DISCUSSION: The downsides of ARCs (and why we should talk about them more)

Hi all, today I’m doing my first discussion post in a really long time. This was sparked by some discussions that were had on twitter recently and I wanted to write something up. Today we’re talking about the downside of ARCs. In the community, ARCs are often seen as unicorn items and receiving them can be seen to the larger blogosphere as an endorsement and validation by publishers that you’re platform is GOOD. While it can be this, there are a lot more elements that play into that. For example, international bloggers with really large platforms can have a harder time getting an ARC than an American with a smaller one! So there’s a lot more complexity to the issue then I think people think there is.

But today I’m gonna talk about the downside of ARCs, because I feel hardly anyone ever does. ARCs are seen as this massive privilege and they ARE. I am so grateful to every author and publisher who has sent me an arc in my time as a blogger. But just because something is great doesn’t mean it’s perfect and the whole ARC exchange process has lots of flaws. I’m going to talk about those today. No one ever talks about the flaws. I think it’s unfair, I think people should be more transparent and romanticise this process a little less. It makes the ARC process seem much more magical and than it is, when oftentimes requesting and getting an arc can be a massive anxiety inducing episode.

I’m going to stop blabbing on and get into it, but I really want to reiterate again. This is not me saying ARCs are inherently bad and I wish I had never got one, this is me saying as great as ARCs are, there are some downsides. And we should talk about them.

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so what ARE the downsides of getting ARCs?

1: Getting reviews up on time is really stressful

If you’ve ever had an ARC, you’ll know there is quite a lot of work that goes into reading and reviewing them. There is an obligation to the publisher to perform the service you said you would in exchange for the book. On top of this, it feels like there is a lot of pressure to review on time and at the right points in marketing so the publisher will want to work with you again. All these requirements and pressures to read and review on time are stressful, especially if you have limited time to blog, are super busy, or something happens like you fall into a reading slump.

2: Sometimes you don’t like the book

This is one of the worst things about requesting ARCs. Sometimes you don’t like the book and you don’t know what to do next. Even not LOVING the book can be awkward. You wanna be honest in your review, but you also don’t want to damage your relationship with a publisher. It’s very hard to find the balance between being honest and being respectful to the publisher, and I feel uncomfortable everytime I have to submit a less than stellar review to a publisher, even though they probably don’t care that much.

3: Reviews take ages to write

I know there are some gods who can smash out reviews, but I think for a lot of us they take TIME. Sometimes it can honestly take me weeks to mull over a review and nail down exactly what I want to say. Even easier reviews can still take a few hours, plus you need to make graphics and schedule the post and everything. There’s nothing worse than knowing you need to review an ARC but feeling like it’s a chore because you don’t have time or motivation to do it.

4: You need to analyse the books a lot more and it can be less enjoyable

When reading an ARC, I always think I need to pay a lot more attention. Things like names, events and plot points won’t be available in other peoples reviews to refresh me because … the book isn’t out! Plus you have an ARC to spread the word about the book so you need to be specific. This means taking more notes and that can take you out of the story. I often reread ARCs a second time after they’re published so I can just relax and enjoy them without having to think about them as much.

5: Publishers can be scary to communicate with

This is one of the worst things about ARCs for me because I hate emailing. Publishers are scary! They’re professionals, often a lot older than the blogger, and they don’t have time to be coddling, although they should always be polite. Finding the contact for an ARC can be incredibly difficult when you’re an international blogger, and then crafting an email and sending it takes a lot of bravery. Working up to it can be really hard and waiting for a reply can cause a lot of anxiety. Plus the rejection letters you sometimes get are soul crushing and it can be hard to acknowledge them rejecting you doesn’t mean your blog is trash.

6: There’s a lot of expectation and not much compensation

Although you get the book as compensation for your time, books don’t pa bills. Hours of work can go into a post you’re pretty much not compensated for. Plus, the publishers themselves can be really uncaring and most don’t ever recognise you’ve posted a review or reply to your emails after receiving the book.

7: ARC formats are often really poor quality

I feel like this is something you don’t realise until you get an arc. They’re … terrible quality. My first physical arc had pages so roughly cut on the edges I had papercuts all over my fingers. The edges literally weren’t even straight, they were jagged from the press. When you get an eARC, the format is sometimes unreadable. Sometimes you get sent a pdf and you can’t even do anything about it. It also is another reason why reading arcs isn’t always enjoyable. Sometimes its impossible to read the words because of the format.

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So why does no one talk about this?

 

1: Fear of “rocking the boat”

I think most people really value the relationships they’ve managed to make with publishers. It takes a lot of time and effort and no one wants to seem ungrateful. I think it is a wonderful oppurtunity and I am incredibly grateful and proud of every ARC I have received … but that doesn’t mean it’s an entirely 100% positive no flaw system either. But no one ever seems to want to talk about it, and whenever someone does they are seen as very radical and ungrateful. I am pretty nervous to post this today because I know there is often backlash associated with pointing out flaws in publishing.

2: An unequal power relationship between bloggers and publishers

Think about this: almost all of the YA marketing of new books is done by unpaid teenagers on laptops, who make zero money from the publisher, from ads/views and for the work. It is actually wild to think this industry is running because it capitalises off of unpaid labour. And yes, the product counts as payment but if you think about the time it takes to read a book and review it versus the cost of a book, well bloggers are getting paid well below minimum wage. Publishers don’t even reblog ARC review posts 99% of the time, even though it would take five seconds and give the blogger some well earned exposure. In summation: publishers create this relationship where it feels like the bloggers are considered worthless to the publishers. Yes, they give us the ARC, but they do not recognise us in any serious capacity. There is this perception a blogger should be grateful to get an ARC, which they should, but it’s also worth noting it is actually the BLOGGER who is providing a (free) service to a publisher. So this perception that the publisher is so far above the blogger in terms of value and status is kinda .. messed up. When you think about it. But because there is such a heavy insistence we just be grateful a publisher has NOTICED US no one says anything

3: Feels like nothing will ever change

What is the point in making a scene when nothing will ever change? Realistically there have been bloggers who have stood up and said they’ve had enough, and all it’s meant is they don’t get arcs and publishers find someone else. There will always be someone else willing to do it for free and publishers know that. So what is the point in saying or doing anything?

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why should we talk about it?

1: Bloggers deserve to be more adequately compensated

At the end of the day, bloggers are providing a much needed service to publishers. The amount of unpaid labour that goes into blogs is astounding and generally nothing is received in return. Not even a retweet or an email reply. Even the products themselves can be terrible quality and although reading a book before release is amazing and a great oppurtunity, it still doesn’t really make up for how much publishers exploit bloggers time and labour.

2: Romanticising publishing stops peoples voices being heard

I love books and I’d love to work in publishing but we need to recognise publishing is not on a moral high ground. At the end of the day it is still an industry that wants to make money and takes advantage of people frequently. I’ve seen publishers do some really horrible things to teens, one incident that springs to mind is a case where a teenage blogger was accidentally sent an email thread between two publicists that was just a reply thread of the publishers calling the blogger annoying and badmouthing them in other ways. If we as a community don’t stand up and recognise that publishers can and DO do some shady stuff, people who have had bad experiences will never be able to talk about them.

3: Lots of bloggers are teenagers who collectively deserve better

The thing about bloggers is most of us are unprofessional, have other jobs/things going on and only do blogging for fun. The professional expectations placed on non professionals and often minors is very unfair and an imbalance of power. We need to talk about and recognise things so that we can collectively make a stand if we desire. Lots of teenagers do publishers jobs for free and so I think the lots of people doing that should evaluate their relationship with publishers and whether they really see the labour they perform an equal labour exchange.

4: We need to stop giving people unrealistic expectations

Sometimes you look at bloggers and it seems like they have it all. All these ARCs and publishers paying attention to them. But the reality is lots of bloggers are killing themselves when it comes to ARCs. The process of reviewing them can be so stressful and difficult and not as breezy as it seems. We see people opening brand new books from publishers but we don’t see the anxiety that went into sending the request, the time that went into contacting the publisher, and then the complete lack of attention toward the blogger after the book is sent. I absolutely think people who want ARCs should request them, but when I started doing it I didn’t fully understand what you’re signing yourself up for and more people should get an idea of it.

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That is my post for today. I’m very worried about this discussion. I’m worried people are going to take this as me moaning from a position of great luck and privilege. I understand I am very, very lucky to have received free arcs and worked with publishers because not everyone gets that chance. But at the same time, I wanted to recognise that having the luck to receive an arc isn’t a smooth sailing process. And as lucky as those of us with ARCs are, publishers are still collectively taking advantage of a free system of labour where they put in minimum effort for maximum reward.

I hope this discussion post shed some light on the downside of ARCs and I would love to hear your thoughts in the comments.

until next time!

xo jamieson