Goodreads has been the saviour and simultaneous bane of every book lover’s existence for the past few years. Its many shelving options, book giveaways, community reviews and yearly reading challenge make it a must-have. And let’s be real, not having a Goodreads account as a book blogger low-key makes you a pariah.
At the same time, however, people have been criticising Goodreads for its lack of updates, clunky interface and, most importantly, the fact that it’s owned by Amazon, our collective nemesis that we can’t seem to escape because it’s freaking everywhere. (Did you know Book Depository is owned by Amazon too?)
Considering all of this then, imagine my excitement when I stumbled across The StoryGraph on Instagram, a site that has many of the features we all love about Goodreads, minus the billionaire (trillionaire?) ownership and terrible interface! But let’s give credit where credit is due — this is all thanks to Vanessa (@mango.reads), one of my favourite bookstagrammers, who shared one of their posts on her story.
This week I finally decided to give The StoryGraph a try and test it from top to bottom — read on for my full review.
What is The StoryGraph?
“The StoryGraph will help you to surface the best books that fit your current mood.” So says the succinct description on The StoryGraph’s landing page. Intriguing, right?
The StoryGraph doesn’t sell itself as an outright Goodreads alternative, but it targets the same people (avid readers) and aims to offer what is basically a better version of Goodreads. There’s nothing wrong with this — most social media sites, to draw a parallel, have the same underlying concept and just try to improve on what’s been done before with some kind of twist. Goodreads doesn’t deliver what it promises, so I’m more than glad that someone else is trying to give readers what they want.
The StoryGraph is currently in its beta phase, meaning that it’s still undergoing testing and taking feedback from users before its official launch. Some of the features it currently offers are:
- Standard book shelves (read, currently reading and to-be-read)
- A separate shelf for owned books
- A useful DNF bookshelf
- In-depth filters to find books on your to-be-read shelf based on genre, pacing, mood, page number and more
- A “Find a book” feature with personalised recommendations
- A variety of reading challenges from all over the internet
- Community reviews and ratings
- The option to follow other readers and like their updates
- Personal reading stats
- A super easy import of your entire Goodreads library
When we first head over to The StoryGraph’s beta site, this is what we encounter:
My first impression? The site has a remarkably clean layout and easy navigation. Something that has always bothered me about Goodreads is how confusing it is to navigate, so the simplicity of the design here is refreshing.
Goodreads library import
Signing up for the site is easy, and the system quickly prompts you to import your Goodreads library. I had never done this before, but The StoryGraph provides easy instructions and links to everything, making the process very smooth. Once imported into the site, a message pops up to let you know that your Goodreads import is underway and can take several hours to complete. Considering that I have over 900 books in my Goodreads library, I think that’s a reasonable amount of time.
(Edit: due to a sudden increase in users – from 1,000 to 20,000! – the import now takes several days. There’s a tiny team behind the site, so cut them some slack, ya?)
After a few hours, I received an email letting me know that the import was completed. Yay!
I was positively surprised at how accurate and clean everything looks in my new library. There were some hiccups, such as one of my books appearing in the wrong language, but overall the import went remarkably well. The minimalistic layout of the page is also just very satisfying to look at.
Filtering your bookshelves
Heading into my to-read shelf, I found some handy filtering options at the top of the page. These can make finding your next read especially easy.
As you can see, The StoryGraph puts great emphasis on mood, allowing you to filter things like ‘adventurous,’ ‘sad’ and ‘inspiring.’ The options get very specific and niche, which I’m sure lots of mood readers will appreciate. The pacing, type and genre options are my favourites and definitely the ones I can see myself reaching for the most in the future.
Testing the filters
Of course, I was curious to see how well the filtering would work, so I gave it a shot. I tried to find all the ‘funny’ books on my shelf that come with a ‘fast’ pacing.
I was highly impressed with the results. Some of the books on my shelf are fairly obscure, but the system still managed to find them and highlight them as funny and fast-paced. Pretty reliable for a website still in beta!
Importing new books
Next, I tried to manually add a few books to my shelves. I went to the Find A Book tab and searched for Take Back the Land by Max Rameau. If the book you search for is already in the system, you can simply add it to your shelf, but as Take Back the Land wasn’t on The StoryGraph yet, I imported it instead.
Importing a book into The StoryGraph is really easy – you just type in the title and author and the site finds and imports the book for you, complete with description and cover image! The result is, once again, remarkably quick and accurate.
I did encounter an issue with one of the books I wanted to import, which the system couldn’t find. The website prompted me to send a message to the help centre, which helpfully hovers in the bottom right corner of every page. I am usually doubtful of help centres, as they tend to use bots and be incredibly unhelpful. However, The StoryGraph did not disappoint and added the missing book within just a few hours! (Edit: again, due to the sudden increase in users, this might take longer now.)
Once all of my books were imported and nicely sorted on my shelves, I decided to give the available reading challenges a browse. The StoryGraph has its own original challenge, The StoryGraph Onboarding 2020 Reading Challenge, as well as a generic yearly challenge that is similar to the Goodreads reading goal. Aside from these, the site also hosts a variety of reading challenges from all over the internet, such as the Reading Women Challenge 2020, which I decided to take part in this year! (You can find my TBR here.)
Adding a new reading challenge
Another challenge I am taking part in this year is Read The Moon 2020, so of course I had to try and get it on the site. To add a missing challenge to The StoryGraph, you have to send an email to firstname.lastname@example.org with the subject “I would like to add a new reading challenge to The StoryGraph.” I heard back from the team really quickly – Read The Moon was live on the site in a matter of hours! (If I were you, I wouldn’t email them in the next few days, as the team is super busy dealing with all the sudden Goodreads imports. Give them some time to catch up.)
Adding books to reading challenges
Let’s then take a closer look at how the reading challenges work on The StoryGraph. Once you click into a particular challenge, you’ll see some basic info and the option to join. Scrolling down a bit will then bring you to the challenge prompts. Each prompt also indicates how many books other users have added to that particular prompt, all of which you can browse by selecting the prompt itself. Pretty handy if you want super specific book recommendations!
What I unfortunately found fairly confusing was figuring out how to add my own books to each prompt. After some browsing and scrolling, I realised that you strangely can’t add books from the reading challenge page itself. You have to instead head to the Your Books tab, click into the book you want to add, and then scroll down to ‘Add to your reading challenges.’ A bit bothersome and definitely a function that could use some work!
Once you’ve scrolled down to ‘Add to your reading challenges,’ select the challenge you want to add the book to, and the list of prompts will pop up, this time with boxes you can tick.
What I really like about this process is that you can add the books you’ve read as well as those you haven’t read. The system updates the challenge automatically as you change your books from unread to read, meaning that you can have an overview of all the books you want to read for a particular challenge while The StoryGraph updates your progress for you. The progress bar looks really clean and satisfying on your profile too!
Yearly reading goal
As for the yearly reading goal, it looks and works as you would expect it to, resembling the Goodreads reading challenge. If it ain’t broke, don’t fix it, am I right?
Rating and reviewing books
Of course, rating and reviewing books is a big part of The StoryGraph. The main difference between the Goodreads system and the one we find on The StoryGraph is the quick survey that the latter asks you to complete when reviewing a book.
I think this a really cute and handy feature that can help others find books they will enjoy by improving the accuracy of the overall filters. After all, the more people mark a book as ‘dark’ or ‘tense,’ the more likely it is that it actually corresponds to those moods!
When it comes to rating books, The StoryGraph thankfully allows quarter star ratings, meaning that your ratings can get really specific. Instead of having to choose between 3 and 4 stars, you can rate your next book 3.75 stars!
When it comes to browsing community ratings and reviews, the system is set up quite similarly to Goodreads. However, one significant difference is that you can switch between seeing updates from the people you follow and all of The StoryGraph. I’m not sure how useful the latter will be as the site gains more users, but for now it’s fun to browse what complete strangers are reading and find new people to follow.
Another little feature I want to shout-out is the option to mark books as did-not-finish. All of us Goodreads users know how frustrating it is to have to mark books as ‘read’ when they were never really finished. Having a separate shelf for the books you didn’t finish can help you avoid picking them up again in the future or remind you give them another chance when you’re in the right headspace. (Edit: I’ve been informed that there’s a way to create your own DNF shelf on Goodreads by making it an “exclusive” shelf. Handy info!)
There’s also another really useful shelf: Books You Own. It’s honestly so much easier to have these books in a separate shelf than to filter them by ‘owned’ (which is also an option on the site!). It’s quite satisfying that the shelf has its own little profile section as well.
If you love looking through your reading stats on Goodreads, you’ll be happy to know that The StoryGraph provides similar stats but with additional graphs that satisfy all of your aesthetic needs.
If you import your Goodreads library, The StoryGraph is able to process your reading stats for the entire time you used Goodreads. My own stats go back as far as 2014 even though I only signed up to The StoryGraph a few days ago.
Of course, you can also see the stats for your star ratings. Overall quite an insightful feature and great to look back on.
Last but not least, the main feature that the site prides itself on is the ‘Ordered for you’ algorithm. How this works is by filling out a number of questions in a survey run by The StoryGraph, which asks about your favourite genres, tropes, moods and pacing styles, as well as your least favourite equivalents.
I have no clue how the team processes the answers as they can get really specific, but they somehow use them to recommend books to you based on a very customised algorithm. I have never seen a site that offers such a personalised service for free, so you could say that I am very impressed!
Once you submit the survey, The StoryGraph takes a few hours to process your answers. (Edit: Again, this probably takes longer now.) You’ll be happy to know that it’s worth the wait, the result being everything you want and more. Of course, I cannot know for sure if I will love the books at the top of the list, but the recommendations match my answers remarkably well. Top of my ‘Ordered for you’ list? The Black Tides of Heaven by J.Y. Yang, The Mirror Empire by Kameron Hurley, Black Leopard, Red Wolf by Marlon James and Gender Outlaw by Kate Bornstein. The fact that a website still in beta can give such accurate recommendations blows my mind.
Now, as the website is still being developed, it’s of course not perfect. I pointed out above that the reading challenges could use some work, but I also want to shout-out a few features that I feel the site is missing. This is not to bash The StoryGraph in any way (I think it’s obvious how much I love it), but to point out ways it can become even better!
- A list of similar or related books, kind of like Goodreads’ “Readers also enjoyed” section. I personally adore this feature and feel like it would really enhance The StoryGraph.
- Themed lists that users can add their books too. What I like about these is that they get really specific, like “Lesbian Vampire Books” and “Best Fantasy on Goodreads with less than 100 ratings.” I also think lists work better than having lots of bookshelves, so I would love if The StoryGraph kept the shelves limited to the main ones but added personal book lists to the site.
- Translation and country filters to allow users to find books that were originally published in specific places and languages. This could also be really interesting in the reading stats, as the graphs could show how many translated books one has read and where the majority of one’s books were published. I always thought Goodreads was missing this feature and would die to see it on The StoryGraph!
- Mood, pacing and genre filters for the read shelf. I am a little confused why these filters only apply to the to-read shelf and believe they could come in handy in the other shelves as well.
- The option to sort books by publication date. I love seeing which of the books on my shelf are new/upcoming releases, so being able to sort by publication date would be awesome.
- The option to switch book edition and language on one’s shelf. Like I mentioned above, one of the books on my TBR was imported in the wrong language. You can obviously get in touch with the team if something like that happens, but it would be much easier to be able to switch edition yourself.
As you can see, The StoryGraph is a really solid alternative to Goodreads, and one I believe we should all start using. The website has seen a sudden burst in activity and sign-ups this week, gaining 19,000 new users! While it is obviously still in beta and needs a few improvements, I am optimistic that the fantastic team will keep developing it and turn it into a user-friendly site with lots of amazing features. Plus, I believe it’s important to always support small, independent businesses, particularly if they are black-owned, and The StoryGraph ticks all those boxes. Get ready to say goodbye to Goodreads!
Want me to test any other websites or bookish services? Let me know in the comments below! You can also get in touch with me on Instagram.
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