I’ve been debating whether I should talk about today’s topic for a while now, but since I haven’t posted for a pretty long time, I think I owe it to you guys to explain where I am at the moment and what changes I’m planning for 2016.
For the past few years, I’ve been incredibly lucky. Since I started this blog back in 2011, I got to know dozens of lovely people from the world of publishing who were kind enough to send me ARCs (advance reading copies) of their upcoming books. For a book blogger, this is a dream. And I’m genuinely grateful for every single book I’ve been given.
But in the past few months, some things have changed. By the end of last year, I got to a point where reading – and blogging – felt more like a chore than a hobby I’ve always been passionate about. What started out as a short reading slump turned into a constant source of stress, and that’s when it finally hit me: I need to stop and re-evaluate what I’m doing, and why I got here.
During the last week of 2015, I realised something: in order to get out of this slump I’ve been in for the past year, I need to take things slow and go back to where I was a few years ago. To do that, I decided to take a break from ARCs – and here’s why.
1) I don’t want to “work” to deadlines
As a general rule, review copies don’t come with specific deadlines – but most publishers prefer bloggers to post their reviews shortly before or on publication day. With so many amazing books coming out within days and weeks of each other, however, it’s difficult to keep up. Since I work full time and travel quite a lot, my free time has been limited for the past year or two.
Unfortunately, I’ve always found it hard to say no to review copies (especially if it’s something I’ve been waiting for for a long time) and blog tour requests, so I found myself finishing books literally hours before I was supposed to publish my review on way too many occasions. Which, in the long run, is pretty exhausting.
So, a few months ago I came to the following conclusion: I’d much rather wait another month or two and pay for the book with my hard-earned cash just so that I can enjoy the story without having to worry about how long it takes for me to read it – whether it’s 3 days or 2 weeks. Reading my own books gives me much more freedom and makes me feel less pressured.
2) Not enjoying the book makes me feel guilty
As a book blogger, one of my biggest nightmares is getting a review copy of the book I’ve been eagerly anticipating for the past couple of months… only to discover that, actually, it’s not as great as I expected. If you’re a blogger, you’re probably nodding at this point, going “yep, been there, done that”. If you have yet to venture into the world of book blogging, let me tell you – it’s an awful feeling, for several different reasons.
Reason number one: the publisher sent me the book for free, paid for the shipping, and made sure it landed on my doorstep in a timely manner. And what can I give them in return? An honest albeit negative review, saying that the book is just not worth your time and you shouldn’t bother. Essentially, from their perspective, they wasted a shiny new copy of the book for nothing.
Even worse is the realisation that publishers have a limited amount of review copies available and, in fact, they could have given that book to someone else who actually ends up enjoying the story. I know, I know. How would you know if you’ll like the book or not? It’s not your fault, obviously – but it makes me feel very, very guilty.
Of course, it’s ten times more cringey if I actually know the author and regularly talk to them on Twitter. Being best of pals online for God knows how long, only to end up reading their latest work (or debut) and not being able to say too many positive things about it is just… terrible. Luckily it doesn’t happen often but when it does, it makes me feel awful and wish I never picked up the book in the first place.
3) I want to be more selective with the books I read
Sometime towards the first year of my blogging journey, I discovered the magical place otherwise known as NetGalley. As a relatively new blogger, I felt like a whole new world has opened up to me and I couldn’t believe I was actually a part of it. I remember spending the best part of an hour in complete awe, simply browsing their endless selection of new releases. I was mesmerised. And, as it usually goes (because I know I’m not the only one), I ended up requesting EVERY SINGLE THING that sounded vaguely interesting at the time.
Which would’ve been fine if I had enough free time or the ability to finish a book in a day. I had neither, so I soon found myself with a Kindle full of unread books (which, I realised, I mostly had no real interest in and couldn’t even remember why I even requested them in the first place) and no time to actually read them.
Needless to say, I still haven’t managed to catch up and my NetGalley ratio is embarrassingly low. It’s a disgrace. The good news is, however, that I do have a plan. My aim for this year is to read the remaining 5 or 6 books that I still own and are still on my NG shelf, and try to at least bring my ratio up to 55%. Since all the other books have been archived and I don’t even have them, that’s the best I can do at this point.
And once I’m all caught up, I’m starting again. Luckily for me, this time I have 5 years of experience under my belt and I know my reading habits, and my own limitations. I know what I’m capable of and how much I can handle – and I’ve learned that I need to be much more selective with the books I choose (and read).
4) I want to focus on my own books
Ever since I started blogging nearly five years ago, my TBR list has been endless. My bookshelves are overflowing with books I mostly haven’t had the time to read yet, yet I keep getting (and buying) new ones to read. Sometime in December, I picked up one of the books that has been sitting on my shelves for at least 2 years just to take a break from ARCs – and I almost finished it in one sitting.
That day was a definite turning point for me, and I never looked back. I’ve read a dozen brilliant and unputdownable books since then, all of which were part of my own collection. Not having to worry about deadlines or whether my review is going to be good enough, or whether I will like the book or not has been a massive relief.
I love the fact that I can set my own pace and read whenever I want, without ever feeling guilty – whether I read a couple of pages every day, or just a few chapters every two weeks. It made the last couple of months stress-free and reading an activity something I genuinely enjoy without burning out within a month.
So, I’ll dedicate 2016 to all the wonderful books that have been patiently waiting on my bookshelves for the past few months / years (as well as some slightly newer ones I couldn’t resist picking up) and to enjoy reading for what it is. This doesn’t mean I’m not going to read review books ever again – it just means that, right now, I think I need a break. And I’m okay with that.