Goodreads often feels like a bottomless pit where authors crawl into for self-flagellation. You can put in endless work reaching out to the community and get nothing in return, and there are a lot of authors who have called it quits with the platform completely and have no desire to even visit it and keep it up to date.
A lot of them are in this category, more than you would think, and the hatred some authors feel toward the platform goes beyond simple annoyance. There are organizations that won't even allow you to mention Goodreads, and posting a link to it would be tantamount to treason. It is as though the name Goodreads is a curse.
This feeling is partly justifiable: Goodreads can be toxic, and there is a lot of negativity in the platform that can make authors sick to their stomach. Across the board, people are harsher and less forgiving, and also more pretentious and underhanded, than just about anywhere else in the writing world. Literary Classics are bashed with great proclivity, and person feelings dominate literary quality across the board.
But, there are a lot of good things about Goodreads, too, and it's important not to overlook the good simply because of the bad.
Let's start here, so we can get these out of the way...
- Negative Reviews - There are a lot of these floating around out there, and almost any book you see on Amazon is about a half-star (or more) further down on Goodreads. Part of this is due to Amazon requiring people to leave word reviews and not simply clicking on a star rating for the quality of the review. Also, Goodreads serves as a kind of blog system where a lot of people leave reviews where they won't bother to post on Amazon.
- Semi-Pro Readers - This is something I'm sure anyone who has ever visited Yelp before can attest to. Not everyone is a professional book critic, but give people an outlet and their inner Gordon Ramsey will make its presence known. A lot of people seem to think their review is going to save lives and put a lot of work into it. This isn't a bad thing in and of itself, but sometimes we just want to know 'did you like the book or not?'
- Time Consumption - Goodreads takes a lot of time. There are so many features for authors that it can get overwhelming. Many of them simply require a lot of manual input and upkeep to keep up to date. Some of them are worth it and have huge benefits, but it's time that could (should?) be spent writing instead.
Plenty of these, too!
- Giveaways - Some of the best reviews I've ever received came from Goodreads giveaways, and I've even gotten some lifelong fans out of it. It's easy to set up, you can run it for as long as you want, and the cost is, however, many books you want to give away. They are also starting eBook giveaways, but the cost of entry for these is much higher and not really open to Indies just yet..
- Listopia - This is just kind of cool and if readers put you on lists it can benefit you for a really long time. Sure, it isn't something you can plan for a lot, but it can be beneficial and encouraging when you see people responding to your work.
- Question and Answer - Sometimes people want to ask an author a question. With Goodreads, you can, and authors that are responsive to their fans get a lot of positive response. The days of everyone thinking of authors as being aloof and unreachable are gone, and now there is a give and take that Goodreads can help facilitate.
- Questions about your Book - You can (or readers can) create questions about your book for other people to answer, and there is an ongoing permanent quiz that is fun. Again, this is more for readers, but you can have fun with it too.
- Quotes - Same as above where readers can call out quotes they like. I had some really neat quotes from my book dropped onto Goodreads by people, and it really made me feel that they were invested in my story.
I think you can see a trend with Goodreads: a lot of stuff is here for readers to interact with each other. This is a reader platform, and authors are invited to participate but encouraged to stay around the edges. There are communities you can join to find excellent people, and you can learn a lot. I would highly encourage everyone to at least make their platform look good: author photo, filled out details, linked editions of books (with covers) and a preference of what edition to show.
There are also some new things, like the ability to run ads directly on the site. They are expensive, but also highly engaged. Think of it this way: would you rather pay for 1 click at 50 cents for someone who wants to read your book and probably review it, or 50 cents for 10 clicks of people who land on the page, decide they didn't want to read a book after all, and just leave?
They are also planning a BookBub type of email system which could be a game changer, but for now this isn't something Indie Authors can be a part of. Here's hoping that changes some day.
It just makes you look more professional. Don't concern yourself with the ratings, though. Some people use their own rating system, using 1 star to denote a book they want to read, 2 stars to mean a book they plan to review, etc etc.
If there is any feature you should focus on, it would be the giveaways. You can get new readers, generate interest, and get a lot of other benefits including reviews and feedback from readers.
Always remember that the first priority for Goodreads is the reader, and you're simply here to try and connect with them. Focus on the things you can do to make your presence known and be approachable to readers, and then just let things run on their own. If you have a blog, hook it up and post some useful content.
And, as always, have fun!