Interview with Patrick Brown of Goodreads

1.How and why did Goodreads get started?

Otis Chandler founded Goodreads in 2006. Since he’s the one who started it all, I’ll let him tell the story:

“One afternoon while I was scanning a friend's bookshelf for my next great read, it struck me. When I want to know what books to read, I'd rather turn to a friend than any random person, bestseller list or algorithm. So I thought I'd build a website — a website where I could see my friends' bookshelves and learn about what they thought of all their books. Goodreads is that site.”

 In essence, Otis felt that what was missing form the world of books was a great place to discover your next favorite book, and when he thought of how he got most of his reading recommendations, he thought of his friends, and he designed Goodreads accordingly.

2. Was the initial intent to focus on readers spreading the news about
books they enjoyed, etc?

Yes, I think the initial idea was to focus on friends sharing what they were reading with one another. Everything comes back to that idea on the site – the people you know are the most likely to give you a great recommendation. I think that holds true offline every bit as much as it does online.

3. Where in the planning process were writers brought in?

The Author Program came about not too long after the site’s launch. I think Otis always understood that if he had a big community of readers that authors would be excited to be a part of it. And he wasn’t wrong – since the program’s inception, we’ve had over 17,600 authors join the site.

4. What, in your opinion, is the most proactive thing a writer can do
on Goodreads to get the word out without coming across as too pushy?

First, they should claim their author profile and join the Goodreads Author Program. It’s free to join and requires only a valid email address. In a broad sense, the best way for an author to build a presence on Goodreads is to be an active Goodreads member. That is, they should write reviews of the books they read, participate in groups, and generally use the site as a reader might. In addition to this, they can do some very simple things to get the word out that are not intrusive. If the author is already writing a blog, they can sync that to their author profile. If they aren’t writing a blog, they can start one. They can post videos, ebook excerpts, polls, etc. All of that will end up in their friends’ and fans’ update feeds.

More specifically, the best promotional tool at a Goodreads Author’s disposal is definitely the First Reads giveaway. Giving away an advance copy (or even a finished copy) of your book is a terrific way of getting your book some attention on the site. After all, if you want people to fall in love with your writing, the best way is to give them a taste of it. On average, about 750 people enter each giveaway, and of those people, we’ve found that about 8% of them will add the book to their to-read shelf, win or lose. About 45% of the winners review the book, meaning that the more copies you offer, the more reviews you are likely to get. And reviews are really the fuel that drives everything on Goodreads. When a member reviews your book, not only do their friends see that review, but it often gets pushed to Facebook, Twitter, and their blog, too. We’ve found that about 1/5 of all Goodreads users write a book blog, and we do our best to make it easy for those users to share their reviews on their blogs.

A great way to get a little bit of bang for not many bucks is to pair a giveaway with a self-serve advertisement. Self-serve ads are easy to create and can be bought for as little as $50. You pay based on the number of people who click on your ad, and you can target it to fans of a specific genre, as well as to residents of a specific country, one gender or the other, or a targeted age range. This way, you get your giveaway in front of the people you most want to reach.

To post a giveaway, just log into Goodreads, and visit this link:

To see a list of current giveaways, go here:

5. There are quite a few Goodreads Authors who have done a great job of building a presence on the site. One that immediately springs to mind is Jennifer Murgia, author of Angel Star. (

Jennifer is an emerging author in the young adult world, and she’s really made Goodreads a centerpiece of her online world. She is active in several groups focused on the kinds of books she writes, and she doesn’t talk solely about her own book. As a result, she’s amassed over 900 friends and over 200 fans (We introduced the fan feature relatively recently, so many authors have fewer fans than you’d assume, though the fan feature is growing rapidly). She has taken advantage of the giveaway feature, and as her readership on the site grew, she tapped into that community with author chats, like the one she hosted in the Angel Star fanclub group:

The biggest lesson from Jennifer’s experience is that it’s possible to promote yourself without being pushy. If the kind of content you’re posting is exciting and interesting, than your posts will be welcomed. If your posts feel more like ads, you are likely to be flagged as a spammer.

Another great example of an author using Goodreads is Sandra Brown. While she was already a well-known author, she has made great use of the First Reads giveaway program to get her books into the hands of readers who might never have otherwise given her a shot. She’s been especially diligent at getting foreign language editions to users in foreign countries. Not a lot of authors post giveaways to countries like Germany and Sweden, and that’s won her some fans in those countries.

6. There are two useful links for the Author Program. The first explains what the Author Program is for those who haven’t yet joined:

And we added an exhaustive how-to document that details how exactly to do anything and everything as an author on Goodreads:

I also recommend that every author review the Author Guidelines, as they detail what to do and what not to do on Goodreads.

But in general, I would say that the first step is joining the site and claiming your author profile. Then I would take the time to get that all set up – add a photo and an author bio, sync your blog, etc. Then I would list a giveaway. As you start to build a following, you can get into the more involved aspects, like a Featured Author Group where you can talk directly with your fans and readers.

7. We have readers of all types on Goodreads, so I would say that any author should be able to find something of value in our community. We probably don’t do as well with technical books or academic texts, though there are probably some people on Goodreads reviewing them! In general, we have large numbers of fans for young adult fiction, historical fiction, romance, “women’s fiction” (I don’t particularly love that label, but it does get used a lot), and memoir/autobiography. I think we’re really starting to grow the number of users interested in non-fiction, cooking, and crime fiction/mystery/thriller.

Filed as: Industry Guests, Marketing/Promotion