Review-Copy Wrangling

Anya from On Starships and Dragonwings recently posted about personal policies on requesting review copies, and how reviewers handle TBR pile explosions. (Not literal ones, thankfully, because I cringe at the thought of all those ruined books!) Everyone’s got their own ways of handling the review copies they request, and with varying degrees of success in keeping the backlog under control.

What are my policies for this? Erm… I don’t really have any.

Some people will limit themselves to a specific number of books they request each month. Others are a bit more lenient and will only go with author’s they’ve already read and are likely to read again, or series they’ve started, or whatever just sounds interesting. I’m more in the latter camp than any of the former ones, but even so, not nearly as much as I used to be.

My requesting habits used to be the same as my book-buying habits: if I thought I might read it some day, I’d request it. This is not only the reason I ended up with the To Read Pile of Doom, but also the reason I spent time with a very confused expression on my face when I culled my personal library before moving. Why in hell did I still have that 1970s book on psychic phenomena? And did I really need books 2 and 3 of a series I was really only keeping around in case I found book 1, and even then wasn’t hugely likely to read? I had a lot of books that I kept around in what I essentially thought of as my technocalypse collection. If the world as I knew it changed and the only books I’d ever have access to again were the ones I already had, then sure, I’d totally read all those random things on my bookshelves.

But likely not unless that happened.

As time went on and I started establishing myself more as a book reviewer, I quickly realised that my review copies were growing out of control. I had books around that I knew I wasn’t likely to read any time soon, if ever. I knew I had to cut back on requests, and so I did.

But sites like NetGalley make review copies both awesome and daunting. Awesome, because for people like me who are so socially anxious they don’t like to actually approach anyone directly and request review copies, being able to do the equivalent at an impersonal click of a button is a real relief. Daunting, because it’s easy to lose control and end up with too much on your pile. It’s just a click here, a click there, and before you know it you’ve requested 30 books over the last 6 months and there’s no way you can review everything by the release date, and even if you could you know very well that there are more books coming out soon that you want to read…

Rinse and repeat.

It’s an easy cycle to fall into. I should know. I fell.

That’s why I have a ridiculous amount of books in my backlog, and those are just the books I’ve received for review. That’s not even counting the books I’ve bought, or any books I may find at the library, or hell, books I’ll steal borrow from my roommate. I had that vague worry in my head before, that I’d have nothing to read unless I hoarded books, chipmunk-style. I have no such worries now. Pretty sure that, all things considered, if I didn’t get another book as of this moment, and I never reread another book, I’d still have enough stuff to last me another 5 years at my current reading rate. Maybe more.

Pretty sure I don’t need to worry about being left in the lurch.

So why don’t I restrict myself when it comes to review requests? Well, I sort of do. I just don’t have an official policy of it. It’s flexible. If a month passes where I see nothing I particularly want to request, I don’t request anything. If next month comes along and aw crap, there’s over 10 books I want to read that are available for request, then I request those 10.

I limit myself to what I think I’m likely to read and to enjoy reading. This does, unfortunately, result in me missing some books. Some very good books. Books I really wanted, and in some cases still actively want. But I knew at the time I could request them that I wasn’t likely to get around to them in a timely fashion, so they went unrequested.

Has this helped? Well, sort of. It’s slowed down the growth of the backlog. It hasn’t stopped it from growing. It just grows more slowly. And I do try to fit in books from the backlog when I can. If nothing is upcoming that needs my attention, then I choose a book from the backlog and reduce it by a fraction of a percent. It’s not the best system, but I figure it’s a nice halfway point between limiting myself to a specific number and not missing out on too much.

From my experience, this is a problem that seems pretty much universal for book bloggers. We all have our problems with the number of books we have around. Whether that manifests by needing to buy another book case or not having anymore room on an e-reader, we all know what it’s like to have too many books that need our attention. We joke that there’s no such thing as too many books, and maybe in a long-term sense that’s very true, but we don’t work in the long-term. Though we might not realise it, book bloggers largely focus on short-term things. Books coming out soon, or books that have come out recently. Most of us try to also deal with books that have been out for years, because there are some treasures that deserve attention even if they’re not brand new and shiny, but for the most part, short-term is our thing. And when you take a look and realise that you’ve got 10 books to read, all of which are coming out in the next 2 weeks, that short-term focus becomes the bane of blogging. We want to read those 10 books. We will get them read. We just can’t get them read on that time limit.

Which is fine if that only happens once. You catch up. No big deal. But then it happens again. And again. And again.

This is why we impose limits on ourselves. We nearly always don’t bother at first. I think a lot of us are seduced by the amazing appeal of finding out that people will give us free books in exchange for reading and talking about them. And to an avid reader, there can be no harm in that. Until the crunch hits and we learn that we’ve taken on more than we can handle.

Most publishers and authors know that when they send us books, we may or may not be able to get around to them. It looks like we will, right up until we find more books in our mailbox, and we have to shuffle some priorities. It happens. Everybody knows it happens. But trying to find the right balance and to follow through on a decent number of review copies is essential to building a book relationship with authors and publishers.

I’ve been public about a lot of my review copy figures and statistics. I do have well over 100 books that technically, I did request that I probably won’t end up reviewing now, because I requested those books early on in my reviewing career and now those books no longer appeal to me. I’ve been up front when I say that yeah, I usually only end up reading about 1/3 to 1/2 of the books I receive, and even though I’m trying to aim for the higher end of those percentages, I can’t make any guarantees. Between unsolicited awesomeness arriving in the mail and finding must-haves on Netgalley and Edelweiss, sometimes my priorities get switched around and certain books end up on the back burner rather than on the front lines. Even knowing this, it hasn’t yet resulted in anyone going, “Ugh, there’s no point in taking a chance on this one.” I wouldn’t consider it a particularly good average, but I guess nobody’s really saying it’s particularly bad, either.

At the end of all this, I guess my point is that everyone has different ways of handling the overload, and no one way it utterly foolproof and without drawbacks. My way still results in times where I can’t keep up with the books I have coming to me (though far less than before). Other ways result in people missing out on books they would have enjoyed.

Do you have a particular way to defend against ARC overload? How’s it working out? Let me know in the comments!

13 comments on “Review-Copy Wrangling

  1. I think all book bloggers have this problem at one point or another. I am getting better about reading request books, but there are still books I just never get to, especially on NG and Edelweiss. I try to use the same rule I use for buying things I want: if I REALLY want something, I make myself wait a day or two, and if I still want it, I figure it’s worth the purchase. Same goes for review books. I allow some time to think it over instead of making a spur of the moment decision.

    • Heh, I can’t use book-buying logic to requesting, because half the time it’s possible for me to request anything, I’ve already been lusting over the book for at least a month! :p

  2. It’s so difficult…I’ve quit requesting unless it is something I would have read anyways or I have less than three pending I agreed to review, but keys just say I don’t always keep to my own rules…

  3. At the end of last year I went through all those I hadn’t had time to read on NetGalley and sent feedback saying, sorry, didn’t get around to it. Disappointing, but freeing, and I reckon at this point they’d prefer me to review their new stuff. I’ve long since asked publishers to stop sending us print books, they’re just too random and I only ever read a tenth of them at best.

    • I did a massive “sorry I couldn’t/didn’t review this” a while back, after my first ereader kicked the bucket. I lost a lot of files, and with many of them archived at the time, I felt the need to apologize and explain why I wouldn’t end up posting a review. Ditto for books on NetGalley that only allowed download options in formats that didn’t work with the e-reader I had at that time.

      I don’t get many unsolicited print books, which is nice, and about 75% of the unsolicited ones I do get are ones that make me squee with delight because whoever sent them knows me well enough to judge my tastes.

  4. I’ve definitely had this problem (and to an extent still having this problem). NetGalley is especially dangerous for the reasons you cited; they make requesting so easy and relatively pressure-free, and during the early days I fell behind on my review books because of taking on too many. Now I’ve become a lot more careful on there, requesting only the must-read books on my list and their suggestion of maintaining an 80% feedback rate has also helped. I try to maintain 90% to further control myself, and so far it’s been an excellent way to keep my to-be-reviewed pile manageable.

    • Oh man, the day I can achieve even an 80% rating on NG. Right now mine’s hovering around 25%. And I’m not proud of that. I’d be happy even if I got to 30%, really, and I’m trying to make it that far. Doesn’t help that many of the books I’ve been reading lately are ones I didn’t get from NG, so while I’m still making dents in my review backlog, on that side of things it looks like I’m doing nothing at all.

      I’ve cut way back on requests there, though, for that very reason. Most of what I get now through NetGalley are books in series I’ve already started, books from authors I already know and like, or books from major publishers who I’ve worked with in the past. And even then I’m turning down a lot of books I suspect I’d enjoy reading but I just can’t justify requesting, since I have so much else on my plate.

  5. I’m in the flailing stage right now – how did I ever think I could read that many books? – but some stricter organization and some very understanding publicists are helping me get a handle on the pile. :D

    • Thank goodness for understanding publicists! If it wasn’t for them, I’d probably be turned down for every book I request these days!

      I guess it helps that even though I have a lot of my backlog, my blog still updates regularly, and primarily with reviews, so if anyone looks into who I am, they can see that I’m still doing stuff and I’m not just requesting every book just for the hell of it. (Though how many people actually look at my blog before accepting or rejecting a request, I have no idea.)

      • Right?? They really are the best.

        You keep a very active presence on your blog, which probably makes all the difference. And while I have no idea how the vetting process for ARCs goes (since I’m sure it varies on a case-by-case basis) I’m sure that people are checking out your blog to make sure you’re a good fit for the title you’re requesting. That just makes good business sense.

  6. I completely understand that impulse to get books in case books become unbuyable in the future! I used to be the same way when it came to buying and then did a major culling and am now trying to be much better about only buying books I’ve already read and loved and otherwise borrowing them from the library. I’m so glad my post inspired you!

  7. Pingback: June in Retrospect | Bibliotropic

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