This is actually a post I have been writing in my head for about a month or so now, ever since I took this decision to no longer request ARCs. And, to be clear, this isn’t a temporary break from them while I catch up this a final a definitive injunction.
It’s been a long time coming but I wanted to draw together my reasons in one post because, I don’t know, maybe I need closure or something. I don’t particularly want to convince others to do the same but if people reading this are feeling the same way I do then maybe it could be helpful.
I began requesting and reviewing Advanced Reading Copies 18 months ago, beginning with a NetGalley account and more recently via platforms like Edelweiss and Readers First. I still fully intend on reading and reviewing my substantial backlog of these books, but as of 1st January 2019 I am officially no longer requesting anymore, and here’s why:
I No Longer Enjoy Reading Like I Used To
This is depressing as hell to finally admit out loud (in writing, whatever). My reading pattern used to be entirely guided by my whims and the recommendations of my friends. I just picked up whatever I felt like reading and sometimes I enjoyed and sometimes I didn’t as much but if it got so bad I couldn’t go on (which was rare), I had no problem putting it down and hopping to the next one.
I still dictate my own reading but from a much narrower pool of choices because no matter how ominously large my ARC pile is, it doesn’t compare to all the books in my local 6 floor Waterstones and it definitely doesn’t compare to Amazon.
This is partly my own fault as I began by requesting more than I should without a better screening process in place, I changed this fairly quickly but it’s still … limiting and sometimes the ARCs I have waiting just aren’t the books I want to read at that moment. I could, you might think, just read something else, something non-ARC which I have done more and more so recently, but every time I do this I find it hard to quash the guilt for procrastinating from my waiting ARCs, so this feeling filters into all aspects of my reading also.
I Miss The Turn Of A Page
As the previous point might suggest, I have read ARCs almost exclusively for 18 months and being the small recreational blog I am, my reach and influence just isn’t enough to warrant me hard copies very often. This has meant my Kindle Fire, Samsung Tablet and Phone getting a hell of a lot of use (and love) and my getting … a hell of a lot of screen time induced headaches. That and withdrawal/deprivation symptoms from lack of book smell (real illness, look it up). I just plain miss picking a book up off a shelf and reading it.
I am generally someone who works better with a deadline; it gives me steer and focus and a clear end goal. I have found out, however, you can have too much of a good thing and 105 release dates spread over 1 year and not in nice even jumps but all over the place is too many deadlines.
I hate being late. I hate letting people down. I hate putting anything less than my absolute best effort out into the world. I have had to do all these things for ARCs and while I know publishers are often used to this and probably don’t care or notice, I do and no one can apply pressure to you like your own self. I don’t like feeling like this and I don’t know anyone that does.
I can’t write here that I have allowed my blog or ARCs affect my wellbeing because whenever it feels like it is too much I put on the breaks and I get out of there. Even if I know it’ll only be more of a mess when I get back, I take a break and remind myself there are just some things you cannot control or sacrifice. However, I do feel now is the time I question why I’m putting myself in a position to make that decision in the first place.
Removing Unconscious Bias From My Thoughts
I think when you get caught up in the blogging world (and I certainly know this is the case for me) it’s easy to forget that ARCs aren’t the be all and end all of reviewing. Many people who don’t even know what an ARC is, review things all the time. I don’t need to be sent a book or asked to give my opinion on something.
Being sent a book by an author or publisher personally has always been a huge honour to me. Really, I think it should be to anyone particularly in the case of the former as a book is a personal journey and someone giving you that and asking you to pass judgement on it is damn near intimate. It’s also a lot of pressure because, as the saying goes …
You can be the ripest, juiciest peach in the world, and there’s still going to be somebody who hates peaches.
You can’t guarantee to like something and whilst many authors you review will never read what you write about their book, there’s always that slim chance yours is the only review they will read about their book. I’ve never let this somewhat terrifying chance colour my views or reviews as far as I can consciously and objectively tell. That’s some kinda form of unethical and honesty is always the best policy but, I know how grateful I am when I receive a book and I can’t help but wonder if that is the filter I read it through. Can’t help but wonder – would I think the same if I’d paid for this? And that brings me to the final reason.
5-Star Reviews Don’t Pay Bills
This had never occurred to me until recently while I was listening to a podcast I support online via a monthly payment. The payment is completely optional, and small, but I pay it because the simple fact is me listening to a free podcast and tweeting nice things in response doesn’t feed the brilliant minds behind it or keep it going, money does.
I know I definitely not alone in the fact that I do not buy even half the books I get to review. I read them that once, re-read parts if I want to and if it becomes favourite of mine I will occasionally buy my own hard copy but many people don’t because, who can blame you? You already have the book and if you don’t want to re-read it or you didn’t enjoy it, why would you pay for a copy? This is completely fair reasoning and I would never dispute anyone’s right to take it.
It’s true that some 5-star reviews pay bills in the form of promotion and building a buzz and reviewers are a crucial part of the publishing industry but, I can still do that and pay for the book, can’t I? Pre-orders, requests and book sales are what keep authors in full-time writing and not working part or even full time on the side to make ends meet.
Promoting a book by a marginalised author is great but it’s not getting into bestseller lists unless I and the however-many people who read the review or wrote their own buy it too.
ARCs have the advantage of being in advance by definition but sites like Amazon (where I feel my reviews are more visible and influential) don’t let you publish them until the book is out so the advance part is less impactful to me personally at that point.
I also feel having to go out and buy that book (from a local bookstore ‘cause we gotta keep them alive folks) would probably be better because money is a finite resource. Needing to be picky about what you spend it on is a good incentive to make smart choices instead of picking up anything that looks ‘okay’ or has a pretty cover (which was absolutely my approach when requesting ARCs).
There are other reasons for my choices that are slightly less significant, like the excitement of a release day delivery of a long-awaited sequel or the often less than stellar formatting or e-ARCs, but these are the main ones for me.
This is in no way meant to be a detrimental commentary on anyone who does request ARCs, I know for many that access to literature is one of the few they have and many of these books would not be released to the support they are released to if it weren’t for ARCs reviewers doing their blog tour thing, I’ve just decided it’s no longer for me.
Please share your (respectful) thoughts in the comments or alternatively if you want to know how to get your hands on even more ARCs Evelina from Avalinah’s Books recently posted this killer interview divulging all the juicy secrets of How To Get Review Copies Approved and Avid Reader has a great list of Book Publicity Contacts here.
Until next time!