BREAKING: things are changing in the book-reviewing world

October 8, 2014 Discussion 16



I’ve noticed two things that happened recently that have really made me question where book reviewing is going in the next few months or years. Obviously, having been at this for a while, I’ve seen people come and go and trends change, but these two events really made me really think about the future of reviewing for authors as a blogger.

The first thing was that an upcoming, highly anticipated book was put up on Edelweiss, and it was only after people had excitedly gotten hold of it that they realised that it was a sampler, and not the whole book. I am, of course, talking about The Orphan Queen by Jodi Meadows.

It’s not that it’s a sampler that had me paying attention: many books get released as samplers on NetGalley and they’re always clearly marked. No, what got to me was that this was unmarked. I’d held off on downloading it because I didn’t think I’d get around to reading it on time, but I’d had a look on the Edelweiss page and it never, ever said anything about it not being the complete book.

Now, Ashely at Nose Graze has talked about the potential impacts of this, whether it’s useful for reviewers, and about whether more eARCs will eventually get swapped out for Advanced Samples. I won’t repeat what she said, but please head on over and check out her thoughts.

The second thing that had me questioning the future to eARCs happened on NetGalley. I was doing my usual checking on NetGalley for new and exciting things when I saw that Disney-Hyperion had put up This Shattered World by Amie Kaufman and Meagan Spooner. Disney-Hyperion never accept my requests, but I clicked through on the off-chance that they didn’t have the disclaimer that they only approve US residents because I’ve noticed Tor and a few other publishers only ‘region-lock’ some titles (this probably has to do with whether they have world English rights to the title, or only local rights). Anyways, I noticed an interesting thing: This Shattered World was not yet available for request, but there was a button you could click (once signed in) to let the publisher know that you’d like it available for request.


What on earth is going on? I posted this on twitter, and commented that is is absolutely ridiculous.

Of course NetGalley users want the titles on there to be available for request! It’s a bit like signing up for Facebook, and then having to vote to see someone’s profile. It absolutely defeats the purpose NetGalley was created for!

I’m sure that this, like the sampler of The Orphan Queen, is a way to drum up excitement and make it an even more anticipated read.

Except, in both cases, I think a reviewer would feel rather cheated.

With more and more publishers favouring eARCs to physical ARCS (and why not, considering that ARCs cost much more per book to print than the finished copy), and more and more reviewers preferring eARCs (you don’t have to figure out how to give them away once you’re done with them, portability), I think these two events could be repeated in the future. And if they are, then there needs to be a discussion about what reviewers are trying to do for books, authors, and publishers, and how they are expected to do that.

Because, let’s face it, we’re all going to have to change the way we review if we’re expected to form our opinions on 30, 50, or even 80% of a book. Sometimes a book starts off really well and then ends up sucking, other times it’s really confusing until everything comes together in the end. I sometimes post DNF reviews, and I say what I thought about the 10 or 25% that I read, but those reviews are rarely as comprehensive as the reviews I write for books I finished.

And voting to have eARCs available to us is silly. Either put the eARC up for request, or don’t offer it at all, but to ask people to vote to drum up excitement is silly. Because, remember, we’re only voting for it to go up for request, there is no guarantee that when a title is up for request that it will available to everyone who voted, or that it won’t be region-locked. So what’s the point in getting international people to vote if they have no hope of accessing the eARC?

For those of you who are thinking, ‘but it’s fun!’: look I agree. It can be fun – we as fans are usually asked to RT or ‘Like’ something to unlock chapters or quotes, and it’s usually a great way to meet new fans and to interact with the author and publisher. And it drums up support. But what is happening with This Shattered World isn’t the same. NetGalley isn’t providing the usernames of the people who vote for access so we can all connect, and we aren’t interacting with the publisher or the authors.

I don’t know whether this is something the publisher has elected to do, or whether NetGalley, knowing how popular this book will be, has asked them to do. I do know that it is not in the hands of the authors. So this is not a case of me blaming someone for this new practise. I’m simply talking about how reviewing will change if the voting becomes a regular part of being a reviewer using NetGalley.

I guess we’ll see what happens when This Shattered World is eventually up for request.

I’m interested in what you all think: will the way we review have to change if these two events aren’t isolated, and more and more publishers start to put up samplers instead of the eARC, and expect us to vote before a title can be accessed on NetGalley?

16 Responses to “BREAKING: things are changing in the book-reviewing world”

  1. Kriselda Gray

    I’m still rather new to this eARC stuff, so I don’t know for sure how a site like NetGalley earns it’s money, but I presume that the publishers have to pay NetGalley a certain amount to have their book listed and available to reviewers. If that’s the case, then it may be that the voting option that I know I’ve seen on a couple of books lately maybe NetGalley’s way of trying to convince the publisher that there’s enough interest in the book to make it worth their while to pay NetGalley to distribute it to bloggers and reviewers. I don’t know, obviously, but that would be my guess.

    • Shaheen

      o0o0 I hadn’t thought about this! I don’t know how NG works, but I’d assumed that, like Edelweiss, a publisher or author has to actually put the book up on the database. But you’re absolutely right, NetGalley could have put in a place-holder entry to convince Disney-Hyperion to use their service to distribute their eARCs.

      ALTHOUGH, I’ve noted that Disney-Hyperion is fond of putting samplers on NetGalley (always very clearly marked, however), and I wonder if this is an extension of that.

  2. Kelly

    I couldn’t have said it better myself Shaheen. I rarely use Edelweiss, as the few books I have tended to request, I almost always get knocked back on there. I don’t have any outstanding books to read, but still. But I did see This Shattered World on Netgalley and clicked through as you did as well, and clicked to request when the same message popped up. So now we need to express our interest before the eCopy is uploaded, then request AGAIN?

    I thought that perhaps the publisher didn’t have a hand in this as well, but Netgalley putting up the page to gather interest. Book one was listed on there from what I remember, and Netgalley may be gathering data to take to the publishers, ‘see, look how popular it is’, and approach them to list it on the site.

    Popular Netgalley titles seem a little too few and far between these days, and it wouldn’t surprise me if they were behind it, not that actual publisher. Either way, it’s deceptive.

    • Shaheen

      Yes! Like I said above to the previous comment, I had thought that each publisher or author had to put up a title themselves, but you and Kriselda make a very valid point: that NG could have inserted the entry themselves to convince Disney-Hyperion to put the eARC up!

      Hmmmm. I don’t like this turn of events though 🙁 I especially don’t like that voting doesn’t guarantee a review copy. There’s no way to know who will be allowed to access the galley and which people would get approved, so it’s just this EXTRA thing we have to do with (potentially) no reward.

      • Kelly

        Me either, and I really hope this doesn’t set a new standard by either the publishers or sites like NG or EW. If they start heading in that direction, we’ll probably find reviewers will turn elsewhere for review copies.

  3. Cassie

    I noticed that on Netgalley a few days ago…can’t remember which book it was, but I remember thinking something along the lines of “why would you bother?”
    I think if they want to start doing things like that, then there should be a ‘request titles to become available’ section of the website, sort of like requesting books at the library. That way, we wouldn’t get excited at seeing a book, only to discover that it’s not actually available.

    • Shaheen

      I love that idea! Another whole section to vote for titles to become available.

      The key difference between this and your analogy to a library (and I know you didn’t mean for your analogy to be stretched this far), is that the library won’t tell you that you can’t have the book. You go into a queue and eventually you will have access to it. But on NG a vote doesn’t seem to equal a request, so 1) they have to go in and perhaps request again, and 2) D-H usually region-lock their titles, so you could vote but then never have a chance of getting the eARC.

  4. Nathan (@reviewbarn)

    I absolutely don’t get it. I do reviews, a sampler is completely worthless for that. And while I am well aware that I am part of a publicity machine just by being a blogger. By mentioning a book I play into that, but I like having a bit of control over the process. I don’t do cover reveals or random mentions of releases because I am not the industry’s stooge, I hope. Perhaps there are too many of us blogging or something, but I won’t be played in raising the hype level of a book I can’t even read.

    • Shaheen

      I think you nailed the issue on the head: reviewers working at Kirkus or PW would never ever ever ever be expected to review from a sample of a book.

  5. Anya

    Ugh, this whole situation is annoying the crap out of me. I have such a bad taste associated with Orphan Queen now that I probably won’t get around to reading and reviewing it until way after the pub date. I certainly was very excited, but I now associate it’s pretty cover with rage, haha. I’m also quite annoyed with the NetGalley voting thing and really confused about what the goal is. Like Nathan said, I have no desire of being a cog in the hype machine without having even READ the book. My current plan is to just boycott any advanced samplers and ignore the voting buttons, they can’t make me join their new world order! *hides in a cave*

    • Shaheen

      Yeah, that’s my plan too. Although, I have read a few samplers from NG and they’ve usually helped me figure out whether I want to request a review copy – which is helpful. And I remember I preordered a book right after I finished it’s sampler, so I don’t actually disagree with samplers being available. It’s just that The Orphan Queen was an unmarked sampler, which makes me upset.

      Voting on NetGalley seems unnecessary, I agree.

  6. Tsana

    Having just looked at This Shattered World in NG, it looks to me as though Disney-Hyperion is planning to upload the eARC but that they think it’s too early to do so. I might be wrong. I had noticed that NG had started saying “sign in to see if this book is available for request” but this is the first book I’ve come across that wasn’t available. (And also, forcing me to click a button an extra time is mildly annoying.) I don’t think NG would be fishing for eARCs from publishers. I mean, yes, publishers pay to list with NG but for a big publisher I don’t think it has an effect on a per-book basis. I *think* it’s a subscription kind of thing possibly with a max number of books. But I do know it’s different for self-publishers which is why they do the banding together into a coalition thing.

    Also, having people express interest in a title would give publishers an idea of how popular it will be when they do put it up and help them make decisions about how many ARCs to give out. (and maybe how few paper ARCs to bother with?)

    But regarding samplers. I think that’s a separate issue. I don’t think the publishers are expecting reviews on the sampler. At least they shouldn’t be. At best they should only expect a “this is a book I’m excited about” post. I think the reason they’re putting up samplers is because a) times are tough economically and b) book bloggers are a not insignificant market. If they can convince bloggers to buy their books instead of getting ARCs, that’s a score for them. Same logic that had Hatchett put samplers in the Hugo voter packet instead of full books like the other publishers. Since one of their books ended up winning (despite all the people crying that including only samplers killed their chances), I’d say they sold a lot of books.

    Honestly, I think the biggest issue I have with NG is how it’s being flooded by self-published stuff that I have to wade through and dodge. It makes finding the books I actually want harder. Also what’s with publishers not putting book 2s up as ARCs? (I’m guessing it’s the same “make them buy it” logic.)

    • Shaheen

      If they’re planning to upload it (and one assumes they are since they upload all their most anticipated titles), then the voting is unnecessary. Because they were planning to do it anyway.

      I agree that the voting might be the publisher’s or NetGalley’s way of gauging how popular the galley will be, but it seems ridiculous because the title will most likely be region locked (as with other DH titles), and yet all NG users are able to express interest. So at best, this process will give them inflated numbers, and at worst, it’s a completely useless exercise.

      In my opinion, fewer physical ARCs isn’t an issue here: because publishers will always print out a certain number of ARCs and give most of them to newspapers, or magazines, or publisher’s weekly, and the small percentage that is left over will be divided amongst bloggers with the most reach/ most passion. I don’t see them printing more because demand is high: they’ll just encourage bloggers to use the eARC because while newspapers and magazines won’t accept eARCs for review, bloggers will.

      I agree that bloggers are a not insignificant market. But I also think that most of us buy finished copies of books we receive as ARCs, physical or otherwise. I have personally bought a copy of every single print ARC I have ever received, even if I disliked the book (they went straight to charity, brand new and unread). I think most bloggers end up buying at least one copy, if not multiples. Having this extra thing of samplers governed by – as you put it – “make them buy it” logic thusly seems disrespectful to me.

      To clarify, I don’t mind samplers of they are clearly marked. I think the intent behind them is to drum up excitement and get people posting about the sneak peek they read. And that’s absolutely cool, in my opinion, as long as they are marked. My issue with The Orphan Queen remains that it was unmarked, and the whole thing smacks of lack of respect for the people who use e-Galley services. And I agree that publishers should not be expecting reviews from samplers 🙂

      I don’t really mind the self-published authors on there. It’s a service, and they’re welcome to use it. I usually skip through most of the self-pubbed books, but I’ll be interested to see what changes when all the Strange Chemistry authors organise to have their cancelled books published. They’ll probably be on NG, and I am excited about that!

      • Tsana

        I think while you buy a lot of ARCs (even ones you got physical copies of?) I get the impression most bloggers don’t. I only buy paper copies of eARCs I really loved and I’m pretty sure most publishers give out ARCs with the expectation that they won’t turn into sales. But on the other hand, I’m trying not to be stingy with the other books I buy to make up for it.

        I understand being annoyed that a sampler was unmarked and I absolutely agree that it’s a crappy thing to do. Not sure it’s indicative of a trend though. I think publishers are trying out different things at the moment. Hopefully they’ll see the ire they raised and not leave a sampler unmarked again.

  7. Dragana

    Two events you mentioned are the ones that recently left a bitter taste in my mouth and really made me re-evaluate in which direction I want my blog to go.

    First sneaking the sample as full book. I never read samples, because I hate cliffhangers. And I think that you can never write a review about a full book only based on sample. Sometimes big events happen in second part of the book that change your opinion.

    Second, the NetGalley adding i-want-it-available buttons. I assume that when ARCs become available, we will need to request it again, so this is only some stunt to measure excitement. Or build it up. I don’t know.

    Both of these thing made me feel like I am just a pawn in hands of book marketing. Like they do not really value my opinion only increase in sales I can make. Ok, it have always been about that, but at least they pretended it was not.

    As I said, it made me see how blinded by new releases I have become and how some good but old fantasy series have been neglected because of that. I think I will request much less eARCs in the future.

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