In previous years, my reading challenge (I do the Goodreads one that appears on your main page when you log in) is always to see if I can read more titles than I did last year.
For 2013, I set the goal of 450 books, which sounds ridiculous, but since I work in a high school, I have time off in big chunks and can really go to town reading multiple books a day at various points in the year. I actually read 455 books in 2013, and this was just on my Tori MacAllister account (meaning it was romance fiction and books related to romance topics), not on my other Goodreads account (with my actual name, not my pseudonym) which brought me closer to 500 books. If I counted re-reads (I wish that Goodreads had a better way of tracking re-reads in specific year), I would easily have been around 650.
That’s not as impressive as it sounds since a lot of romance fiction is comprised of short stories and novellas which do count as separate titles. For my romance reading, those 455 titles comprised 94,198 new pages. So if I’m managing to get through so many books, why would I consider joining a reading challenge?
Because I’m not the most balanced romance reader. It’s fine to have a speciality, but because I genuinely study the romance industry, I need to have a more balanced approach and get pushed out of my comfort zone periodically.
For me, books I classified as “erotica” comprised more than 220 of my 455 books. Since writing steamy was one of my craft goals in 2013, this was reasonable, but I need to make sure I have a good sense of other subgenres which I also am interested in writing – contemporary, romantic suspense, historical romance, etc. Contemporary was my next biggest category with 75 books (and remember that I often assign multiple shelves for each book – a slightly kinky modern romance starring a former SEAL would probably end up on my “erotica,” “contemporary,” and “military” shelves). Romantic suspense, urban fantasy, paranormal and military made a decent showing, with my Western number embarrassingly low (3! and I do like Westerns, so what’s up with that?).
The difficulty with most reading challenges is that, among the seven thousand that crop up after the New Year, very few deal with romance. Here are what I consider to be the top four sites which will appeal to romance readers bent on spurring their reading or broadening their horizons.
I love the Book Vixen blog and with her 2014 Contemporary Romance Reading Challenge you can see why. It’s specific enough to kick you in the butt to get moving, but broad enough to appeal to a variety of tastes. The challenge applies to any contemporary romance you read in the 2014 calendar year (you can sign up anytime prior to September to join) and novellas over 100 pages are included. Note the broad range of what’s covered (and what’s not):
The goal is to read 10 contemporary romance novels. Books that qualify for this challenge can be young adult, new adult, or adult. Books can be M/F, M/M, or F/F. Books must be a work of fiction (sorry, nonfiction does not qualify for this challenge). Romances with the following elements do not qualify for this reading challenge: paranormal, historical, time-travel, fantasy, science fiction, or mystery/suspense/thriller. (The Book Vixen, “Contemporary Romance 2014 Reading Challenge Sign-Up”)
You can even link your website to the Book Vixen page for further impetus to stay on track and read contemporary romance. It’s like Weight Watchers for reading!
If you don’t necessarily want the commitment of a year-long challenge (although you can find those here as well), consider joining the Goodreads “Romance Readers Reading Challenge” group. This forum not only has year-long challenges (and you can start your own – Medieval Highland Romances, anyone? All Heroes Are Blond?), but you can also join monthly challenges or themed challenges like “In Uniform” for military romance, the Authors After Dark Challenge (for paranormal writers who participate in the Authors After Dark conference). There’s even “pick-it-for-me” challenges where the indecisive go to have other people help them choose their books. It’s wonderful to see people post their reactions and highlight the best of the challenge, plus you get the power of Goodreads helping you find books that fit your criteria (and at this point, I find Goodreads more accurate than Amazon in terms of recommending books for me, which I realize is ironic since they are owned by Amazon).
Clearly finding time to read erotic romance is not my problem, but for those of you who would like a nudge into exploring this rapidly expanding subgenre of romance, the Herding Cats & Burning Soup blog (how awesome is that name!?) has a terrific 2014 Erotic Romance challenge. I love it that they have different levels with the lowest level simply being 12 erotic romances in 2014 (one per month, you can TOTALLY do that) and then the Level 6 for people like me who read more than 100+ novels in the category.
Herding Cats & Burning Soup’s challenge is very liberal in terms of allowing crossover books from different genres and the books merely have to be longer than 100 pages to qualify for length. I love it that they also mention audio books as qualifying as long as the print version of the book makes the length requirement, although you may want to check with your carpool before putting in the latest BDSM book!
Be sure to check out the challenge’s Facebook group if you prefer your news exchange through that social media outlet.
In what has to be the most thoughtful romance reading challenge, best-selling romance author Roni Loren (of the incredibly popular Loving on the Edge series) has developed the Push Your Boundaries Reading Challenge 2014.
Understanding that her reading shapes her as a writer, Loren has developed a fantastic chart (which you can download as a template from her website) of various levels of comfort and then inserted sub-genres into each category in order to understand her attitude toward each one. From there, she encourages herself and any participants to deliberately choose books from every level of comfort and subgenre in order to insure that our reading is diverse and hopefully expand our horizons a bit. Listen to her thoughtful prose:
I’m challenging myself to read outside of my boundaries in addition to my favorites. So I made a chart and listed levels of “comfort zones” then I selected genres to put in the boxes. By the end of 2014, I want to X out each of these boxes with at least one book from that particular genre.
As you can see in the chart, I have six rows of “zones”: In My Zone, Read on Occasion, A Bit of a Stretch, Pushing It, Out of Comfort Zone, and Just For Fun.
I have 36 genres listed, but feel free to make yours as big as small as you want. Maybe you just want to list one genre in each of the six categories. Or maybe you’re a power reader and want to add more than me. Also, know that everyone’s chart will look different because what’s comfort zone to me is going to be different for you. (Roni Loren, “The Push Your Boundaries Reading Challenge 2014″)
There is even a Pinterest board you can follow to watch her tackle books in each category. Who doesn’t like following a Pinterest board? Roni Loren definitely has the market cornered on helping make us all into healthy romance readers while modeling balanced reading in her own life. Wow!
So there you have it – the best romance reading challenges of 2014. Yes, I found a few others, but these are, in my opinion, the best of the best, so challenge yourself this year and spread your wings a bit in your romance reading. You definitely won’t be alone.
And as for my goals? Well, I’m actually ratcheting myself down to 350 books as my goal (spread out among the various above challenges for fun). I realize that I’ve been spending more time reading books than writing them, which was the original reason I was reading so many (to inform myself of the industry and find good quality writing from which I could learn my craft). Hopefully this will result in some actual works of fiction I can share with you, while still keeping me up to snuff when it comes to what is getting published in the market.