We’ve all been there.
If you want to start reading an insane amount, you're going to need an insanely effective goal.
That's exactly what you'll find here—specific, step-by-step details for crafting your own reading goal and a foolproof plan for reaching those goals.
Crunched for time, but want a basic plan to tackle a few extra books?
Consider yourself a full-on data nerd, and you want to build a master plan to conquer your biggest reading dreams?
It's all here.
Steal This Reading List
Want to read a book a week, but running short on time? You're in luck.
Grab this curated list of 52 books. Each title is a masterpiece written by an acclaimed author (Woolf, Steinbeck, Orwell, Austen and Dickens all make the list).
The best part? You can finish the whole list in a year, reading just 12 minutes per day.Give Me the Reading List!
Table of Contents
Chapter 1Rock-Solid Strategies to Read More Books
Chapter 2How to Craft Insanely Effective Reading Goals
Chapter 3Discover What to Read With 5 Little-Known Tactics
Why book-based goals will always fail
Most people measure their reading by one of two measurements: pages or books.
Using this measurement is fine for casual conversation, but wildly inaccurate for actual reading goals.
But counting by pages is just as fraught with difficulties. The amount of reading on a “page” depends on variables like typeset, font size, margin, and blank space—factors that change with every book.
Plus, a 150-page book and a 200-page book look about the same, even though one might take 33% longer to read than the other.
As a result, a simple reading goal will lack consistency. Accidentally choosing a longer-than-expected book slows us down, we fall behind, and the plan is derailed before it builds momentum.
We don't read books or pages, we read words. The publishing industry knows this. That's why editors don't judge the length of a manuscript on its pages, but its word count.
Want to read more? Start counting words, not pages or books.
Want to read more? Start counting words, not pages or books.Click to Tweet
If you keep a reading list (and you should), write word count next to each book.
For example, I keep a “media hitlist,” which is just a list in Evernote with all the books (and movies, TV shows, and music) that interest me. By taking a few seconds and writing down the word count next to each book, I can plan more effectively.
When you know how long each book will take, you'll see faster progress, stay motivated, and read more books as a result.
How to find the word count of any book
Unfortunately, word count isn't printed on the title page of a book or discreetly hidden inside its ISBN.
But if you know where to look, it's quick to find. Here's how.
1 Use Amazon
Amazon used to list the word count of every book in its catalog. They disabled the feature in 2012, but you can still get stats on titles listed pre-2012 by typing a specific URL.
This tool will do the trick. Paste any Amazon link in the box, and it'll redirect to the stats page if it's available. Use the paperback or hardcover URL (not Kindle), since most Kindle titles are post-2012.
When Amazon launched the Search Inside This Book feature, they had to scan the full text of each title. The "text stats" page displayed much of this information.
While Amazon disabled text stats, the pages are still hosted on their servers. But like an unlisted YouTube video, you must enter an exact URL to find them.
For the formula, you need to understand each component:
ASIN stands for Amazon Standard Identification Number, a unique code that's often (but not always) a book's ISBN. The ASIN can be found after the /dp/ in any book's URL.
The calculator does this automatically.
If the book has a stats page, you'll hit the jackpot. This page from George Orwell's 1984 shows word count, among other features:
2 Use AR bookfinder
If books on your reading list could be found in the library of your local high school, you're in luck.
Renaissance Learning's Accelerated Reader (AR) database contains the word count of thousands of titles. Most of them are children's books, but you can also find grown-up titles like Malcolm Gladwell's Blink and Paula Hawkins' The Girl on the Train.
To start, go to the AR Bookfinder and select a role. Don’t worry about this too much, as each option has the same capabilities.
Go to the search bar near the top, and type in the title of the book you’re looking for. In this case, we’ll search for Nathaniel Hawthorne’s The Scarlet Letter.
Chances are, you’ll get lots of options. This is because AR includes lots of abridged versions for kids. Look for a copy by the original author or one that says “unabridged.” Once you find it, click on the title.
On the Book Details page, you'll find the word count.
3 Use Reading Length
Amazon and AR excel in accuracy, but are constrained by their limited selection.
Reading Length, on the other hand, is a nice catch-all for any book you can't find in another database. What it lacks in precision it makes up for in sheer quantity. Want the word count of any publication, old or new? It's here.
Just hit enter (there isn’t a “search” button), and we immediately get its word count:
If you can’t find word count anywhere else, this is a helpful tool—though it isn’t the most reliable one out there.
I’m pretty sure Reading Length just takes the number of pages and multiplies it by 310 words.
For example, these three titles have a suspiciously identical number of pages and words:
This isn’t exactly the end of the world, but the estimates can sometimes be wildly off compared to more reliable sources (like AR in this example):
It’s an amazing catch-all tool, but I’d still encourage trying other sources first to ensure accuracy.
But what if you don't have a specific list of books, or want a shortcut?
Let's talk about that next.
How to quickly estimate word count
Each genre has a generally accepted word count, and you can calculate books in bulk using this method.
Beware that book length varies tremendously, even across identical genres and topics. That said, my research has led me to to these general guidelines.
Estimate Word Count by Genre
|Genre||Word count||How many will you read?|
|Mystery, crime, thrillers||80,000|
The right way to calculate your reading speed
It doesn’t matter how much you want to read if you don’t know how fast you can read.
Setting reading goals without your reading speed is like driving a car with no speedometer.
Setting reading goals without your reading speed is like driving a car with no speedometer.Click to Tweet
The next step in calculating your reading goal is finding your reading speed, measured in words per minute (wpm).
If you're a native English speaker, you probably read in the range of 250-350 words per minute. But that study is for students, and might not apply to you. and I have a number of reasons to distrust the commonly-cited 300.
There’s very little research on reading speed.
If you Google “average reading speed,” the most credible source is an article on Forbes. It’s the defining article, really—it’s referenced across the internet by anyone who wants to list an average reading speed.
That article claims an average of 300 wpm, referencing a calculator by Staples.
But Staples didn’t conduct their own research, it turns out.
All the links listed are for word count of books, reading speed records, or eReader product specs—except one. It goes to a 404 “page not found” error. The first link on the 404 page, though, is on the average reading speed.
That article conveniently lists the same range as Staples and Forbes, while citing no sources.
Since the website makes affiliate commission by selling speed reading courses, I simply have a hard time trusting this number.
Betcha never knew there was a reading speed mafia running this whole conspiracy, did you?
For a more precise number, use this tool.
The reading samples are pretty advanced, so don’t be surprised if the result is lower than you had expected. The final number is a reliable indicator of your reading speed on college-level texts.
Calculate Your Reading Speed
Want to discover your reading speed? Click the button below!
How to build your own reading goals
Now that you have your reading speed, it's time to set a wildly effective reading goal!
I’ve found two methods that actually work. You need to either start with the time you have, or the books you want to read.
Choose whichever works best for you.
1 Read a ton of books: The Bookshelf Method
If you have a shelf of books you want to plow through, use this strategy.
The Bookshelf Method is great if you have a final yearly goal (like reading 52 books in a year), or want to read a specific set of books (like finishing the Harry Potter series over the summer).
Put it together here:
Bookshelf Method Calculator
Total words you want to read:
Your reading speed (in wpm):
To finish your reading in one , use this schedule:
Click on days to deselect them.
2 Read for a set amount of time: The Stopwatch Method
If you're counting down the seconds you have to read, then you need to use the Stopwatch Method.
The Stopwatch Method figures out what you can read based on the time you have.
Stopwatch Method Calculator
Minutes to read per week
Your reading speed (in wpm)
How to defeat the secret killer of reading goals
Even with the best plan, you'll encounter a surefire killer. It’s been the death of your goals in the past, and it’s sure to attack again.
The killer is unpredictability.
Chances are, your goal won’t last once you hit shifting schedules and other barriers—unless you prepare. Here's how to defeat it.
1 Plan for averages
If you set a goal to read one book a week, you're going to have interruptions that will derail your previous ambitions. Instead of pretending it won't happen, plan for it.
To solve the problem, focus on averages. Instead of setting a goal of reading a book a week, set a goal of reading an average of a book a week. You'll read more than if you make sure to finish a book every Saturday.
2 Let yourself fall behind
During a good chunk of the year, I'm behind on my reading goals. My goal is to read a book a week, and I’ve read 21 so far:
But apparently this is week 30:
You see, other projects have taken priority for the past few months and I'm a full nine books behind where I "should" be.
(The biggest irony? One of those projects was writing this massive article series on reading more books. I stoppped reading so I could teach others how to read more.)
But I don't beat myself up over it. I celebrate the stuff I've read, and stay excited to keep going. As my friend Jeremy Kochis has reminded me on more than one occasion, "guilt is the worst motivator."
So I slack off if I must, but keep the ultimate goal in mind.
3 Get a head start on your reading for the year
I've mentioned before that to be consistent, you almost always need to get a head start. To do so, take advantage of periods of time when you can read a lot.
On a long trip, I usually finish an extra book while flying and/or driving. During a week off, I'll sometimes make up a month (or more) in just one week. I just got back from a week-long trip to a conference, during which time I finished four books.
Reading a book a week isn't a linear equation. Instead, it's a collection of starts and stops that average out to a stellar conclusion.
Reading goals are a collection of starts and stops that average out to a stellar conclusion.Click to Tweet
The secret sauce to sticking with your goals
If you want to make sure you actually meet your goal, build in some accountability.
Here are some effective ways to add accountability—one low-stress, and one that’s… a bit more high-stress.
1 Tell friends
Casually mention your reading goals to a few friends, and start a fun discussion. This is especially helpful if you have friends who enjoy reading.
I have a few friends who enjoy reading as much as I do, and we'll often recommend books to one another. We enjoy the pastime of exchanging good recommendations, but also subtly hold each other accountable to keep reading at the same time.
2 Keep track of books on social media
If you post a lot on social media, you can use it to your advantage and use it as a form of accountability on your reading.
A friend of mine decided to read for 30 minutes every day, tackling some of the biggest books in existence (like Atlas Shrugged, War and Peace, and Infinite Jest). He started posting frank reviews on Facebook when he finished a title.
I love the honesty in Matthew’s reviews. Like how he’s suffering through Joyce’s Ulysses:
He eventually migrated his reviews to his blog, Reading Classic Books. While you don't need to do that, you can still use some light social pressure to help motivate yourself.
3 Set a goal on Goodreads
If you haven't already, download the Goodreads app. I use it to record the books I'm reading, and write reviews for readers across the globe.
At the beginning of each year, I'll usually set a new reading goal for the year. It's fun to see my goal in comparison with others, and challenge myself to finish a certain amount of reading in the year.
I give Goodreads full credit for my book-a-week accomplishment in 2016:
4 Put money on the line
If you want to get really serious about reading, you can put some money on the line. I don't recommend this unless you have no other choice, but it can be incredibly powerful.
Either bet a friend money, or set up an account on StickK. Just understand—if you don't meet the goal, you don't get the money back!
Making your reading goals count for something
A lot of people decide to read more, but most of us neglect strategies to improve comprehension.
But at the end of the day, isn’t that what it’s all about? The goal of reading isn’t to process words, but to comprehend new ideas and experience life more richly.
The goal of reading isn’t to process words, but to comprehend new ideas and experience life more richly.Click to Tweet
If you don't try to apply what you've read, you're missing a huge opportunity.
Here are five strategies for comprehension—the more you can easily use, the better.
1 Journal as you read
In a journal, record your thoughts, applications and changes as you read.
Oftentimes your perspective changes as you read, so this preserves your earlier thoughts while you progress through the book. Instead of writing as you read, you can just summarize your reading in an evening journal entry.
2 Write in the book itself
Personally, this horrifies me. But I know people who swear by it.
If you aren't afraid of marking in a book, make brief notes in the margins of the books. Underlining, making connections, and drawing pictures can connect you with the story in a deep way.
Plus, reading the book again will take you on the journey you experienced the first time.
3 Write when you finish the book
When you finish a book, record your thoughts. You can do this in a few ways.
- Personal impressions. This is just for you, so be as creative as you like, and don't worry about spoilers. Here, I wrote my thoughts on a few different titles:
- Public review. Post a review to Goodreads or Amazon. Be specific with the book's strengths and weaknesses, and offer insight about how well the book lives up to its promises. Like this review I wrote for Laura Tong‘s The Life-Changing Power of No!
- Summarize the content. Take notes on the key points in the book, and write them in way you can reference easily. Derek Sivers does a great job of this with his reading list:
- Write an academic-style report. This is probably overkill for most folks (including me), but I know at least one person who enjoys writing 5-10 page research papers on things he's read.
4 Explain the concept to someone else
Science has shown that reading with the intention of teaching to others is a fantastic way to improve retention. After I finish a book—or even after finishing a section—I'll take time to discuss it with a family member or friend.
As you talk, you'll feel your brain working to remember.
5 Apply one thing immediately
If you read an applicable suggestion in a book, apply it immediately—before you finish the book.
Too often we dream dream of revolutionizing our life from a single book, but forget when we finish it. Instead, put a change in place as soon as possible.
5 See what others think
I love discussing books with others. Comparing our points of view always brings to light something I missed before.
When I don't have the opportunity to talk with someone who's already read the book, I'll peruse reviews to see what other people think. The goal isn't to "get it right," but to consider other points of view.
Set a time to review your progress
I got this idea from Benyamin Elias's Roadmap to Fitness. To really succeed at a goal, set a checkpoint to review your success.
Ideally, you'd do this about every month or every other month. Once a week is a little bit too frequent, and much more than every two months and you'll have lost too much time in between.
If you already perform a monthly review, do it then. If you don't have a review system, block off 10 minutes on your calendar in a month. Literally block off a time to review your reading progress.
Take 10 minutes to fix your reading goals today, so in 10 years you don’t look back and wonder where the time went.
Take 10 minutes to fix your reading goals today, so in 10 years you don’t wonder where the time went.Click to Tweet
To review, ask yourself these four questions:
- Did I meet my reading goal last month?
- What barriers made reading harder than expected?
- What strategies made reading easier than expected?
- What changes will I make going forward?
It's easier to self-correct on a regular basis than panic when you're out of time.
And with that, you’ll be able to craft some incredible reading goals.
But I'll be honest:
You’re missing one piece of success. An incredible reading plan is worthless if you don't know what to read. Let's look at that in the next chapter.
Here’s Your Next Step
Acclaimed authors like Herman Melville, J.K. Rowling, Johann Wolfgang von Goethe, and Henry James didn’t spend all their time writing 500-page doorstops.
They also penned shorter works that pack a literary punch in fewer words.
You can read 52 of those books this year in just 12 minutes a day.