I have been reviewing books since I started this blog over three years ago and honestly, I have used so many ways to keep track of what I am doing and honestly, barely any of them made sense, and if they did, they were more work to keep up than worth it. I can pull up about six (6) different spreadsheets right now, all made with the best intentions, but it didn’t work for me.
But then Joel @ fictionalfates made a video on how he organises himself as a reader and student using Notion and I immediately fell in love with the program. It’s super customisable, easy to use, and it sync between several devices. Especially the latter made Notion a good fit for me, as I can both use it properly on PC and check in on my tasks on my phone throughout the day.
My organising skills are questionable at best, so while installing this program was one of the better things I have done in a while on that front, I still didn’t know where to start exactly. So I decided to start where it made sense for me as a reader and reviewer: Making a tracker for the books I have read and what I need to review.
In this post I want to show you how I made my reading and reviewing tracker, showing the important points and offering some tips and tricks.
Let’s take a look at my tracker
Before I can talk about how I organised it and why, it’s important to show you how my tracker looks like at the moment, and the information I added to it. I used the Table view on an empty page as the Default view, but on the top left you can change or add different ways to view. I currently only Calendar View as a secondary view.
I went for a practical look so all the things that I want to outstand visually would do that. I currently have the table sorted based on Date Read (fifth column) and then descending, so my latest reads show on top.
To take a closer look on my tracker, you can either right-click on the image above and select ”View image” in the menu that pops up, or view the online version of my template, where you can also duplicate the template for your own use. The template is a copy of the tracker I use myself with only my last few months of reading to show how it works. In the following sections I will go over each column and section in more detail.
1. Keeping track of my ratings
The first column in my tracker is called ”Rating”, where I use the property type ”Select” on the cells in this column (the ”property” is the cell, the ”type” the type of information that goes in that cell). By using select, only one selection can be added to the cell at the time. To add a rating to a row, I just click the cell and then select one of the options.
I decided to colour code the different star ratings, so it would be easier to get a quick view on the ratings of the books, no matter how the page is sorted. I used a gradient from red to green to symbolise the ”bad” to ”good”, but in colours, and I used purple as a contrasting colour so my five star reads would stand out.
2. Title, author and series
The next three colums in my tracker consist of the title of the book, the author of the book and the name of the series, plus which book it is in that series.
The ”Title” column is a special one, as what is put in that cell, is also the title of the ”page” in the database the entire row represents. This way, every book I add has it’s own page (see image below). In this page you can add all information that is also showed in the table. You can rearrange the order of the properties on the page and it will not affect the way your table looks when exiting the page. At the end there is room for writing and you can add everything you could add to a regular page, even tables and images!
3. Dates I finished reading
I add the date I finished reading the book to this database aswell, as Notion has a really nice system in place: You can add different ways to view your database aside from the default one. One of them is ”Calender view”. With this view type, it converts your database into a calendar, and you can see the book titles in an easy overview of time.
4. Review platforms
I try to crosspost my reviews on as many platforms as possible, but I tend to lose track. By using the ”Multi-select” property type, I can just add each platform I posted my review on to the row of the book. It makes it a lot easier to quickly see what books reviews I crossposted properly and what ones need some work still.
5. Format of the book
When reviewing, I often reference my thoughts with my thoughts on similar books. For example, when reviewing an audiobook, I reference with my reviews of other audiobooks, and this tag helps me do that easier. I am also just curious how many book I read per format. The tags I use are ”Audio”, ”Digital” and ”Physical”.
6. Review copies
As a book reviewer, I often receive books for reviewing purposes. With this column I can keep track of that. I use the label ”RC” if it’s a general review copy and ”ARC” if it’s an advanced reader copy. I also add the ”ARC” label to ARCs I win in giveaway, because I feel the responsibility to review won ARCs around release if possible.
7. The language of the book
I mainly read English books, but I sometimes read in my native language, Dutch. I use this to add an extra label to the books: NL or EN. This way I can reference that and keep track of what books I read in which language.
8. Goodreads link
This column is purely for my own laziness, as I can just copy/paste the Goodreads link whenever I need it instead of having to manually look for it. Sometimes books are a bit harder to find with just title and author, or there are several pages of the same book. It just makes my life a bit easier.
My tips and advice for your review tracker
I have explained how my tracker looks like and works, and you can copy my tracker template to use as your own, but I also want to share some tips and advice so you can make the tracker work for you as best as possible.
1. Only add information you will acutally use/need.
I have a total of ten (10) colums in my tracker and together they contain a lot of information, but because I actually use all of this information or find it important to have that information readily available, it doesn’t get too overwhelming or doesn’t overshadow information I do use. I could add much more information to each item, such as date that I started reading, or specify the format more (so instead of ”physical”, I would specify ”paperback” and ”hardback”), but I don’t do that to as it will only make my tracker overwhelming.
2. Keep each row only line high
When you put too much information in one cell and it doesn’t fit on one line, the cell becomes bigger and creates additional lines in height. You can counter this by adjusting the width of the cell to all the information fits in it. With certain kinds of data, such as links, the cell can become really wide. But as you don’t need to view the whole cell to use it, I put the colum with links as far right as possible so only the left most side of the cells is visible and it doesn’t clog up my screen.
The only exceptions I have to this in my own tracker is when a book has multiple authors, as I just press enter to put the name of the second author on a second line, or when the title, series name or author name is so much longer than most others, that widening the cell/column just for that one cell would make the overall look worse, as it’s an exception.
3. Use colour coding
The use of colours will make it easier to process information with just a single look. An example of colour coding I use is for my ratings: The redder the colour, the lower the rating, and I use purple as a contrasting colour to highlight my five star reads. This way I can easily spot the books I rated lower than most.
You can use colour coding in different ways: you can give your selections a colour, but you can also adjust text and background colour in all the text cells (Title cells excluded). For example, you would be able to colour all the names of your favourite authors.
When you use colour coding, use colours that make sense with the data and make sense to you, and not what colours others tell you to use/that make sense. When the colours don’t make sense to you, you will have to think too much about it and the ease that should come with colour coding is automatically cancelled.
4. You can use Multi-select to create a ”visual check-list”
This tip combines both tips of above. In the picture below you can see that in the sixth cell from the left I have Multi-select available. I use this column as a ”visual checklist” for myself to check if I still need to post the review of that book and where. The reason why I call it a checklist, is because when all options possible are selected, the entire width of the cell should be full. And by simply looking I can see what I already have done and what I haven’t.
My advice for this technique is to make sure you always use the same order of selections so everything lines up, so you don’t have to look twice to see what’s there and what’s missing. But also to place the selection you use most up front and the least as last, so the only gaps and incosistencies are at the far side of the celll and not at the start/middle.
For this it’s also important to use colours that make sense to you/with the data, but also that the colours are different enough from eachother that you can easily differentiate them with one look. The colours I use: Purple for ‘Blog’ as my blog theme is purple, brown for ‘Goodreads’ as the Goodreads logo is brown-adjacent, blue for ‘Amazon’ as blue is a dominant colour on their site, and yellow for ‘Bookbub’ as that colour was different from the other ones.
5. Write author names as ‘surname, first name’
While aesthetic might want you to do otherwise, for data and sorting reasons ‘surname, last name’ is the best format to go with. Most authors have their full surname available on their books, but not always their first names, take N.K. Jemisin as an example, or use different names for different books, like Victoria Schwab who publishes her adult work as V.E. Schwab. Using this format will make you able to sort your tracker by author, no matter how the author displays their name.
Sorting by surname is also a common way to sort books in general and as this database doesn’t have an option for names, this database will not recognise names and will just sort the cells based on the first letters in the cell.
Why I prefer Notion over spreadsheets
As I mentioned at the start of this post, I have tried to create (and maintain) review trackers in various ways, and one of them was using a spreadsheet. I love making spreadsheets and I tend to make them for pretty much anything, but for some reason, they did not work for me as a reading tracker. And with Notion, I have felt no resistance or pressure at all so far. It works smoothly with how I think and how I need the information, also granting the ability to change it up easily.
In looks, a Notion Table view and a spreadsheet look similar and have similar qualities and aspects. But they are also very different. In this section I want to discuss why I prefer Notion over spreadsheets.
Spreadsheets have a lot of ways to sort and display data. But I think that’s the problem for me: it’s too much and overcomplicates something very simple. You also have to enter all data by typing it out yourself and in general spreadsheets require more manual labor. On the other hand, Notion has limited functions, but they are more than enough. It also grants the ability to use the Select or Multi-select functions to enter the information you need with two clicks. While spreadsheets have a similar tool, the process of adding more selection options is more complicated and less straight-forward.
Another reason why I prefer Notion is that Notion looks a lot more pleasant than a spreadsheet. It’s easier on the eyes, looks more organised and less like a wall of information. I know you can customise spreadsheets a lot, but it takes way more time to do so and looks less clean. The lay-out is also super customisable. When you want to change a column to a different place, it’s a lot more complicated than simply dragging the column to where you want it.
A huge pro to Notion is that every item has it’s own ”page” in the database where you can add as much information and notes to as you need to. You can see an example of such a page under ‘Title, author and series’ (click here to jump up). This page is always accessable by clicking the title, no matter how you view the database. In theory, you could add full reviews to the notes section and it won’t affect the general view of the database or make it look clunky.
Speaking of ways to view the database, Notion allows you to change up how you view the database with a two clicks. On the top left, it says ”Default view”, which you can click to add another way to view the database. In the section ‘Dates I finished reading’ (click here to jump up) I already showed the calender view, but you can choose from a total of five: Table, Board, Calendar, List and Gallery.
One view type I like is Board view: it sorts your items based on tags and you can fully customise it: You can have several pages of Board view with different types of sorting or just use the ”Group by” tool on the top right, for example.
The last reason why I prefer Notion is that it’s easy to use across devices as the contents are saved to your account. On the computer, you can open your Notion pages in browser and via the desktop app for both Windows and Mac. There are also apps for Android and iOS, so you can use Notion on your phone, tablet and other portable devices too. Though Google Spreadsheets and the online version of Excel both have apps for mobile use, they are much clunkier in use as the contents of the spreadsheet don’t adapt to screen size.
These are the major reasons why I prefer Notion over spreadsheets. There are a lot of itty-bitty things I could go into, but unless you have used the program, it will most likely just confuse you instead. I also want to be clear that these are my personal preferences. Not everything works the same for everyone and not everyone has the same preferences. I am not trying to prove one way is superior to the other, just trying to provide guidelines and comparison out of my own experience, so you have more information to work with when deciding if you want to use this program.
Thank you for reading my post. It was a lot of work to write, but I love to write informative posts for my readers. If you found this post helpful, a great way to show appreciation is to share it with others, so it reaches even more people. Also, I have a second Notion-related post in the works for later this week, so stay tuned!
See you in my next post!