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Monday, April 20, 2009

Reader Question: How do I get ARCs/galleys easily?

This one was sent to me by LibraryDad via twitter. I think this is one of those questions that eventually gets asked by someone somewhere. Those of us who review books, whether professionally or as amateurs, love getting advanced reader copies (ARCs or galleys). I'm not entirely sure why. I like them because it's nice to know I have one of the first printed copies if a particular book turns out to be a favorite (such as Sly Mongoose, which you should all go buy, because Mr. Buckell recently had twins and could use the extra royalties). But how do you get them?

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.
The big thing is the following. Publishers have got to know that sending you books is good for them. You can track all that with the various sites out there, such as SiteMeter, Google Analytics, etc.

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.
  • Friends
  • Giveaways (blogs, publishers, authors, etc.).
If you want to review books and let people know about them, then you should work on building up a fanbase and a back-catalogue of reviews. One step at a time. Eventually, if all goes well, you can request books from publishers (following their guidelines, if they have any--this is really important) or get them another way.

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!

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  1. Great post.

    The only bit of advice I have for potential reviewers is to never sacrifice integrity for ARCs. If a publisher sends you a novel and it sucks, don't hold back because you're afraid the publisher won't send you any more books. Honesty is the best policy and (most) publishers and authors know that.

    A Dribble of Ink

  2. Thanks for answering. Prior to reviewing books beyond word of mouth, the only way I could get an ARC was through my previous employer, Books-A-Million. The General Manager would look at the freebies we'd occasionally get and toss me the scraps. I learned to love a few authors that way, but it was very limited in what I'd get.

    As an online reviewer now, ARCs are nearly impossible to get without begging and pleading the author. And I'm okay with that. I think there are too many other reviewers out there that not only review more, but produce higher-quality reviews. And with that competition, I have no qualms in letting them get the lion's share of the ARCs.

    Maybe the second part of this question should be, where do e-galleys (or #digiarcs for the Twitter-heads) fit into this mix? Aren't they easier and cheaper to distribute? Can't trusted sources like NetGalley increase their volume?

    I think I've rambled long enough. Thanks again for the answer. All good points to consider for a budding (or existing) reviewer.

  3. TK42ONE,

    In regards to e-ARCs, Tobias Buckell is a huge fan. He just sent me an electronic copy of his upcoming short story collection. If you're willing to read ARCs off of a screen, I think that's a great avenue for smaller blogs to approach authors/publishers.

    Frankly, I expect they will start to become the de facto format for advance copies of all but the biggest releases.

    A Dribble of Ink

  4. Aidan: Oh, yes, of course! Never EVER sacrifice integrity just to get galley copies. That's one of those things I think a lot of reviewers who get such books battle. We start wanting to be nice because we're handed free books, when really we should just be honest.
    I haven't had any publishers cease sending me books because I didn't like something they sent me. I think most publishers, at least ones with the right mindset, realize that you can't please everyone. The best things reviewers can do is to be honest.

    And if it's any consolation to publishers who might be concerned about bad reviews: I've actually bought books based off bad reviews and had different opinions; the same can be said for the other way around. Exposure is exposure, even if it's not happy-go-lucky exposure, you know?

    TK42ONE: You're most welcome!
    I'll take those questions and write something on that too. Never heard of NetGalley, so it might take me some time to do a little research. Thanks and you're welcome!

  5. Aidan: I'd be much more receptive to e-ARCs if someone gave me an ereader or I could afford to buy one. As it is, I find the computer a terrible distraction when reading, thus making it rather difficult to read stuff while I'm on here. I most certainly am open to the idea, but I just don't have $300-500 to fork out for an ereader.

    Someone did put up a blog post not too long ago pointing out that publishers should consider buying such devices for prominent blog/net reviewers because it would save them loads of cast in the long run. I suspect that that is even true of smaller reviewers when you factor in paper and shipping costs...

  6. I read that same article and let me tell you, if someone wanted to send me a Kindle 2 I wouldn't say no! That being said, I can use my iPod Touch as an e-Reader, so, even though it's not my favourite way to read a book, I'm open to the idea of electronic Galleys.


  7. Aidan: I wouldn't say no either. It's a good idea and it would save publishers so much money, and make my life a bit easier since I wouldn't have an entire shelf (a big shelf) devoted to review books. I have way too many...

  8. Anonymous12:21 AM

    This comment has been removed by a blog administrator.

  9. Sounds like spam, to me. I deleted your comment specifically because I don't want anyone here emailing those folks and getting scammed too.

    Sorry, but no publisher is going to send random people free books. They send books to people that can provide them a service.