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Big Pubs Limiting ARCs: Thoughts on Reviews

Recently, I’ve read rumblings of big publishers limiting the number of Advanced Reader Copies to go out, and at first, it sounded off, particularly when it came to digital copies. I mulled it and let my subconscious work its slapdash magic.

It hit me eventually, this was the right move. It doesn’t make sense for the big publishers to offer ARCs to just anybody.


It doesn’t even make sense for indie publishers to send ARCs to just anybody.


I know, we’ve all heard the cry of a X reviews equals Amazon benefits and X reviews equals more eyes, but I call full bullshit on one (every time I see someone say they've finally reached the imagined amount to get on some Amazon newsletter—who gets Amazon newsletters? I certainly never have—they say something like maybe it’s actually 50 or 100 or 500) and I call some bullshit on the second.

Now to scroll to the beginning, who can start a blog and review books?

What education does a reviewer need offer to demand free books?

What level of knowledge in genre or general writing does a reviewer need to prove?

What charisma or gimmick do they offer their social media followers that promises any return for attention?

What kind of standing does any old reviewer have in the community?

How will they prove their value?

The answers to these questions are probably pretty obvious once you do some research. Prior to releasing HARDENED HEARTS, I assumed every review was worth the price, but back then, I was only seeing worthwhile blogs, back then Amazon wasn’t culling certain types of reviews in order to prevent fraud, and back then I just wasn’t thinking about it enough to see the truth.

There are pretty much three people who review books more than occasionally (so I'm not including the occasional folks):

Firstly, there’s a crowd that loves the idea of a blog and the endorphins offered by an assumed audience paying attention, they love free stuff, like books, and will review parts of a book to get the posts up and the potential clicks for their Google AdWords bars. These reviewers are much like Russian Twitter bots; they pick points, the same points, discuss vaguely, and then move on. These reviews usually cost money, above giving away a book (digital or physical). They often have high-numbered followings on Twitter, but appear mostly of the follow-back crowd which are essentially worthless numbers. I assume these are the ones the big publishers and Amazon want nothing to do with, they don’t drive sales and offer nothing original.

Secondly, there’s a crowd who are flat broke, but they love books, love the genres they review, give honest, thoughtful reviews, know stories and writing, spend time and money (on websites) for no reason but to prove a worthwhile exchange for the books they’ve received. They have moderate followings, do extra, give what they have to give, but maybe don’t have the kind of brand gimmick, personality, interest in reach that brings in huge eyeball numbers. They’re respected reviewers in the community because they don’t bullshit for personal gain. These folks are still often left out of the loop when it comes to big publisher ARCs (Unnerving falls in here sometimes), but are cool with Amazon.

Thirdly, there’s a small crowd of all-stars. They all have blogs (or are part of review site with many reviewers), but they also do more than just review, some run podcasts, videos, giveaways. They love books. They love the genres they swim in. They buy as many books as they get for free, or more. They have a following. Their words are trusted and worth whatever they cost. Big publishers, little publishers, self-publishers, Amazon, EVERYBODY loves these people.

Now, what does each level really mean for sales?

The first group means pretty much nothing. It’s nice to have a bunch of four and five star reviews, but don’t scratch beneath the surface too far. They don’t convince people to buy, they’re numbers on a spreadsheet, things to share nobody will click on. If I see a book with 95% four-star or better reviews and no negative reviews, I assume bullshit and discount the entire lot (there are exceptions of course, but mostly, this is a reliable way to look at reviews).

The second group bring around as much as they reach. They convince friends and fans. Their reviews stand above most and do the tough labor on Goodreads and Amazon.

The third group does what the second can, but also can bring around otherwise unreachable folks, even non-readers thanks to cover art and whims when it comes to videos and Instagram. They convince fans, non-fans, genre-jumpers, and OTHER REVIEWERS to buy your book.

Of course there are grey areas. New bloggers need to start somewhere. Occasional folks, do what they can when they can, and are appreciated when sought out. I'm also not touching on the wonderful general public who are moved to review.

And as for independent publishers, authors published by independent publishers, and self-publishers, we all need reviews and sometimes to get any you have to absolutely scattershot and blow more than you hope to make back on a certain project. Sometimes you don’t care about return, it’s about a long-run of a business or career, and none of the above matters to you, but mostly that’s not it. It's about real, honest success and there are many paths to it (so I've heard, I don't know where the fuck they are).

So I get while the big houses are stingy. Not every review is worth the cost to every publisher/author. Books aren’t free to produce and not every two cents is worth the bucks.

For reference, here are some book reviewers/review sites who get my clicks. They’re passionate, interesting, original, or influential (some are all and more):

The Grim Reader (not often open for requests)

Sci-Fi & Scary (usually open, I think…)

Sadie Reads them All (not sure, ask her on Twitter maybe)

Cedar Hollow Horror Reviews (usually open)

B.L.U.R.B. (usually open)

HorrorTalk (open, many reviewers)

Ginger Nuts of Horror (usually open)

Char’s Horror Corner & Horror After Dark (open, I think…)

The Scary Reviews (not open to public request, I think)

Ex Libris The Eyes of Madness (not open now)

Kendall Reviews (physical ARCs only, I think)

The Ghastly Grimoire (open sometimes, not now)

I’m probably forgetting some, please remind me if I’ve forgotten you. Making lists ain’t my forte.

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