Indie authors who have recently published books or are nearing publication day might be wondering about the best way to get the word out about their work. Posting on social media, securing online reviews, pitching to bloggers, and other publicity methods will only get an author so far, and they each require a significant amount of legwork.

Many indie authors turn to online advertising to reach broader audiences. And while there are many places to advertise self-published books, one of the more popular choices among indie authors is Goodreads.

[Note: this article was originally published in April 2015 and was updated on Nov. 24, 2016.]

There are three main benefits of advertising using Goodreads’s self-serve advertising system. The first is that it offers a relatively inexpensive plan, which is ideal for indie authors on a tight budget. The second is that it makes the process quick and easy, which is helpful for indie authors without expertise in digital advertising.

The third—which won’t come as surprise to any Goodreads member—is that the site is incredibly popular among avid readers. According to Goodreads, it has some 55 million members and receives more than 300 million page-views each month and 45 million unique visitors per month. While no campaign will reach all these eyeballs, authors can rest assured their ads will be seen by readers.

Easy as 1, 2, 3

"I liken a Goodreads ad to taking my book off a back shelf and putting it on the table in the front of the store. There isn’t an immediate huge jump in sales, but the more people who see it, the more interest it can generate."

The process of building a Goodreads ad campaign is divided into three parts. The first involves creating the actual ad. An author will be asked to load his book (the book must be already be in the Goodreads system), write a short description (calls-to-action like “Dive into this Hot Romance Today!” are recommended), and decide where the ad’s URL should lead to, whether or not to include a preview link, and whether or not to include an “engagement module,” which will report the number of people who have reviewed the book.

The second part of the process involves deciding who will see the ad. An author can choose to advertise to all Goodreads users or to specific users. If he chooses to advertise to specific users, he can narrow his audience by age, gender, country, and genre. He can also choose to target readers who are fans of certain authors; for instance, if he decides that his novel may appeal to Tom Clancy fans, he can choose to advertise to readers who have reviewed Tom Clancy books favorably.

Goodreads also allows authors to create multiple ads within the same campaign. According to Patrick Brown, Director of Author Marketing at Goodreads, this “allows you to test different ads to different audiences to see which resonates best.”

The third part of the advertising process involves setting your budget. An author decides his total campaign budget, and his daily ad budget, which determines how many clicks he’s guaranteed per day. He then decides his “bid amount,” or the amount he’s charged every time someone clicks on his ad. Because Goodreads only charges authors per click, any leftover money will remain in the author’s Goodreads credit account. Alternately, an author can choose to continue the campaign until the funding runs out.

Reaching Readers

Goodreads reports that its average click-through rate is 0.05%, which means that, if 10,000 people see an author’s ad, an average of five people will click on it.

Jennifer Bresnick, an indie author who used Goodreads to advertise her novel Dark the Night Descending, ended up with a lower click-through rate of 0.04%. “The ad was shown to 20,000 people, but I only got nine clicks on it,” she says. That said, the campaign didn’t pose much of a financial burden—Bresnick only spent $4.50.

Bresnick says she found the experience useful because it gave her chance to learn how the process worked. “I think it was a valuable experience but…I probably wouldn’t do it again unless I had a much larger budget to play with,” she says.

Indie author Melinda Clayton has advertised all six of her books—five fiction, one nonfiction—on Goodreads, with her most recent campaign taking place late in 2014. She generally invests $25 per campaign, setting her per-click rate at $0.25 and letting the ads run until her funds have been used up.

“In the beginning, it took quite a while to spend my budget,” she says. “The first few ads I ran took weeks to run out of funds. The last one I ran took five days and there were several days I met my daily budget before noon.”

She urges authors using the program for the first time to not expect quick results. “I liken a Goodreads ad to taking my book off a back shelf and putting it on the table in the front of the store. There isn’t an immediate huge jump in sales, but the more people who see it, the more interest it can generate.”

She adds that the platform works especially well for authors who write series. “You can create a campaign and add as many books as you like,” she says. When people click on an ad for one book, it “means I have an extra book earning clicks.”

If an author finds that his ads aren’t resonating, he can make changes mid-campaign. Brown, at Goodreads, advises authors to monitor their statistics page to see how well or how poorly their ads are performing and to make changes if necessary. “This also prevents what’s known as ‘ad fatigue,’ for viewers who may have seen your ad more than once.”

Self-publishing expert Dana Lynn Smith adds that advertisers can take advantage of other Goodreads features while building their campaigns.

“I recommend that they set up an author profile, import their blog posts, write reviews of other books that would appeal to their target audience, [and] do book giveaways,” she says. “Authors can also participate in group discussions on Goodreads, but be cautious about self-promotion. Be sure to read the group description and the introductory post for each discussion board to learn the rules, and observe what other members are posting.”

Smith also encourages authors to establish a favorable presence for their book on the site before building a campaign for it. “I recommend getting at least 10 positive reviews before advertising,” she says.

Clayton took advantage of Goodreads’s “Ask the Author” feature, participates in giveaways, and also blogs on the site. “I use the features they’ve provided authors, but am careful not to overstep boundaries or violate trust. Readers don’t want obnoxious sales tactics, they want to enjoy the Goodreads community without a constant barrage of ‘Buy my book!’ I make a point of respecting those boundaries.”