ARC Management Tips: How to Avoid Over-Requesting

chronicles of an obsessive bookblogger

ARC Management Tips: How to Avoid Over-Requesting

For the past 3 years, I’ve kept my ARC feedback ratio sitting pretty at 100%. Now, I’m fairly proud of this accomplishment, but I have to admit I wasn’t always this on top of things. When I initially figured out how to request ARCs online at NetGalley and Edelweiss, I went hogwild. I mean absolutely nucking futs, requesting everything I thought I’d ever might want to read. I managed to keep my response rate at a miraculous 70%, but only at the sacrifice of my free time (and sanity). It got to the point where I was only reading ARCs and still had more than I could manage.

If reading ARCs has ever felt like a chore, this post is for you!

Then I left my job as a bookseller and had create a new account to request as just a blogger… and it was the golden opportunity I needed to change how I handled ARC requests. Never again would I allow myself to get so buried! It’s frustrating when something that is supposed to be fun and exciting turns into an obligation. I knew I needed to make a change, and had several motivations:

  • I wanted publishers to know they could trust me to review every title I requested.
  • I wanted ARC reviewing to be less stressful and more fun.
  • I wanted time to focus on all my non-ARC books.
  • I wanted to minimize the number of negative reviews…
  • and conversely maximize the amount of positive reviews (which are infinitely more likely to be shared by the publisher/author).
  • I wanted to satisfy my OCD need for perfection.

And you know what? With this new system I’m about to share, I achieve ALL THE THINGS!

Here’s what I changed:

I started by implementing a few personal mantras:

Read the best books first.
Life is too short to read books you’re not enjoying.

These mantras were already working brilliantly for all of my other reading, so I finally grew a brain and applied the same philosophy to ARCs reading, along with this system (which can be used for to make any reading more enjoyable, not just ARCs):

Step one: Make a list of high-priority titles

I’d be willing to bet you already have a mental shortlist of the upcoming releases you are just dying to read. My suggestion is to make it official – go onto Goodreads and create an “Upcoming Releases” shelf and add all of these high-priority titles to it. A handwritten list works just as well, but I prefer using Goodreads to organize things because they have nifty little shelves that are relatively easy to populate (and it can be a lot of fun to see cover art pop up sporadically). I took it one step further by splitting books into “Upcoming Releases with Covers“, and “Upcoming Releases without Covers” because I’m anal.

Step 2: Only request titles from this list

Pretty self-explanatory, isn’t it? But I tell you, it has completely revolutionized the way I handle ARCs. If you visit my shelves, you’ll notice between the two of them there are only about 45 books. If all of them were to be made available as ARCs, I might die of pure bliss, but I’d also be pretty darn overwhelmed to read them all. However, since I’ve been doing this method, I’ve noticed only about 1 in 10 ever becomes available as an ARC (the ratio is probably a lot higher for those lucky ducks who get ahold physical copies…jerks). For me, this works out to about one new ARC available every 3 to 4 weeks (i.e. totally manageable!).

This two-step system seems ridiculously simple, but really works if you don’t cheat. ;) Here are a few tips to help you stick to it:

->Avoid the “Ooh, shiny!” requests:

This is the most important piece of advice I can offer you. Even with the Goodreads system in place, it’s hard not to fall victim to the “oh!!! It’s so pretty!” requests. We’ve all done it, especially during ARC droughts – a tempting title with a gorgeous cover and interesting premise pops up and it’s SO EASY to give in. Resist the urge!!! Even if you don’t have anything else requested, Murphy’s Law states that the minute you send for a title, two you’ve been dying to read will become available (because Murphy is an asshole). This used to happen to me all the time. My priority would obviously be the books I’ve been dying to read first with the best intentions to get back to the “shiny” ones, but of course I seldom did. #fail

Just don’t do it. See something shiny? Great! Mark it as to-read on your Goodreads profile and move on. I’m serious! I even have bullet points to emphasize how not spontaneously requesting will benefit you:

  • You won’t over-request.
  • It will free up time for you to focus solely on the books you’re most excited about.
  • You can experiment with the “shiny” titles later without obligation.
  • There’s no pressure to finish them (because the worst thing ever is to push through a book you’re not enjoying).
  • You can stick to the books you know you’ll have the best chance of enjoying.
  • You’re not really losing out because things from your highly-anticipated list are the shiniest of all and discovering one of them has become available is the biggest thrill. You wouldn’t want to take away from that by not being able to pick it up immediately, would you? ;)

->Set a comfortable review schedule:

The ARC world seems to be one of feast or famine. I can easily go 2 months without anything from my list becoming available all the sudden to have five of them appear at once. This is why creating a schedule has been so important. Based on what I know of my own reading habits, I allot at least two weeks to read an ARC and compose its review. Realistically, I could probably swing it in a couple of days, but the buffer allows for life to get in the way (as it most often does). Additionally, I write biweekly reviews for Southern Utah Independent newspaper, so I have extra motivation for a set schedule to make sure I don’t have more ARC reviews than slots to run them. On my calendar, every other Thursday is blocked out for ARC reviews. As I get approved, I go through and write in each title accordingly (this also helps me keep track of archives/publication dates for each ARC ensuring everything runs within a reasonable timeframe).

If you can’t fit an ARC into your comfortable schedule, don’t request it. If and only if you’re ahead of schedule (or best yet, caught up completely) then you can add more. Take it from me, scrambling to get it done on time is no fun. And for the record, I’m still talking about requesting additional titles from your list. Not “shiny” ones.

->Never request a sequel in a series you’ve not yet started:

This is kind of a minor tip, but I did this to myself a couple of times and I still haven’t fully recovered. Let me tell you from experience, it’s absolutely miserable trying to get through a book you’re not enjoying knowing you have a second one to attend to afterwards. Pure. Misery. Additionally, even if it turns out you like this series, reading the first one always seems strangely like doing homework and becomes an obligation in its own right. So, even if you are sure you’ll love the series, don’t do it.

->Don’t hedge your bet by anticipating declined requests.

Because the minute you do, you’ll get approved for all of them and then you’re effed. Besides, if you prove yourself reliable, the number of declined requests will decrease over time.

I hope you found these tips helpful – they certainly have revolutionized how I’ve approached reading and blogging in general and I am definitely happier for it. Not to mention I have a beautiful 100% feedback ratio to keep me happy. I’m also operating under the theory that I’m more likely to get approved in the future if I can prove to publishers that I’m reliable. It’s a win-win situation.

I’d love to know – how do you manage your ARCs? Do you use any of the methods I do? Or, even better, do you have a totally different system that works for you? I’d love to hear about it. :-)

 by Niki Hawkes


Book Review: The Gates to Futures Past by Julie E. Czerneda

gate to futures pastTitle: The Gates to Futures Past

Author: Julie E. Czerneda

Series: Reunification #2

Genre: Science Fiction

Rating: 4/5 stars

Release Date: September 6, 2016

The Overview: Betrayed and attacked, the Clan fled the Trade Pact for Cersi, believing that world their long-lost home. With them went a lone alien, the Human named Jason Morgan, Chosen of their leader, Sira di Sarc. Tragically, their arrival upset the Balance between Cersi’s three sentient species. And so the Clan, with their newfound kin, must flee again. Their starship, powered by the M’hir, follows a course set long ago, for Clan abilities came from an experiment their ancestors—the Hoveny—conducted on themselves. But it’s a perilous journey. The Clan must endure more than cramped conditions and inner turmoil. Their dead are Calling. Sira must keep her people from answering, for if they do, they die. Morgan searches the ship for answers, afraid the Hoveny’s tech is beyond his grasp. Their only hope? To reach their destination. Little do Sira and Morgan realize their destination holds the gravest threat of all…. -Goodreads

The Review:

“The Gates to Futures Past” is another installment in a long line of books following Sira (a powerful Clan woman in a human-dominated universe) and Morgan (Sira’s human partner in crime with plenty of power of his own). The series began with “A Thousand Words for Stranger” (“The Trade Pact Universe” #1) back in 1997 and has only grown more dynamic and interesting since. I’m very passionate about this author – she is one of my favorite science fiction writers for a couple of reasons: she has well-rounded characters who stick with you long after you finish the books, uses a brilliant infusion of biology to make her flora and fauna more realistic and creative (she was a biologist before becoming a writer, which I think gives her an edge), and her books always have delightful splashes of humor. While this saga in particular isn’t my absolute favorite from this author (averaging only 4 out of 5 stars), I’ve thoroughly enjoyed it.

Any day I have a chance to dive into Sira and Morgan’s world is a good day, so it really doesn’t matter what they’re doing for me to enjoy reading about them. That said, from a story-construction perspective, “The Gates to Futures Past” spent a ton of time (about half the book) stagnating in the same setting. Now, I’m not sure how the author could have progressed the plot convincingly without a good portion of the novel committed to the same setting, but as a reader, I eventually hit a point where I was like, “So… when does the real story begin?” But when I finally reached the halfway mark, the story exploded with awesomeness. It was worth the wait.

And actually, the whole saga was kind of worth the wait. It has been slowly building up to the specific story points being explored in this most recent trilogy. At the very back of “A Rift in the Sky” (the final book in her “Stratification” Trilogy), almost as an afterthought, Czerneda conveyed the following in her Author’s Note:

I hope you enjoy the first six books of the Clan Chronicles. Once you have, I hope you paid attention and have questions.

Because I promise…

You ain’t seen nothing yet.

As you can imagine, I was super excited to see what the author had in store next. I also thought those were some risky words on the author’s part to commit in writing – with all the buildup and anticipation she was creating, her readers had no choice but to expect a big payoff. Well, after reading this most recent novel, the story is definitely living up to its potential!

At the risk of sounding overly critical, the only issue I had with this book (and others in the saga) is an occasional lack of clarity. The author has a tendency not to write in complete sentences, especially when she’s trying to be deliberately vague to help build suspense. Her unique sentence construction often gives her a distinct voice, one which is very strong, creative, and immersive, but every once in a while can lead to a bit of confusion. Each book has these “Interludes” where she talks about the M’hir (a place from which the Clan draw their power… I’ve always kind of thought of it as a sub-space type of place) and the entities within it. She writes it as more from a sensory standpoint than a descriptive one, which often left me lost on what was happening, perhaps deliberately so (even when I was studying this series while competing in Czerneda’s beta reader competition, I still wasn’t totally sure I knew what was going on). Anyway, even if eventually these passages made more sense, it can be a little frustrating spending so much time and focus trying to understand them from the get-go. I didn’t have this issue with any of her other stories, which is the only reason why I didn’t rate these quite as high (but like I said, they are still entertaining reads).

Overall, if you like science fiction of the space opera variety, I highly recommend Julie E. Czerneda. “The Gates to Futures Past” is the 2nd book of the 3rd trilogy in this saga. “The Trade Pact Universe” trilogy is where Sira’s story begins, and “Reap the Wild Wind” is the beginning of the prequel “Stratification” trilogy. Really, you can read them in either order, but I think I would steer you more towards beginning with “The Trade Pact Universe” trilogy. Both trilogies contribute heavily to this “Reunification” trilogy, so I would definitely recommend devouring both of those before starting this one.

I’d like to thank Berkley Publishing Group, Julie E. Czerneda, and NetGalley for the chance to read and review an early copy of The Gates of Futures Past!

Other books you might like (besides ALL THE THINGS Czerneda):

by Niki Hawkes


Coming Soon: Babylon’s Ashes by James S.A. Corey

Title: Babylon’s Ashes

Author: James S.A. Corey

Series: The Expanse #6

Genre: Science Fiction

Release Date: December 6, 2016

The Overview: The Free Navy – a violent group of Belters in black-market military ships – has crippled the Earth and begun a campaign of piracy and violence among the outer planets. The colony ships heading for the thousand new worlds on the far side of the alien ring gates are easy prey, and no single navy remains strong enough to protect them. James Holden and his crew know the strengths and weaknesses of this new force better than anyone. Outnumbered and outgunned, the embattled remnants of the old political powers call on the Rocinante for a desperate mission to reach Medina Station at the heart of the gate network. But the new alliances are as flawed as the old, and the struggle for power has only just begun. As the chaos grows, an alien mystery deepens. Pirate fleets, mutiny, and betrayal may be the least of the Rocinante’s problems. And in the uncanny spaces past the ring gates, the choices of a few damaged and desperate people may determine the fate of more than just humanity. –Goodreads

Waiting on Wednesday
Hosted by Breaking the Spine

Book 5 (Nemesis Games) might have been the best book yet, which is extremely exciting for the longevity of this series. It’s one of my favorites because of the great characters, fantastic writing, and fast-paced storytelling. Maybe you’ve seen The Expanse series on the Sci-Fi channel? That show is based on these books (and I have to say I think they did an excellent job keeping it true to the original story – much love!). Overall, this is one of those series I drop everything to pick up when a new one comes out. Is November here yet?! ;-)

 What book are you waiting on?

by Niki Hawkes


Book Review: Horde by Ann Aguirre

HordeTitle: Horde

Author: Ann Aguirre

Series: Razorland #3

Genre: Teen Post-Apocalyptic

Rating: 4/5 stars

The Overview: The horde is coming.

Salvation is surrounded, monsters at the gates, and this time, they’re not going away. When Deuce, Fade, Stalker and Tegan set out, the odds are against them. But the odds have been stacked against Deuce from the moment she was born. She might not be a Huntress anymore, but she doesn’t run. With her knives in hand and her companions at her side, she will not falter, whether fighting for her life or Fade’s love. Ahead, the battle of a lifetime awaits. Freaks are everywhere, attacking settlements, setting up scouts, perimeters, and patrols. There hasn’t been a war like this in centuries, and humans have forgotten how to stand and fight. Unless Deuce can lead them. This time, however, more than the fate of a single enclave or outpost hangs in the balance. This time, Deuce carries the banner for the survival of all humanity.

The Review:

This is the final book in the Razorland trilogy, and I have to say it was a really good series-ender. I was oddly fearful to pick it up and even stalled for a full year because I was worried it wasn’t going to like it. I’m not sure where that irrational fear came from because it’s no secret Aguirre is one of my top authors. Whether it’s a post-apocalyptic zombie story, a science fiction about an alien prison (The Dred Chronicles), or new adult romances (The 2B Trilogy), Aguirre consistently delivers books that I absolutely love with her great writing, amazing characters, and fun storylines. I think my hesitance with Horde was that I couldn’t really see the vision on where the story was headed. In addition, there were a few gruesome (in concept, not detailed in writing) scenes in Outpost that left me a bit sickened and depressed after reading them (I know, I’m a weenie).

Either way, when I finally did read it, I really dug it.

I think horde was just as conceptually disturbing, but I must have been in a much better mood to read it because I devoured it. I also appreciated where Aguirre took the story – finally giving me some answers behind how the “muties” emerged, which also allowed me to finally understand why she was vehemently offended that people referred to them as zombies… an attitude I find a little strange considering she never really describes their origins until the 3rd book. Anyway, it ended up being rather thought-provoking, which I liked.

One of my favorite things about this series was the way the author incorporated all the different humans subcultures in this post-apocalyptic world. She had everything from gangs to religious zealots, and I thought they all added a different wrinkle of perspective to the story. None of it was ironic, and really made the story seem more realistic. I also especially loved Deuce – the main character. She had a lot of conviction, and within all of these different subcultures still managed to adapt and make the best out of each situation (which is why I named her “most adaptable” in my Top Ten Female Characters That Inspire Me! post a few years ago). The Razorland Trilogy might not be my favorite work from Aguirre (which is only a solid 4-stars), but Deuce is easily one of her best characters. I know Aguirre has another series planned for the same world (the first book is called Vanguard, and I think it comes out sometime in early 2017), and I really hope Deuce makes at least a cameo appearance.

Although I really liked Horde, the characters do an awful lot of traveling, which got a bit repetitive. Honestly, I don’t know how else the author could have progressed the plot to where she wanted it to go without all the back and forth, but pacing suffered a little bit. Also, when I think of the word “horde” I think a plethora of creatures too numerous to count… not a group of creatures numbering a couple thousand (:/). So in that regard, the overall story conflict felt a lot more narrowly focused than I thought it was going to. It was still good, mind you, it just didn’t escalate to the level that some other books in the genre have. Arguably though, the logistics for this post-apocalyptic story were a lot more realistic, so I guess there’s your trade-off.

Overall, I’m really glad to have read this series and am excited to see what Aguirre does with it next.

Recommended Reading: I would suggest the Razorland Trilogy to people who love zombie stories and teen books with an edge. Even though I’m not fully on the zombie bandwagon, I think others who are would really enjoy Aguirre’s take on them (even though they’re not technically zombies… close enough to count though).

Other books you might like:

by Niki Hawkes


Coming Soon: Bad Blood by Jennifer Lynn Barnes

bad bloodTitle: Bad Blood

Author: Jennifer Lynn Barnes

Series: The Naturals #4

Genre: Teen Fiction

Release Date: November 1, 2016

The OverviewWhen Cassie Hobbes joined the FBI’s Naturals program, she had one goal: uncover the truth about her mother’s murder. But now, everything Cassie thought she knew about what happened that night has been called into question. Her mother is alive, and the people holding her captive are more powerful—and dangerous—than anything the Naturals have faced so far. As Cassie and the team work to uncover the secrets of a group that has been killing in secret for generations, they find themselves racing a ticking clock. New victims. New betrayals. New secrets. When the bodies begin piling up, it soon becomes apparent that this time, the Naturals aren’t just hunting serial killers.

Waiting on Wednesday
Hosted by Breaking the Spine

The Naturals series very quickly became my favorite teen fiction read, as I was hooked right from the very first chapter (and have completely devoured every one since)! It’s just such a smart series – involving teenagers naturally gifted with different skills that make them ideal candidates for solving crime. Cassie, the main character, can accurately predict things about people just by analyzing their appearance and mannerisms. Each book was absorbing, intense, and entirely fascinating, and I imagine the final book will be just as amazing. You’d better believe I’m dropping everything to read Bad Blood the day it comes out! :D

What book are you waiting on?

by Niki Hawkes


Book Review: The Witch With No Name by Kim Harrison

witch with no nameTitle: The Witch With No Name

Author: Kim Harrison

Series: Rachel Morgan #13

Genre: Urban Fantasy

Rating: 4/5 stars

The Overview: Rachel Morgan’s come a long way from the clutzy runner of Dead Witch Walking. She’s faced vampires and werewolves, banshees, witches, and soul-eating demons. She’s crossed worlds, channeled gods, and accepted her place as a day-walking demon. She’s lost friends and lovers and family, and an old enemy has become something much more. But power demands responsibility, and world-changers must always pay a price. That time is now. To save Ivy’s soul and the rest of the living vampires, to keep the demonic ever after and our own world from destruction, Rachel Morgan will risk everything. –Goodreads

The Review:

I’ve been slowly working my way through this series for ages, savoring every last moment. Now that I’ve finally reached the end, I feel a combination of sadness that it’s over, satisfaction at how it ended, and gratitude to have experienced such a great series. There are brilliant moments throughout The Hollows that I’ll remember forever. It’s definitely one of my top three all-time favorite urban fantasies.

My favorite part of this series is definitely Rachel’s relationships with the other characters – primarily Trent and Al (who are both written with a lot of duality – something I love). Both are complex relationships that develop slowly over the entire series. What I loved so much about them is the fact that I was never totally sure what their motives were. They had that “mysterious” factor, if you will. The discovery process of figuring out exactly where they stood and watching their relationship with Rachel grow was pure magic. I’m pretty sure Al is one of my favorite characters from any series. Ever. I will miss him the most.

Now that I’ve hinted at how much I love to the series as a whole, I have a few very minor criticisms of The Witch with No Name. With this final book in particular, I admit I expected it to have a stronger climax, being the series-ender and all. That’s not to say it wasn’t as good as the books before it, I was just hoping to feel the escalation of the story a tad more. But really, when dealing with such an amazing body of work, it’s easy to have unrealistically high expectations.

I also found one element of the plot a bit too drawn out and repetitive – that involving the vampire Cormel. Without giving too much away, let’s just say Cormel started blackmailing Rachel to get her to do something for him, but never really carried through on his threats. It went a little like, “do this thing, or else!” and Rachel was like, “Maybe I will, maybe I won’t.” to which Cormel would respond “you didn’t do the thing? Well, do the thing, or else!” Personally, I lost patience with the whole dynamic right from the start, which is probably why that whole plot point seem to go on forever. My biggest objection is that it drew the story out unnecessarily and made a once scary character seem a little comical and inconsequential. Like I said, minor. But still annoying…

Anyway, the resolution to the series was everything I hoped it would be – the perfect culmination of events. I’d recommend The Hollows to any urban fantasy fan. In fact, if you love the genre and haven’t at least tried this series yet, than I’m not sure we can be friends until you do…

As a side note, I’m very much looking forward to diving into Harrison’s new Peri Reed Chronicles even though The Drafter hasn’t gotten the highest reviews so far. The way I see it, Harrison is one of those authors who builds her stories into something amazing over the course of several books. I didn’t think Dead Witch Walking was anywhere near as good as her later novels, and I attribute all of that to the way she built the story. And it turned out amazing. Therefore, I’m definitely willing to give her new series some time…

Other books you might like:

by Niki Hawkes