It Is All About The Free Books: On Being A Poor Book Blogger

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I’m going to admit something I feel is a cardinal sin in the book blogging world: I originally got into book reviewing for the free books.

Now, do I love reviewing books and sharing my love of books with others? Yep. I’ve made a lot of great friends in the book blogging world. Even at its worst, I enjoyed being part of the community because in general, everyone in it is ridiculously nice.

But when I joined back in 2011, I did it mainly because I hoped to get a few ARCs.

I’m the only child of a single mother. We’re both huge book lovers. Money has always been an issue for us, and it got especially bad after Borders closed, because they were the store that allowed us to buy as many books as we were able to with their frequent 40% – 50% off coupons. For a while, our libraries weren’t ordering as many books as they had once done, and if they did, it was a year or more after the book was released. Even at a used bookstore we had to be careful how much we spent.

Due to my mental illnesses, I didn’t have a job at the time. So when I heard that book reviewing might nab me a few free books, well… I went for it. I discovered a great hobby in the process, but at the end of the day, I wanted those free books.

I’ve never felt safe, I guess you’d call it, admitting this in the community. In every post about ARCs or about becoming a book blogger, you’ll read the line, “Don’t do it just for the free books!” Or, “It’s not all about the free books!”

Well, for me, it is all about the free books. Due to my lower middle class life, I can’t ignore the hard, cold fact that getting ARCs saves me a lot of money in a month, never mind a year. But, like with many things about my life, I’m ashamed to admit it.

For me, it was never about being excited to read a book early, although that is certainly very wonderful. ARCs were a necessity of the hobby. If I wanted to become a book blogger and keep up with all the other blogs, I would have to review all the newest and hottest stuff, and the only way to do that was to get ARCs.

Even recently, when I found out my mother went to the store and got me a book I’d been desperately looking forward to, I didn’t feel excited. I felt guilty that she decided to do that and treat me, because we’re tight on cash this month yet again.

This impacts me in other ways too, outside of wanting ARCs. I can’t do giveaways, because I can’t afford postage. I can’t afford to go to major book conventions like BEA, or even ones closer to home. If I can’t get an ARC of a book I really want, I have to wait until I can manage to squeeze my budget a little to find enough spare change to buy it later on. I’m not saying any of this for pity or sympathy; merely stating the facts of my life and how, at times, it makes me feel distanced from the book blogging community at large.

Now, is book reviewing/blogging a time consuming hobby? Absolutely. And it’s true that if you’re just in it for the free books then you’re going to get burned out fast on how much effort it actually requires.

But I’d like it if, maybe, I could talk about needing those ARCs in order to save money for gas, or food for me and my cats, without feeling like someone’s going to judge me behind my back for not being a book blogger for the love of book blogging itself.

Thankfully, things are slightly better than they were when I joined the community years ago. My library is no longer stretched for money, and in fact I am now an employee at my regional branch.

I still need those ARCs. And yeah, I’m still in it mainly for them. I simply don’t have the luxury of doing otherwise.

6 COMMENTS

  1. I’ve never understood the anti-arc bias. Are movie bloggers told never to accept a free screening? Are music bloggers told not to take mix cds? The implication that getting a book “for free” (and not from the library) means the blogger can’t give a bad review is refuted by my entire review history.

  2. I think you’re quite brave to post about this first of all and I’ve never been in that situation so I’m trying hard to check my privilege (and feel free to nicely tell me if I screw up). My first instinct is to wonder about inter-library loans since even though my library might not have a new book, I can usually find it somewhere in the state. It seems likely that you’ve looked into all your options, just wanted to be sure you weren’t missing out on a way to get books you want.

    I find that there is a strange difference between the YA book blogging world at the SF/F book blogging world when it comes to posting about new and upcoming books. It seems strange to me that you feel the need to write about the newest books in order to “keep up with all the other blogs.” Since we’re in such a saturated corner of the internet, being different is generally a good thing, so writing about books that everyone else isn’t writing about can be a good thing. I guess some of my hesitation when I hear “in it for the ARCs” is that I worry about your reaction if you don’t get a book you really want; it seems likely to lead to more jealousy and negative emotions ya know?

  3. Thanks for posting this. I agree, and it’s so honest. I honestly wish more people would be frank with themselves about this issue. Books are EXPENSIVE, and sometimes we do what we need to do to maintain our hobbies (and our sanity).

  4. I ADORE your honesty!! I feel like saying you’re in it for free books became a major taboo, when really it doesn’t have to be. You’re holding up your end of the bargain, so what’s the problem? I’ll admit, when I first started blogging, the lure of free books, new releases and publishing contacts were all very attractive and shiny, but like you say, the novelty wears off, because it is WORK to s certain degree, so if you don’t find other reasons to love it, you’ll not keep doing it just for free books. I’ve also found as time has gone on that I only request books I’m super interested in, because I’m such a mood reader and I struggle to read and review according to a schedule. That, and I quite like reading and reviewing backlists as opposed to the latest releases. I like to pick books based on others’ recommendations, and with new reads you can get burned a lot as there’s not as many opinions to go on. I have to admit, that I do spend with this hobby, however I certainly do hunt out the best bargains and discount codes I can find, and rarely spend full price on a book. In the UK, I’ve found the best sites are The Book People and The Works, and from what I can tell Book Outlet, Books-A-Million and Thrift Books seem to be pretty popular in the US. Reviewing for free books isn’t something to be ashamed of, I don’t feel – you’re being smart about your hobby, and you’re doing exactly what you’re supposed to in return for the book. Thanks for being brave enough to write about it! R x

  5. I agree with you. There’s never extra money for books and I do love reading and blogging. Thanks for the article you wrote.

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