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.  🙂

9 Responses

  1. I just have to say I am highly flattered with the company in which you categorized me. Blogging really does create a community of people who have similar goals and thinking. I am energized every time I read a post like this that makes me think.

    Can’t wait to meet in person in Philly!

  2. Sarah, I think you nailed it down for me why I feel so comfortable in the Kidlitosphere — “This isn’t high school- no one is too cool or too uncool.” The word COMMUNITY really comes to life in the interactions between bloggers and blogs whether it’s around education/classroom issues, books, or poetry. Great post!

  3. Thanks for all the info….it really is such a cool community to slither around in. I will try to out myself more and for as much as I read and share with my kids I SHOULD be writing more reviews for them. You’ve given me a ton to think about on this rainy day!!

  4. I hope that you will make it to the Kidlitosphere conference sometime, Sarah. It would be lovely to meet in person. And, like Karen, I’m flattered to be mentioned in such excellent company.

    I think that you did a nice job summarizing many of the relevant issues, Sarah. And I agree with you. Teachers – teachers like you anyway, who share books with kids – are a great audience for review books.

    Me, I need to keep getting better about saying no to books – I have way too many piled up. It’s a good problem to have, as problems go, but there is always that nagging guilt…

  5. Thank you for your insights! You’ve addressed several of the concerns I have as a classroom teacher about joining the online conversation. What tempts me is the community I’ve discovered in the blogosphere–that aspect has been surprising and exhilarating.

  6. Loved your entry; rambling or not. I review mostly middle years and YA novels on my blog, but mainly the books I’ve already purchased for my library. So they are not always hot off the press. My blog is linked to the Saskatchewan School Library Association site so I get a fair number of readers. You have given me the motivation to contact publishers to read and perhaps review many of their more current releases.

  7. Another great post, Sarah. I’ll second those ahead of me who talk about how valuable and tangible that sense of community is. There is a fine line as a blogger and the categories do get blurred, so it really comes down to the blogger’s goals. You’ve got an incredible way of blending a love of books and sharing that passion through teaching and spontaneous moments. Your approach – talking about books in the contexts of reader, teacher, and the audience (who the books are written for) – is always enlightening. I’m looking forward to the Kidlitosphere conference this year (it’ll be my first).

  8. Loved seeing a continuation of this discussion from a teacher’s point of view. Thanks!

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