ARCs and Authors, Bloggers and Blogs! My Oh My!

There have been a lot of posts in the book blogopshere this week about requesting ARCs, cool vs. uncool blogs, emailing bloggers/reviewers, and blog angst.  I’ve been starring posts in my Google reader, drafting posts here on the blog, and thinking a lot of the posts over in my own head.  This is going to be a mish-mosh post of ideas from all over, but I wanted to get my say about some of these topics.  

I feel like I walk a fine line as a blogger sometimes.  TheReadingZone is the blog of a teacher, reader, reviewer, and technophile.  I am middle school language arts teacher who loves, loves, loves to read (and always has!).  When I started blogging I wanted to open a window into my classroom while also helping other teachers and parents find books for their tweens/teens.  Very quickly I realized that my real mission was to spread the joy of reading and reading aloud with kids who aren’t traditionally seen as readers or potential read-aloud audiences.  I’m not always sure which category my blog falls into.  Is this an education blog?  A book blog?  A kidlitosphere blog?  A YA blog?  A teacher blog?  Regardless of the category, I love reviewing books.  With or without the blog, I would be reviewing.  

A Teacher Who Blogs and Reviews….On and Off-line

Being a teacher/blogger puts me in an interesting position as a reviewer.  I don’t get boxes of books everyday, but I do get a decent amount of review copies (and a few ARCs here and there).  I’ve made it clear from the beginning that I do not guarantee a review for every book I read.  I would need 6542 hours in a day to read all the books on my TBR pile, do my school work, go to work, and have a normal life.  But I do promise to read every book I receive.  And I promise to booktalk all books to my classes, as they all end up in my classroom library.  ARCs and review copies move to my classroom library as soon as I finish reading them, where they are shared with my students.  I have between 50-100 students per year and every class reacts to review copies and ARCs the same way- with awe and excitement.  

Teachers are an untapped resource for publishers and authors.  This isn’t saying that all teachers want to read and share books with their students and not all teachers will have the time to devote to it.  But even a few books a year for a teacher will then be shared with their classes.  The anecdotal evidence in my classroom shows over and over that word-of-mouth is the best way to share books with kids and build buzz.  My kids devour books and recommend them to classmates, friends, cousins, online friends, and parents.  Just before spring break a group of my students was passing around Evermore (The Immortals), a book I read and did not get a chance to review. I haven’t seen the book in weeks- my students read it, passed it on to a classmate in a different class, and it’s somewhere down the line now. I’ll get it back before summer break, but I am thrilled that they are reading and sharing the book! I also have a another group of girls who bought the book because they didn’t want to wait for their turn to read it. And they all have the release date of the sequel written in their planners!  One review copy sparked all of this frenzy from kids who otherwise might never have discovered the series or Alyson Noel as an author.

While I sometimes feel guilty that I don’t get to review I receive, I feel better when I watch my students read and recommend the books to each other.  And even better when I see them buying books!  Publishers need to reach out to schools and teachers, especially teacher bloggers.  We spend most of our lives in front of an untapped audience.  

But How Do I Get ARCs?  Getting Free Books Sounds Cool!

I get a few emails a week asking me how to get on ARC lists.  To be perfectly honest, I get very few ARCs.  The ARCs I do get usually come directly from authors or from giveaways.  I rarely ask authors for ARCs.  If an author asks for reviewers to contact them and it’s a book I want to read, I shoot off a quick email.  Megan McCafferty recently did this for the release of Perfect Fifths: A Novel. Because this is my favoritest series, I shot her an email and hoped I would get an ARC. I was extremely lucky and did! Do I get a ARC everytime? Heck no! But it’s worth the few minutes to type up an email or enter a comment contest.

If you are interested in ARCs, start up a blog!  But remember, while this is a hobby that I love, it is work.  Check out the blog angst posts the pop up every few months and you’ll see people who are retreating a bit.  There are days (and weeks) when I feel completely overwhelmed.  But I love the community in the blogosphere and I love my blogging colleagues and friends- people I have “met” online like Stacey at Two Writing Teachers, the amazing Kathi Appelt, Karen at Literate Lives, Jen at Jen Robinson’s Book Page, Terri at the Reading Tub, and so many more!  As a professional community, the blogosphere can’t be beat.   I also love having the ability to read books, build buzz, and shout my favorites from the mountaintops.  It’s so much fun!

If you do start a blog, begin with reviews of your own books- whether they come from the library or the bookstore.  Build up a blog, make sure this is something that you want to do, and create a blog that authors and publishers can take a look at when you contact them.  If they see you are reviewing they will be more likely to take your requests seriously.  How many reviews?  How long should you blog?  I don’t think there is one answer to this question.  I blogged for about 6-8 months before I started contacting publishers and publicists.  At about the 1-year mark I was starting to receive review copies.  

Company and Community

If you do start a blog, be proactive!  This isn’t high school- no one is too cool or too uncool.  Leave comments on blogs and posts you read (though I am notoriously awful at doing this myself).  Insert yourself into conversations.  Join blogging groups like the Yahoo Kidlitosphere group.  Put yourself out there!  And go to any events that you can- author readings at your local bookstore, online chats (like those at Readergirlz), industry events (like BEA and ALA), and anything else book-related.  The Kidlit Blogging Conference is awesome (or so I’ve heard…I’ll make it there someday!).  Just make yourself known and connect.  You’ll build a readership.  You’ll learn from other bloggers,  And you will network.  

Author Requests

Another hot topic this week was author requests.  I don’t receive a ton of author emails asking if I will read/review their books.  But I do enjoy receiving emails from authors who have taken the time to read my blog and my About Me page.  Do I care if they call me “TheReadingZone” instead of Sarah?  Nah, because I make it a point to leave my real name out of the blog as much as possible (it’s a teacher thing).  But I do care if they take the time to notice what I read and review.  I don’t read and review adult books, so it’s silly to request I do so for you.  However, if your book is education-related, then I might read it.  Just send a personalized email, not a form letter.  I try to respond to all emails.

As I said before, I don’t email many authors and ask for ARCs.  I hope and pray I get them in the mail or I watch author blogs and websites for giveaways.  And I go to industry events, like ALA and BEA.  You’ve gotta be proactive, baby! 😉



Like I said at the beginning, this is a long and rambling post.  I just wanted to put some of my thoughts out there because the “hot topics” this week really got under my skin and the words were starting to flow out of my blood vessels!  That’s what happens when I am on spring break and have more time to read blogs and respond to posts.  🙂

Skeleton Creek by Patrick Carman

I don’t know if I will recover from reading Patrick Carman’s Skeleton Creek anytime soon. This is one scary book! I don’t do scary movies and I rarely read horror books, but the multimedia aspect of Skeleton Creek intrigued me, so I had to give it a shot.  Do not read this one when you are home alone.  I wouldn’t even read it at night!  It’s a fantastic story and I think I would be even more enthusiastic about it if I was a horror reader.  But I can recognize and appreciate a great book, even if it’s my least favorite genre. 😉

The story is told in journal form, with lined pages and handwriting-like font.  The journal writer is Ryan and he has just come home from spending two weeks in the hospital.  Ryan has been forbidden from seeing his best friend, Sarah, after getting into an accident the last time the two were together.  Life in Skeleton Creek is boring and the two had gone to explore a strange gold-mining dredge in the woods where a worker, Joe Bush, had died.  That’s where Ryan falls and ends up in the hospital in a coma for almost 2 days.

Ryan and Sarah are forbidden from seeing or contacting each other, but this is the age of the internet, IMing, blogging, and websites.  Sarah emails video updates of her continued investigation to Ryan.  Readers can access Sarah’s videos through the website listed in the book and the passwords given on each page.

The first video Sarah sends shows her first visit to the dredge and their first evidence that someone else is there. The video immediately creeped me out and I actually jumped at the end.  It reminded me a lot of the cinematography in “The Blair Witch Project”.  SCARY!  The second video shows the night of Ryan’s accident. In late videos Sarah continues to lay out her investigation.  Again- CREEPY.  I had trouble watching some of the videos because they really are scary. 

I can not wait to share this with my students and I can already predict a rush to buy the book, because no one is going to want to wait on a waiting list for this one.  The multimedia concept is really cool and I think it’s going to hook a lot of my more reluctant readers (especially boys).  Because the two main characters are male and female, this is an equal opportunity horror book that both boys and girls will enjoy, though.  

I love the video+text combination, but I do wonder how to handle it sometimes.  Not every kid is going to have access to the internet when they are reading the book.  The videos are interspersed throughout the book, sometimes only a few pages apart.  While you can certainly read it without watching the videos, you will lose a lot of the story and atmosphere.  Kids can’t always get to a computer while reading, especially if we are encouraging kids to read anywhere they can.  If you are reading at your brother or sister’s soccer game, you aren’t going to jump online to watch the videos.  Instead, you will be pulled out of “the zone” and might not continue reading until you can get online.  Also, what if the website is down a few years from now but the book is still in libraries.  Is it then useless?  Interesting dilemmas.

There are definitely some issues with the idea of tying books to the internet.  However, Skeleton Creek is a fantastic read and my horror fans are going to eat this one up.  And I know they will be thrilled that there is going to be a sequel in the fall.  Definitely pick this one up for your tween/YA horror fans.  


To get an idea of how creepy the videos are, check out this video from