There’s been a bit of a kerfluffle lately on how “nonprofessionals” are getting ARCs at things like BEA and ALA. I’m lucky enough to be in sort of a middle area. I’m not a professional reviewer, but a passionate amateur, who’s aspiring to someday make a living somehow related to books. As a writer who’s followed the publishing industry fairly closely for around 10 years, ARCs always seemed like the holy grail- something far out of the reach of ordinary people. But, then, they’re really not. Lots of authors give a few away to their fans, and sometimes you can get lucky. My younger sister is in grad school to become a librarian, and thus, is a member of ALA. When she went to the midwinter ALA conference, publishers were nearly throwing books at her. She came home with somewhere around 50 books total, having picked up ones for E and me, as well as for her own enjoyment. She also gets requests granted on Netgalley. She doesn’t tend to put reviews anywhere other than on Netgalley, yet to the mindset I’m seeing in some places would say she’s more qualified to get them than I am.
And at the end of the day? I think publishers need to ask themselves: What do they want the ARCs to do? Build word of mouth. Find the people who are passionate about their books, and find ways to engage them. People nowdays know when they’re being marketed at instead of to. How many books have made it big beyond expectations because a handful of people read them, and told the people they knew “read this”? And it multiplies itself. With twitter and blogs, goodreads and facebook, even someone who isn’t a “professional” can reach thousands easily. I am not a social butterfly, by any stretch of the imagination. If I were to post something to all of my network, both pen name and real name, I can count a “reach” of something like 500 people directly, accounting for some overlap between them. If I assume that’s average (I have friends with less reach, and others with far more, so it wouldn’t be outlandish to assume), and that maybe 10% of those friends would pass it on somehow (Based on the typical exposure rate vs buy in rate of several kickstarter projects I’ve followed), and 10% of those, the numbers very quickly go exponential.
I started blogging about books because the sheer number of awesome books I’m discovering through that/BEA pickups. I have blog posts scheduled closer to the releases of quite a few of those books, and am reviewing them lightly on goodreads and such under my real name as well. Their getting their word of mouth, and I’m getting lucky enough to read some amazing books ahead of schedule. This is perfect, to my mindset. I’ve already read ~55 books this year. I read 150 last year. (I know, I’m behind this year, but that’s because I’ve been focusing more on my own writing again.) And thing is? Some of these books are by authors I never would have picked up otherwise. For example, Alexandra Bracken has “The Darkest Minds” coming out in December. I’ll have a review up for it closer to release, because I think that’s the best time to do it (If anyone has an opinion about review right after reading vs the friday before release, I’m open to changing that). But I wouldn’t have even noticed it among all the other dystopians, except that I got a copy at BEA, mostly because the author looked so crazily young, and the cover looks interesting. I enjoyed it so much, I immediately went on amazon and get her debut book to read too. Even the ones I’ve gotten as ARCs, if I enjoyed them, will (money permitting) end up bought again in ebook format down the line, simply because I prefer having all my books in ebook form at this point. No, I’m not an “industry professional”. I’m an industry amateur, doing it for passion, not money. If it weren’t that things like editing/agenting requires (mostly unpaid) internships, I would do it in heartbeat.
None of us are the types to grab books indiscriminately in the first place, but I’m far more likely to give a new author a try when it’s free or cheap than I am when it costs $15 a pop. The kindle sample feature is nice, as it gives me a feel if I’ll like that author’s style, but it doesn’t tell me if they can pull off the story line, or develop their characters. There are so many books on my TBR list, more get passed up than picked up, if I’m in doubt. Though that gets more into the complexities of ebook pricing than the practicalities of ARCs, so I’ll skip that for now. There’s a lot to be said for passion, both love and hate, when it comes to books.
Though I agree that they shouldn’t be sold on ebay. I’d rather have them in a place of honor on my bookshelves, anyway. Even shinier is the signed ARCs. If anyone thinks they’re getting their grubby paws on those, they’re woefully wrong.
I don’t think people who are passionate about books should be frowned upon for getting the ARCs, nor should we feel entitled to them. I think, as long as they’re reviewed fairly and honestly, then the ARC has done it’s job. If they’d rather give out electronic arcs, I’m all for that, as long as they still try to reach a variety of levels, and don’t just say, “Well, if they don’t have at least XXthousand of followers, we’re not interested.”