This week I made a decision.
It’s been a long time coming and something I’ve been meaning to do for well over a year now but couldn’t bring myself to officially say. So here it is:
I’m not dealing with ARCs or review requests anymore. In that, I’m not accepting requests for reviews nor am I putting out my own requests for books (though I may have to make an exception for anything new by Erin Morgenstern, Stephanie Garber, or V.E. Schwab). It’s not that I’m no longer reviewing books, that’s not going to change, but that I’m prioritizing my reading and my life over being an underappreciated free marketing tool.
When I started book blogging at the beginning of 2011, I talked about the books I checked out from the library and the occasional eBook I could afford. I was a teen in high school with no job and a limited allowance that was, in reality, mostly money saved from birthdays and Christmas. I certainly couldn’t afford new releases, especially hardcovers. And yet that is the demographic that publishing claims to be targeting with YA.
Teen readers. But they release books as hardcovers first.
And then you get the community, which wasn’t nearly as large or entitled as it is now. Today, I see ARCs treated as status symbols and hardcovers rule the bookstagram world.
For a community who claims to be for the teens, it’s not very inclusive to them and what they likely have access to.
It sucks. Seeing it all. I’ve been fortunate to 1) live in the U.S., and 2) have a large enough platform that publishers see me as a good investment for promotional copies of books. At first I thought it was great, to be considered “good enough” by the industry to help them market upcoming releases. But the longer I’ve done it, the more issues I see.
Full disclosure, this post is more a generalization as there are always exceptions. I’ve worked with some amazing publicists and authors alike who really appreciate the support and it’s a wonderful working relationship. But those experiences have been few and far between of late.
In addition, this post is more focused on experiences I’ve had with Young Adult books and publishers/imprints.
I want to be clear that this post and these reasons for my decision are based on my own experiences within the community as a book blogger and bookstagrammer. It is just one perspective of, I’m sure, many.
We’re marketing books to a readership that likely can’t afford new release.
When I share an ARC review, on the blog, in instagram stories, etc., I always get messages along the lines of “I wish I could afford this” or “I already spent my book money for this month.”
New releases are expensive and the average reader can’t just go out and pre-order or buy a new copy. Especially teens on a limited budget. But that’s where the focus goes, those initial sales.
I’ve been maintaining a page for pre-order incentives for a while now, which started as a way for me to track the ones from my favorite author and has now turned into the most viewed page on this website. Over the last year, I’ve seen an exponential increase in incentives offered by both authors and publishers, ranging from signed bookplates to big prize pack giveaways.
Based on what I’ve seen on social media, I feel like this has created an expectation that every book should have an incentive. I’ve seen readers become outraged when a book doesn’t. Yet once the book releases? It suddenly doesn’t seem to matter. You’re ordering the same book, same book, often paying the same price. But the industry isn’t pushing post-release sales. They’re excluding anyone who can’t afford to buy a brand new hardcover with these incentives.
Where is the industry support for authors long-term?
Hand-in-hand with the pre-release marketing comes what I’ve noticed as a lack of marketing post release. Unless a book receives a lot of hype or backing from the publisher, it just slips away. If it’s lucky, it has a dedicated readership behind it to pick up the slack. These midlist books still often do well outside the online community. People keep buying and reading them, but I’ve always wondered how much better they would do if publishers continued promoting them after release.
It’s not as though they’re incapable of it. Certain social media accounts for some of the YA imprints manage to share the same handful of backlist series in their feeds over and over rather than talk about their midlist titles. Or possibly worse, some of these accounts promote books by other publishing houses more than their own books. While I understand wanting to create an online community for your readers, I don’t think this is the way to do it.
So, often, support for those midlist and backlist books falls to the authors and readers. For book influencers (bloggers, bookstagrammers, etc) working with publishing houses, there’s a bit of an expectation (in my experience) to always be talking about the next release. Staying ahead of the game. Publishers send ARCs with the expectation of promotion, generally in the form of a review.
And what happens when you can’t read the book in time? It doesn’t hurt the publisher. They can simply decide not to send you anything in the future, if they want. But the author loses out on potential sales you might have generated.
There’s a lack of industry support for book bloggers and influencers.
Not only does the industry put a huge focus on upcoming releases and their big name authors, they also tend to not appreciate the work that bloggers and other book influencers put in to promoting the books they’re trying to sell. Obviously this is a generalization but, from my experience, 90% of the time (if not more) we’re asked by a publisher/imprint to create content that they don’t even promote. Sometimes we get a LIKE on twitter or instagram, but rarely do they share out the content they asked us to create.
This is why I no longer do blog tours that publishers organize. They always want brand new exclusive content but can’t be bothered to share it, even when it’s promoting their authors. Certain imprints are notorious for this and, frankly, why should we put in the time when they don’t? We’re not asking for much.
Free books don’t pay the bills.
When we start talking about the time and effort that goes into creating new book content all the time, the conversation starts up again regarding compensation. You get the faction of people that say we should all do it for the love of books, and the people who think that if they’re being used as easy promotion for a book then they should receive some type of (hopefully) monetary compensation for it.
I’m firmly in the second group.
Getting a free book doesn’t pay the bills. You can’t sell ARCs, it literally says so on the cover. You can’t give your landlord a book and say “here’s my rent.” Creating content can easily become equivalent to a part (or full) time job. If you’re getting paid for those, there’s no reason not to receive compensation for promoting books.
Now I also realize that providing monetary compensation comes with a lot of red tape and that the likelihood of it ever happening is near impossible with so many people willing to do it for the free books, but this is where that publisher support for content comes into play. It would make a huge difference if it didn’t feel like we’re being used and left hanging after.
I want to be clear here that I’m not saying that we should be getting paid for all the promotion we do. That would be amazing but it’s not going to happen. My point is that promoting books takes up time and effort, and we do this as a hobby. We’re not making a living off it. So it would be nice if that work was shown some level of appreciation and it doesn’t have to be much. Just understanding that a lot of time and effort are put into these platforms goes a long way.
(For the record, I think most authors are highly supportive of book influencers, this is more directed at interactions with publishers and their imprints.)
ARCs aren’t worth the pressure and stress.
Assuming you’re not a book influencer just for the free books, there’s a good chance you’ve felt some level of stress from needing to review an early copy by a certain date. Sometimes the publishers put the pressure on too, sometimes it’s self inflicted.
Reading “on a schedule” has ruined so many books for me. As a mood reader, when I force myself to read something I’m not interested in at the time, my experience isn’t as good and then neither is my review. That’s not fair to the book or the author, or me for that matter. I’ve experienced more reading slumps in the last 3 years that I have. . . ever. Take all the previous reading years combined and it still wouldn’t come close to just one of the last 3. And it’s entirely self-inflicted.
I put pressure on myself because I don’t want to see an ARC wasted. I already think many are when publishers send books to me that I have no interest in but could have gone to a reader who would love them (i.e. anything and everything contemporary). For my own mental health, I need to step back.
And all this relates back to no more ARCs because. . .
When it comes down to it, I’m tired of being used as a free marketing tool when it’s negatively affecting my reading. I don’t need ARCs to support the authors I love. To be honest, 9 out of 10 times I buy a finished copy of the books I have ARCs for anyway and since I’m behind on those as is, there’s no real difference in just waiting for release day.
I don’t want to read for someone else, I want to read for me.
Moving forward. . .
The blog is officially closed to review requests. I won’t be personally making requests of my own (with the exception of those few authors I mentioned before and even then. . . only maybe). I will still accept unsolicited books for consideration but won’t guarantee a review or promotional coverage on other platforms like instagram, twitter, etc.
I want to get back to book blogging the way I started out. Reading and talking about what I own. Reading more indie books. Reading more backlist. Reading more.
And this is how I’m going to start.
I don’t think I really breathed while writing that post 😂
Now I realize this is terribly long and I ended up writing a lot of it spur-of-the-moment on my phone because I just needed to get it out there, so there’s definitely some rambling going on. But it’s something I’ve been thinking a lot about and it feels good to get it out there.
I’d love to hear your thoughts, if you’ve ever felt pressure when it comes to reading/reviewing ARCs or just general woes of being a content creator in the book community.