The single most common question I get asked by friends, followers and other bloggers is where I get all those ARCs. (What are ARCs? They are Advance Review Copies of forthcoming books, also termed galleys, or galley proofs. They are not the fully finished product but are pretty close to the final edit of a book.) So where do I get them? The answer is not simple because there is no fast and easy solution to getting Advance Reader Copies of the books you most want to read.
It's taken a while (read: several years) and plenty of real work to get to the point where I get a fair number of ARCs from publishers and authors. Sometimes, I am lucky to get paper ARCs from friends who have obtained them at Cons, or who give me books they have received and reviewed themselves. (Likewise, I try to share my paper ARCs.) If you want to receive ARCs directly from publishers, other than those won in the occasional giveaway win, one thing that is clear is that you MUST have a blog. You can get lucky every once in a while at various comic or book conventions, where publishers will hand out ARC copies. You can also develop friendly relationships with authors, though, at the end of the day, authors have a pretty limited number of books to share with dedicated fans and prospective reviewers. It's important to remember the whole reason why ARCs are given out: the point of an ARC is to generate interest in a book, preferably through good reviews. Sometimes even just seeing on social media that a book is currently being read is good publicity in itself. What are most publishers and authors looking for in a reviewer?
What Kind of Reviewer Are You?
There are several categories of reviewers that publishers are interested in. While Consumer Reviewers, who post reviews on sites like Goodreads and Amazon are wonderful, from a publisher's perspective you're a single person and hoping that you will get plenty of people seeing your (hopefully) positive review is not hoping for a high probability event. The publisher wants to sell books. Big time authors already have many readers and a certain expectation of sales. Your review will likely be lost in a jumble of many reviewers on these commercial sites. They want a reviewer with a wide enough audience to boost those sales. Small time authors and Indie writers may have fewer readers and fewer reviewers but how are people even going to know to start looking for that lesser-known author? Enter the blogger.
Blogging, if it's done on a reasonable scale, assumes that you have a following. That following (and why I and every other blogger are continually pestering you to Like and Follow and Friend) is crucial to your being able to broadcast and provide what is essentially free publicity for a publisher and author. And so, when you join an ARC service, they don't want to know about why you read, how much you love reading, or about how shiny and new your blog is. They want numbers. They want to know how many followers you have and how far your reach is and what number of impressions you make on Facebook and Twitter and every social platform you're on and you better be on many. Add your all followers up. What's your total following? If it's less than 1,000, many major publishing houses may not even give you a second look. Some, like Penguin, want a total following in excess of 5,000 followers!
If you don't have a blog, another "in" for getting popular ARCs may be if you are a librarian or library page who is a member of the American Library Association (you have to give them your ALA number in some cases), or if you are a Bookseller or work for a Bookseller who is a member of the Bookseller Association. The obvious goal with these potential reviewers is that they buy books on a larger scale. They order for libraries, they stock shelves in bookstores, they steer readers to books and those readers may end up buying.
So what are your options for acquiring ARCs? You can try to contact individual publishers requesting review copies but most bloggers start with an online galley service. We can break down several online galley or proof providers, including NetGalley, Edelweiss, First to Read and Blogging for Books.
My single largest source for ARCs is NetGalley. And I'm not even just talking about ebook ARCs. Once you have an established a relationship with a publisher, sometimes they don't just give you the eBook, sometimes they send you the paper copy, too! I have been reviewing on NetGalley since late 2014 and have received well over 150 books from publishers using their site. When you first sign up for NetGalley you may get some highly coveted books to convince you that NetGalley is best thing ever. And then, especially if you do not have a blog, the supply line dries up and you can receive a long string of rejections, especially from major publishers. NetGalley is the service that sees the most ARCs, a wide membership and as a result the publishers are very stringent about your numbers. If you have been on NetGalley a while and don't have a huge blog following (in the thousands), you're not going to get all the best books. And if you don't have a high percentage of feedback (i.e. reviews) sent to the publisher and posted online all over the place, you're possibly not going to get a lot of books, either. They recommend you keep your percentage at about 80% feedback given for galley's granted. I try to keep mine at 85% or higher. At all times. Permanently. If I drop below 85% I will pick up a quick book or two to get it back up above the 85% feedback rating. I want publishers to think I'm a good risk to take. I'd also suggest you develop your NetGalley profile carefully. Remember: you are talking to a publisher about what you are bringing to the table: your followers, your review policy, your syndication, and listing each of your platforms for talking about books. That's right, you want to list every social media and blogging platform on which you talk about books and syndicate your reviews. And you are going to include those review URLs in every review that you send to the publisher through NetGalley.
There are some easy tricks for building a track record with NetGalley, which I'm happy to share. First, it's important to remember you don't have to review only in your favorite genres. NetGalley has a Read Now section from which you can read any books without waiting for approval. Check it out. Sometimes, even if they are from smaller press firms, you can find some good books here. Go ahead and review even if it's not your favorite genre. A publisher of your favorite genre is not likely to look through your actual review habits on NetGalley as much as they are likely to look at your profile stats (that feedback percentage!), and check to see that you have a blog that updates fairly often.
A second piece of advice? If you feel like you can review children's books appropriately, they are short and a very fast way to turn over reviews. Thankfully, most are also pretty good. I've read one or two terrible ones in my days as a reviewer but it's a rarity. (I actually adore children's books. I've never stopped loving illustrations and have many of the children's books my children and I read together and virtually all of my children's books from childhood.)
You can also review lifestyle books, photography books, cookbooks, self-help books and the list goes on. All these things will build the number of reviews written and help you with starting to learn how to review what's important about a book. It's also important to remember that if life overwhelms you, and you get backlogged, you can always put up a review later (past publication and even past archive date) to resume adding to your feedback stats. Look carefully through your virtual shelves on NetGalley. That "Not Active" shelf also has a record of things you didn't get to. But it's not too late! You can still add feedback and have it count. Review as much as you can. Keep your stats up. Develop a clear and direct profile that tells publishers why they should hand you their book. You're ready to read and review!
Edelweiss, or Above the Treeline, is another ARC service that can gain you access to forthcoming books from major publishers. Unlike NetGalley, you won't find a lot of small press companies mixed in along with the major publishing houses. You also won't find publishers targeting Australia, Great Britain, and New Zealand. I have found that quite a few books I'm interested in are never even listed here. Turned down for the GB/AUS/NZ-targeted release of Zoe Gilbert's Folk by Bloomsbury UK, I trotted over to Edelweiss.Plus to see if I could find it there. It is not even listed, even though it releases in the USA in February 2018 under Bloomsbury's US press. Not even listed! (Tell me that Bloomsbury US isn't a major publisher?!) This is the mystery of Edelweiss. But I still love them. I find that I rarely get declined. (Mind you I do have a fair-size following I can quote) One thing I like about Edelweiss is that they want to know why you want this ARC from Edelweiss. Do you like the author, have a particular interest in the topic? A recent example? I requested the book Heart Berries by Terese Marie Mailhot. The reason? I have family that lives in the Pacific Northwest, love British Columbia and have an interest in First Nations people/tribes and colonialism. Got approved.
Edelweiss also has a Read Now section from which you can choose from a wide variety of books of various genres. Take time to build your review history here. Again, children's books, lifestyle books, you can choose books on which you can provide quality, meaningful reviews for and build your profile.
One additional bit of advice that I can suggest about Edelweiss is that, unlike NetGalley, you can interact with the site and leave reviews for books that have already been published, books on which you were declined, and books that you received from NetGalley but want to let the publisher here on Edelweiss know you have read and reviewed. I encourage you to leave reviews and even to sometimes request books that you want on both sites. I have a few double approvals but basically, by posting the review of a galley you got someplace else, you are signaling interest as a serious reviewer.
Blogging for Books is another site, affiliated with Crown Publishing, a division of Penguin Random House, that lets you have a look at forthcoming or recently published books. Needless to say, as it says in the title, to join, you're a blogger. Every month they have a selection of featured books that you can select from. With Blogging for Books, you are limited to initially selecting one book (likely to be a paper book) that they will send you. You post a review and then may select a new book. Still, it's a free book, and you get to select something you think you might like. You build a record of reviews just as on the other sites. One benefit of receiving the paper copy of a book is that some publishers may allow you to give the copy to another blogger to review or give it to one of your followers. It is really important to read the accompanying information on that paper book. Some publishers do not allow you to give the a paper galley book to a third party. They clearly state that the book remains the property of the publisher and that it may not be loaned, given away or especially not sold (that's most ARCs). Blogging for Books may seem like a slow road, but it does have you reviewing and establishing a record with a publisher. It's worth it.
First to Read is a book service from Penguin Random House. They too have featured books on offer in various genres. You can select one of their featured titles and provide a review. You earn points for setting up an account, connecting on Twitter and Facebook and for providing reviews. As with all the other services above, you have to produce results in order to get further benefits.
This is a free book service for largely self-published books. Easy to use but not a wide selection and possibly not the best quality of books. I have never used this service.
ARC Giveaway Resources
- Be sure to look at ARC giveaways on Goodreads and other websites, including blogs.
- Join the Facebook group for your favorite author. Sometimes they have giveaways.
- Follow your favorite author's blog and join their Patreon, if they have one. Many authors give away ARCs. At least one of my favorite authors offers ARC copies for a certain level of Patreon support.
Thoughts on Blogging Partnerships
If you're lucky to have one or two blogging partners, you can (if the publisher permits it) share your paper ARCs. It's in the spirit of an ARC to try to help an author gain more positive early reviews, which promote pre-orders, which in turn are important for the first week sales numbers. Clearly you would be partnering with a blogger that enjoys similar genres. Sharing ARCs with another blogger is a cooperative arrangement that benefits you both. Being able to discuss issues with particular books, having a sounding board for books you love but can't post a review for just yet, or for discussing books that soooo disappointed you, is invaluable. The only time caution is in order when sharing books is if a printed ARC is specifically labeled to indicate that it cannot be given to a third party. Thus far, the only one I've seen of those was Catherynne Valente's most recent release. I have no idea how a publisher may keep track of an ARC (a topic some of my blogger buddies and I have debated), but caution is in order. Ruining your relationship with a publisher of an author you love simply isn't worth the risk.
So now you know how to get ARCs! Build your review cred, and you'll get them, too!