We know a little about 2018, already: midterm elections of course, and if you’re in the Twin Cities like us you’ve got Hamilton AND the Super Bowl coming to town. Most of it’s a blank slate, though, and while Print Run doesn’t have a crystal ball, we do have one prediction for 2018 that doesn’t involve the Minnesota Vikings:

2018 will be a very interesting year for book marketing.

Goodreads has been a wonderful place in the last several years to promote books. As a user-focused site, a free promotion had the ability to easily and effectively reach new readers. This was especially exciting for launching debut authors, who didn’t have a backlist to rely on when going for sales. Unlike a website or a Facebook page, a user didn’t have to already be a fan to win, and that meant that a giveaway both deepened and widened the pool of loyal readers for an author.

In the past year or so, however, the Goodreads giveaway has caught on as a cheap, easy marketing strategy for not just writers, but their publishers. After all, there’s a potentially astronomical reward of reaching a large amount of new readers with the small investment of just a few copies. This is great for the individual user: the chances of getting a free book increase because as the practice becomes more and more popular, there are more contests to enter. It’s not as positive for the individual writer trying to reach new audiences, though—a larger number of giveaways means that your slice of the public-attention pie has decreased.

This means there’s a sweet spot when using this type of distribution technique for effective book marketing. If you get in on a space like Goodreads too soon, the payout isn’t worthwhile because not enough readers are using the site. If you get in too late, you’re lost amongst the noise of all the other authors marketing their works. It’s not rocket science, but it’s a delicate game to find new readers in a marketplace that will almost certainly crowd, but hasn’t quite yet.

Between this balancing act and the new payment policy, we predict Goodreads will diminish fairly quickly as a key place to market anything but big sellers from the Big 5—the sorts of books that get huge marketing budgets because of the author’s previous success, or a publisher’s commitment to make it an “it” book.

When Goodreads tells us that the paywall will increase the quality of the giveaways run on their site, this shift is what they mean: a larger portion of their promotions will come from household names from large commercial houses. Undiscovered (or under-discovered) writers and their publicists will almost certainly start promoting books elsewhere, and the implications of this shift will extend further than we might think.

There’s no other digital marketing platform that exists in that aforementioned sweet spot for authors right now. The vacuum left by Goodreads’ oversaturation and new payment policy could very well mean the creation of a new space that re-focuses on the most crucial factor in a book’s success in the marketplace: organic word of mouth. You know, real people naturally talking about books to other real people. That thing Goodreads is forgetting about.

There’s a lesson there too, by the way: in an industry that relies so heavily on genuine human interaction to generate enthusiasm, perhaps we should be in less of a rush to monetize and corporatize the spaces where those interactions are organically happening (we’re looking at you here too, Patreon).

But until we get the next Goodreads, we’re likely going to see a stronger reliance on genre and imprint loyalty to sell new books, especially from self-published authors and authors at smaller houses. We believe that both sides of the fence—publisher and reader—will be paying more attention to the editorial vision of an house. After all, it’ll be more difficult to sell new releases based on one-off book descriptions and a pretty cover, so those brand names will be increasingly important.

Some predictions for the year, then: look for more “fans of X will like Y” in promotional messaging from houses, and a larger reliance on imprint logos and endorsements to connect the success of a former book with the release of a new one. Maybe we’ll even see covers of a certain genre move towards an image or color singularity, in an effort to bind readerships together.

Those are stopgaps, though. We’re not sure how fast the “new Goodreads” will show up, but it’s coming. Ideally, the old one wouldn’t change; the thing that is working for everyone—authors, publishers, and readers—would simply keep existing. But in this publishing age of corporatization and consolidation, such things were always destined to be warped. That doesn’t mean that sweet spot doesn’t exist though, and we can expect something to come to fill it again, at least for a while.

Laura Zats is a literary agent in St. Paul, Minnesota, where she specializes in children’s fiction, science fiction and fantasy, and romance. She is also the editorial manager for a Minneapolis-based partner publisher and frequent workshop teacher.


Erik Hane is a literary agent, freelance editor, and writer based in Minneapolis. Before moving to the Midwest, he served as an acquisitions editor at The Overlook Press and an assistant editor at Oxford University Press.

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