Monday, October 06, 2008

GoodReads, LibraryThing, Shelfari: One to Rule Them All?

Unless we’re reading aloud, reading is an inherently solitary act; however it doesn’t stay that way. Whether we love the book or hate it, more often than not we then discuss what we’ve read with friends and family, our book group, or via some other venue (email, blogging, etc). By cataloging our books through an online library program we have another way to take the reading experience from its private state and make it communal. It allows us to create a visual or textual database to view, rate and review our collections, and share that process with others.

"My friend just turned me on to this site: It's like if myspace didn't suck and was occupied by book nerds. Crack, I tell you. Crack." — kxm ( Press page)

Finally the literati have a place to congregate and talk about what they love—books. From 2006 on, online book cataloguing sites like Shelfari, LibraryThing and GoodReads have provided venues for readers to connect with other readers. What may begin with the simple act of uploading an ISBN or entering a Title or Author into a site search engine can evolve into a review, discussion, friendship or newly discovered favorite author. And through that same ability that allows a reader to find other readers who liked (or hated) a particular book an author can connect with their fan base.

In my previous post “GoodReads, Shelfari and LibraryThing: a Features Comparison” I outlined some of the similarities and differences in the features found on each site. For anyone just looking for a place to load their books and keep track of what title is loaned to which friend, the choice of site will be a matter of taste. But for an author, these sites can become a place to cultivate and connect with readers on and offline, so it’s important to decide based on the options they provide.

Since not all social book networking sites are built equally, for the sake of this discussion we are going to focus on the two that are really working to connect authors to readers: LibraryThing and Shelfari, while visually appealing, does not appear to have any programs in place to bridge the author/reader divide.

The LibraryThing Early Reviewers program allows the author to get their book out there before publication date and build word of mouth via reviews. The book giveaways are organized on a monthly basis, with the new book list added near the beginning of every month. Each book is posted along with a corresponding flag representing the countries the publisher is willing to ship to. Once the winning names have been chosen, LibraryThing provides the publisher with the names and address of the winners so that the books may be sent out.

The GoodReads Book Giveaway program operates similarly to that of LibraryThing, although it is not organized on a month to month basis. As with LibraryThing, the publisher or person who listed the book is responsible for the books distribution to whatever countries they indicated. Any discussion regarding the title will then appear on the books page along with any reviews the giveaway might prompt.

While book giveaways and early reader programs help generate word of mouth, events listings give the author an opportunity to connect with fans offline as well. An event placed in LibraryThing Local will appear on the home page of any reader within five miles of the address. These events are also reflected on the author’s own profile for their fans to read should they click through. LibraryThing Local also includes a comprehensive list of bookstores found in the reader’s area, and this function can be useful to authors looking to plan formal signings or drop ins.

GoodReads also has an event program, and this event program links to individual reader homepage that fall within a radius of the event site. The event listings are not as comprehensive as those found on LibraryThing which has actively cultivated relationships with local bookshops. Also local bookstore listings are currently no where to be found on the GoodReads site, but as GoodReads gains in popularity and continues to grow, this may change.

Active LibraryThing user authors are distinguished from their non-participating counterparts by an emblem, which comes with the possibility of being highlighted as featured author, inclusion on the LibraryThing author page, and allows the author complete control over their author profile. LibraryThing Authors can also participate in LibraryThing’s new Chat program. These chats are scheduled over a series of days (two weeks max) to allow authors to talk up their new books or just open up discussion with readers.

Unfortunately LibraryThing Author Chat does not seem to have a corresponding link to the authors profile at this time, which means the author would have to publicize the chat in some other fashion. Authors could advertise their Chats on other social networking platforms, blogs or websites and that their fans will be able to access the ongoing conversation without having a LibraryThing account. Please note, however that they will not be able to comment unless they are a member.

The GoodReads author discussion program suffers from the same disconnect. While the discussions can be started informally at any time (to last a maximum of two weeks) they do not correspond to the writer’s profile. This means that once again the reader must actively search for it, the author must update their profile to reflect it, or have advertised through some other social venue to bring in readers. This is slightly easier on GoodReads as they offer applications for Facebook and MySpace (as well as applications for various web blogging sites) whereas LibraryThing has just finished their beta versions of their LiveJournal and MySpace applications.

An area that GoodReads has used to differentiate their own author program from others is to enable authors to post excerpts or samples of their writing. Any GoodReads member can post writing on the site, but for authors this allows an opportunity to provide more for their readers by posting first chapters, short stories, scenes, etc. These writing postings are then reflected on the author’s profile for anyone who clicks through to view.

Authors can also add book trailers to their profile. These trailers also appear on the GoodReads author page where a round up of all GoodRead authors are placed. GoodRead members can comment on their effectiveness by voting for whether or not they enjoyed the trailer and also by commenting on the author’s profile (if the author has enable comments).

Unlike LibraryThing, GoodReads appears to have an option for ebooks, which would make it perfect for the writers who currently have published works only in that category. However it doesn’t appear that the system will be able to find it unless a Kindle edition is listed on Amazon (its default book library) or if it has been added by someone with Librarian status.

After several days of research and exploring I believe that LibraryThing currently has the most comprehensive author program when viewed in conjunction with LibraryThing Local, however GoodReads offers several options that LibraryThing does not and looks like it will continue to improve in the future. If using either site appeals to you as an author I would suggest exploring all the options, and don’t be afraid to sign up for both.

The positive return found in using either of these sites depends solely on how much work the author (or possibly the publisher) intends to put into it. Just taking control of the author page and not updating beyond the first book makes the profile a static entity with little to draw in readers. It also gives nothing back to the social community on which these sites are based. By updating your events, adding trailers and excerpts or by giving away titles you can reach out to the people who are interested in the same thing you are: Books—specifically yours. Through these actions you can not only build your presence within the site, but your readers will be able to take their response and post it elsewhere through widgets, reviews and comments and thus increasing the spread of people the information can reach.

You are the only true authority on you, and so rather than leaving your author profile up to be changed wiki style by anyone who comes through, you should take control. Take advantage of the formats these sites offer for free to help publicize what you have created.

NOTE: This post has been cross posted at The Nebula Awards site. Thank you to David, for this opportunity.


David de Beer said...

an excellent, post, Linsey. Very handy indeed. I'm thrilled you let us cross-post it. thank you.

Kevin Radthorne said...

Thank you very much for the detailed analysis! Very useful info for authors still trying to get that buzz machine moving along.

Christine Fletcher said...

Great post, Linsey. I agree maintaining an active presence on a book networking site is worthwhile for an author; I'm on GoodReads, and I like it a lot. The problem (as always!) is time. Then again, time is always the problem, isn't it? Just gotta deal.

Linda Wisdom said...

I had been a member of GoodReads, posted excerpts and loved the author part. Until I received a bunch of so and so wrote a story about you and they were nasty, trash talking and vindictive. All from people I didn't even know! One I could delete and I deleted her from my friends list. More than one and not even worded the same so I couldn't blame the first person for some reason even starting this, no. It was easier to delete my profile there. If they think it's funny, they're very wrong.

Linda Wisdom

Bookseller Chick said...

Thanks again, David, for the opportunity.

Kevin, I think being an author is hard enough without having to figure out which social networks best for you. One of my goals for the blog is to really explore all of them and lay them out in how an author can use them without expending tons of their own energy. One thing that I found fascinating about GoodReads that I didn't mention (because I'm not sure where I saw it) is that you may be able to syndicate your blog content their via RSS feed.

Christine, it is a time bandit, that's for sure. As I mentioned above to Kevin, I think that you can syndicate your blog to GoodReads if you wish which would take some of the work out of updating.

Linda, that's horrible. I think that you can turn off that function of the profile, but one of the evil side effects of the internet is people can just dog pile on the negativity while feeling removed from the process. As that function is part of almost all the book network sites, I'm not sure it would get any better.

GoodReads does have reviewing policy so if any of the negative things they were saying devolved into personal attacks on you, you can bring that to the site monitor's attention. While I support people's right to write negative review, attacking anyone is not right. You can also turn off the alerts sent directly to you.

Jessica Pellien said...

Dear Linsey -

I would like to send you a review copy of Edwidge Danticat's new book CREATE DANGEROUSLY. Please let me know the best mailing address to use.