I actually don’t talk very much about my book blogging hobby in real life. It’s something that people have a lot of opinions about and I don’t really enjoy having to defend my reading choices to friends, family, or (worse) people I hardly know. If I bring up being a book blogger, someone will inevitably say something along the lines of, “Oh, so you have a blog about books but you’ve never read [insert their favorite book here]?” or “Don’t you think you should read the classics?” The books they mention are usually within genres I don’t even enjoy, and also, the classics aren’t really relevant to my style of blogging. But anyway, I digress.
When I get someone that doesn’t try to make me feel inferior for not having read some dusty old novel written 150 years ago (not that there’s anything wrong with those!), the main question I get is, “So publishers actually give you books to read? For free? How?” The answer is… it’s actually pretty easy. I’ve had this blog for five years, but it’s nowhere near as big as it could be. I don’t have tens of thousands of followers and I don’t have a team of contributors. It’s just me and I’m just reading in my free time. Still, publishers like to get the word out and if your style fits what they’re looking for, they just might send you free books.
There are a lot of different ways to get ARCs. Some are easier than others and some rely on luck and/or speed, but I’ll break them all down here.
Netgalley is probably the biggest and most well-known of all the reviewer sites. Your account is free and they have thousands of titles. If you’re going to sign up for any site, it should be Netgalley. Even if you don’t plan to request titles, a lot of publishers and PR companies use Netgalley widgets to distribute books.
There are three types of books on Netgalley: Read Now, Request, and Wish For It.
Titles that are listed as Read Now can just be downloaded straight to your e-reader. Read Now can be dangerous, though! It’s really tempting to scroll through this section of Netgalley and just download a hundred books (after all, they’re free!) but keep in mind that publishers check your reviewing ratio when approving requests. There’s no requirement to review every book you download from Netgalley, but if your ratio of reviews to downloads gets a little wonky, publishers might see you as a risk and decline your requests. But Read Now titles are also a really good way to boost your ratio. Let’s say you read and review 10, 15, or even 20 titles. Your ratio looks great and you have a documented history of following through. This makes you look really good to publishers.
Titles with a Request option are more selective. Every publisher is looking for different things in their requests, which are listed in their approval preferences. Usually, the criteria is a little vague. What it all boils down to is that publishers want exposure for their titles and they want you to be able to provide it. But it never hurts to send in a request! The worst thing that will happen is your request getting denied or just never being processed.
Some titles aren’t labeled Read Now or available for Request. These books have a Wish For It option and they’re just down to the luck of the draw. A lot of these books are highly anticipated releases from really well-known authors. I’ve probably wished for fifty books since opening my Netgalley account and I’ve been granted two or three. (Those odds are actually not that bad!)
Let me preface this section by saying that I’m really not that big of a fan of Edelweiss for ARCs. It’s really more for librarians and booksellers, although they do have options for bloggers. The design takes some getting used to but is better than it used to be. I primarily use Edelweiss for tracking new releases.
It’s possible to get ARCs from Edelweiss, but it’s much harder than Netgalley. When you fill out your request on Edelweiss, you have to basically justify why you want the book and what you’re going to do to promote it. Simply putting something like, “I love this author and I’m going to write a review on my blog” isn’t sufficient. In a way, this is good since it makes you actually think about whether you really want the book. For someone like me who has a really bad habit of requesting twenty ARCs in one day and then somehow having to find the time to read all of them before their release dates, this is actually helpful.
If you’re active on book Twitter or if you follow a lot of book blogs, you probably know about blog tours. If you’re not familiar with the concept, it’s a set time period in which many, many blogs will post about the book. This creates a lot of buzz and gets more people talking about the book. Most blog tours run over the course of a week and consist of reviews, interviews, guest posts, excerpts, or other creative, promotional posts (think character interviews, fan art, and so on). Blog tours can be a little nerve-wracking at first, but they’re really fun once you get into them.
PR companies sometimes also have a set amount of ARCs to give away to bloggers to review at their leisure. When your review isn’t part of a tour, the company is simply asking you to read and review it when you get a chance, but usually before a set date a few months in the future.
There are a ton of PR companies out there! The ones that I’m involved with are:
- Chapter By Chapter Book Tours
- Xpresso Book Tours
- Inkslinger PR
- Fantastic Flying Book Club
- Social Butterfly PR
- Indie Sage PR
- Give Me Books Promotions
The biggest thing to remember about PR companies is the PR aspect. They’re looking for positive reviews of the titles, but you’re also under no obligation to lie or to fluff your rating. In my experience, the companies will ask you to hold your negative review until after publication and may give you an excerpt or other promotional materials to post in lieu of your review on your scheduled date. Because of this, I really only get involved with books I know I’m going to love. (This also helps to combat my whole problem with clicking before I think.)
I’ve participated in some really fun blog tours over the last year or so and gotten ARCs of books that I’d never even dared to dream about! If I had to estimate, I’d say that I’ve probably gotten a good ten or so ARCs from PR companies.
Here’s something that I wish I would’ve known when I started blogging: you can just sign up for the mailing list. Not every publisher offers this and you won’t be approved for every book you want, but this is a thing that actually happens! I’m on the mailing list for Entangled (all of their imprints, I love them!) and sometimes get emails from St. Martin’s Press and Simon & Schuster. I honestly don’t remember signing up for any of these, but I must have done it at some point. It’s always a nice surprise to get an email offering a review copy!
Goodreads has a giveaway section that usually lists ARCs but sometimes also lists previously released titles. They have both digital and print books available and their titles range from smaller self-published books to hugely popular releases. They’ve changed the way their giveaways work in the last few years, so whereas I used to reliably win a book every week or two, I now get one or two a year.
This is something that I only recently found out about. I’m not sure if all libraries offer ARCs, but the library that’s around the corner from my new house has an ARC shelf in its adult fiction section. They have five or ten titles in rotation that you can check out for a very limited amount of time. (I think it’s like three or five days.) All they ask in return is that you write a brief review of the title and submit it with the book when you return it. Your ARC privileges can be revoked if you don’t follow the rules! I haven’t used this option yet (I have enough ARCs of my own right now) but I would love to get involved with it in the future.
Review requests from authors are a tricky thing. Some authors are great and really understanding. Others are not. The first review request I ever got from an author came in the form of a demand — she sent me an email with the book attached and pretty much said, “I sent you this book and so you’re now obligated to post a review on Goodreads, Amazon, and your blog by the end of the week.” I think it was already Wednesday? I mean, talk about rude. I was fairly new to blogging at that point, so I did it. Now, I would never. These days, I decline requests like that. Luckily, all of the authors I’ve worked with recently have been wonderful. As long as the author comes across as reasonable and nice when they send me a request (and it’s a book I think I’ll like), I’m happy to help out.
It all comes down to the luck of the draw
You’re never guaranteed an ARC of anything. Even if you’re the biggest book blog in the world with thousands of followers, sometimes publishers run out of advance copies or are looking for something different. The best things you can do are just keep asking and stay on top of it. Once the publisher, website, or company hits their quota, you’re out of luck! If you check on a regular basis and hit that request button right away, you’re more likely to get approved than if you place the request a couple days before publication.
Do you have any tips for finding ARCs? What’s your favorite source?