The ARC Dilemma

Does anyone read formal book reviews anymore?  Those thoughtful, usually well-written reviews published in newspapers and magazines?  We’re all so busy on Twitter, Instagram, Reddit, Booktube, etc., that who has time? Well, I do, but I read only a few reviews every week.  And, I admit, I stick to archaic blogs for my social media.

Still, I do enjoy Goodreads, and I read consumer reviews, mainly because I like old books nobody bothers with anymore. If we want to know what people think of Walter de la Mare’s Memoirs of a Midget, we try Goodreads.  One consumer reviewer says the only two characters he has ever missed after finishing a book are Don Quixote and Miss M., the narrator of Memoirs of a Midget.  Another indignantly protests the use of the word “midget” in the title, but then says he adores the book.  It’s the “apology” method of reviewing.  (“I apologize for all the political incorrectness of all books written in other centuries.”)

New books demand reviews, old books demand remarks. That’s my theory.  Mind you, I prefer writing remarks, so that’s my thing.

This winter, however, I got carried away at Netgalley, a site where publishers make new books available to readers, bloggers, and reviewers.  (You request them and see if they’ll grant your wish.)  Publishers tend to be generous.  And that’s why I have many new books on my “screens”–but how can I possibly read them all?

Some of them are very good, others not so good.  But one shouldn’t get carried away with ARCs (Advance Review Copies), since they do deflect from reading the classics and other old books. And then one’s blog gets skewed.  I’ve seen blogs change because the blogger becomes a slave to review copies.  It’s never a positive thing. 

Then other thing is:  I don’t really know when to run my reviews (or my remarks).  My assumption has always been that one waits till the book is officially published, and, in case you don’t know,  new books always come out on a Tuesday.  

Netgalley, however, has different rules.  There are publication dates for the books, and there are archive dates.  I haven’t the faintest idea what an archive date is, but it sounds as though I should have done my homework by then, doesn’t it?  

For instance, Anne Enright’s Actress is officially published on March 3, but the archive date is (was) Feb. 29.  So I posted my review/remarks on Feb. 29, and it already felt too late, because I’d seen reviews popping up at The Washington post and many British publications.  So it’s a dilemma.

Years ago, a bookstore owner told me that nothing killed a book like an early review.  The readers read the review, look for the book, which the booksellers are not allowed to put out till the publication date, and the sale is lost. By the time the book is on the shelves, the reader has forgotten about it.  Nowadays you can “pre-order” the book, of course.   But all is confusion.

It’s a complicated world of books.  Who understands it?

8 thoughts on “The ARC Dilemma”

  1. I do. Read formal book reviews in good magazines, periodicals (like LRB, TLS, NYRB &c). Yes sometimes reading a review can substitute for a book but equally if the experience is truly conveyed and the themes explicated and made truly interesting, I do want to read the book as the review is only an intelligent “trailer.” For myself I am usually belated: I can’t keep up with fashions but if once in a while I’m writing a review or essay-blog on a recent or new book, I don’t pay attention to sales. I’m not writing to increase any one’s profit. Not even the writer – I am writing perhaps to increase respect and admiration for the author if the book or film merits that.

    1. I do love book reviews. So many great books I’ve learned about from book reviews! I don’t mean reviewers should try to “sell” books; what I meant is that the books used to lose their audience if the reviews were published before the publication date, because the books cannot be sold until that date (an agreement the bookseller makes with the bookselelr). And so bookstores and writers missed out on sales, because readers had forgotten the review and the title by the time the books were available. I imagine this still affects bookstores and readers today. The lines are fuzzier, though, because of pre-ordering online.

  2. If I’m looking for a review of a specific book I usually check Amazon, but otherwise the other reviews I read are all on blogs. I tend to schedule reviews for the few ARCs I get, a week or so before publication date. The idea of an early review I suppose is to build up some buzz so that we keep hearing about that book, then when it’s finally released it feels like a must-read.

    1. Blogs do provide a breadth of books–some that don’t get reviewed in the mainstream, others those old books I enjoy traditional reviews, too, but in the age of paper I tended to read more of them. Now I have to CLICK! Yes, it makes perfect sense what you say about ARCs. The publishers must WANT early reviews from bloggers. I’m very glad you mentioned this, because I’m often confused by the multitude of dates due!

      1. Also, I think the archive date is probably the last date you can download the ARC to read, after you have been approved for it (but no one has explained to me either so I could be wrong!)

  3. Well, yes, I do read published reviews because I also write them (besides on BIP, I mean) so I hope there are still other bookish folks out there who enjoy them as much as I and you and some of your other bookish visitors do! And I agree with the frustration of having read about a book that I cannot source (through the library – which usually means putting my name on a list while the book is still in limbo somehow – or otherwise). Also agree with the sense of delight that can follow a search online for a relatively obscure book – there’s nearly always an image or some commentary that fits with what you were seeking!

    1. Yes, the obscure books live on on the internet! I’m sure the readers of reviews these days do know the ins and outs of making lists, since there are so many kinds of reviews to choose from, many pre-pub. I need to carry my list with me everywhere! But it is surprising how easily we can look something up even if we remember hardly anything except it has a red cover. (But I refuse to ask the bookseller to find me. a book about which I only know the cover is red!)

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