The Numbers Don’t Lie: I Should Read Fewer ARCs (Advance Readers Copies)

May 17, 2016 Stats 63

If you’ve been reading this blog at all regularly this year, you know I’ve haven’t had the greatest luck with my book selections. And, I feel like I’ve had especially terrible luck wth ARCs (Advance Reader’s Copies) compared to last year. But, I didn’t actually know that for sure. So, I decided to look at the actual numbers…

I should read fewer ARCs

Key Takeaways

Since we’re comparing unequal time periods, I’m going to talk strictly in percentages.

  • Over the past year and a half, less than half my ARC selections have been “successful”. While this isn’t great news, I thought that percentage would be even smaller based on how I’ve perceived my reading this year.
  • This year’s ARCs have been less successful than last year’s. But, I was surprised the differential wasn’t more than 8% because this year’s ARCs have felt much less successful than last year’s.
  • I’m DNFing a higher percentage of ARCs this year. DNFs are disheartening for me and contribute to the feeling of being in a reading slump, but I guess the silver lining is that I’m not wasting as much time finishing unsuccessful ARCs this year! I used to feel more of an obligation to stick it out for an ARC (as opposed to a book I purchased), but I’ve been gradually letting go of that pressure lately.

What does this mean for my reading decisions?

  • I should focus less on ARCs and more on free range reading (for those not in the book world, that just means reading whatever you want, whenever you want). Of the books I finished since January of 2015, just over half were ARCs (54% in 2016 as of 4/30 and 56% in 2015). Given less than half of my ARCs have been successful, ARCs should probably comprise less than half of my overall reading, right?! Sounds logical to me! Now I just have to resist the temptation to grab all the shiny, new books!
  • But, how can I make better selections for the ARCs I do choose to read? This year, I tried focusing on imprints that had been successful for me last year. I suspect this isn’t going as well as I’d hoped (but, I can’t be sure until I do my full imprints stats analysis at year-end), but I don’t think it’s due to the imprints. It could be because I’m picking books by perusing publishers’ catalogs much farther in advance of publication. Last year, I never really used the catalogs and waited until I heard about upcoming releases from other bloggers and media outlets. Maybe I should back off the catalogs a bit to allow myself to consider the opinions of other bloggers/reviewers I trust.
  • Don’t be afraid to DNF ARCs that aren’t working for me. I’ve made progress on this front, but should continue unshackling myself from that feeling of ARC obligation!

For other bloggers, have your ARCs been mostly successful this year? How do they compare to last year? How do you select ARCs? For all readers, how do you select your books to read (clearly, I need some fresh ideas!)?

63 Responses to “The Numbers Don’t Lie: I Should Read Fewer ARCs (Advance Readers Copies)”

  1. Meaghan

    I haven’t done a sophisticated analysis like yours (!), but I have been accepting fewer pitches (ARCs and otherwise) from publishers. I was never one to just take anything but I am becoming even more choosy in ones I agree to take a look at. I still get a few unsolicited ones, and I will give them a try, but they are at the bottom of the list. And I do a pretty thorough job of going through the catalogs of imprints I have had good luck with and / or have good rapport with the publicist. It has made for a less stressful few months and I can concentrate on writing more solid reviews.

  2. bermudaonion (Kathy)

    I found myself in a rut last year. I was reading quite a bit but wasn’t loving anything. At first, I thought it was the books and then I thought it was me. I’m still not sure what it was but have gotten out of it and am loving more books this year.

    • Sarah Dickinson

      I’m glad the tide has turned for you…that gives me some hope!

    • Sarah Dickinson

      Let me know what your numbers look like – I’m curious to see how they compare to mine!

      • Pat @ Posting For Now

        I don’t keep track of DNF but looked at books with 5 star reviews. I try to split my books 50-50 with books for review vs. books I select on my own. My own selections have a slight edge. ~60% of my five star books are ones I select on my own (2015: 7/12). My total no. is so low – that I would say it is pretty even between books I select on my own vs. books given to me for review.

  3. Carmen

    I try to steer away from vague blurbs such as those that say things like: “a brilliant novel about the human condition…”; if you can’t define it, then I don’t think I am going to waste time reading that novel. That said, I requested less ARCs this year than the year prior, which was my first on NetGalley. Still, I’m trying to read some of the ARCs from last year that I didn’t get to.

    • Sarah Dickinson

      Haha – I’ve definitely seen some blurbs like that! I feel like so many blurbs either give too much info or are super vague. It’s hard to find the right balance. But style is so important to me in whether or not I like a book and that can’t really be conveyed through a blurb, so they’re only so helpful for me.

  4. Aj @ Read All The Things!

    Interesting analysis. I don’t read ARCs because I feel more pressure when I read them. I feel like I have to finish them and review them. I enjoy books less when I’m pressured to read them. Sticking to already-published books has worked out well for my sanity.

    • Sarah Dickinson

      I hear you! I used to feel more pressure, but have just been letting go of that this year.

  5. Amanda

    I love how organized you are! I’m trying to be much faster to DNF anything I’m not enjoying this year. Whether its an ARC or not there comes a point when I realize I’m just starting to hate read and that’s rarely a good experience.

    I’m just trying to be much pickier when it comes to ARCs I select. Unless I really strongly want to review it based on the description – I’ll wait for the library. Or if it is an author I have loved before I autorequest.

    • Sarah Dickinson

      I’ve really started to internalize that having toddlers gives me limited reading time and ask myself why I am struggling through a book I’m not enjoying? That’s helped me DNF way more this year.

  6. Tara

    I LOVE your Piktochart, Sarah!! This is awesome! Okay, so, I’ve enjoyed most of my ARCs, so far, this year and have enjoyed (as in really wanted to finish) 15 out of the 20 that I’ve utilized. Having said that, I’ve been much more selective this year than last and I usually pick the book first and THEN see if I can get an ARC; otherwise, I just buy/borrow a copy. I read some excerpts and things like that to see if the book is interesting; I’ve given up on publisher’s/PR descriptions because they just rarely seem to pan out.

    • Sarah Dickinson

      Thank you! I pick the book before trying to get the ARC too, but I’ve been using blurbs. Maybe excerpts is the way to go – especially since style is a bigger factor in whether I’ll love a book than plot. Where do you get these excerpts?! So glad your ARCs have been working out this year!

      • Tara

        Same as you, I would imagine – from the BuzzBooks/Publisher’s Lunch selections that are put out seasonally, Amazon, Goodreads, etc.; I try to find anything I can before I make a decision, but there are certainly times when I just base it on the author or what the story sounds like. I really just hate the blurbs these days; they are often SO OFF THE MARK!

  7. Leah @ Books Speak Volumes

    I’ve also found that the earlier in advance of publication that I request books, the less likely I am to select books I wind up loving. Now I’m leaving the pioneering to other folks and just reading books I’ve already heard good things about. I’m in the middle of the biggest reading slump ever and have been sticking to backlist, but I’m looking forward to seeing how this plays out as my reading picks back up.

    • Sarah Dickinson

      I’m thinking I need to go that route too. This year is the earliest I’ve ever picked the ARCs I request and I think I need to leave some of the vetting to others. Luckily, Catherine vets some for me since she reads like 3x the number of books a month than I do! I hope the backlist can jumpstart your reading!!

  8. Lindsay

    For a long time I avoided ARCs because I didn’t want to get stuck in a rut of being forced to continue reading things I wasn’t really enjoying. But last year I signed up for NetGalley and read a book or two. And this spring I finally took the ARC plunge and requested several books. The ones I’ve read so far have ranged from decent to awesome, but I only requested books that had already caught my interest elsewhere.

    Anyway, I love your chart. Hope your reading year improves! 🙂

    • Sarah Dickinson

      That’s smart to only request books that have caught your interest elsewhere…that’s what I did the past two years and it worked pretty well. I think I need to go back to that.

  9. JoAnn @ Lakeside Musing

    So interesting! I love statistics, too. Over the past two years, I have cut way back on ARCs. Now I’m only allowing myself one at a time (most of the time). Plus I almost never request anything unless it is written by a favorite author or recommended by a trusted blogger. I seem to be happier with my reading that way.

    • Sarah Dickinson

      I’m thinking about moving more toward a method like yours for next year!

  10. Judy Krueger

    I understand and feel your pain. Keeping up on new releases seemed fun and hip to me for a while but keeping up with what eBook galley I need to get through before the link goes dead was making me crazy. My new (as of one month ago) method is to request an upcoming book that sounds good at my library, even before it is published, and then if I don’t like it, returning it and moving on. But also I feel that popular mainstream fiction took a dive over the past year. Being rather snobbish and picky about my reading, I have found myself wishing for the good old days when I learned about books from my most treasured reading friends and just by plain old serendipity. I think the ARC thing has become a marketing tool to the max and we bloggers have bought into that. I am done being a marketing tool! Thanks for your honest post!!

    • Shannon @ River City Reading

      This is what I’ve started to do, too (requesting from the library instead of grabbing an ARC), unless a book is something I’m super interested in. I’ve found it works better to let other people vet most books for me. I’m still struggling with enjoying my reading this year, but I think that’s more me than anything else (or maybe it’s all the books!).

      • Sarah Dickinson

        I like the way you’re thinking! I need to figure out my library’s Overdrive system. I tried to sign up once and they didn’t recognize my library card for some reason. That could be the answer to my woes.

    • Sarah Dickinson

      I think I need to look into this library thing a little more carefully. I only read electronically and tried to sign up for Overdrive at my library, but it didn’t recognize my library card for some reason, so I gave up. I might revisit that b/c that’s a great idea.

  11. Katie McD @ Bookish Tendencies

    I think about this a lot too… I tend to pick a few out that tickle my fancy, and then wait around a bit for some buzz to brew before requesting other things. I still tend to request too many though… filling my eyes before my stomach as they say. It’s so hard though not to get sucked into the whirlwind of hype! Don’t even get me started on my backlist dreams… Great topic, and I can’t wait to see if this changes your (and mine?) reading patterns or not!

    • Sarah Dickinson

      Yep – I’m guilty of that eye filling thing too! It’s so hard to resist clicking the request button when it’s just so easy and people are all hyped up about a book! Reading more backlist was one of my 2016 goals and I’m failing miserably! Maybe we can help each other out on that for the rest of this year!

  12. Naomi

    I don’t request a lot of books for review, but when I do, they are usually so far up my alley that I am sure to at least like it, if not love it. Or they are from a trusted author. Or I have already heard good things about it from other reviewers. There have been a few times that I’ve taken a bigger chance, because I do like the thought of spreading the word about lesser known books and authors here in Canada. So far, I’ve been lucky. Or maybe there’s just no such thing as bad CanLit! 😉
    It’s still so hard not to want to read all the new books, though, isn’t it?

    • Sarah Dickinson

      So far, your Can Lit recommendation was a winner for me (Sweetland)! So I hope you don’t stop finding those gems…selfishly 🙂 And it is SO SO hard to resist all that temptation!

  13. diane

    I feel less guilt these days over not reading every ARC I receive. If it just doesn’t flow right or hook me, I move on.

  14. Lory @ Emerald City Book Review

    I should do some cool statistical analysis like you, but I also have the feeling that I’m not bowled over by most ARCs. Sometimes I also think I should do way fewer of those and more “free range reading.” But there’s been a bit of a turning point lately, as I’ve really loved the last few books I read specifically from publishers for review (technically some of them were finished copies, but still…) and most were books I would not have sought out on my own. That’s been a nice trend, hope it will continue.

    • Sarah Dickinson

      That’s awesome you’ve had good luck with ARCs lately! I’m jealous!

  15. Kathy @ Kathy Reads Fiction

    I’ve noticed that my favorites this year are from different imprints than the majority of my favorites last year, which is surprising. But, it could be that I’m reading more from a certain publisher because they tend to send me more books. I’ve been really fortunate with the ARCs I’ve read this year. It’s as though the publicist who sends them to me has a window into my reading soul. I’m still struggling, and possibly always will, with the DNFing ARCs. I always feel an obligation to read them through and write a review, good or bad. I think that stems from fear of not receiving ARCs in the future. I would love to be able to get past that.

    • Sarah Dickinson

      Last year, my successful books were clustered around 5-7 imprints and this year I only have 1 imprint with more than 1 successful book. So definitely more spread out this year so far. I should probably be nervous about not getting ARCs since I’ve been DNFing so much, but then again, I just learned I should be reading fewer of them anyway, so maybe that all works out!

  16. Taryn

    I love your charts! I’ve been thinking about this topic a lot lately since ARCs have taken over my reading list. It is a little silly that I have gotten so caught up in it, especially since my library’s digital collection is great.

    As for ARCS: Since April of last year, 60% were real gems, 25% I liked, but could have done without, and 15% I did not like all. Five of the six books that I didn’t like were from my first six months of reading ARCs. I have gotten much less adventurous in the past few months, only choosing books that make me feel really excited and that already have a few reviews. I just started using NetGalley last month and I’ve loved 4 out of 4 so far, so I think my new method is working!

    • Sarah Dickinson

      It’s so hard not to get caught up in ARCs! I clearly haven’t figured out the best way to handle it!

      And I’m glad to hear you’ve had good luck with your ARCs so far this year. I’d take 60% gems any day!

  17. Brad Mela

    Hi Sarah,

    I’m very old to the world of reading but very new to the world of writing (I’m not very good at maths either but nobody said 1 out of 3 ain’t bad so I’ll plough on merrily).
    I’ve my first book coming out in about 4 weeks and so I’m soaking up all the resources I can; there’s a wealth of insight on your blog site so thanks very much for making it all available!

    I hadn’t considered such a thing utilising “ARC’s” but your discussion thread is useful, if not a little worrying. I hadn’t thought about sending my first novel out as an ARC but, now thinking that it might have been a good way to go, there’s a lot of responsibility from the author point of view as well. We certainly don’t want our babies to end up in the Novel wilderness, unloved and unread apart from by their parents. We have a duty of care to them too and not scatter-gun all the useful resources (such as people like yourself) assuming you’ll look after our ugly children (not that such a thing even exists, of course – disclaimer to all children, I was one once) . We can hardly expect you to read through every submission you get so, ARC turnaround performance? No author can hold you responsible. Indeed, as you say, it would probably help us all if Book Bloggers were explicit on intake, preferred genre’s, how much is left in the tank for this year so to speak. Or maybe you all do and I’ll stumble across that in due course?
    Anyway, keep up the good work and may all your ARC’s for the rest of the year be successful!

    • Sarah Dickinson

      Thank you for providing the author’s perspective. At this point, I request all the ARCs I read through Netgalley. It’s very rare that I’ll read an ARC that I receive unsolicited (I have 2 toddlers at home and don’t get paid to do this, so like to use my limited reading time for books I’m particularly excited about). If you’re considering sending out ARCs, I’d recommend researching which bloggers you’d like to send it to pretty thoroughly to try to make sure your book matches his/her tastes. Most bloggers outline their genre preferences, etc in their Review Policies (here’s mine:
      Best of luck!

  18. TJ @ MyBookStrings

    You are so organized with this! I have forced myself to cut way back with ARCs. My best reading so far this year has come from the stacks of books that I’ve wanted to read for ages, and I really want to cut down the number of unread books I own this year. Now I try to think about an ARC for at least a day before I request it. I ask myself if I really want to read it or if I am just falling for some great copy on the back cover. So far, this strategy has kept the impulse ARC request under control.

    • Sarah Dickinson

      That’s a good method…I think I’ll start letting it sit overnight before hitting request!

  19. Lindsey

    DNFing an ARC is tough for me too. But the first time I just wrote a little blurb about why it wasn’t working for me and went on my bookish way, I felt so good about that choice!

    I do try to really consider before requesting an ARC and mix up my reading with books from my shelves and books from the library. It seems to be working well (at least for now)!

  20. Lauren

    This is great stuff. I knew I wasn’t alone in feeling ARC pressure, but it’s still nice to know I’m in good company. I have been flirting with giving them up altogether. At this point, I am going to try and have no more than 2 ARCs per month. I don’t enjoy reading ARCs under pressure as much as I enjoy reading my “own stuff.” No big shocker there. I just need to do what I can to make ARCs feel more like my own stuff. If I can’t do it, they’re out.

    What determines whether you DNF an ARC or it’s just a finished “unsuccessful” ARC? I ask because I also wonder what people do when a requested ARC doesn’t work. I feel like I have to write the publisher and explain why I’m not going to review it (if I don’t, I often do anyway because I think if you have issues with a book it’s ok to say so). Just curious how others handle that situation.

    • Sarah Dickinson

      I request all my ARCs through Netgalley…I haven’t gone directly to the publisher in quite awhile. So, when I finish the book, even if I didn’t like it, I usually write a review and submit it as feedback on NG. That’s what I would call an “finished unsuccessful” ARC. If I DNF, I still submit a comment to the publisher on NG, just don’t write or submit a review to them.

  21. Andi

    My ARC reading has been more successful than previous years. I was also MUCH choosier this year, having only picked maybe one per month to read. I also focused more on imprints I’ve enjoyed in the past, and so far it seems to be working well with zero guilt if I decide to skip or ditch one.

    • Sarah Dickinson

      I’ve definitely got to get choosier and maybe stick to safer bets…like a known and loved author or recommendation from a trusted source. Glad this year has been successful for you!

  22. Kim (Sophisticated Dorkiness)

    I’ve definitely cut back on ARCs this year, and I think that’s been good for my reading. I stopped participating in book tours last year when I realized that signing up meant I had to read and write about books that I may otherwise have DNFd or chosen to not give space on the blog. It wasn’t contributing to my reading life, so I let it go 🙂 I think you’ve got some good strategies for managing ARCs better — good luck!

    • Sarah Dickinson

      Haha – I stopped blog tours last year as well. Am definitely happier without them! I’ve only got 2 ARCs for June (and I’ve already read one)…my lightest month in awhile, so this will be a good test case!

  23. Stacy @ The Novel Life

    what a fantastic idea Sarah! I’m going to have to do an analysis as well – I’ve felt so bad about the arcs I was DNF’ing but looking at your stats makes me feel much better! I’ve borrowed your idea from your wrap up from last year with the focus on imprints ~ I haven’t had enough data yet to really tell how the imprint reading is working but I have made a considerable effort to branch into other imprints and publishers. That’s made a difference for me. Like I said though, I’m trying to get as many imprints under my belt so I can make a good analysis. You’re so thoughtful in your reading! Very impressed dear heart!

    • Sarah Dickinson

      Awh – thank you! This whole thing came about more out of desperation than anything. My imprints have been really spread out this year too…only one imprint with more than 1 successful book.

      Would love to hear how your numbers come out!

  24. Rory

    My ARC selection has been down in the dumps. I *think* is has to do with comparisons. I’m sucker for comparisons to my favorite author, so if the blurb said something like “a southern gothic mystery in the vein of Donald Ray Pollock” – and this happens a lot! – I’d be sold. Then, within the first 30 pages or so, i realize that is was not an apt comparison and get discouraged all over again.

    • Sarah Dickinson

      Oh my gosh – yes, the comparisons are rarely on the mark for me! I did have one this year that was accurate, but now I can’t remember what that was 🙁 I’m looking forward to Heavenly Table this summer…it’ll be my first Pollock.

  25. Shaina

    It’s so, so hard not to request ARCs, but I try to do it sparingly so I don’t have to feel guilty DNFing the books that don’t work. BEA felt like cheating—so many shiny new things that I didn’t specifically need to ask for! No NetGalley ratio going down/publisher wondering if I’m going to review it. So, basically, I’m saying you should have come to BEA and hung out with us. 😉

    Anyway, I hope you find a new balance that works better for you! Diving into backlist picks usually helps me when I feel like I’m in a rut.

    • Sarah Dickinson

      That’s so true about BEA ARCs! But, I provide “feedback” even when I DNF something, so my NG ratio stays up. I just don’t fill in the review section …just the Notes section at the bottom about why I DNF’d it and how far I made it.

      I really, really need to increase my backlist reading!

  26. emma

    in my first year or so of blogging, I also experienced some disappointment with some ARCs. And as I feel it is courtesy, at least for me, to finish and review the books I request, this was not fun sometimes.
    So now I only request ARCs of authors I know well. I receive MANY propositions of books every day, I probably accept less than 10%. I look closely at the synopsis, at the beginning of the book, at other reviews if there are, and am much more happy. I’m so glad I recently accepted one, because it sounded totally in my alley, and indeed it was very good:

    • Sarah Dickinson

      I can’t remember the last time I accepted an unsolicited review…I try to only request things, but I think I need to be more sticking with highly trusted authors. But, on the flip side, I tend to have great luck with debut novels year after year, so I’d hate to cut that out.

  27. Michelle

    I don’t go by imprints or even catalogs. I go by whether the book sounds interesting to me. Then, if it intrigues me enough that I might want to read it, I look at the imprint and whether it is a debut novel or not. If it is by a seasoned author, I look to see what the author’s other books are and what I know about them. If there is any doubt, I don’t request the galley. So far, that has worked for me quite well and I almost never DNF any of my galleys.

    • Sarah Dickinson

      That’s awesome that you have a system that works for you and lucky that you rarely DNF your galleys! I’m going to get a lot more selective after looking at these numbers 🙂

  28. Nicole @ Feed Your Fiction Addiction

    Lately, I wait until I’ve started seeing reviews before I request ARCs – I only want to request ones that I’m pretty sure I’m going to really love! I”m horrible about DNFing, so I have to be especially careful to choose things I’m going to like.

    • Sarah Dickinson

      That’s what I’m now moving towards 🙂 I only requested one new ARC since I wrote that post and it’s by an author I’ve liked in the past.

  29. Katie @ Doing Dewey

    Wow, I’m sorry to hear you’ve been having such bad luck with ARCs! I’ve also been going through publisher catalogs more this year and I know picking out books I want to read before reviews are available has felt trickier to me. I’ve been pretty happy with my success rate, but I’ve also not been doing a lot of free-range reading for comparison.

    • Sarah Dickinson

      It really does feel tricky!! I’m glad it’s been going better for you. I’ve kind of reverted back to letting someone else vet some books for me before requesting them and that’s been working better.

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