Goodreads Popularity and the Hugo and Nebula Contenders: December 2014

It’s the end of the month, so time to check in with the popularity of our major Nebula and Hugo contenders! I use the number of Reader Ratings from Goodreads to track this. While not a perfect measure of popularity, it’s one of the best we have available, and allows for direct apple-to-apple comparisons of our books. It doesn’t matter if Goodreads is slightly incorrect, as long as it is consistently incorrect.

Since this is the first year this chart has existed, we don’t yet know how—if at all—this will correlate to the Hugos and Nebulas. Are total number of readers more important than momentum? Is there a floor of popularity you have to reach to make it into the Hugo slate? How obscure is too obscure? How popular is too popular? Time will tell.

First up: overall # of readers. The chart is getting big, so you may have to click on it to see it better, and the Excel spreadsheet (for all you stat geeks) is right here: Hugo Metrics. This chart shows the total number of Goodreads ratings (i.e. a measure of # of readers) for the past three months, including month-to-month change. Blanks spots are from where I added new books to the tracking this month.

Goodreads Popularity December 2014
If The Martian wasn’t fully viral before, it is now—10,000 new readers in a single month. Wow! This is aided by the new paperback release and deep discounts on e-book prices, and we can’t ignore that Weir’s book has been out since 2011, allowing it plenty of time to build sales momentum. Still, The Martian is a full-on SF hit, something that’s been a rarity in the last 15+ years. I can only think of Ready Player One and Wool that have pushed as many copies recently. I don’t think Weir is going to be eligible for the Hugo (or Nebula), though, and that’s going to leave a big hole in this year’s award cycle.

Other than that, Station Eleven that has been burning the world down: 7,000 new readers in month? More total readers than any other SF book first published in 2014? Mandel’s book is selling to both literary fiction and genre audiences, and that crossover appeal can be potent; this crossover is certainly bolstering a book like The Bone Clocks as well. I think Mandel has to be considered seriously for the Nebula: if everyone is talking about a book in December, does that make it more likely to get nominated by February?

I added a mix of popular books. I had no idea California was doing so well, and it’s interesting to see how a YA novel like Red Rising or Half a King stacks up against adult fiction. VanderMeer and Scalzi continue to do well, and Ancillary Sword is putting up solid numbers. All maintain their status as potential nominees.

Who’s not doing as well? City of Stairs and The Goblin Emperor, two of our buzzy “newcomer” possibilities (for their first Hugo or Nebula noms) have done well on year-end lists, but this hasn’t yet translated to tons of new readers. I would have thought they’d have begun building momentum. In fact, let’s take a look at momentum:

Goodreads Momentum December 2014

That’s an intriguing chart. Take the top of that chart, toss out Weir because it’s not eligible, Sanderson because it’s a sequel: is that your Hugo slate? Mandel / Mitchell / Scalzi / Gibson / VanderMeer? Toss out Mandel (too literary) and sub in Leckie, and you’d have a pretty decent guess, particularly if no campaigns muck up the statistics.

One last note before I zip off: we have some good sales numbers to correlate the charts to. Publisher’s Weekly presents a limited amount of BookScan data for Hardcover bestsellers. Mandel made that list this week, and Publisher’s Weekly gave the number of 44,165 hardcovers sold as of 12/21/2014. That only represents a fraction of Mandel’s total sales: this doesn’t include e-books; Bookscan only covers around 75%-80% of the market; and this is an American list. Still, this number sets a floor for us.

Kameron Hurley recently gave a great post about her sales numbers for The Mirror Empire:

To date, best I can tell, we’ve sold about 7,500 copies of THE MIRROR EMPIRE in the US and Canada alone, and it’s been reprinted in both the US and UK. As the UK had a first print run of 1500, I think I can comfortably say we’re probably nearly at the 10,000 copy mark by now (I’ve only seen real POS for US/Canada; I’ll have actual total numbers when I get royalty statements early this year).

Hurley’s Goodreads number is 790—I figure Goodreads represents around 5-15% of the total marketplace, so a quick rule of thumb I use is to multiple the Goodreads number by 10 to get a rough sales estimate.

One last piece of sales data for you. In a November 5 Entertainment Weekly article, Andy Weir was said to have sold 180,000 copies of The Martian. We don’t know how old that number was at the time of publication—or if it included e-books—and Weir has sold a ton since then, but at least that’s another part of the puzzle. I figure Weir is well north of 300,000 by now.

How much can we learn from tracking numbers like this? We won’t know until the Hugo and Nebula slates are released, but it’s one more piece of the complex Hugo/Nebula puzzle.

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2 responses to “Goodreads Popularity and the Hugo and Nebula Contenders: December 2014”

  1. Mark says :

    FYI, it’s not as detailed as your stats and it’s only for the eventual nominees, but Nicholas Whyte has been tracking goodreads stats for a few years:

    http://nwhyte.livejournal.com/tag/goodreads%2Flibrarything%20stats

    Could be mildly useful if you’re looking for more historical snapshots of data…

    • chaoshorizon says :

      Yes, Whyte has a great website with tons of good statistical information on the awards! I’ve checked his analyses out plenty of times, as should everyone else. Like you said, he grabs the Goodreads stats just before the awards are given. My tracking should be a little more comprehensive, and we’ll get to see if nominees get a “nomination” boost, and whether it’s monthly sales or total readers that is a better predictor. My goal in this first year of Chaos Horizon is to cast a big net and see what data we can come up with—not all of it is going to be useful, sadly.

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