07 April 2023

The Best Website about Best Books

I’ll bet the last time you wanted to get some suggestions for a product you planned to buy, you hopped online and searched for something like: “Best vacuum cleaners for people with pets,” “Best sugar-free bacon,” “Best electric cars,” or “Best reciprocating saws.” Don’t laugh: these are actual searches I’ve performed in recent months. If you’re an English speaker, when you’re doing this kind of search it just seems natural to stick the word “best” at the beginning of the sentence. Each time, the web rewarded me with not one but multiple pages offering capsule reviews of products I might want to consider. The quality of those reviews (and the writing) was all over the map, but at least they highlighted a lot of different brands and items that I would never have known about.

You could do the same with books, but I suspect many people interested in finding books to read a) browse a bookstore or library, b) ask friends and fellow book club members, c) mine book reviews, or d) pop over to a certain gigantic online retailer and look at the books that site’s faceless recommendation engine suggested for them.

A new site called Shepherd.com skips the recommendation engine in favor of recommendations by creators of fiction and nonfiction alike. Shepherd often (but not always) employs the same “best” nomenclature that came naturally to me when I was thinking of making that ill-advised bacon-and-Sawzall run with my dog. More than 7,000 writers have already contributed lists to Shepherd on such topics as “Best books about the Battle of the Bulge, “Best books about the Dalai Lama,” and “the best mysteries that let you explore major cities of Italy.” Shepherd currently has more than 20,000 nonfiction and 16,000 fiction titles in its system, and is growing daily.

I first learned about the site when its creator, Ben Fox, contacted my wife to contribute a list on one of her areas of expertise, “Best books about the Manhattan Project. Ben is an American entrepreneur who lives with his young family in Portugal. He’s a data geek and voracious reader. How voracious? When I asked, he sent me a spreadsheet listing the number the books he’s read since 2010, categorized by fun books and serious books, and converted to percentages. In this way, I learned that his most recent high-water reading year was 2020, during which he consumed 193 books, 94 percent of them for pleasure. Sure, Covid lockdowns in Europe no doubt had something to do with his pace, but his personal book consumption has hit triple-digit territory for the last 13 years!

He started the website by focusing on nonfiction titles because, he says, people actively search on Google for nonfiction topics. He has since branched out into fiction, with an emphasis on genre fiction.

The format is simple. Authors recommend five books by other authors on a topic that is germane to their expertise. At the top of that list, they’re allowed to include a sixth book—one of their own that aligns with the topic—and their bio, links to their socials, and their website. As each list enters Shepherd’s system, authors and books begin cross-pollinating. My wife’s books were recommended by other authors, and eventually there’s a rich well of recommendations that readers can investigate: “Oh, Denise wrote that book about WWII that I was interested in. But now I see that other writers have recommended her book on Thanksgiving. I gotta check that out.” The more people in the system, the deeper that interconnectivity becomes. As each writer contributes a list of five books, Ben contacts the authors of those five books and asks if they would consider contributing a list as well.

My wife and I were early adopters, so we routinely get emails from writers asking us if Shepherd is some kind of scam, to which I always respond no. The one catch is that Shepherd doesn’t pay authors for these capsule reviews. That’s a turnoff for many, but if you’ve ever launched a book, you know that publishers often encourage you to write reams of blog posts, articles, Q&As, and op-eds for news organizations and other websites. These are almost always written for zero payment, for sites that are often of dubious quality. Writers do it because we gotta promote, gotta promote, gotta promote.

In Shepherd’s case, at least the site is helping sell books. Ben proved this to me once in a Zoom call in which he shared his screen and showed us how he could track just how many clicks on a book title had resulted in a sale. Right now the site gets about 14,000 visitors a day, about 400,000 a month in good months. The goal is to hit 1 million a month in 2023. The site supports itself on ads and affiliate link payments from that online behemoth retailer I referred to earlier, and Bookshop.org. If a book of yours sells, you and Shepherd both make money.

Currently any author of a book can submit a list. But there are some rules. You do have to contact them first and pitch the idea. (See the author site here.) If you’re writing a book series, you can only promote the first one in your series. You have to stick to Shepherd’s format and guidelines, which they’ll help you do.

Ben believes that when it comes to books, a recommendation from a human—especially an author—carries more weight than a rec generated by an algorithm. Can’t say I disagree.


How two pages look on the site:

A topic page linking to numerous author lists...

A single author page...


See you in three weeks!




  1. I think this is a great idea and a great site! Thanks for tipping me off.

    1. Hope you enjoy the experience if you approach them!

  2. The gentleman who runs the website recently sent me a link that shows how mystery novels in particular can be grouped together by genre. I'm posting the link here so future readers of the post can check it out: https://shepherd.com/bookshelf/mystery?filters


Welcome. Please feel free to comment.

Our corporate secretary is notoriously lax when it comes to comments trapped in the spam folder. It may take Velma a few days to notice, usually after digging in a bottom drawer for a packet of seamed hose, a .38, her flask, or a cigarette.

She’s also sarcastically flip-lipped, but where else can a P.I. find a gal who can wield a candlestick phone, a typewriter, and a gat all at the same time? So bear with us, we value your comment. Once she finishes her Fatima Long Gold.

You can format HTML codes of <b>bold</b>, <i>italics</i>, and links: <a href="https://about.me/SleuthSayers">SleuthSayers</a>