The Problems with ARCs that No One Talks About | free books aren’t that great

Let's Talk!

Hello my lovely lemons! How are you doing? I’m coming at you with a bit of a discussion post today. You probably won’t believe it, but I came up with this post while I was reading an ARC. Shocking, I know! So yes, I do read ARCs (Advanced Reader Copies) and I do think they’re generally a good thing. But as with all things, there are ups and downs. The thing is, I don’t tend to see anyone talking about those downs.

In the bookish community I think there’s a tendency to see ARCs as this amazing thing, the ultimate goal, a sign of success. After all, the big bloggers and booktubers and bookstagrammers are always reading them! (Anyone else think it’s funny how we just slap ‘book’ on the front of everything?) It sounds great to constantly be getting sent free books, be they digital or physical. I think many of us see it as a form of payment for the work we do, since goodness knows book bloggers are not exactly raking it in. Or making anything at all in most cases. So because they sound so great, and I suppose so we don’t sound ungrateful, nobody talks about the not-so-great aspects of ARCs. And trust me, there are some.

Now for the purposes of this post I’ll only be talking about digital eARCs – the kind you get from NetGalley or Edelweiss+. Mainly because digital ARCs are the only kind I’ve ever recieved. So without further ado, let’s get to it.

This is what I had to deal with while writing this post. He loves attention and hates my laptop for stealing it.

πŸ‹ the formatting is quite terrible πŸ‹

OH MY GOD THE FORMATTING. I’m sure anyone else who has read digital ARCs can sympathise with me on this one. Well, either that or I’m doing something wrong and this will be an embarrasment. Every ARC you get comes with the little disclaimer about “This is an uncorrected proof, etc. etc.” but it’s still so strange to see. When I got my first ever ARC I didn’t know about these issues, so when it had every single sentence on a separate line for pages at a time, I assumed it was supposed to look like that. It was not. I can’t explain this particular issue any better than by showing you pictures of some of the things you can expect to deal with when you read an ARC on your Kindle.

πŸ‹ the pressure to write a good review πŸ‹

When you get given a review copy, there’s a certain amount of pressure that comes with that. A publisher has given you a free copy of this book you want to read, and in exchange they expect a review. If possible, they also want you to share that review around to help generate a bit of hype. Some people love writing reviews, and they have whole systems for doing it. Me, I usually just wing it, and I don’t write full reviews for every book I read, so when it comes to ARCs I feel a bit pressure to write an eloquent review. I’m just not that good at describing the different elements of a book.

πŸ‹ guilt rating books you didn’t really like πŸ‹

This one can pose a bit of a problem. When you get given something for free, there’s a certain amount of gratitude that comes with that. So when you find that you don’t like this ARC, you feel a little guilty for rating it low. There’s always that nagging feeling of “well, maybe I could round it up…” “I guess it wasn’t that bad…” “I bet the finished version will be better!” Essentially, because you’re grateful for getting that book, you feel guilty for not liking it. And that might translate into you rating it higher than you generally would. It’s the same as if someone gives you a gift – even if you don’t like it, you tell them you do so you don’t hurt their feelings. Malka @ Paper Procrastinators wrote a great post on this topic if you want to read more on it.

πŸ‹ the terror of looming deadlines πŸ‹

I think it’s a universal fact that no one likes reading when they’ve been told to. I mean, who can say they enjoyed any of the books they were forced to read in high school? When you accept an ARC, it’s like you have a deadline for reading it. Not a literal deadline, at least not on NetGalley – I’ve reviewed some books months after they released. But ideally, you’re supposed to read them by their release date. If you let it go past that, you lose the sense of urgency and are at risk of never reading them at all. Or worse, you get stressed and overwhelmed by all these overdue ARCs and start putting off books you really want to read. My point is, when you have a time limit for reading a book it starts to feel a lot less fun.

πŸ‹ ending up with too many ARCs πŸ‹

Once you start getting approved for ARCs, it’s easy to get a bit giddy and start requesting titles left, right, and centre. Then you get approved for all of them at once and suddenly you’re a bit overwhelmed. On many occasions I’ve gotten emails about an ARC and had to Google the book becuase I’ve completely forgotten it. This issue combines with the deadlines, to create quite a stressful situation. This problem is entirely avoidable if you only request a select few books you really want to read, but I know from my own experience how easy it is to get caught up “ARC shopping” and click on everything with a pretty cover.

So, after I’ve listed all that, do I still think ARCs are a good thing? Yes, of course I do. They connect readers with publishers, and they allow all of us in the bookish community to get early opinions from people we know and trust. If you’re one of those ARC reviewers, they let you keep up with new releases and have early access to titles you’re excited about. So yes, I had a good complain, but that doesn’t mean I think ARCs are bad. It’s just that I never see anyone else complaining about them, so I felt the need to write a whole post.

Do you read ARCs? What’s your opinion on them? Is the formatting just a me problem or do they look terrible to everyone?

Love and lemons, Abi

23 thoughts on “The Problems with ARCs that No One Talks About | free books aren’t that great

    1. That’s definitely a good idea if that’s what feels right for you. I’ve tried to mostly stop requesting ARCs except for books I would have read anyway. That way if I get approved it’s just a nice bonus since I was already going to read it.

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  1. Too many ARCs is a trap. It’s a problem when you request and it takes so long to get the approval or rejection, so you request more, and then you have 50 September releases to read and review. I have learned my lesson there. I have had some poorly formatted ARCs. I had one recently, where there were no spaces between the words. I left that note for the pub and moved on. I have never felt compelled to leave a good rating because it was an ARC, but I know many feel this pressure. I am grateful, though, because I couldn’t afford my reading habit without some of these free books.

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    1. Oh definitely, especially when you just go on a spree of requests thinking “I won’t get approved for all these” then get a bunch of emails a month later. Oh my gosh, no spaces?! I’ve never had one that bad, that would be impossible to read.

      I don’t exactly feel the need to leave a glowing review for ARCs, but especially on ones I don’t enjoy I think I probably do round up a star more than I would if I just picked up the book myself. They are definitely a good thing overall, I’m grateful for them too. Especially when I find something new that I wouldn’t have discovered otherwise – I think that’s the best part of getting them.

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  2. I stopped getting arcs because I could never keep up! I’m a mood reader so those deadlines were the worst thing ever. It made me NOT want to read them lol Also YES to the formatting! SO BAD. lol

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    1. I hate the deadlines as well. Now I only request ARCs of books I was already going to read, but even still I don’t like having a time limit to read it. Haha, I’m glad the formatting isn’t just my problem, it really is so bad sometimes!

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  3. Ahh the formatting! Truly a nightmare sometimes. There have been a few times that I had to stop reading the ARC and wait for the physical book to come out to write my review, because the formatting made it so frustrating to read…which kinda defeats the purpose of getting an ARC.

    I can definitely relate to the pressure to write a good review and to read books by a certain deadline. Another downside to ARCs is that I always feel like I have to finish them, even if it’s a book that I would have DNFed otherwise. This happened to me recently where I had to push through a book I didn’t like because I didn’t want to ruin my Netgalley ratio πŸ˜…

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    1. I’m so glad everyone has commented agreeing about the formatting, I did worry it might just be me being dumb and not knowing how to set up my Kindle πŸ˜‚ I’ve never had one that was totally unreadable, but having to wait for the finished book really does defeat the point.

      I’ve also definitely had that issue of not feeling like I can DNF. I have skimmed ARCs or skipped to the ending before, just to feel like I knew enough to write a review. Oh, the curse of the feedback ratio. I feel like it’s holding me hostage sometimes. I got to one really annoying point where every time I got approved for a new book it would dip back below 80 and it was so frustrating. πŸ˜…

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  4. i completely agree that it is important to also talk about the negatives, especially because arcs can create a lot of FOMO in the bookish world. i completely agree that i think writing a review for an ARC can be so much harder than just any other book. i don’t tend to write lengthy reviews for every book i read, so i’d be pretty rusty whenever trying to write one for arcs.

    and the formatting, oh my goooood. the second one hurt my eyes. i didn’t even now it could look that bad, honestly, hahah. i’d say the only other bad thing is that if you don’t really have an e-reader (my case) and you read on the netgalley app, the font is super tiny and my eyes were really unhappy about it, hahah.

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    1. Definitely, I remember when I first started out in the community I thought ARCs were this amazing, magical thing, and having them meant you were successful. Now I realise they’re just a good way to get free marketing. I always feel like I have to write this long, detailed review, then I alway see that one person on NetGalley who’s just written a single sentence like “this book was good I liked the characters a lot.” and think maybe I don’t need to try so hard πŸ˜‚

      Oh the separate lines? That’s happened with nearly every ARC I’ve ever had, I’ve gotten used to ignoring it now πŸ˜… Oh no, I’ve only used the app for a graphic novel before, but that was really frustrating too. The pages were square, but it squashed them all to be standard book sized, so that was awful to look at.

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  5. This is such a fantastic post, and not just because I could easily relate to the issues you mentioned! I happen to like that the bookish community tends to focus more on the positive than the negative. But I totally agree that sometimes it’s necessary to discuss the downsides to things, especially when it’s not discussed much!

    Not all of my e-ARCs have had formatting issues, but when they did the books were practically unreadable. Usually in those cases I’d have to wait for the book to come out and borrow it from my library so that I’d have the ability to review it!

    Also, forget the pressure of writing a good review. Just the pressure of writing a review, whether it’s good or not, is super stressful. Like you mentioned, it has to be read my a certain date, and then when you add the fact that you can have multiple reviews that you need to write, can make the whole process quite nerve-wracking!

    In fact, that’s why I’m rarely requesting ARCs in recent months. I just can’t feel that pressure to read and review specific books by a specific date! Not to mention the fact that it always feels so terrible when I start a book and can tell it won’t be for me from page one. Normally I’d return that kind of book to the library, but in the case of an ARC I either have to DNF it, or finish it and give it a low rating, and either option isn’t great.

    Like you, I think that ARCs are mainly a great resource and marketing tool, and I’m glad that online book influencers get a chance to receive them. But I’m still happy to hear that I’m not alone in thinking that ARCs have several negative aspects to them as well!

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    1. I’m so glad you could relate to the points I made! I also love how positive the community is, but when I was writing this post I genuinely didn’t know if anyone would agree or have the same problems as me because I’ve never seen anyone talk about it!

      After realising I was getting stupidly stressed over ARCs (even ones I didn’t enjoy) I decided to really cut back on requesting them. Now I only go for ARCs of books I was already planning to read.

      I definitely also struggle with what to do when I don’t like an ARC, especially when it’s just a case of “it’s not for me”. I usually skim it or skip to the ending, then give it 3 stars since that’s “average” and it seems like the fairest rating. Unless of course I DNFed it because it was awful, then I’ll rate lower. I know there’s an option to say you’re not reviewing, but I don’t like to ruin my feedback ratio. πŸ˜…

      Yes, I’m glad they exist and I do think they’re great in the right context, but they can also be not-so-great and it’s good to have balanced discussion!

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  6. Wow that formatting is Not GreatTM. I only read physical ARCs, not digital ARCs (just my preference since I prefer physical books over ebooks and for the most part I’d rather just wait a few months and get it from the library in the format I like) and they tend to be formatted normally lmao so I’m a bit shook. I definitely relate to the pressure to write a good review or rate it high–luckily most ARCs I’ve gotten I’ve really enjoyed and had good things to say about but it really feels bad when someone gives you a book for free and you want to praise it but that wouldn’t be honest. also the terror of looming deadlines and ending up with too many ARCs sounds horrible haha, I always see people talking about how they initially tank their Netgalley rating, and there’s one good thing about only getting physical books is that I get veeeeerrry few haha, so I don’t have stress of them piling up.really enjoyed this post!

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    1. The formatting really is so bad! I’ve always wondered what physical ARCs look like so thank you for answering that question for me!

      I definitely ruined my NetGalley rating when I first joined – all you have to do is click a button to request a book and it’s so easy to get carried away.

      Getting physical copies does sound like a more pleasant experience. I imagine you feel more motivated to read it when you have an actual book, rather than a digital file you can forget about. Thank you, I’m glad you liked the post! πŸ˜„

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  7. This is a great post! I read ARCs but I do agree about the pressure. In the early days, I was too excited and often requesting too much that reading had became a pressure. I ended up went on an ARC ban, but at least I learned my lesson πŸ˜… It’s always nice reading advanced copies of books you’re excited about or finding gems through it, but if you don’t like them, writing the reviews do feel awkward πŸ˜…

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    1. Yes, that’s totally what I did too! I spent ages trying to fix my NetGalley feedback ratio so I definitely also learned my lesson πŸ˜… Yes! There’s no better feeling than loving an ARC and thinking you found something great before everyone else, but it’s really disappointing when you just don’t enjoy one.

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