Six Steps for Building a Reading Challenge that Works for You

Posted by Rachel Manwill March  22, 2017

As the author of the Read Harder Challenge at Book Riot, now in its third year, I know a few things about reading challenges. While Read Harder offers up 24 tasks designed to expand and diversify your reading in all sorts of ways to be completed over the course of a calendar year, that challenge isn’t always the best fit for every reader. What do you do if you want to create your own but aren’t sure where to start? I’ll walk you through a step-by-step process for building a challenge that works for you.

First things first, what exactly is a reading challenge? There’s no hard and fast definition, but a challenge’s basic aim is to help you meet a reading goal. That goal can be any number of things: read more (or fewer) books, read more (or fewer) pages, read more books by authors from different races, ethnicities, nationalities, sexualities, genders, languages, etc., read more books you already own, read more books from the library, read longer books, read shorter books, read more comics, read more fiction, read more nonfiction, read more classics, listen to more audiobooks, read more print books, read more books set in different countries or featuring characters that don’t look, sound, or behave like you, and on and on and on. The possibilities are endless. A great personal reading challenge will help you identify and meet whichever of these goals you’re trying to reach. Ready to get started?

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1: Take Stock

The best place to start thinking about what books you will read is to review the books you’ve already read. If you track your books at all — through Goodreads or a spreadsheet or some other cataloging method — review the books you read in the last year (or two, if you’re feeling ambitious). Count the number you read. Do you want to read more? Did you read so many books that you can’t remember them? Should you read fewer books and savor them more? Did you read a lot of short books because you were trying to read more books? I bet some longer tomes sat neglected on your shelf, didn’t they?

What about the gender or racial breakdown? How many books are by men? How many by white authors vs. authors of color? How many are from non-Western countries? How many were translated from another language? How many were fiction or nonfiction? Classics vs. new releases? How many by authors that identify as LGBTQ? While it might take a bit of work (especially if you haven’t been keeping track of your books and this level of detail about the authors, settings, or characters), the benefits are worth it. You don’t have to go back and count every little thing about all the books you read in the past year — just pay attention to trends. Think you’re reading plenty of female authors? Count ’em up and see.

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Credit: Karen Kavett (http://karenkavett.com/)

2: Set A Goal

You might have come in already knowing what your reading goals are. Or you might have no clue what a good goal is for you. That’s totally fine. If you saw some trends as you reviewed your reading for the past year that you want to change, great, there’s your starting place. The more important part of setting your reading goal is making sure it’s realistic. You read 20 books in 2016 and want to read more? Shoot for 30, not 50. Adding less than one book a month to what you’re already averaging is way more feasible than trying to double your book intake.

You might have identified a couple (or more than a couple) of trends you want to alter. Trust me, I understand. I’ve stared at my reading log and said, “Oh my sweet Georgia peaches, I read nothing but books by straight cis-gender white men from the US or the UK that were written in English. THIS SHALL NOT STAND!” But there’s no faster way to fail a reading challenge than to set a goal that is unreasonable or unrealistic. Read mostly male authors in 2016? Set a goal to make your reading 50/50 male/female. Read mostly white authors? Set a goal to make 30% or 40% of your books by authors of color. Pick one or two (even three) goals that seem feasible. Don’t get overwhelmed.

3: Find Your Pack

One great method of building your personal reading challenge is to find people doing challenges that are similar to yours. There are a ton of people on the bookternet — on Twitter and Tumblr and Instagram and Litsy and Goodreads and YouTube and blogs — that are doing reading challenges like yours. There’s already a community around existing challenges like the Read Harder challenge or the Pop Sugar reading challenge, but with a little Googling, you can absolutely find a few other people who are reading with the same or similar goals you are. Find them. Make friends. Cheer each other on. Recommend books to each other that fit the challenge. Share resources. Commiserate. Trust me, it’s better together.

4: Pick A Tracking Method

This might seem obvious, but you won’t know if you’re meeting your goal unless you keep track of the books you’re reading and the stats that matter to you. Goodreads is great for this (there’s even a built in challenge widget) if you’re tracking number of books or pages, but it’s not so great for tracking other kinds of stats. Kobo’s ereaders and apps all have tracking features that are particularly helpful if you’re trying to add a little bit of reading to your daily life. If you’re trying to read more, Kobo’s trackers are fantastic for giving you insight into when you’re reading, where you have more time in your day to add reading in, and your average reading pace (plus there are awards!). For more complex stats like tracking gender, race, nationality, genre, etc. you can create a simple spreadsheet (or adapt one that’s already been built) for this purpose. There a few other tools on the internet to help but find one that works for you and commit to it. If you find it too complicated or inconvenient, you won’t use it.

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5: Read! 

Yeah, duh. But here’s the thing: your challenge goal shouldn’t be a burden. It’s a challenge, sure, but your goal shouldn’t become a ball and chain that discourages or paralyzes you. Unless you’re trying to do a 100% reading challenge (like reading nothing but female authors), picking up the occasional book that doesn’t fit your goal is fine. So long as when you’re selecting your books, you’re mindful of your goal, tracking every book, and cutting yourself some slack.

6: Use All Available Outlets

It’s tough to break out of a rut and challenge yourself to read outside your comfort zone if most of the books you own got you into that rut in the first place. Explore all your options for getting new books into your life, including (but definitely not limited to) the library, daily deal emails for ebooks and audiobooks, used bookstores, or even just borrowing books from friends. Seek those alternate sources to really diversify your TBR and that goal will seem easy.

No matter what reading challenge you build or end goal you set, your ultimate goal should be to expand your reading horizons, whatever that means to you. Be intentional, be thoughtful, be brave, but also be delighted by all the new books you get to discover.

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