The Snowball Book Slump Effect
In my last Tackling the TBR post I mentioned I’d gotten myself into a reading pickle, signing up for too many things and having next to no progress on my priority titles. After some serious analyzing, I think I’ve finally identified the cause behind the book slumps I’ve been experiencing over the last few years. I’m calling it the Snowball Book Slump Effect.
In my entire book-loving life (…10+?) I’d never experienced a reading slump until I became a blogger and joined an online book community. I can remember times before that when certain books seemed to take me forever to get through, but those unfortunate circumstances were rare (even more so when I mastered the art of the DNF) and never sent me into actual slumps.
So what changed? Obviously joining the book community added even more opportunity cost considerations than I’d faced as a bookseller. So many titles!! And so little time. It made prioritizing reads even more important (see my TTT feature), but that in itself wasn’t enough to send me into a slump. If anything, it encouraged me to read more and made it easier to hand pick stellar titles. So I ask again, what happened? It’s only after this last month of analyzing my reading habits that I finally figured out exactly what has been leading me down the path of less enjoyment:
It started with ARCs. Reading suddenly became something I did on a deadline, and I can say with completely certainty that the stress always affected my overall enjoyment of the stories. I recognized the problems right away, yet it was something I was reluctant to give up because having access to early titles is the absolute bomb and building good relationships with publishers is part of my overall goal to establish myself as a credible spec-fic reviewer. It served my biggest passion, so it had to stay, but I did get a lot smarter in how I managed my time (see ARC Management Tips: How to Avoid Over-Requesting). I figured out how to schedule things far enough in advance to avoid the pressures of ASAP reviews, and what’s more got realistic about what volume of obligations I could actually handle, and for what titles I was willing to sacrifice leisure reading time for. People make the mistake of undervaluing their time in this regard. Books take a LOT of energy and commitment time to read, and the longer you’re in the field, the less you find yourself willing to risk that precious leisure reading time for anything short of the best titles. This is why I never accept self-published requests, and very rarely pick up anything unsolicited unless I was planning to read it eventually anyway and other authors, friends, or publishers are involved. It’s all about balance.
What started with ARCs eventually evolved into a paid reviewing gig (of audiobook production quality) which I also let get away from me for a while. At first I was so excited for the opportunity that I went overboard. Most of my selections in the first couple months were good books, just not ones I’d identified as high priority for myself. But I was dazzled by being able to call myself a professional reviewer, receiving a ridiculously small paycheck (just getting one was enough, trust me), and seeing my writing in print. However, it quickly brought up many of the obligational issues I’d had with ARCs early on, but these schedules were so much more strict that it often required me to abandon whatever I was enjoying midway to make sure I had enough time to complete my review copies. Scheduling these meant I had to plan all my other reading around them. That in itself wasn’t too bad when done right, but it’s the combination of all these things that snowballed me to hell.
Another thing that has popped up over the last few years is access to digital library books. I absolutely love how many free titles are available from my TBR, but as someone who thrives under predictability, I absolutely LOATHE the crap-shoot nature of the checkout system. I can’t plan, and every time I think I have everything figured out, a title that wasn’t supposed to become available for several more weeks pops up and I jump at the opportunity every time, even if I’m not ready for it. Because, as Murphy’s Law would indicate, when I finish a book and am ready to immediately start another one, there is never anything ready to check out unless I pounced on it earlier and have been playing “beat the clock” with it for a couple weeks. Now it’s on a looming deadline too. Utilizing the library has saved me literally thousands of dollars in book purchases (I should calculate the exact amount one of these days just for kicks), but it comes at the sharp cost of my leisurely reading. I feel like I have to read whatever becomes available while I have it, and that’s annoying. I’ve debated on more than one occasion between saving money and the quality of life improvement that arises from having books purchased and alway accessible.
All of that aside, the addition to my reading life that had the biggest effect on book slumps was signing up for Buddy Reads. If you don’t know what those are, they’re basically online threads where people converge to read and discuss books together. Kind of like an impromptu/impermanent book club. It’s a truly rad way to connect with people all over the world with common book interests, and I absolutely love sharing my passion with other people in this way. However, when it comes down to it, a schedule + peer pressure (aka other people counting on you to be there) = reading panic. And here, finally, is where the snowball effect takes place.
I’d schedule out one or two BRs for the month, making sure to leave significant buffers between books. However, my reading planning NEVER cooperates with reality, and inevitably I start to fall behind. Then between reads I try to squeeze in my paid obligation reviews and in the meantime a book I’ve been waiting on for months becomes available at the library and certainly I can squeeze that one in too and before I know it I’m only halfway through the first BR while working on an obligation read and have already started that library hold (which I won’t finish before it goes back to the library and I’ll have to wait another several months to see how it ends) and I find myself in an awkward position of starting yet another BR and putting all the other books on hold or bailing on people who I was excited to read with. Usually I end up saying “I’ll be late” and by the time I get back to it, my hold has expired for THAT book and I’m outside the socially acceptable timeframe to join the conversation, anyway. Not to mention that through all of this I also always have a digital ARC copy going and omg I’m overwhelmed. ::inhales::
This is how the snowball always seems to happen, and it results in a packed 5+ book lineup in my “Currently Reading” shelf.
Enter the slump.
Which book should I focus on now? Should I bounce back and forth? Go in order of obligation? I have to hurry though because the next round of paid reviews are coming due and yet another long awaited hold has become available at the library. What do I do?! ::sobs::
There ends up being too many things going on at once. I’ve discovered I thrive under any system that has me finishing books consistently. The payoff I get from checking “Finished Reading” is one that fuels my motivation way more than I’d originally thought, so any time I get myself buried like this, enthusiasm dies and reading becomes a chore. I end up feeling pressure no matter what I read because I have all the other half-finished titles looming over me. Instead of reading more, my daily page count consumption plummets to 0%-25% of what it is during peak months. I’ll go several days without reading anything, and often will get back into it by starting yet another book that oddly has no pressure associated with it because I didn’t start it during the snowball. I’m literally escaping from reading certain titles by immersing into something new.
Eventually I’ll chip away enough not to feel as overwhelmed. Usually this requires abandoning a few titles, rushing through others, and effectively vanishing from online communities so I’m not reminded constantly of my plight. On average, a single month of snowballing takes me three months to fully dig myself out of, and that’s a long time to feel like you’re not enjoying books as much as you could be. I’ve done this to myself at least a dozen times throughout the last three or four years, and a couple of bad back-to-back snowballs led me to the biggest slump I’ve ever experienced. I wasn’t reading, I wasn’t reviewing, and all of my important-to-me book-related goals came to a screeching halt (problems associated with this lasted almost two years until I figured out a new system to handle keeping an online presence while dealing with a book slump. I’ll probably do a separate post sharing my experience and tips on that later). So the only thing to conclude is that all these things combined are making it very difficult for me to enjoy my favorite hobby.
… but it stops now. I have a plan.
1. Continue Arc Management
This one is the easiest of my strategies because, as mentioned above, I already have a good hold on my process. I’ve mentally added to it recently by only committing myself to one ARC per month. And it’s working. When I’m not stressed about other reading problems (facepalm), reading ARCs is completely manageable and stress free. Another thing I’ve been doing is checking often enough to sign up for reads several months in advance, which also takes the pressure off. Before these last two months hit, I had a three month buffer. Now I’m feeling a slight edge to focus more…
2. Show more restraint with Paid Review Obligations
To keep a healthy balance, I’ve discovered I can handle only one of these per month. Every single time I see awesome titles in my lineup and request more than one, I regret it. Always. Because it means up to half of my audiobook enjoyment for the month is obligation-driven and that doesn’t allow me as much time for the titles I’ve identified as high-priority/important to me. A lot of times I get myself into this mess because the shiny titles available are ones that EVENTUALLY would be high-priorities (often new series starters from authors I love), but the way they affect my current priorities is just not worth it. Restricting myself to a single title per month will go a long way in alleviating some stress. The due date for those reviews creeps up on me faster than any deadline I’ve faced in years, and so I have to make sure I have them read well in advance (so, naturally, whatever else I’m enjoying at the time takes a backseat). These are cause for the most stress when I mismanage them because I have a contract to provide my content by a specific date and it has to be good because it’s published both in print and online. Half-assing it just won’t cut it.
3. Manage my Library holds better.
My library introduced a new system for checkouts at the beginning of the year that I’ve been too greedy to take full advantage of so far. Basically, instead of automatically checking out titles you forgot to suspend the hold for, they now have a three day checkout window that requires you to confirm that you’re ready for the book before it checks it out. If you say no or don’t respond, you keep your place in line and the book jumps to the next person. I think it’s brilliant. I know books were being auto-checked all the time by people who weren’t ready to read them (because I’m one of them), so it would sit the full 21 days with each person, thereby drastically increasing the wait time for everyone else. As good as this new system is, I’m still treating some of my checkouts like I did before it came into effect. When a book I’ve been waiting on becomes available, I get excited and confirm the checkout immediately even if I already have too many going to get to it soon. I need to be patient and wait until availability lines up with a lighter schedule so I can get though the entire book without missing the end (recheckouts required) or speed listening. I can do this. I hope.
4. Stop signing up for Buddy Reads more than 2 days out.
Seriously. Any more than that and I can’t be trusted to actually be available to join. These last couple months I tried to schedule things out several weeks, and that just did not work at all. I was late to every single one, missed two, and was so buried that by the time one came around that I was REALLY excited for, I just couldn’t justify adding yet another half-finished title to the lineup… and my new obligations were due. Ugh. Luckily, my group (Fantasy Buddy Reads) is super active, scheduling reads all the time. And we have a nifty monthly schedule that I plan to take more advantage of. If I really want to read something, I’d better be ready immediately. It’s as simple as that.
Overall, not only are these problems sucking the life out of my reading enthusiasm, they’re reducing the enjoyment rating of every single title associated with the snowball. I’m grateful I was finally in a good reading place again before this latest slump hit because it gave me the perspective I needed to figure out which specific actions were affecting me so much. I’d had inklings, but figured my biggest problems were more life-related than book-choice related. But if that were truly the case then why wasn’t I affected when I was going though my Masters program? Changing jobs? Going through breakups? Buying a house? Moving? Giving birth? Having an existential crisis?? Nope. Life variables don’t usually have an effect on my reading. It’s a hobby that’s so important to me, I always manage to make it a priority. Heck, sometimes stress can even make me read more. This is why all the reading drama I’ve had recently has been so distressing. It’s a hobby that has survived the worst of the worst and yet something has been affecting it significantly and I don’t like it Sam I am. I’m grateful I finally got the perspective I needed to figure it out, and I think working through and implementing these new strategies will go a long way towards the reclaiming the reading balance I’ve been missing so poignantly.
… I just need to finish some books first.
by Niki Hawkes