The 3-Year Evolution of the Beat the Backlist Challenge

POSTED ON December 4, 2018 BY Austine IN Beat the Backlist, Discussion

Hello book friends.

I’ve been thinking about this post quite a lot recently, how to go about writing it, what to talk about. Of late, the Beat the Backlist reading challenge has been at the forefront of my mind where the blog is concerned and I knew there were things I wanted to say about it but it’s not so easy to actually write about it, if you know what I mean.

For those unfamiliar with Beat the Backlist, it is a year-long reading challenge focused on reading backlist books. In this case, “backlist” is anything published in the year prior to the current year or earlier. For 2019, this will be anything published in or before 2018. The coming year is the third time I’m hosting the challenge and it’s gone through a number of changes over the years.

Why share any of this with you?

I wholeheartedly believe in transparency as a blogger, a bookstagrammer, just generally as someone who has a public platform. Especially because this is not just a random assortment of book people online, but a true community. I see a lot of value in sharing both the good and the bad. You never know when it will help someone out.

So let’s chat about the blogging endeavor that has given me some of my worst headaches and best rewards!

Year 1 – All Trials, Plenty of Errors

The first year the challenge ran was 2017. I wanted to host a reading challenge and ended up settling on something I thought the community would really enjoy — tackling older books on your TBR. And in collaborating with my then-co-blogger, we came up with the ideas of teams to help bring the community closer for the challenge. Which led to the first run of the Hogwarts mini challenge and points.

Oh, points. WHY did I think points were a good idea?

Readers earned points for not only reading books (and the points were based on how long the books were too so readers were rewarded for reading longer books), as well as writing and posting reviews, participating in photo challenges, and generally being involved with BTB. Everything was managed on a spreadsheet that I had to manually update and post. There were “code names” involved based on the randomized names Pottermore used to assign when you made an account.

There was a LOT going on and we had over 300 people sign up!

So what went well:
The points were a HUGE success. Everyone really enjoyed that aspect of the challenge as well as the teams. A LOT of backlist books were read. The challenge even made Book Riot’s list of 20 reading challenges for the year!

And what. . . didn’t go well:
Unfortunately, while the points were great, they were also a huge pain in the butt for me to manage in the system I had. Getting them updated regularly became difficult as I got busier outside of the blog. And the teams were Hogwarts Houses BUT that also meant they weren’t even and the team with more people was always in the lead. It turned into a lot of trouble to manage.

Additionally, what counted for points turned into a source of constant questions and issues. Who submitted what (or didn’t submit). Everything was scrambled.


Year 2 – Improvements, Needs Tweaks

This brings us to this year, the second of the challenge. I took what needed worked on from the previous year and attempted to improve upon it to make the challenge run more smoothly.

Points were simplified a bit and managed using Rafflecopters so that teams could automatically see what their team had. Teams were assigned at random to make sure they were even so when everyone signed up, they were added to one immediately. Otherwise, the challenge remained (at its core) the same. The idea was still to read backlist books and, to be honest, there was no need for a lot of follow-up with that.

This time around over 750 signed up for the challenge over the course of the year. That. . . is a lot of people, especially for a challenge only in its second year.

What went well:
The even teams meant that there wasn’t an issue with fairness based on how many people were on a team. The points updated automatically. More of the challenge was updated to make things simpler for all parties involved.

What didn’t go well:
While the teams were well divided, some teams had people who were more involved than others so the points were still skewed. The Rafflecopters weren’t the best platform for points, though they weren’t the worst either.

Ultimately, what didn’t go well this year was. . . me. I couldn’t keep up with the challenge. Between student teaching, finishing my Master’s degree, and starting a new job all in the same year, it all fell apart. Even my general blogging went down the drain. I burned out. After the relative success of the first year of Beat the Backlist, I was overoptimistic of my free time and too ambitious. And ended up letting the challenge fizzle out halfway through the year.

Granted, this challenge doesn’t require someone leading the entire way but I should have been more involved.


Year 3 – New and Improved!

We’re now moving into the third year of the challenge and I learned a LOT over the last two years. Not only about running a challenge in general but running this challenge.

Points were so popular that I kept them around but simplified them as much as possible. The only way you can earn points for your team is to read books. Doesn’t matter how long or short they are (tracking that was NOT FUN). Keeps things easy.

In addition, points are automatically calculated and updated live so it’s never a question who has what.

Teams were also well-liked and stuck around, and I brought back the Hogwarts houses. The issue before with this system was the uneven teams. So now the points are weighted to even things out between the teams that have much fewer members than others.

Team participation is OPTIONAL so that when you sign up for the challenge, you can choose to decide if you want to even bother with points or not. If you don’t participate on a team, then you don’t impact their chances of getting points in any way.

Sign-ups are automated and sorted so that participants can immediately see all the participants for the challenge as well as who is participating on which team (or just reading!).

Books read are easily viewed and searchable live so it’s never a question of what books have been submitted by each participant AND everyone has access to search the books read and check out their Goodreads page or that person’s review if they wrote one.

And to make sure I stay involved. . .

I’ll be posting 2 times a week about backlist books, once on Thursdays with a Beat the BackLIST, a roundup of books based on a theme or topic, as well as on Sundays for Series on the Shelf highlighting previous books by authors who have upcoming releases. I spent a several weeks coming up with my list of topics for each of these so that I’d be prepared come the new year, which also got me really excited about the challenge.

One more thing!

To really emphasize my commitment to backlist books moving forward, not just with the challenge but in general on the blog, I’ve re-branded NovelKnight. First, the header image isn’t fantasy specific because I’ve been reviewing a lot of books that aren’t in the genre.

Then there’s the tagline. One of by big goals is reading books off my shelf. I also enjoy swearing. Often. And have a few choice phrases that I tended to use in college. Mash them together and you get GO READ YOUR SHELF. Fitting, I think 😉

While I’ll still be covering new and upcoming releases, I want to get through what review books I have and shift the focus by the end of 2019 to be heavier on backlist.


And the point of all this?

Why should you care about any of this? Well, really you don’t have to care at all. If you read this far I am going to assume you were at least curious. Mostly I wanted to share because I’ve been thinking about it a lot.

But also, there’s something in all this. If you’re passionate about something, don’t give up on it. Despite the various problems I went through with the challenge and even failing at my own challenge and TBR, I still believe that backlist books hold just as much (if not more) value in this community. They’re more accessible to more people, and supporting an author’s backlist also shows publishers that their books are wanted. New and upcoming titles still hold value, don’t get me wrong, and I love support them. But there needs to be a balance.

Beat the Backlist has evolved and I’ve learned how to make it better each year. I was determined to make it better for y’all time and time again, and I’ll keep on working to improve it as best I can for y’all.


Let’s Chat!

The 2019 challenge is, for the most part, set and ready to go after lots of planning and coordination with other partner blogs. BUT I’d still love to hear from you about what you’d like to see in the future or what you would find helpful this year to keep on top of your challenge goals (tracking sheets, things you want on the challenge spreadsheet, etc).

For reference, the points and teams will continue to stay at this time because of the strong interest in both aspects of this challenge.

I can’t guarantee every suggestion will be met (I’m only one person, after all) but I’ll do what I can!


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5 responses to “The 3-Year Evolution of the Beat the Backlist Challenge

  1. What an interesting post! I had heard of this challenge from other bloggers, but since I was in grad school the last two years I didn’t really participate in any challenges. However, I just finished my last class ever last night, and I am thinking this challenge is for me. It was great seeing how it has grown, and I can see that it keeps you busy, so thank you for hosting such a complex challenge! I will be signing up.

  2. Erika

    I started tracking my backlist books earlier this year but than kind of quit about halfway through the year. I’m going to try it again this year! Glad you’re doing it again

    • I only kept track on Goodreads myself but it was something and I found I read more than I thought! Very excited to bring the challenge back for another year!