Chronicles of an Obsessive Bookseller: The Snowball Book Slump Effect

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:

Reading schedules.

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


Chronicles of an Obsessive Bookseller: My Blog Snapshot!

My Blog Snapshot!

I tagged myself for this feature after enjoying it on the awesome Bookstooge‘s website (it was originally created by Stuart from Always Trust In Books).

I’m using this tag to express my blogging philosophies (and status quo), and found it very interesting to see how my style has evolved over the years. I wont be tagging anyone, but if you complete it, I’d love it if you’d leave me a link in the comments so I can come check it out. :) You may want to reference the original, as I made a lot of changes.

The Last 5 books you read:

All excellent titles. :)

Spoilers or Spoiler free?

I really, really hate spoilers. Even a minor one can wreck my enjoyment of a book. As a bookseller for all those years, I can’t tell you how many books were ruined for me by inconsiderate customers (things as blatant as – “oh, you’ll love this book! Although I was a total wreck at the end when the dragon died…”). My aversion is so bad, I won’t even read overviews if I can help it. They always seem to include major plot points I’d rather discover on my own. So it goes without saying, I keep my reviews spoiler free.

How long have you been book blogging?

I started blogging in 2012 to give myself a platform for the novels I was writing. However, by 2013 book blogging became a passion in itself and has brought me a lot more joy than writing ever did.

Your favorite genre?

Anything under the Speculative Fiction umbrella:

broad literary genre encompassing any fiction with supernatural, fantastical, or futuristic elements.

Preferred book size? (novella, tome…etc).

It’s not the size that matters. ;P

Number of books on your TBR pile?

A million. Okay, not that many, but Goodreads tells me I have almost 1500 titles on my to-read shelf, and most are just first in series.

Books you have recently DNFed?

I gave myself permission to be picky lately – best decision I ever made! Life’s too short to read books you’re not enjoying.

Recent awards or milestones?

Reaching my 4th year blogging was a big milestone for me. I noticed most of the bloggers I started out with petered out after about 2 years (I miss all of you). Sustaining my blog for 4 years and to still be having a ball with it feels noteworthy.

Best interaction with an author?

Best: Easily my best author interaction was meeting Patricia Briggs. She was so nice – answering all of my questions and signing every hardback I brought along. She definitely made me feel like a valued fan. :)

Mindy McGinnis was another awesome experience. She’s such a funny gal, and I loved the answers she gave me for what lay beyond her Not a Drop to Drink duology.

Jennifer Lynn Barnes I met while working the Vegas Valley Book Festival a few years ago. I had fangirled to my DM about how much I loved “The Naturals” and she made a point to snag me when Barnes stopped by. I was so excited – I embarrassed myself a bit haha.

Brandon Mull is a Utah native, and it was a total delight to host him at the BN I used to work for. He did a fun Q&A beforehand and, despite having seen a couple hundred people before me, was every bit as enthusiastic about my comments as he was to the first in line. This was when I got the first hint of the now recently released Dragonwatch. Awesome!

I’d been wanting to meet Dan Wells for ages – having totally love his Partials Sequence. It was a delight to get to meet him and pick his brain a little bit about his writing process (I had done an e-interview with him before, but still had some questions). The only awkward this was that he was signing with a couple of family members (his wife and brother I think, but don’t quote me) who are also published authors. They made me feel a bit guilty about not being interested in their books at the time, as I’d traveled 4 hours just to see Dan Wells. Oh well, lol.

DJ Machale was also a delight to meet – we got lost on the way to the Vegas bookstore where he was signing, so I missed the Q&A, but we snuck in at the last moment and had a great one-on-one Q&A, so it worked out haha. He signed all of my Pendragon hardcovers and geeked out about that series in general. :)

Worst: Richelle Mead, and not because of anything she did. I was battling a huge headache, my row was near the last to meet her, even though I had been one of the first to arrive (poor moderating), and I was so nervous that I kept repeating myself. Overall, not a good impression lol.

For the record, I would still love to meet Brandon Sanderson, Robin Hobb, Anthony Ryan, Ray Carson, Glenda Larke, Scott Lynch, and Kim Harrison, just to name a few in a very long line of favorites. :-)

Average number of books you read per month?

7. And no matter what I do, that number seldom changes.

Top three publishers?

TOR, Shadow Mountain, and Berkley!

They always have the best ARCs on Netgalley, but beyond that, they’re also the ones I’m considering sending my manuscripts to (I’m not even close yet).

Social media sites your blog uses?

I think my blog is linked to most social media sites, but I’m only active on Goodreads (are we friends on there yet? If not we should be – find me here).

Average amount of time you spend networking?

All f*cking day. Although I don’t look at it as “networking” so much as just spending time with my online reading friends. I was recently made a moderator for my favorite Goodreads group – Fantasy Buddy Reads – and I noticed my time spent on social media didn’t have to increase to accommodate it lol.

Sum up your blogging style in 5 words?

Recommending Brilliant Speculative Fiction Books.

Next time I’ll try for a Haiku.

18). A blog you looked up to starting out?

I had a few that dazzled me when I was just getting started, but I don’t follow them anymore. One I looked up to because she was a brilliant writer, had an amazing blogging concept, and had over 20,000 followers. She help me find my blogging “identity” as The Obsessive Bookseller because I appreciated how well branded her site was. However, due to infrequent posting and the fact that her and I did not enjoy the same type of books, I’ve since stopped following.

The other blog I’ll admit to unashamed blog-envy. She obviously spent a lot of time and money beyond what I was able to afford, and because of that her blog looks sooo professional. She also attended all of the big book conventions and was practically swimming in ARCs. I was jealous, lol. I eventually stopped following because her reviews always had a lot of negative undertones and I found her somewhat unfriendly.

The best book you have reviewed so far?

Just a few of my favorites from the last few months. Some awesome titles!  

Best piece of blogging advice?

Don’t try to limit yourself by what bloggers “should” and “shouldn’t” do. This is your creative space to express yourself however you please. Blog when it’s fun too. Stop when it’s not. Above all: make your own rules! You’ll gain and lose followers no matter what you do, so you might as well produce content that gives you joy. If I had stuck to what I thought should/shouldn’t be posted on a book blog, I never would have created my Simplifies Life series, which is definitely one of my favorite features I’ve ever done and it’s only partially book-related. I also never would have started doing mini book reviews… as stupid as it sounds, I thought anything short of a full review was against the “rules.” :)

Thanks for stopping by! I hope you enjoyed my blogging snapshot. :-)

by Niki Hawkes


Chronicles of an Obsessive Bookseller: Too Many Hobbies!

Too Many Hobbies!

I have come to a terrible realization: I have too many hobbies.

Or maybe the issue is, I don’t have enough time. Someone asked me the other day, “How do you have time to read? Do you give up all of their hobbies or something?” My response was an emphatic: “No, I still do all the things I love.” But after assessing for a few days, I realized just how delusional I am.

I’ve only been on one hike in the last year, I haven’t walked my dog in months, my Prismacolor pencil set is packed in the back of my closet with all of my paints, I’ve only done a few stitches on my cross-stitch project in the last few weeks, and I haven’t touched my WIP novels in two years. O_o This is a problem.

Lately, I’ve been itching to do all of my favorite things, but just can’t seem to find the time. I work forty hours a week, have a baby at home, and what little time I do have I spend either reading or blogging. It’s not a bad life, and by all accounts I’m quite happy, but now that I’ve decided to get back to some of these other joys, I can’t seem to fit them into my schedule.

So what do I do? Since The Obsessive Bookseller’s theme of 2017 is Simplifying Life, the only thing I can do is simplify blogging by taking time away from it to work on other projects. Henceforth: I think I’m going to pull back from gung-ho blogging for a couple of months to see what other creative mischief I can get up to. It’s not a burnout or hiatus, it’s just a strategic step back. I’ll only be reducing my weekly posts by one, but I think it’ll go a long ways towards helping me allocate my time. I know I could have just made the change and probably no one would have noticed, but I thought I’d say something anyway and maybe generate a discussion.

Who else has this problem?? Not only would I love to hear what kind of hobbies you awesome people have outside of blogging and reading, but I’d also love to hear how you balance them all with life.

by Niki Hawkes


Top Ten Things I Look For In a Blog!

chronicles of an obsessive bookblogger

As I have recently cut down the number of blogs I’ve been following by about 75% [detailed at The Obsessive Bookseller Simplifies Life: Blog Love! post], I thought I’d take a moment to write an opinion piece on what types of things factored into hitting that dreaded “unfollow” button. Only after finishing this post did I realize just how strong my opinions are on this issue. I need to clarify now that the following are all personal preferences and I mean no disrespect to anybody who views blogging differently than I do. Variety is the spice of life, and all. Anyway, without further ado:

Top Ten Things I Look For In a Blog!

Content – This is probably the most important factor. The blogs I continued following consistently post about the types of books I enjoy and don’t go off topic too often. I definitely appreciate a little bit of focus on a blog so I know what to expect going forward. Branching out on occasion is no biggie – I love posts that help me get to know the blogger even better, but if it’s a book blog, I probably followed it primarily for book content.

Friendships – a good portion of the blogs I now follow are by people I feel I have a genuine blog buddy relationship with. In most cases, they reached out and commented on my blog first, which I appreciate to no end because I doubt I would have met them otherwise. I am still following all of my blog buddies in one way or another – the simplification process didn’t change that.

Presentation – I discovered during “the purge” that I’m more of a presentation snob than I realized. If I found the blog difficult to navigate, whether from weird formatting, too much clutter, or a general lack of organization, it most likely got deleted (OCD ALERT!). I also have a really difficult time reading blogs with anything other than black on white print. The latter is not a total dealbreaker, but when I had to make snap decisions and my eyes were already straining, many didn’t make the cut.

Semi-frequent Posting – I’m talking more than twice a year, people. There are quite a few bloggers I genuinely liked and wished to continue friendships with, but they hadn’t posted anything new for over two years. I used to make fun of the “I’m on a hiatus, but I’ll be back xx/xx/xx” posts, but now I actually think they’re a good idea if you plan on returning eventually.

Innovative Ideas – I am all about finding new ways to present content. So when a blog seems to have original (or at least new-to-me) bookish ideas, I tend to latch on. I’ll admit whole-heartedly to the occasional bout of blog-envy. You are all just too creative for me to handle! :)

Spoilers – or rather, a lack of. I can’t stand having things spoiled for me, so I generally steer clear of blogs that give away key plot points. Some titles I’ve been waiting to read for years, and I’ve already had a few really good ones ruined by careless spoilers (because the spoilerish content wasn’t clearly marked).

No Gifs & Memes – I know it’s the new thing and many bloggers use them, but I personally find them annoying. I don’t think they add anything to a post that couldn’t be summed up in a couple of words. And I hate the endless scrolling (a lot of times my phone won’t even load them, so I lose interest and stop trying). I also think they can make a blog look tacky and unorganized. What can I say? It’s just not my style…

Positive Outlooks – Hey, I get it, we all have that book that made us so angry that we had to write a 10,000 word rant. I don’t mind negative reviews. What I do mind is an overtone of negative vibes, personal attacks, and all-around book/author bashing on a regular basis. I’m of the philosophy that you can explain exactly why a book didn’t work for you without calling the author an idiot. I read blog posts for positive vibes and thoughtful opinions on titles. Not hateful/hurtful things. There’s enough of that in this world already – don’t sully my book utopia with it, lol.

Respect – I admit, I stopped following a blog with content I really liked because the blogger didn’t respect my right to read and endorse whatever books I choose. There were several occasions where I felt this blogger was looking down on me because they found my book preferences personally distasteful. To clarify – I definitely don’t mind a difference of opinion. What books work for me might not work for you, and I totally get and respect that. What I’m objecting to is the blatant disapproval of what I believe is a personal choice. I’ve never read the Fifty Shades of Grey series, but I would never look down on anybody who read and loved the shit out of them. Whether it’s Fifty Shades of Grey, Twilight, or any other guilty pleasure, read what you want and don’t let anybody tell you otherwise.

Connectability – I like being able to connect with blogs on different platforms (Goodreads being my favorite). Of the blogs I was unsure of keeping a WordPress subscription to, I added either on Goodreads or Bloglovin. The ones who didn’t have either option didn’t give me the freedom to try engaging through other venues. There were a couple that also didn’t have WordPress follow buttons (I’m told it’s a fairly simple widget to add, but can’t preach until I’ve practices lol) , Which means I had to either keep following by email or delete the subscription totally, and with my new simplification motto, I just can’t take wading through 1000 emails every day.

There you have it! These are the elements that played into my evaluation of other blogs. Let me reiterate that I truly believe there is no wrong or right way to run a blog, and I’m still following people who have many of these attributes. They’re just the things I take into consideration. :)

What types of things do you look for?

by Niki Hawkes


The OCD Person’s Book Tag

chronicles of an obsessive bookblogger

The OCD Person’s Book Tag

I have had a couple of fun book tags cross my radar over the last couple of weeks, so I thought I’d do the one that looked the most insightful. A lot of these tags sound the same, but I really love the questions from this one – they are totally relevant to the type of questions I’ve been asking myself lately. It was meant to be a Gif tag, but since I never liked the way those look in blog posts, I’m taking my own spin on it (the boring one). :-)

You have a million unread books on your shelf. How in the world do you decide what to read next?

tackling the TBRI used to use a shortlist, where I pulled out twenty or so titles that interested me then play the eeny meeny game for ten minutes until I was down to just one. Now, I’ve started a new system called Tackling the TBR which I absolutely LOVE. It involves identifying my top priority titles, compiling them onto my TBR Tackler Shelf, and then picking from that throughout the month as the mood strikes me. It’s a system that guarantees that I read the best books first!

You’re halfway through a book and you’re just not loving it. Do you quit or are you committed?

I used to be committed to finishing any book I started no matter how much I wasn’t enjoying it. Nowadays, I realize with frightening clarity that I may not have a chance to make my way through all of the books I want to read (it would take me 40 years alone to read all of their unread books currently in my house), so if I’m not enjoying something, I take five minutes to spot-read to the end and then put it down. Life is too short to read books you’re not enjoying! Also, I discovered a DNF Q&A by Nikki over at ThereWereBooksInvolved (who kindly let me borrow the feature) which was the perfect solution to my dilemma on how to discuss these books fairly.

The end of the year is coming and you’re so close, but so far away on your Goodreads reading challenge. Do you try to catch up and how?

I’ve discovered during many failed readathons that I cannot possibly read any more than I already do. On one hand this is good because it means I’m maximizing my time, on the other hand I can’t simply push to get through books any faster. In November 2013 I noticed my goal of reading 100 books was 15 books behind schedule and climbing. I tried to pick up shorter books for a couple of weeks to catch up, but realized how stupid it was to push myself to read things I’m wasn’t in the mood for just to fix a number on a website. I adjusted my goal to 80 books and called it a day. :-)

The covers of a series you love do not match. How do you cope?

THIS is the worst thing ever – why would you do that? I can kind of understand why some books are available in paperback and others in hardcover (even though it’s still really annoying) but to change the style of the covering halfway through the series means there’s nothing I can do other than buy a second copy to fix it. I don’t cope. I cry. I avoid looking too long at those mismatch titles and cringe whenever my gaze lingers on them too long. It stresses me out. Hank Green has a really awesome book rant video that touches on this issue… I love it. Below are just a couple of examples of the titles that are ruining my shelves:

A sequel of a book you love just came out, but you’ve forgotten a lot from the prior novel. Will you re-read the book? Skip the sequel? Try to find a synopsis on Goodreads? Cry in frustration?!?

This problem is the reason why I have not finished quite a few series that I was really liking. It’s often those authors who took more than five years to get a next book published (JoAnn Bertin, Elizabeth Haydon, Jennifer Roberson, E.E. Knight, I’m talking to all of you), and so I’m stuck with the conundrum of reading the entire series over again (who has time?) or picking it up anyway and risking being totally lost. I have pretty good recall, but it really annoys me to not remember tiny details or side characters because I feel like I’m missing elements of the big picture. If it’s because I’ve put a series down for too long, I can’t really complain about that, but when it circumstances revolving around the author of the publisher that really hurts my heart.

You’re reading a book and you are about to start crying in public. How do you deal?

I don’t go out in public unless I need more books… or food.

Everyone and their mothers love a book you really don’t like. Who do you bond with over their shared feelings?

I know this sounds weird, but if no one agrees with me, I’ll bond with myself. I’ll write a really thoughtful review detailing exactly why the really popular book didn’t work for me and then I’ll sit there and reread it 1000 times, agreeing with myself with every pass. “Yes, that’s precisely why I didn’t like it – well said! I conveyed that point exactly like I meant to – awesome!” And on it goes until it gets too far down in my feed for me to find. Every once in a while someone who follows my blog will agree with me and the world stops as I bounce with joy. Here are a couple of the titles that just didn’t work for me. Don’t yell at me.

You do not want anyone. ANYONE. borrowing your books. How do you politely tell people no when they ask?

Anyone who has ever lent out a book knows that, if you even get it back at all, chances are it’s going to be trashed. I’ve only lent out a handful of books in my life, and every time they come back like they’ve been run over by a car (and in one case, my book actually was run over by a car... thanks a lot BJ). One of the biggest fights I ever got in to with my best friend as a kid was when I lent her one of my Redwall books with specific instructions not to crack the spine. When it came back to me with a single, solitary crack right down the middle, I was livid. I can’t remember ever being as furious as I was at that moment, (and for the record, she was pretty mad at me for being mad over something so trivial). Looking back, I admit it was a total overreaction, but even now my blood pressure rises whenever I see that same mocking copy of Mossflower on my shelf, tarnished forever. Nowadays I’ve taken a chill pill – I totally crack the spines on my paperbacks (in exactly 50 page increments), so it shouldn’t still be a big deal, but it’s the principle of the matter, you know?

As for telling people no, I try to be polite, but I think the look pure horror on my face offends most of them anyway. My mom, in particular, knows how anal I can get about my books… I outright refused to lend her anything ever again after she viciously cracked the spines on a few of my paperbacks. Thank goodness we share a nook account now – I haven’t had a book casualty in several years. Love you, mom. ;-)

Reading ADD. You’ve picked up and put down 5 books in the last month. How do you get over your reading slump?

I have reading ADD in the sense that, no matter how good the book is that I’m reading, I’m always eyeballing my shelves wishing I was reading those books too. I have never been in a reading slump, but that might be because I often have more than a few books going at once. If I get bored, I just rotate. At any given time, I have a physical book, and audiobook, and ARC, and the book on my phone for waiting rooms and whatnot going at once.

After you’ve bought the new books you can’t wait to get to, how long they sit on your shelf before you get to them?

10845984_10202966163624334_503165865379896020_nI have hundreds of books that I bought over ten years ago still sitting unread on my shelves. Since I’ve been more careful with what new books I’m adding to my collection, I don’t have very many unread books from the last couple of years (maybe 20 or so?). I would say the average wait time is about six months, even for books I’m dying to read. I just have so many! If it’s a book I know I want to read but it’s not a high priority, it will sit there for years.

There are so many new books coming out that you’re dying to read! How many do you actually buy?

When I was a bookseller for those 11 years, I bought EVERYTHING, which is why my collection is ridiculous. Now though, I’m looking at all of those impulse purchases I made throughout the years (we are talking hundreds and hundreds of books) and thinking “man, I really don’t even want to read half of these now… what do I do with them?” Even worse, I spent a pretty penny on entire series only to have picked up the first book and totally hated it. The bottom line is, I’m sick of looking at books on my shelves that I don’t even like or want to read, but I can’t get rid of them because I spent money on them and I’m weird like that. Nowadays, the authors I know I love get purchased every time. The ones I’m not totally sure about get checked out from the library first and then purchased if I end up liking them. That way, eventually my bookshelf will consist of only the best books. That is, if I can figure out what to do with all the ones I’ve already invested in…

Also, I started a 1500 for 1 challenge a few years back that has been working great for me. It entails that I have to read 1500 pages before I let myself buy another book. It used to be 4 for 1 (meaning 4 books read for every 1 purchased) but all that did was encourage me to read nothing but young adult. This new method is more proportionate to effort.

Tag!!! You’re it if you want to play along. :) Feel free to share in the comments if you do, as I’d love to read your answers to these OCD questions!

by Niki Hawkes


ARC Management Tips: How to Avoid Over-Requesting

chronicles of an obsessive bookblogger

ARC Management Tips: How to Avoid Over-Requesting

For the past 6 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