I’m a massive fan of lists. I find nothing more satisfying than listing out tasks or projects and subsequently crossing off accomplishments. Tracking progress and being able to look back at what I’ve done over the course of the last day/week/month/year thrills me. So when a friend introduced me to Goodreads—an online reading log to help readers keep track of books read and to be read—back in 2014, I was immediately hooked.
I wasn’t the only one. Goodreads, for the uninitiated, is the online reading tracker. As of January 2021, Goodreads has accumulated over 90 million users since it was first launched in January 2007. And yet despite its popularity, many users are still looking for alternative options. Last year, when a single tweet started gaining traction on Book Twitter, users began flocking to a new online reading log, participating in the beta testing and progressive growth of The StoryGraph.
What is a Reading Log?
Unfamiliar with the idea of online reading trackers, or logs? At their core, they’re pretty simple—just a platform for readers to track books they have read, are currently reading, and want to read.
- Want to Read lists (or To Be Read lists) are a great way to keep track of book recommendations, stay on top of upcoming releases, and keep track of books you want to read.
- Currently Reading allows you to track progress on the book(s) you’re actively reading.
- Read lists track all the books you’ve finished reading, including the options to add dates read, rereads, which specific edition you read (paperback, ebook, audiobook, etc.), and reviews.
Beyond allowing you to track your reading progress, reading log platforms use the data they aggregate from their users to provide recommendations for what to read next, which can be an incredibly useful function both for avid readers and authors. And, in some cases, these platforms provide opportunities for authors and readers to connect with like-minded communities over reading challenges, discussion groups or book clubs, book reviews, and more.
Let’s take a look at two online reading logs—long-time frontrunner Goodreads and up-and-comer The StoryGraph—and see how authors and readers alike can make use of these popular platforms.
Goodreads is the largest and most popular book tracker currently available online. This is an undisputed fact—the overwhelming majority of the publishing industry and its consumers use Goodreads in some capacity. I’ve used Goodreads consistently since I was first introduced to it—both personally and professionally, from multiple different professional perspectives.\
Yet, despite its popularity, Goodreads is often found wanting by many of its users. Not unlike Amazon, Goodreads members seem to be begrudgingly using it in spite of their own personal reservations—we’re not fans, but it’s just so convenient and useful that it’s hard to say no. In fact, Goodreads is very much like Amazon, especially since Goodreads has been owned and operated by Amazon since 2013 (yes, that’s a bad thing).
Why, then, is Goodreads so popular? Most likely a variety of reasons. Last spring Tom Critchlow—a strategy consultant who once tried to create a competing book database that has since gone offline—shared his thoughts on Goodreads’ dominance. Details like the monetization of Goodreads via Amazon and the SEO real estate both can claim are certainly a contributing factor, but from a user perspective, I think the answer is pretty straightforward. Goodreads is popular, despite its flaws, because it is still the most robust book reviewing and networking platform currently available online.
Of course, like you would expect from any online book database, book recommendations, and public book reviews are major features of Goodreads. Goodreads provides book recommendations in a variety of different formats. Part of the community-based nature of Goodreads includes Facebook-like news and activity feed on your homepage that shows your friends’ recent activity, including what books they’ve recently read, reviewed, or added to their Want to Read lists.
Data-generated recommendations—“based on your reading activity we think you would like” style—are inserted directly to your home feed, or “Readers Also Enjoyed” curated lists on every individual book page. They will also email you book recs, sending follow-up “what to read next” emails after you log a review for a finished book. To be fair, in many cases these recommendations are biased, influenced by more than just raw user data, but that doesn’t necessarily make them inaccurate or inappropriate.
Want to check out if one of the books Goodreads recommended to you is actually worth your time? There are two different styles of user reviews available on the platform:
- Ratings allow a reader to rate a book on a very simple scale of one to five stars, just like any other online product review.
- Reviews give users the opportunity to elaborate on their rating with a blank slate for written reviews.
It’s not a perfect system—it’s a common practice, for example, for users to give a star rating to a book they haven’t actually read. And as with all online reviews, especially something as subjective as thoughts on a book, they can get personal. But despite their flaws, Goodreads reviews can be prolific and incredibly influential in the promotion of a new book.
Hands down my favorite feature on Goodreads is the lists. Lists are curated by users (in fact, most of Goodreads is curated by users, or “librarians,” in a similar style to Wikipedia), and can be a fantastic resource for finding new and upcoming books to read. For example, my two most-read genres are Adult Contemporary Romance and Young Adult Fantasy. With a little effort, I can find curated lists of every Adult Contemporary Romance novel or Young Adult Fantasy novel coming out in any given year, which helps me keep track of what new books are coming soon, what to keep an eye out for, and what everyone’s going to be talking about.
Books can also be highlighted in the Featured Giveaways section, where users have a chance to win everything from ARCs of upcoming debuts to hardcover bestsellers (yeah that’s right, free books!). Giveaways are generally set up (and paid for) by publishers, but any author with the budget can choose to purchase a giveaway package and promote their book as a Goodreads Giveaway. Even better, any reader with a Goodreads account can enter—for free—for a chance to win. Who doesn’t love the chance to win free books!?
Goodreads has also gained enough clout in the industry that they have their own annual award. The Goodreads Choice Awards are voted on by users, nominating the best new releases in twenty different categories and narrowing each category down to a single winner. These awards aren’t small, either—over 5.6 million votes were cast for the 2020 Choice Awards.
What really makes Goodreads stand out as the preeminent reading log platform is the robust online community and the features for participants.
For better or worse, Goodreads is integrated with some of the major social media platforms, which gives members the opportunity to connect with Facebook friends or share their reviews on Twitter. Your friends’ activity is visible on your user homepage, which means you can see what your friends are reading, comment on their reviews, and see which Lists or Giveaways they’ve been interacting with.
If you want to get more involved, or network with other readers that aren’t just your Facebook friends, Groups and Discussions allow members to create online book clubs, conversation topics and threads, special interest groups, and more. And it’s not just limited to readers—authors can get involved in the community too, with features like Ask the Author and the opportunity for authors to upload behind-the-scenes notes, comments, and details to their book pages and author profiles.
For many Goodreads users, the community aspect is enough to outweigh the occasional pain points in the functionality of the website. But many users were still looking for book tracking, tagging, and reviewing features that Goodreads still doesn’t—and likely never will—have available on their site. One user, in particular, was so frustrated with the limitations of Goodreads that she decided to do something about it. Enter The StoryGraph.
Nadia Odunayo, the tech entrepreneur who built (and continues to build out) The StoryGraph, knew she wasn’t alone in feeling frustrated by Goodreads. “For three months I didn’t build anything and I didn’t join in on anything, I just spoke to readers,” Odunayo told Sarah Manavis in this interview. “I spoke to Goodreads users, I spoke to book bloggers, I spoke to friends, and I just looked at a bunch of different people to try and find out: is there still an untapped reader out there?”
Apparently, she found plenty and has since gone to work on rectifying those grievances in her own platform. Some of them are immediately obvious to users familiar with Goodreads when they first begin to use The StoryGraph.
Nuanced Book Reviewing
Most notably—and easily the selling-point I see most often when users are telling others about The StoryGraph—is a more nuanced rating scale than just 1-5 stars. In fact, the whole review system is more nuanced, including the ability to rate books on a decimal scale (for example, further than just a 4-star books, readers can rate books 4.0, 4.25, 4.5, or 4.75), and the option to designate a book as “Did Not Finish” or DNF. These may seem like relatively small improvements in the grand scheme of book tracking, but it’s worth noting that both of these features were details that Goodreads users had been asking for—with no success—for years.
Even the written reviews for books are more detailed and more to guide users than just an open-ended text box. And while guided reviews are a great feature, they aren’t just to help users leave more detailed reviews on books they’ve read—they’re actually a key element of the feature that has caught so many users’ interest.
In many ways, The StoryGraph functions like Goodreads—it’s still a reading log platform designed to track books read, books currently being read, and books to read, by adding them to separate lists and applying relevant tags to them. And in many ways, The StoryGraph leaves behind some of Goodreads defining features—the community experience, for example, is much quieter on The StoryGraph, at least at the moment. Written reviews are harder to find, leaving instead a more curated collection of data for browsers to use. And if there are promotional features like giveaways or public lists, I haven’t found them yet. Though there are, perhaps in lieu of lists, a wide range of reading challenges available, which is a pretty awesome way to broaden your bookshelf.
So why then, if The StoryGraph offers fewer features than Goodreads, are so many people signing up for this new platform that is barely even out of beta testing? Well, a lot of reasons, honestly—ethical and moral ones as much as functional and practical ones, many of which are discussed in this article from Ethical Unicorn. But ultimately? Because what The StoryGraph does it does so, so well. And what The StoryGraph does, above all else, is help readers find new books.
When leaving a review of a finished book on The StoryGraph, users are presented with a list of questions:
The StoryGraph then uses the feedback gathered from book reviewers to curate personal recommendations for other users that may be interested in the book. The StoryGraph, like Goodreads, has multiple methods of delivering book recs to users. But unlike Goodreads, these recommendations aren’t influenced by what your friends are reading, industry trends, or what publishers are paying for ads on Goodreads. Rather, these recommendations are informed entirely by the data aggregated by user reviews and Nadia Odunayo’s algorithms.
Customized recommendations are delivered to users directly on The StoryGraph homepage—the very first thing you see when you log in is a row of curated recommendations based on your reading habits, your past reviews, and a reading preferences survey you fill out when you first register. Beyond those recommendations, users can browse for recommendations based on the data provided in those prompted review questions.
When browsing or searching for books, The StoryGraph prompts users with the question “What are you in the mood for?” and a series of choices about desired mood (adventurous, emotional, inspiring, etc.), pace, genre, length, and even filters like “don’t show my books already in my To-Read pile” or “only show me books that aren’t part of a series.” The results—which have been consistently accurate in my experience—are an even more curated list of suggested books based on what you’re in the mood to read.
Even further, The StoryGraph applies more weight to this data—mood, genre, pace, etc.—than it does to star ratings. As Odunayo explained in the interview with Sarah Manavis, “If we get the mood right, the pace right, the topic, and theme right, the type of author, the type of story you want to hear about—does it matter if the 100 people who read it before you rated it two stars? What if it’s actually a five-star read for you? And that’s what we’re trying to do,” she says, “uncover books for people, because we present them in a different way and show different information upfront.”
Goodreads and The StoryGraph for Authors
Maybe you’re thinking sure, all of that sounds great…but what does it have to do with me, an indie author? Totally fair question. Let’s take a look at how Goodreads and The StoryGraph can be useful for authors, and which one might better suit your specific needs.
I’m pretty sure that I’ve brought up the importance of understanding your book’s genre in every blog post I’ve written in the last two years. To me, it’s an essential part of both writing and publishing your book, in more ways than one.
First, it’s important to identify your book’s genre and BISAC code so that you can accurately define your book’s metadata before publishing and distributing. Second, it can be extremely helpful to understand what is happening in your book’s genre for a multitude of marketing and networking reasons. Keeping up with what books are trending in your genre can help you make informed decisions on everything from cover design and interior layout to comp titles and marketing efforts.
One of the most unassuming but powerful marketing tools any author can have in their back pocket is a list of comp titles—books that are comparable to their own. Whether you’re using those comp titles to pitch your book to potential readers or using them for your own market research, it’s great to have a list of five to ten books like yours ready at hand.
Reading logs can be an incredibly useful tool to help with genre research—and in particular, I think The StoryGraph will prove to be a much more powerful tool than GoodReads for this particular task. The StoryGraph’s entire premise—and selling point—is its powerful book recommendation algorithm based on filters and details that you apply. So, in theory, it should be relatively easy for you to narrow down a fairly accurate list of comp titles, or at the very least books for you to look further into, based on the criteria you input. In fact, I tried it myself with my current work in progress, and as far as I can tell the recommended list of books The StoryGraph suggested are all right on the money. Give it a try yourself and see how it goes!
But even beyond the recommendation features, any platform that allows for readers to leave detailed reviews of a book can provide excellent research opportunities for authors. Take a look at the reviews readers have left on your list of comp titles – is there anything you notice? Readers complaining about something these other books did or didn’t do, for example? Maybe reviewers commented that they wished the author had gone into further detail about a concept that you planned to include in your book – now you can consider fleshing that out more in your manuscript! Maybe a bunch of reviewers mentioned that they hate genre novels written in first-person POV. Maybe it’s as simple as people saying “I picked this book up because of the gorgeous cover!” that might inspire your own cover design! There’s a lot to learn from reading consumer reviews, and websites like Goodreads and The StoryGraph are the perfect places to find those detailed reviews.
Growing your author network can be a challenging part of writing and publishing your book, for self-published and traditionally published authors alike. Connecting with a community of like-minded authors and their readers can be a great way to promote your book to a new audience—not to mention find a great writing support system—but finding them isn’t always easy.
In theory, websites like Goodreads and The StoryGraph should be great places to connect with authors and readers—after all they’re literally websites designed to cater to the exact community of people you’re looking for.
In reality, this will likely work better for some authors than for others.
I’ve already mentioned that the community features on Goodreads are much more robust than they are on The StoryGraph, and even then those features tend to be much more reader-focused than author-focused. But despite that, there are still ways for you to work this to your advantage!
These communities probably aren’t the best place for you to try to pitch your book to a new audience, but that doesn’t mean that you can’t find valuable resources and networking opportunities on sites like Goodreads!
I’m going to cut right to the chase on this one—neither of these websites are good places for marketing your book directly. As far as I can tell The StoryGraph isn’t presently equipped with any opportunities for authors to promote their books, whether that promotion is paid or earned. And while Goodreads does provide opportunities for both paid and earned promotion for individual books and authors, I would strongly recommend looking into both the cost and the expected return on investment before devoting any of your marketing budget to promoting on Goodreads.
But while Goodreads and The StoryGraph may not be great places to promote your book, that doesn’t mean you can’t use them as useful tools while marketing your book in other places!
First, you need to get your book listed on these sites. As I mentioned earlier, Goodreads is largely run by a community of volunteer “librarians” who are responsible for, among other things, curating book entries on the site. But you can also manually add your own books if you’re a verified Goodreads user!
Check out the details on how to add your book to Goodreads here. As for adding a book on The StoryGraph—to be frank, I don’t know if you can. I haven’t turned up any feedback on manually adding books to The StoryGraph’s database, but it’s very possible that that is intentional. For the time being, at least, it seems that The StoryGraph is sticking to their own database for new books, but who knows how that may change in the future—it’s definitely important to remember that The StoryGraph is still a new site, with new features rolling out constantly.
Once your book is listed on Goodreads and/or The StoryGraph, you should include a link to that page wherever you include buy links for your book—especially if you’re doing pre-launch promotion. Lulu doesn’t allow authors to “pre-sell” their books before their official pub date (yet), but prompting potential readers to add your book to their “to be read” shelf on Goodreads is a great way to keep them interested in your upcoming book. Plus, it’s a much softer level of commitment for a potential new reader. I rarely ever buy a book the first time I hear about it, but I won’t hesitate to add an interesting-sounding title to my Goodreads TBR—especially if an author makes it easy for me by providing a link directly to the book’s page on Goodreads. Get your book up on Goodreads as soon as you can, and get links to your Goodreads page up on your website, your author spotlight, and your social media profiles.
So, Which Is Better?
I started this blog post hoping that by the time I finished it I’d have a better answer to this question, but as it turns out, my answer now is the same as it was when I started—I don’t know.
As a reader—not to mention ethically, morally, and personally—I’m a huge fan of The StoryGraph. As someone who is constantly looking for new book recommendations—and particularly something other than the same ten books being recommended over and over again during any given season—The StoryGraph delivers so much of what I’m looking for. But it is definitely still a work in progress, and whether it’s the site itself or just growing pains from learning to navigate a new site or app, I still find myself occasionally struggling with actually using The StoryGraph.
As an author, though, Goodreads still wins out—at least, for now. The networking opportunities offered in the community sections of Goodreads, plus the ability to add your own book to Goodreads and share it with potential new readers, are still unmatched on The StoryGraph. Whether or not The StoryGraph intends to roll out comparable features remains to be seen.
Ultimately, I believe that The StoryGraph will prove to be better for readers (and for book research), while Goodreads is still the best option for authors. But the only way to really know for sure is to try them both and see which platform provides the functionality and features that you—as an author, a reader, or both—are looking for.