I'll be honest that I don't think there's an easy answer or even a preferable answer here. I can only say the truth of the matter. There is no way to get ARCs easily, especially not through publishers. Publishers are not going to send free books to anyone. It costs them money not only to print out the book, but also to ship it to you, all on some hope that your review will bring them enough sales to cover it. There has to be some sort of discernible influence bloggers have on sales, otherwise I don't think publishers would keep sending us books.
Here are some key factors that can help you get books from publishers, particularly ARCs:
- A platform for reviews.
This can be in the form of a blog, a website, etc. It needs to be something that can be navigated and has a way to view the reviews. Don't bury them in the abyss.
- A niche.
This isn't necessary, but it helps if you have a specific kind of book you read. That helps them target to you and to your readers. This is more about not being a "I read every single thing in the universe" type person. I mean, if you read everything, great, but I've yet to see a successful blog/website that wasn't clearly divided into sections that focused on everything.
- A back catalogue of reviews.
Basically, you need to have actually done some reviews. You're not going to get much from publishers if you haven't actually done something productive in the reviewing community.
- An online following of some significance.
They are not going to send you books if you get 25 unique hits a month. Not unless you win some from them. You need to have some sort of steady, significant traffic. This doesn't need to be thousands of people, but it does need to be something they can figure into potential sales. The blog that I post my reviews on (run by the awesome SQT) gets a fair amount of traffic (more than I get here, actually). It also has a vibrant community. These things make it a website publishers will turn to for reviews (well, they won't come to you, but you know what I mean), because, presumably, SQT's blog brings them sales and exposure in a quantity that matters.
Oh, and this takes a lot of time and effort. And even with that, there's no guarantee you'll ever succeed in creating a following. I've been at this for three years and while I love my readers, there aren't a whole lot of them. Those that have stuck with me for a while certainly deserve kudos, though. You guys are awesome.
Assuming you have a following, you review on some sort of timely schedule, and haven't pissed off all the publishers, the next order of the day is actually contacting publishers. My recommendation is either follow their procedures for review requests, if they have any, or read books from that publisher, review them, and let the author know. Either way can work, but neither is a guarantee. All I know is that I have done it both ways and been relatively successful.
It should be noted here that your intention should never be to simply get free books (particularly ARCs/galleys). ARCs are sent out specifically to be reviewed. Publishers are usually aware that reviewers can't review everything, but that doesn't mean you should never review the books. This isn't about showing off that you got a bunch of free books; it's about providing a service for publishers while doing something you like. If you just want to read books and have some collectibles, then you need to find ARCs in some of these ways:
- Garage sales, used bookstores (which technically shouldn't be selling them), ebay, and other places like that.
- Giveaways (blogs, publishers, authors, etc.).
ARCs are sort of like crack for reviewers, I suppose. Most of us love them, even desire them. And there's nothing like getting books in the mail. One of my favorite things is when there's a bubble envelope sitting in the mailbox waiting for me to open it. It doesn't matter if I've had a bad day, that can really cheer me up.
Hopefully that answers the question. This is sort of a short "how to" for reviewing in general, but so be it.
Anyone else out there have advice on this matter? Is there a magical easy way to get ARCs? I don't think signing up for contests is necessarily an easy way, because it's random, but maybe that's the easiest method to get your hands on these things.
Anywho. If you have a question you'd like me to answer, feel free to send it to arconna[at]yahoo[dot]com, or leave it as a comment, or send it as a twitter message with @shaunduke at the front of the message. Thanks!