A few weeks ago, a publisher contacted me: Would I like to review ARCs for my blog?

I’ve only been book blogging for a few months, so I was flattered they found me. I have an online presence! The publicist was able to answer my questions about ARCs, mostly. But I’m realizing that I don’t really want just any free books.

(For those unfamiliar: an ARC is an Advanced Reading Copy of a book slated for publication in the next few months. A reviewer gets it before publication.)

The publicist indicated that I’d be expected to review the book within two months of its publication. And “of course” I can write an honest review. But really, could I be completely honest when I know the publicist and the author are going to read my review? If you review ARCs, do you really feel as honest with your ARC reviews as you do about your other books?

To my surprise, after a few glances through this publisher’s catalog, I failed to find anything that I want to read, especially in the next months. There are some I may want to read at some point, but not right now. I have so many books on my TBR list.

This was an interesting revelation for me: free books, but I’d rather not read them. I’ve found that since I’ve started book blogging, I’ve gone through differing phases of reading.

Stage 1

In the beginning: I read what I wanted to read and reviewed it online.

Stage 2

What I started doing: For every positive review of an interesting book, I added the book to my TBR. I entered every drawing I found for any free book. I went to the library and got those recommended books instead of those I had planned on reading.

Stage 3

Present philosophy: I read what I want to read and review it online. If I see multiple positive reviews for a book that looks interesting, I add it to my TBR and plan it for a future read. If (and only if) a free book is already on my TBR do I enter a drawing.

I realize all book bloggers have their own methods of reading and considering recommendations. For me, I found it disconcerting to realize how I’d adjusted my reading habits to fit the blogging world; I don’t want to do that! When you started book blogging or reading book blogs, did you find your reading habits changing?

Why ARCs?

I no longer feel compelled to read every book before me. I feel this urgency to read the books I want to read. There are so many books, and so little time.

It’s kind of freeing to not be tied down by a publisher’s list. It’s freeing to realize that I won’t read a book just because it’s free. It’s freeing to realize that I’m not going to read a book just because it is published.

For the purpose of full disclosure, I admit that I worked at a book publisher one summer during college, assigned to the “slush pile.” I read the first chapters of submitted novels (by unknown authors) and summarized whether that chapter had merit and whether the publisher should request the rest of the novel. Needless to say, none of the “slush pile” chapters I read were “winners.” I don’t want to work the slush pile ever again.

To some extent, in my mind, ARCs by unknown authors are just beyond the slush pile: they had enough merit to get published, but no one has spoken for them yet. Some published books are very good. Some are not very good. Reading a not-yet published book is reading a book no one knows about; it could be “slush.” Then again, it could be the next Pulitzer. It’s a risk. Do I really want to risk spending time on a not-very-good novel?

That said, all best-sellers and prize winning novels were once ARCs. If it’s that good, I’ll get to it. Let someone else recommend it first. I’m not interested in changing my reading habits to fit someone else’s schedule.

But I’m curious, why do you read ARCs? Does the fact that it is free impact your choice to read that book? Would you pick up those books if it wasn’t a free ARC copy from the publisher?

If you do not read ARCs, why don’t you? Have you not had the chance, or do you feel as I do?

I’m sincerely interested in why ARCs are so intriguing to other book bloggers. Please don’t take my thoughts as criticism of you or your blog if you do like ARCs, since as I’ve said, I realize all books start as ARCs. Make your comment anonymous if you prefer (as long as it’s not spam or a personal attack on me, that is…).

About the author 

Rebecca Reid

Rebecca Reid is a homeschooling, stay-at-home mother seeking to make the journey of life-long learning fun by reading lots of good books. Rebecca Reads provides reviews of children's literature she has enjoyed with her children; nonfiction that enhances understanding of educational philosophies, history and more; and classical literature that Rebecca enjoys reading.

  1. Hm. I don’t think the book review blog I belong to (and created) has changed my reading habits in any way except that I now read even more than I used to. I’ve always read what sounds interesting either in reviews or descriptions, and I tend to read more classic lit than anything else. I’m also perfectly honest in my reviews even if I know most people don’t agree or if I worry that a current author might be discouraged by my words. I do try to be nice, even if I’m honest and critical. I’ve never read ARCs, but if I did, I’d have to be very picky because rarely do I like modern writing, and I wouldn’t want to read just any book. There are too many good things to read and not enough time to do it. I don’t think I’d have trouble being honest, but I would worry about how my criticism would affect an unknown writer. As a writer myself, I know how devastating it can be to get negative critique, even if it’s helpful. The biggest conflict would be to get over the hump of worrying about hurting someone. I can’t be dishonest, though. If I don’t like a book, that will come out.

    It’s kind of cool to get singled out like that, though. Congrats!

  2. Blogging has changed my reading habits in regards that I am reading WAY MORE than I ever thought I would. My reading has become a lot more varied and I’ve been introduced to a lot of great books. I don’t enter a lot of the contests for free books. It has to have a great review or like you, already on my TBR. I really enjoy participating in blog tours. In fact, my very first one, I didn’t like the book as much as others, and the author said, “oh well!” I was nervous, knowing she would be reading it, but if you’re not completely honest than you won’t be credible.

    As far as ARC’s go, I don’t even respond to about half of the request’s I receive. While free books are a bonus, like you, I won’t take just any free book. I only respond if it sounds interesting, I’ve heard of it, and is in a genre I read, or has a great cover. Plus, I don’t have time to say yes to all requests. It just wouldn’t be fun anymore. I get a lot of requests for chick lit, mysteries, and thrillers all of which I don’t read. Just the other day, I opened up the mail to find a book that I wish I hadn’t said yes to and I hadn’t even opened the cover yet. I should have looked into it a bit more.

    I’ve been thinking about adding a review policy to my contact me page. I think that it would help out a lot! Another thing to add to my to do list.

  3. I’m totally addicted to books, and I think ARCs still have some mystique since not just anyone could get them in the past.

    By accepting books for review I wouldn’t have bought on my own, I’ve really expanded my reading horizons. On the other hand, I sometimes feel stressed out over how much I have to do!

    I review for two blogs as well, which makes me feel like I’m going crazy sometimes…but enough to get me to stop1!

  4. I leave most emails requesting I send an address in order to receive an ARC unanswered. I don’t even send it for some books I know I’ll eventually get around to reading because I don’t want the pressure of reading them on someone else’s timetable–I work at a library. I can read books for free anytime I want.

    That said, one of the review copies I received in July (an unrequested one at that) is going to be on my end-of-the-year best books list. Would I have stumbled upon it eventually at the library? Only time will tell, but it came to me in the mail at the exact right time and for that I’m grateful.

    It is very difficult not to be too drawn into others’ enthusiasms and stick with your own original plans and whims. I remind myself I already have 500 plus unread books around the house, but sometimes that doesn’t work. Okay, it usually doesn’t work. But as long as I’m reading what I want to be reading I’m usually happy.

  5. Honestly, I HAVE changed my reading habits since beginning my blog, but mostly in ways that I like.

    I read more, pay more attention to what I’m reading, and think of what to include in my review as I read. And that’s ok with me.

    My TBR pile still grows in the same way, but I’m adding more because I’m hearing about more books. Again, ok.

    But what I don’t like is the ORDER in which I’m reading books. I joined several challenges and this made me rearrange my list of books to read. Once I’m done with these challenges, I’m going on hiatus so I read WHATEVER I want! 🙂

    As for ARCs, I am choosy about which I accept. It’s fun to be the first to rave about a book, and the chance to interact with the author is exciting to me (provided that I like the book). I AM honest in my reviews, although I felt bad about that at first. Now I’m upfront about this with the author/publisher/etc. before I agree to read the book.

  6. I too went through similar phases after starting my book blog. I have come to a similar conclusion, as well. I don’t enter every contest I see anymore simply because it’s a free book. I also quit requesting books from LibraryThing’s Early Reviewer’s program unless it was already something that I would pick up on my own anyway — by a favorite author or a particular subject, etc.

  7. I haven’t read any ARC’s because, like you, I have too many other books I want to read. I do like reading reviews that other blogs have done on ARC’s though. I have learned through book blogging that I cannot conform to any system or schedule of reading. I like the reading challenges, but I still just read what I’m in the mood for whether I’ve chosen it for a challenge or not. Like others have commented, blogging has mostly increased the amount I read. Why is that? Writing is really difficult for me, you would think I would read less so I would have to do less reviews!

  8. I made the decision some time ago that I wasn’t going to accept any more ARCs for the very reason that they were taking over my reading. I felt obliged to put them to the top of the pile and to read the even if after the first fifty or so pages it was apparent that they weren’t my kind of book or, even worse, that they were simply a bad book. The pile of books I did want to read was mounting ever higher and getting higher still as I put off reading, not wanting to return to some books that were truly stultifying. So now I have a policy that I simply say no to any requests. And if people send books without asking first, then I give them to charity shops. I don’t have that many reading years left and I don’t want someone else taking control of them.

  9. For me when it comes to receiving free books, a filtering factor is the fact that live in Europe, so anyone asking me to read a book and review it, has to be willing to send it overseas (considering most ARCs are sent by publishers in the US). I mention this specifically on the About-page of my blog. This limits the offers I recieve, I suppose, which is fine by me. Receiving free books is a nice side-effect of my blogging about books, it most certainly is not a reason for my blogging.

    Besides, I only accept offers for books that really do interest me, so most of the emails I get, go unanswered anyway. I don’t want the pressure of having to read and review books I might not be interested in. The books I accept for reviewing are mostly those books that I would at least notice and pick up for a closer look/read while browsing in a bookstore. They might not necessarily be books I’d end up buying, but they’d somehow pique my interest.

    I used to get regular emails from one publisher, but as soon as I replied to two of them saying I was interested in reviewing these two books and mentioning that I live overseas, I was apparently struck off the emaillist and I haven’t received anything from them since.

    Basically, the same goes for entering drawings: I only enter drawings when I am interested in the book. Also, unless it is mentioned explicitly that the drawing is open to anyone anywhere, I always mention that I live in Europe and if that is a problem, it’s okay if they don’t enter me. No hard feelings from my side at all.

    Free books are a nice side-effect of bookblogging for me, nothing more, nothing less.

  10. I’m new to blogging, too. I’m impressed that a publisher contacted you! I have requested a few ARCs, but only if it’s a book that sounds interesting to me.

  11. Wow so many responses! Thanks for writing in!

    Amanda, I think my problem is similar to yours: I “rarely like modern writing.” I’ve found myself turning to classics more often since I started blogging to!

    Natasha, I think you’re right that we have to be honest to be credible. And yes, not having time to read them all would make ARCs not fun anymore. I haven’t read them, but that’s a reason I plan on saying no.

    Amy, I’m glad ARCs have mystique in your mind….I guess working at the publisher killed that for me! I like how you point out that reading ARCs opens your reading options, that you may not have found it otherwise. I’ll have to keep that in mind.

    Ann Darton (Table Talk), That’s exactly why I’m hesitant to accept ARCs: fear they’d take over my reading. I’m glad I’m not the only one with that thought.

    Myrthe, I guess that’s the key: only requesting books that interest you!

    Susan, exactly my thought: if I’d get to reading it anyway, I would want to read it on my time table.

    Heather Johnson, I’m noticing my order changing too, and that is reminding me that I told myself I wouldn’t join any challenges! (I did….) There are bonuses and negatives to challenges, huh.

    Lisa, Glad I’m not the only one!

    Chain Reader, I like reading others reviews of ARCs too! I just don’t really want to do it. You’re right, book bloggers probably shouldn’t try to conform to a schedule. We should read what we were going to read.

    Alessandra, I’m glad the book made it.

    Kathy, I don’t know how they found my site! If you are interested, I’d say make sure your email is prominent on your site and maybe leave a note that you’re interested in ARCs. I don’t know how they find people, but they must work through those they already have and click on links? So get involved in the book blogging community…

  12. I think I will just say: “Yeah! What YOU said!” I feel exactly the same way. I will add that, while I’ve always been a voracious reader, reading book blogs has added a whole new dimension to my reading. I read more, I think more about what I read, and writing reviews challenges me to think even more about what I read.

  13. I have read a few ARCs. Some of them I requested myself, so it’s books I really wanted to read. Having a book reviews blog means that now <i read more than I did before, and I reflect more on my readings in order to write decent book reviews.

    Receiving a free book always makes me happy. Sometimes it’s books I wouldn’t normally have considered, but I end up liking them anyway, and this makes me think that maybe I should expand my horizons and consider books from different genres.

  14. Hey, Rebecca, I forgot to say that today I received my copy of The Portrait of a Lady from Amazon! Thank you again for this wonderful present!

  15. Book blogging has definitely made me read more. Strange, since I spend a lot of time blogging. Still, I am getting to the point where I have to be more discerning about what I put on my TBR list and pile. I don’t enter every contest I see and I don’t add every book to the list.

    As for ARCs, I try to be selective, but open. Though I don’t always want to read an ARC, I like to do it to help new authors.

  16. I’m currently in stage two. Anything that looks good or was reviewed well, I add it to my list and I’m slowly realizing that I’m not sure that I like what book blogging is doing to me.

    I’ve been offered a couple of ARCs. I accepted two. One of them I hated and said as much. I was left a nasty comment on blog by an “anonymous” person and sent a nasty email from the person who offered me the book. The second one I couldn’t get past the first chapter no matter how hard I tried so I sent the book back on my own dime. Needless to say, I’m very hesitant of accepting ARCs.

    I think they are so intriguing because (a) they’re free, (b) it’s cool to read a book before it’s realized, and (c) it makes me feel like people actually listen and pay attention to my blog.

  17. smallworld reads, I’m glad I struck a familiar cord!

    Jessica, I realize if I cut myself off from all new authors, I won’t be very open, so I’m glad there are others reading ARCs and letting me know what’s out there. Thanks for your comment.

    Christina, Wow! I’m surprised. You’d think authors who are published would be able to take accurate criticism, especially if they are sending books to you!

  18. I turn down most of the ARC/review copies offers I receive, just because I don’t think the book and I are a good match. However, ones that look good, I definitely accept, and sometimes I’ve formed great relationships with the authors. And, sometimes I request a review copy of books that I really think I’ll enjoy. I know myself pretty well, so I’m rarely wrong!

    I’m totally honest in my review of ARCs/review copies-otherwise I’d feel like I was ‘betraying’ my readers. I’m much more attached to them than to an author or publisher! 🙂

    As to whether blogging has changed my reading habits, it definitely has, but more in that it’s encouraged me to lead a more examined reading life. Does that make sense?

  19. Eva, “I don’t think the book and I are a good match.” That’s why I think I’d turn them down, too. Maybe I’ll give it a try in the future. We’ll see.

  20. I don’t think I’ve accepted any ARCs that were solicited, but I do read the ones I have requested myself. And the ones I request are all books I wanted to read anyway. Like Eva, I know my tastes fairly well, and I’ve not been disappointed in any of them.

    Blogging hasn’t really changed my personal reading habits much, but reading other blogs has familiarized me with many, many books I would not have even heard of otherwise. Even if I don’t choose to read them myself, I have recommended books to others based on reviews from bloggers.


  21. Pingback: TSS: Links to sites and posts that piqued my interest this past week « Just A (Reading) Fool
  22. Quite by accident, I just stumbled on to your blog (which fascinates me) and I’ve enjoyed your discussion about ARCs. Perhaps I can share some insight that I have gained during my experience as a “veteran” book reviewer (with my reviews having appeared in many print and online publications over the past several years). Publishers prepare and distribute ARCs for virtually all significant books prior to the market-ready editions (although there are a few exceptions); in this way, publishers (and authors and their agents) hope to garner media attention for the book(s) prior to the publication date(s). ARCs are often readily available to reputable, established reviewers (and bloggers), and many best-selling authors are represented in the ARC offerings. Yes, there are bottom-of-the-barrel books out there, but a selective reviewer/blogger can easily avoid those books. To paraphrase what someone has said somewhere on this site: There are many books, and life is too short to read the bad ones. At any rate, anyone interested in becoming a seriously regarded reviewer must remain open to requesting and receiving ARCs; however, one need not feel obligated to review unrequested ARCs, and one should never be eager to publish/post a negative review (since you can make enemies of the publisher and author would rather not endure the slings-and-arrows of a bad review); in fact, it is better to say nothing than to say something hurtful about a book. After all, readers of reviews are looking for well-reasoned advice about good books, so the reviewer/blogger, if interested in a reputation for honesty and good judgment, will only speak about good books. Well, enough said for the moment on ARCs. In closing (and on another note), if the book bloggers who read this are interested, I would love to have you include a link at your site for my upcoming book blog (not yet online but soon to be available), and I would reciprocate the favor. Just email me at rdavis1@gulftel.com
    Regards from Tim

  23. Tim Davis, I think you have some interesting thoughts. Thanks for your thoughtful comments. I apologize for such a long response, but your comment really sparked some of my thoughts I’d tried to clarify in my original post.

    The main distinction I want to make is in audience. I’m glad you are a “veteran” book reviewer and that you enjoy it. But I think book blogging is a different ball game. You say “anyone interested in becoming a seriously regarded reviewer must remain open to requesting and receiving ARCs.” I am not in that category and I don’t think most book bloggers are. We blog because we like to read and we want to share what we like with other readers like ourselves.

    Further, you say “in fact, it is better to say nothing than to say something hurtful about a book” and I would say that is not correct in the blogging world. As some others commented earlier on this post, no one will trust a personal book blogger if the blogger isn’t completely honest about what he or she reads. If a book is trash or even if I just don’t like it, I will tell the world what I think! I don’t care what the publisher thinks of me. I don’t care if they send me another ARC since I don’t care if they send me one in the first place.

    I agree when you said, “After all, readers of reviews are looking for well-reasoned advice about good books, so the reviewer/blogger, if interested in a reputation for honesty and good judgment, will only speak about good books.” Yes! I look for reviews of good books. I want to read good books, and I hope what I read is good so I can write a positive review of it. And I don’t intend to review everything I read. But I want to know what others are reading; if a book that I may want to read receives negative reviews in the “blogging world”, then I will avoid it. My goal in starting a book blog in the first place is to be more discriminating of what I pick up.

    I read for myself, and I journal about it because I want other readers, like me, to hear what I have to say. It’s nice of publishers to distribute ARCs, but my thought is that as book bloggers we really should hesitate to do so: we should read for ourselves first and foremost. If reading the ARC fits that, then why not? Otherwise, forget it.

    Publishing reviews for print is completely different. I read those reviews (sometimes) too and I enjoy the less biased perspective of “experts” in the field.

    I’d be interested to see your blog. Come back and leave another comment when it’s up and running and I’ll come visit!

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