messaged me first.

2. Don't recommend books if you have ulterior motives.

Goodreads has a neat recommendation feature that allows you to recommend books to users, either out of the blue, or based on requests from them. By all means, use this! If you know so-and-so loves the hell out of love triangles and you just read "Shivaree" by Cara McKenna (one my faves), then do send them a recommendation. If someone else is requesting recommendations for stories with fire fighters and they read M/M, then yeah, let them know about "Hot Head" by Damon Suede. But don't recommend books indiscriminately (here, person who reads literary fiction, try this ten book high fantasy series!), and definitely don't recommend your own (or your author buddys') books. Share books you love, not books you just love to see people buying.

3. Don't friend people willy-nilly.

This ain't facebook, and nothing looks more disingenuous than an author (or blogger, etc.) with two thousand friends and four books. Yikes! Coming up hot in second place is someone with a bunch of books, but all of them are generic classics, with no sign of thought or individual personality. Or someone adding me as a friend when I write (and read) M/M and they're exclusively a fan of paranormal YA. Only add people as friends 1. if you've actually interacted (MEANINGFULLY), 2. if you actually have reading habits in common. If you're an author, I'd even extend that to don't friend people unless they've reached out to you in some way first. If they add you first, if they follow you on twitter, if you've spent thread after thread joking with them and trading commentary on your shared reading tastes, etc. Sometimes a person might even be a huge fan of your books, giving you piles of five star reviews, and still not want to be your Goodreads friend. Just because someone likes their books doesn't mean they want to like YOU. Books are a product, you are a person. Don't push it. And especially don't friend people after they've already ignored or rejected your request. Friending them over and over again won't endear you to anyone.

4. Don't be "subtle".

Every Goodreads and social media behaviour list warns you against drive-by spamming people with BUY MY BOOK, but many then go on to suggest "join groups related to your book, join conversations, and then SUBTLY insert references to your book." I'm sorry, but do these authors and social media experts think people are idiots? I want you to think back to the last big budget movie you saw with visible advertising. Oh, the characters JUST HAPPEN to be drinking Coke every scene. Oh, they JUST HAPPEN to drive BMWs. I don't know about you, but it didn't take me long to catch on to the fact that if you see a brand name in a movie, it's because somebody somewhere has paid for that visibility.

Advertising is more than just full on commercials and sales pitches, and people key onto that. If you're joining a thread on alpha heroes only to say "Yes, I love alpha heroes too, that's why I wrote one in my hit series THIS AUTHOR IS A BUTT published by JESUS CHRIST JUST STOP press", well, guess what, Goodreads users know exactly what you're doing and they don't like it. Not after one sentence of joining the discussion. Not after three. Not even after ten. If you're only commenting on a thread to somehow work a namedrop for your book in there, just stop. Don't. Write a funny blog post or post a cute picture on your twitter instead. Personally, after a year of being on Goodreads, I've entirely stopped using groups to advertise my work, even in the threads/subforums set aside for that purpose, because I just don't think it works. Posting outside of those spaces annoys people, and posting within them is pointless because who goes to a forum just to be advertised at? When it comes to the readers groups on Goodreads, my philosophy is simple: Join groups for books you like to read. Discuss books you like to read. If you really, really can't participate as a reader and not as an author, stay out of readers' groups entirely.

5. Don't get sneaky with separate accounts.

I have two Goodreads accounts. I have my author account, and my real name account. My author account is for the books I read in my genre, for interacting with people as my author persona . . . basically, it's my Romancelandia self. I don't use it just to advertise, but I do use it specifically to talk about romance and be a part of this genre. My real name account I've had since college, and use to document my (non romance) bookshelves and keep track of things I read in school, etc. They have two completely separate purposes for me. I don't use my second account to:
  • Pretend to be a "reader" and recommend or rate my own books.
  • Participate (especially to sockpuppet) in places I know authors aren't welcome, such as review comments for their books.
  • Spy on people in author-free spaces.
  • Add friends solely for the purpose of eventually advertising my books to them as a "third party".
Making a fake or second account to benefit your author-self while not explicitly presenting as your author self is underhanded, dishonest, and can get you banned if you're particularly stupid about it. Don't do it. If ever you find yourself thinking, "Man if people didn't know it was me [author], I could..." close your computer, walk away, and rethink your life choices. Sockpuppeting is bad form. Period.

Five Do's

1. Actually read

Goodreads is a space for discussing books. Keep a catalogue of your library. Use it as a "to-buy" list of new releases or backlist titles you're excited to read. Review books you've read, with star ratings or not, in your own genre or not. Everyone has their policy on how authors should approach the review system and ultimately what you do is down to your personal ethics. But there should be some evidence on your book page that you actually . . . read books. Because Goodreads is a social network for readers. If you use it like one, you're a million times more likely to enjoy your time there, make friends, and maybe even find people willing to give your books a try.

2. Interact with your fans . . . if they approach you first.

On a lot of my releases, I use the "start a discussion topic about this book" feature on the book page to start a "Chat with the author(s)" thread. Readers sometimes comment on this thread asking if the book is going to have sequels, what I thought of a certain scene, how did I research, etc. etc. All the questions you think while reading a book, now they have a space to ask me. OR NOT. The key here is that they come to me. I don't hop into forum discussions of my books, I don't comment on reviews . . . you get the drift. Make yourself available to readers, but don't force yourself on them.

3. Talk about books

No, not your books, dummy. Everyone else's. Follow peoples' reviews. Comment on them, either to just say "Great analysis!" or "Can't wait to pick this up" or "That's interesting what you thought of [Character], I thought he was more..." Let people know when their reviews have encouraged you to pick up a book or avoid one. Join groups in genres you like to read and hop into the discussions there. Weigh in on your hated tropes, your favourite characters, your underrated genre classics, etc. Be a genuine member of the community, not someone counting down "participation points" until they reach the magical marker where their plugs suddenly stop being irritating.

4. Keep your author page updated

Readers do use author pages to know about you. Keep your bio professional and up to date. Link to your website and social media accounts. Make sure your books are listed correctly in Goodreads' system, including any relevant series info. Goodreads allows you to sync up your author page with your off-site blog, which is a great feature. Not many people follow this blog, but I have lots of friends, followers, and fans on Goodreads who now have a new avenue to read my posts. Let people subscribe to you or find you of their own volition, and make sure you have useful content that makes it worth their while.

5. Stay out of drama

Back when I was in student teaching, my supervisor once told me (on the subject of getting into arguments with teenagers) "Don't wrestle with a pig in mud." Even if you're Totally Just, sometimes you end up coming out just as fucking dirty as the person you're fighting with. As an author, people are watching everything you do, and sometimes the best thing is just to disengage. Internet fights have a way of escalating and getting ugly, the things you type online are forever, and sometimes in the heat of the moment you do things that outside of that moment make you look like a total unreasonable ass. Remember, you're a professional.

Now this isn't to say never ever get involved in an argument. If I said that, I'd be a hypocrite, because God knows I'm the first one to weigh in on the "eww vaginas" chestnut in M/M. The thing is, I get involved in those arguments knowing FULL WELL that somebody somewhere is going to see my participation and think less of me, or (god forbid!) decide not to buy my books anymore. For me, standing up for women is worth that risk. Every author needs to weigh that same risk/reward. Is making a stand on this issue worth losing readers over? If yes, carry on. If no, bow out of the conversation. Just remember that whatever you say does get attached to you, like a resume of sorts. Make sure your online  author resume reflects you in a way you can be proud of.

So that's it! My personal guidelines for using Goodreads as an author. Any other Goodreads users want to weigh in on their likes and dislikes? Their instablock-worthy offences? You know where to comment!


  1. I can't wait to publish my series, "This Author Is A Butt". It's going to be mpreg non-con furry steampunk mystery.

    1. Sounds sexy

      Five stars in anticipation

    2. I'd read that. :D

      P.S. This post is completely awesome!

  2. "Friending them over and over again won't endear you to anyone."

    ^THIS! I've had one author try to friend me 5 times in last couple of weeks. Yes, I've read his book and thought it was okay, we're members of the same group, and he follows me on Twitter. But he refuses to answer my challenge question, which is super easy, and it specifically says that I'll ignore the request if it's not answered. I know authors can answer them, I've seen it, but he just won't. At this point, I doubt I would accept his friendship even if he does answer it. :-/

    1. Gah, Angie, I sympathise! I have had some people friend me multiple times in the same day! It's so rude, and I don't know whether they're just not getting the hint, or if they're just adding indiscriminately and didn't even notice that they've already tried to add me before!

      A lot of people don't answer my challenge question, either. I wish GR implemented a way that you CAN'T request friendship without writing something there, versus it being optional.

  3. Thank you from a reader reviewer sick of the drama, the spamming and the other BS that takes place on any given day at GR. I love the site but it desperately needs to send this out asap to every author on the site.

    1. Thanks for your comment. I really do enjoy my time on Goodreads, but yes, some people on there really do need a lesson in basic manners.

  4. I so agree with you all your points. I have actually blocked one person for repeatedly sending me friend requests every single day because I hit ignore the first time. I also very nearly deleted another author who sends me *annoying* event invitations every single day to the same event. I havent quite hit the delete button yet but i will if I see another event invite about the same thing.

  5. Fantastic advice Heidi! I moderate a few large groups on GR and our groups are very author friendly. It totally irks me when someone starts a topic that *seems* like a general topic NOT related to their book in a non-promotional area, but then they have a blurb or tag about their book in the comments section AND have their book attached to the topic - which cannot be removed one a certain number of comments have been made in the thread.

    And you are correct - READERS ARE NOT STUPID! LOL...

  6. Common sense is not always 'common'. :)


  7. I didn't even know people can friend over and over again. I like your top 5 don'ts. I'm not sure what happened, but recently, I've been receiving more and more authors following your Don'ts rather than Dos. :/

  8. What a great post! Thanks so much for putting it out there. :)

  9. Excellent points. I immediately linked to in on a group I moderate.

  10. Great post! If only there were a guideline for fellow readers as well...

  11. Heidi,

    I read about this post on Sam Schooler's blog and I wanted to tell you how awesome it is. As a reader, I really appreciate your advice to authors.

    And as a friend of many authors, I appreciate this advice that can really help them interact, in a good way, with readers.

    I've posted a link on Amazon's BBA thread, since your advice can help authors not become BBAs.

  12. 'This author is a butt' made me snarf.