It’s not too late to start a challenge.

I tend to pull for the underdogs, for the ponderers, and for the procrastinators. Which is why I’m stating, mid-February, that it’s not too late for your bookstore to start a reading challenge for 2018. If you thought about launching one in January but just didn’t get around to it, I’ll tell you that there are readers out there with the same mindset.

I didn’t realize the benefit of a reading challenge until I was publicly shamed to participate in one on December 30, 2016. Suzanne Tobias, a reporter for my local newspaper shared the digital version of her reading challenge story on Facebook and tagged me, our local independent bookstore owner, and a gentleman she knew who always had a book in his hands. We all accepted and I thought, “This is going to be easy.”

Well, it was a true challenge because of the categories Suzanne selected. I had to keep reading new releases for my Marginalia podcast interviews, but I also had to read “a book you’ve owned forever but have never read” and “a book that was published before you were born” and “a book you should have read in school” and “a favorite book from childhood.” I have 20 items on my what-I’ve-read list from 2016. In 2017, that improved to 72. (And it took until December 31, 2017 for me to check off the last of 24 categories.)

One of the best things to come out of this challenge was how it got the community talking about books. The newspaper started a Facebook group and participants would post a image of the book they’d just finished along with the category they were checking off their list. Whenever Watermark Books would schedule another author visit, someone would post that information so participants could knock “a book by an author who is slated to visit Wichita in 2017” off their list. The 2017 Wichita Eagle Reading Challenge turned into a community affair. So much so that the Wichita Public Library partnered with the newspaper for the 2018 challenge. Both entities benefit from more readers.

Which is why I’m telling you that a procrastinator’s or second-chance reading challenge is worthwhile. Here’s how to get started:

  • Select 10 reading categories. If you launch on March 1, there are 10 months left in the year for 10 books. There are so many reading challenges out there from which you can “borrow” some categories. Suzanne shared this Master List of Reading Challenges which was pulled together by Or borrow from fellow bookstores already doing challenges. One of my favorites from Blue Heron Books in Uxbridge, Ontario, is “a book with non-human characters.” That will be a challenge for me.
  • Publish the categories… on your website, on a downloadable PDF, on a bookmark. And then share where to find the categories through your social media outlets.
  • Come up with a hashtag, and use it. 
  • Start and promote a Facebook group. When participants ask to join, let them. When participants post what they’ve read, “like” and comment on it. When participants ask for recommendations for a specific category, offer some. There are currently 872 members of the #ReadICT Challenge posting about books several times throughout the day. I’m sure you could join and hang out in this group for a few days if you’re still on the fence.
  • Start talking about the challenge in the store and encouraging readers. Most challenge accepters participate in multiple challenges, so a 10-book challenge shouldn’t be daunting. Some readers might be hesitant because they don’t read much. Encourage them to try just one of the categories and call that a victory.

If you have a category suggestion, please share it on this Facebook post.

It’s up to you whether or not you offer a reward. Maybe an end-of-year celebration? Suzanne let the first one to complete the challenge choose one of the next year’s categories. But I think one of the greatest rewards is the sense of community. Oh, and checking off the boxes. That’s huge for me.

My next challenge is deciding which book to read that was published the year I was born. One Hundred Years of Solitude or The Master and Margarita. Suggestions?

Beth Golay

Beth is a reader, writer, marketer and Books & Whatnot founder. Even though she knows better, she's a sucker for a good book cover and will positively swoon if a book is set in appropriate type. @BethGolay