Tuesday, January 31, 2012

Bx4 Guest Posting

We've been talking all month about being a blogging newbie, but what about when you're a big blogger?

Is it pretty much paradise on earth...with ARCs?

Why yes, my vision of paradise on earth DOES include unicorns!


Well, no. Not exactly.

Don't get me wrong, blogging is awesome, but just like newbies have all sorts of newbie things to stress about? Yeah, oldies have oldie things to stress about, too. 


But don't worry! Ruby from Ruby's Reads has got you covered! Check out her sister event to Busting the Newbie Blues in these great discussion posts:

Chat about oldie blues (The comments are filled with awesome)
Learn all about scheduling! (I get really excited about scheduling. You can color code things!)
Learn how to bust your big blogger blues from experts!
And from more experts! (and me!)

Yes, you read that right. If you're still dying to get more bits of Small wisdom, check out what I do when I start to feel the blogging blues. Here's a teaser:

Blogger burnout happens to me when I’m feeling stressed and overwhelmed. So what do I do? I procrastinate. I let things pile up even more…and then I feel even more burnt out and stressed! 

Wonderful, right? But that’s not the advice part, this is:

Ooooh cliffhanger! Hahaha. I know, I hate them too. But unlike a book, I'm not going to make you wait to find out more. Just click over to Ruby's Reads! See you there!

Why is he here? Um, because he was here the last time I guest posted at Ruby's blog. Isn't that reason enough?

Monday, January 30, 2012

Book Review: The Dead of Winter by Chris Priestley

The Dead of Winter by Chris Priestley
Release Date: January 31, 2012 (already out in the UK)
Publisher: Bloomsbury
Pages: 224
Received: ARC from publisher, via NetGalley
Rating: 3.5 out of 5 stars
Goodreads Page


Summary

From Goodreads:

Michael Vyner recalls a terrible story, one that happened to him. One that would be unbelievable if it weren't true! Michael's parents are dead and he imagines that he will stay with the kindly lawyer, executor of his parents' will ...Until he is invited to spend Christmas with his guardian in a large and desolate country house.

His arrival on the first night suggests something is not quite right when he sees a woman out in the frozen mists, standing alone in the marshes. But little can prepare him for the solitude of the house itself as he is kept from his guardian and finds himself spending the Christmas holiday wandering the silent corridors of the house seeking distraction.

But lonely doesn't mean alone, as Michael soon realises that the house and its grounds harbour many secrets, dead and alive, and Michael is set the task of unravelling some of the darkest secrets of all. This is a nail-biting story of hauntings and terror by the master of the genre, Chris Priestley


Review

Looking for a good Gothic tale?

Look no further. From the spooky old house, mad residents, and ghostly occurrences, The Dead of Winter is classic Gothic horror. It's even set up in that typically Gothic "Let me tell you a tale" narration style I love so much.

The Dead of Winter is so classic Gothic, in fact, that it almost felt like Chris Priestley wrote the whole thing with a "Features of Gothic Fiction" checklist in hand.

I'm the type of reader who delights in the comfort of repetition (just look at my fairy tale obsession for proof of that--how many times can I possibly read a 12 Dancing Princesses retelling? Endlessly), so I don't mind this checklist of the familiar approach. I even think it's fun spotting all of the requisite features.

Erm, except for when the features aren't really developed beyond the level of a checklist item.

I wanted more

The book is short, and that could be fine, but too many things were crammed in and none were particularly fleshed out. Plot threads were minimally developed and some were even dropped all together with no resolution. The supernatural parts didn't have enough explanation for me either. It was a fun read for sure, but the more I think about it the more I can find to nitpick.

There was SO MUCH potential with the haunting mystery, but it didn't turn out entirely right for me. It was like having a recipe for a perfect, delectable cookie...but then the baker accidentally doubled the flour and then forgot to add half the sugar. The bland, boring parts of the story were too much in the forefront and the zesty interesting parts were only half developed.

Seriously?

The Big Bad was a big disappointment. It came out of nowhere while also being utterly predictable. There was no build up or subtle suspicion on the part of the MC, and so there was also no depth or development to the villain.

There were a few not-so-subtle nods to the reader (like an old man elbowing you saying "Get it? Get it?" when, duh, everyone in the world gets it), but dummy Michael remained totally in the dark until the big reveal. When the Ah-ha moment finally came, it was almost hokey in over the top and out of the blue evilness.

And I'll admit it, I giggled. I know that sounds bad, but in The Dead of Winter's defense, this IS a Gothic book, and "over the top to the point of giggles" is pretty much one of those checklist features of the genre. So I guess I can give it a pass on that. It was fun.

Michael honey, CARPE DIEM!

What a whiner. I mean, ok, fine, maybe his mom did just die, but, jeez, can he tear himself away from his pity party for ONE SECOND and focus on the spooky hauntings? Please??

Nothing annoys me quite like a character who squanders good opportunities for fictional fun. Michael can't seem to recognize the value of being an orphan. Hasn't he read ANY books?? Fictional orphans get to have all the fun and Michael's situation is rife with potential excitement.

But apparently Michael missed this memo because he spent most of his time feeling sorry for himself and prissily complaining about how he wanted to leave ASAP. He also pouted because people didn't believe he saw a ghost. Pouted.

If he were a good little protagonist, he would have been throwing himself in perilous situations, hellbent on tracking down the malevolent presence stalking the dilapidated mansion and driving its residents off their rockers. We could have had so much fun together!

But no, Michael is a total killjoy. Things happened TO  him while he sat there like a grumpy log. He had absolutely no engagement or curiosity. The situation was all "ooooh scary noises! Randomly shattering mirrors!" and Michael was all dispassionately "Uh, no. I'm sad my mom died. And why do I need to stay here again?"

He even complained that an old man gave him money. Money?! Something is clearly wrong with that boy.

I'm complaining too much

Ok, ok, I'm whining too much myself. I actually did enjoy reading The Dead of Winter. The story, though thin, is a fun Gothic yarn. And it was seriously scary.

I'm a wimpy reader, and there were a two scenes that pretty much terrified me. Yes, terrified. One is in the middle and one is toward the end, and both made me want to run around screaming in fear. Then there were about three or four other scenes that were more on the usual level of leave on all the lights and walk with my back to the wall kind of scary. It was wonderful!

I also loved the "big family love" provided by the servants. They were a perfect warm fuzzy balance to the heart-attack-inducing scenes.

Bottom line

If it weren't for Michael, I would have given this an easy 4 stars. Really, he was the part that bugged me the most. I still managed to have a lot of fun despite him, and I definitely recommend The Dead of Winter to readers looking for quick Gothic fun and a good scare. I am for sure checking out more of Chris Priestley's books.


Explanation of rating system: Star Rating Key 


Do you have any questions about The Dead of Winter that I haven't addressed? 
Feel free to ask in the comments!



Looking for another book like this? 
You might like: 

Click on the covers to go to my reviews/Goodreads.

Saturday, January 28, 2012

Discussion: The Dark Side of Blogging

Last discussion post we talked about envy, an emotion that most newbies (and even established bloggers) will feel at some point. Since I don't like being a downer, we also talked about solutions.

Today I'd like to talk about three things most bloggers will encounter eventually. In the spirit of staying up beat, I'd also like to discuss how to stay positive in the face of these situations. Of course there are MANY different ways to respond to these situations and there is no one right answer. I'm sharing how *I* would respond, and I hope you will share in the comments how YOU would respond!

By laying out some of the pitfalls now, I hope to help newbies (and established bloggers who have been lucky enough to avoid these dips!) prepare themselves for these situations so they won't be caught off guard.

Because the thing is, there ARE downsides to blogging, but they're manageable. I promise.


Someone plagiarized my blog!

Yes, it happens. It has happened to me (it is likely STILL happening to me) and it may happen to you.

Here are a few excellent posts written by other bloggers about plagiarism, what constitutes plagiarism (yes paraphrasing IS plagiarism!), how it feels to be plagiarized, and what to do if you've been plagiarized:

They've done a fantastic job covering the ins and outs of what IS plagiarism, so I'm going to focus on the emotional side of things.

Having your work plagiarized is upsetting. It hurts and it kills the motivation to continue blogging like nothing else. For weeks after I found out my work was being plagiarized, I couldn't bring myself to write a single word (here's another example of why scheduling your posts in advance is wonderful.)

I couldn't shake the depressing thoughts of "Why bother? Someone is just going to take it, replace a few of my words with some synonyms, and pass it off as theirs."

It's hard to get past that, and honestly, I STILL struggle with this. The reality is that your work is always at risk of being plagiarized. To get back into writing, I needed to remind myself why I blog.

I feel great whenever I get comments and positive feedback. I have gained friends who brighten my life. I feel good when I introduce someone to a book they then read and enjoy. I love talking about books with fellow bookworms. I gain internal satisfaction from the pride of knowing I have produced written content, stuck with and nurtured a hobby, and continued to persevere even when I have encountered bumps in the road.

No amount of plagiarism can take any of that away. If your work has been stolen and you're having trouble finding the motivation to blog again, try to remind yourself of the positive side of blogging. 


Authors Behaving Badly

Unless you post nothing but absolutely glowing reviews, it is likely that, at some point, your review will upset an author and they will publicly discuss it. Maybe the author is straight up immature. Maybe the author read your review when they were already having a really bad day. There are a million reasons, but the result is the same: Public confrontation.

How you handle it is a personal decision, but this is what I say to myself:

When this happens, recognize that you are probably dealing with someone whose feelings have been hurt and they are lashing out with all of that emotion and pain. Those emotions are natural and understandable and it is important to remember that. It is equally important to remember that this is no excuse for bringing those feelings to a public forum.

Likewise, YOU will be emotional and hurt if an author criticizes you. Recognize your emotions, but do not allow them to dictate your actions. This is what the author should have done, but they didn't and the result wasn't pretty, was it? Don't make the situation worse by adding your own emotional response to the mix.

Maintain your professionalism.You cannot control the author's actions, but you can control your own response.

On your blog, you do have the option to delete offending posts. It is a good idea to make a note of what types of posts you will delete either on a policy page or in a customized comment form message. This can be a good approach to help avoid conflict on your blog and prevent anyone from (further) losing face.

If you choose to respond, be polite and do not argue with or engage in the specifics of their comment. Settle on agreeing to disagree and then wish them and their book the best. Leave it at that and move on.

If the criticized post is the result of a book you received for review, then you can direct the author to your review policy. Make sure your policy clearly states how you handle reviews for books you do not like and books you do not finish (and make sure your reviews adhere to this policy!). By providing a book for review, the author/publisher is agreeing to work with your policy.

Is this the pushover approach? Maybe. But, for me, it's also the approach that saves me from a boat load of drama, headaches, disappointments, and hurt feelings. I can't stop an author from getting upset and lashing out, but I have far too many books to chat about to waste my time on negative drama. I want Small Review to be a happy, welcoming place and I will always strive to keep it that way.



Oh, oh no

Have you ever misspelled an author's name? How about the title of their book? Or, oh gosh, have you ever sent the wrong review/email/request to the wrong author/publisher?

*cringe* I have. The thing is, we all make mistakes, and if you blog long enough, odds are you will make a mistake like this at some point. There's no getting around the fact that this is mortifying, but it also isn't the end of the world.

Again, authors are people, and since you are a person too, try thinking about how you would feel if this happened to you. What would you want the person to do to fix the mistake? Would you want an apology? Would you want the mistake corrected? Would you want to be assured that they do in fact care enough about you to make sure they get your name right?

Do what YOU would want done. Do what would make YOU feel better.

Plus, it's not like you would blacklist someone forever and ever if they made a mistake about your name, especially if they made an effort to fix that mistake, right?


What do you think are the dark sides of blogging? 
How do you address them?
Have any of these situations happened to you?
Do you have any advice on how to handle them?

Thursday, January 26, 2012

Tips & Tricks: Q & A Edition 3



What You Will Learn

A few weeks before Busting the Newbie Blues and Busting the Big Blogger Blues went live, Ruby and I posted up a question form. Readers were encouraged to write whatever newbie or oldie questions they had about blogging.

We've addressed many of these questions throughout our events, but there were a few questions that we either couldn't fit in anywhere else or didn't need an entire post devoted to them. So that's where this post comes in.

If you feel your question still hasn't been answered, please ask again in the comments!

If you have a question you would like answered in a future Tips & Tricks post, I would love it if you filled out THIS FORM. Tips & Tricks posts go up once a month, so it may take a little while for me to get to your question, but I promise you I WILL answer.


Let's Do This!


How do you add originality to your blog? How do you take ideas from other blogs without seeming unoriginal or copying?

The best piece of advice I can think of is to say look at yourself, not everyone else. YOUR voice is what will bring originality to your blog. Let your personality shine through and your blog will be uniquely yours.

But what about features? Memes? Honestly, I wouldn't worry about them. When answering the Busting the Newbie Blues questionnaires, you know what a lot of people DIDN'T like about blogs? When they're filled with memes. You know what people DO want? Quality reviews.

Still stuck? Try this approach:

Other people can be hugely inspiring, but when you look to others for inspiration you walk a tightrope with originality on one side and plagiarism on the other. Of course you do NOT want to end up on the plagiarism side of things (and keep in mind, paraphrasing or taking an idea IS plagiarism!).

Ok, so you're not looking at anyone else now, right? Now I want you to forget about your readers for a minute. *GASP*

Yes, your readers are hugely important, but when you think about them in this context, you're probably thinking of how you can please them. Do you know what that means? PRESSURE! It's incredibly hard to be creative when you're feeling that kind of pressure.

So now you're not looking at anyone else for inspiration and you're not thinking about your readers. What do you do next?

Look in a mirror. Ask yourself, what do YOU want to see? Focus on what YOU want. When you read a review, what do YOU want to know about the book?

How about frustrations? Is there anything that you as a reader and a blogger experience that frustrates you? A problem you've faced? How can you fix that problem? For me, my latest feature was born out of a need for book recommendations.

Once you've brainstormed some ideas, search around a little and see if anyone else is doing something similar. If no one is, then wonderful!

If they are, then no worries. Sure, maybe you'll scrap that idea, but you have discovered that someone is doing something you wanted. Even if it's a loss for the "original idea" category, discovering their feature is still a win for you.

Now get back to that mirror and think of another idea. Or don't. I said this earlier in my discussion post but it bears repeating:

  • When the muse is out on extended vacation, embrace the basics. There is nothing wrong with a review blog with nothing but reviews. You do not have to be the NEXT BIG THING to offer something of value. 

How do you get your heading banner thing to become centered on your blog? Mine isn't.

This probably has to do with your code. I'm not sure what's going on, but try looking in your code for words like "Header," "Align," and "Padding." Maybe your padding is set unevenly? Or your align isn't set for center? I'm sorry I can't be more helpful!

How, in comments, do you link your site so people commenting can check it out?

That is called anchor text, and it is fantastically useful! Check out my Tips & Tricks post called How to Make Anchor Text to learn how. Let me know if you have any trouble with it.

I've been trying to link up my Word97 to make it easier to post but it's just not working. I just love how other bloggers have these neat nice rating images and boxes in their post. I'm so not good with design.

Hm, I'm not sure what you mean about linking up Word97. I will say though, that when it comes to blogging DO NOT use Microsoft Word if at all possible (it took me a while to figure this out). Microsoft Word adds all kinds of extra code that could mess up your formatting and potentially cause errors. See:

Click to see in all it's awesomely bad glory
This is a blog post after I copied it from Microsoft Word. See the arrows? See all that green text? It goes on for almost THREE HUNDRED LINES OF CODE. It is entirely useless and is only there because Microsoft Word wants to be the bane of a blogger's existence.

Every time someone tries to view your post, their browser needs to read every line of code you have written. Look at all that useless code! Sloppy, sloppy.

Click to make larger
Ah, THAT is what I wanted! See how neat and clean it is? See how I couldn't even fit the whole blog post in one screen cap when it was copied from Microsoft Word, but in reality MY work only takes up five tidy little lines? MUCH better.

I highly recommend Notepad or Notepad++.(which is the program I've used to show my code in both of those pictures). Personally, I write all of my blog posts in Notepad++ because it does code highlighting (this is what makes the text different colors, and I am a color coding fanatic).

As for the rating images, I love them too! You can try sites like All Silhouettes or All Vectors to get an image you like for your ratings. You can crop the images using a program like Paint or something more advanced like Photoshop or Gimp (free).

By boxes, if you mean colored boxes, I have a tutorial called How to Make Colored Boxes that explains how you make them. I hope that helps!

And don't worry if you're not good at design. You'll learn! A lot of design is much easier than it seems at first. It's easy to be overwhelmed by design, but if you try to learn things in bite sized baby steps, it's a lot less intimidating. Also remember, a neat and easy to navigate blog is far more important than pretty graphics. 




The form is anonymous, so please don't feel shy at all!

I'm certainly not an expert, but I'll try my hardest to explain what I do know and research what I don't know.

Click here to read previous Tips & Tricks Posts 

Wednesday, January 25, 2012

WoW (41): Abby Grahame, Cassandra Golds

Waiting on Wednesday is a weekly meme hosted by Jill at Breaking the Spine where we all feature upcoming books we're eagerly anticipating.


I've altered things a little to include one book that hasn't come out yet and one that has already been published but I still haven't gotten around to reading yet.



From Goodreads:

The Darlington family is among Edwardian Britain’s most revered, but underneath this façade of respectability hides secrets that could mean their ruin. Lord and Lady Darlington’s seat at Wentworth Hall is one of England’s oldest estates, but the servants have been whispering about the lack of hands (and funds) for the upkeep of the grand manor.

Are the Darlingtons hoping to find 18-year-old Maggie a wealthy husband? Is that why newly moneyed Teddy Fitzhugh, whose father recently drowned in the sinking of the Titanic, has been invited to stay? His visit-and the complete change in Maggie’s personality since her return from a year abroad in France-gives the ever-curious staff even more reason to gossip than usual.

When scandalous satires start appearing in the newspaper with details suspiciously similar to the goings on of Wentworth Hall, the Darlingtons are determined to keep their secrets to themselves and their affairs (both private and public) in order. And the first order of business is finding the culprit. But where to start? Downstairs among the staff? Or should the Darlingtons look even closer to home . . .



Why I want to read it: 

Because I LOVE historical fiction. And gossip. And secrets. And mysteries. I can't wait!




From Goodreads:

Persimmon Polidori is a fine young lady, but within her is a rebel. She must follow her heart's desire, even if it means her family will reject her for the choices she makes. These choices bring her adventure and a world she never knew existed - they also bring her loneliness...

Along the way, Persimmon undergoes the trials of love, heartbreak, doubt and the discovery of her own true value.

And she does it with the aid of a tiny, brave creature named Epiphany.


Why I want to read it: 

Ok, so I'm not really feeling that cover, but I DO like the sound of the story. Persimmon sounds fun with best friend potential. I also like how the story sounds like it will be heartwarming with a sweet romance (but, heartbreak? Oh no!) and adventure. Plus, who--or what--is this tiny, brave creature named Epiphany? I am curious. 


Have any of you read either of these books? Would you recommend them? 



Join the fun!

Ever feel blue when it comes to blogging? Ever wish you could network your blog more, gain more followers, get ARCs, or learn more about the ins and outs of YA book blogging?

Check out Busting the Newbie Blues!

New bloggers ask their blogging questions, old bloggers help answer them! A casual event for the YA book blogging community.

Are you an established blogger? Come share you advice with newbies, or check out Ruby's Busting the Big Blogger Blues event!

Tuesday, January 24, 2012

Book Review: Borrowing Abby Grace by Kelly Green

Borrowing Abby Grace series by Kelly Green
Release Date: October 2011 - December 2011
Publisher: Backlit Fiction
Pages: ~50 pages per episode
Received: Review copies of episodes 1 & 2 from author
Rating: 4 out of 5 stars









Summary

From Goodreads:

Smart and sassy Abby Grace is a seventeen-year-old with a talent for getting out of trouble. Sent to repair the lives and loves of teenagers on the edge of disaster, Abby is the perfect girl for the job. She has everything going for her… except one thing: a body.

This fast-paced and exciting episode is the first installment in an ongoing mystery series with a supernatural twist.


Review

This review is for the first two episodes in the series.

Here's the deal

This is the first time I've read a book published in episodes, but it is very similar to reading a novel serialized in magazines. Each episode is approximately 50 pages long, so it's entirely doable to read an episode in a single sitting. For a person like myself who lately is always struggling to find time to read, I really appreciated this format.

Each episode had a self-contained mystery as well as clues to the overarching mystery of Abby's out-of-body predicament. The self-contained mysteries easily kept my interest. The situations were creatively drawn and clues were fed at a perfect pace to both keep me on my toes and let me feel engaged in solving the puzzles alongside Abby.

By the end of each episode, the central mystery has been solved and Abby is a few steps closer to figuring out why and how she ended up in the body-swapping business.

Abby's got The Voice

When Kelly Green first sent me a review pitch, I almost declined because 1) I'm not accepting e-books at this time, and 2) I'm not accepting indie books. So why did I agree to review the Borrowing Abby Grace series?

Because I fell in love with Abby's voice. The premise of the story also caught my eye (body swapping to solve mysteries? Score!), but it was Abby who cinched the deal for me. I read the first few pages and knew I had to spend more time with this girl.

Abby is that type of hilarious character who is always coming up with amusing inner commentary on her situation. That she routinely finds herself thrown into some unknown person's body (where she needs to not only convincingly act like she IS that person, but also figure out the problem they're facing AND solve that problem), makes for a lot of opportunities for Abby's humor to shine.

Other things I liked:

-The budding maybe-friendship-maybe-more relationship Abby has going on with her enigmatic guide Will.

-The enigmatic guide Will. What time period is he from? Who is he? WHAT is he? What is his connection to Abby? I love it!

-Abby's attempts at blending in. Whether it's time travel, body swapping, or some other cause, I never get tired of watching the "I've got this, I can totally blend in...even though I have NO clue what is going on here" premise in action.

-The mini-mysteries were sweet. I aawww-ed.

Is this format for me?

I'm intrigued by this format, but I'm not entirely on board as a customer. First off, I don't have an e-reader, so I'm not really an e-format purchaser. I am also an extremely impatient person who likes to sit down and read the WHOLE story at once, so this format isn't really made for people like me.

I'm not sure that I would buy individual episodes, but I would totally buy a print bind-up of the whole Borrowing Abby Grace series. In fact, I'm crossing my fingers that it comes out in a print bind-up edition someday because I want to both own it myself AND buy a copy for my library kids.

Bottom line

I'm hooked. Kelly Green has accomplished what every series author should strive for: She's hooked me with the strength of her writing instead of relying on feeding me an incompete story.

Sure I'm totally dying to find out what happened to Abby's body (is she dead? in a coma? a paranormal creature? I NEED TO KNOW!), but my main reason for wanting more is because this series is straight up fun. I enjoy it, and I know that I'm going to have a fun reading experience every time I pick up another episode.

The subject matter and situations Abby finds herself in are pretty much in the MG/YA crossover spectrum. Abby does go to a party where characters engage in underage drinking and sex is talked about and implied, but nothing is racier than what teens and (often tweens) watch on TV or in movies (think something like Gossip Girl or 10 Things I Hate About You).




Explanation of rating system: Star Rating Key 


Do you have any questions about Borrowing Abby Grace that I haven't addressed? 
Feel free to ask in the comments!

Add the Borrowing Abby Grace series on Goodreads
Buy the Borrowing Abby Grace series



Looking for another book like this? 
You might like: 

Click on the covers to go to Goodreads.

Monday, January 23, 2012

Book Review: The Gathering Storm by Robin Bridges

The Gathering Storm by Robin Bridges
Release Date: January 10, 2012
Publisher: Delacorte Books for Young Readers
Pages: 400
Received: ARC from publisher
Rating: 1.5 out of 5 stars












Summary

From Goodreads:

St. Petersburg, Russia, 1888. As she attends a whirl of glittering balls, royal debutante Katerina Alexandrovna, Duchess of Oldenburg, tries to hide a dark secret: she can raise the dead. No one knows. Not her family. Not the girls at her finishing school. Not the tsar or anyone in her aristocratic circle. Katerina considers her talent a curse, not a gift. But when she uses her special skill to protect a member of the Imperial Family, she finds herself caught in a web of intrigue.

An evil presence is growing within Europe's royal bloodlines—and those aligned with the darkness threaten to topple the tsar. Suddenly Katerina's strength as a necromancer attracts attention from unwelcome sources . . . including two young men—George Alexandrovich, the tsar's standoffish middle son, who needs Katerina's help to safeguard Russia, even if he's repelled by her secret, and the dashing Prince Danilo, heir to the throne of Montenegro, to whom Katerina feels inexplicably drawn.
The time has come for Katerina to embrace her power, but which side will she choose—and to whom will she give her heart?


Review

Four things I want out of an historical fantasy, 
and where The Gathering Storm went wrong for me


1. I want to feel like I'm there

I was really looking forward to immersing myself in Tsarist Russia and living and breathing the Russian court and culture, but sadly, this didn't happen. Aside from the traditional Russian naming conventions used*, I would have assumed the setting was England and the characters were all British.

*(Talk about a mouthful! The inclusion of traditional Russian naming conventions is a great way to pad a book with an extra 50 pages!)

2. I want a main character of her time, but interesting

One of the reasons I love historical fantasy is because it allows for more interesting female roles than in straight-up historical fiction. I was totally on board with the idea of Katerina as a necromancer.

But reading about Katerina the duchess who wants to be a doctor? Eeeeh, I'm having a MUCH harder time buying that.

It's not that I'm against women doctors or the idea of a woman bucking society's expectations (Dr. Quinn Medicine Woman fangirl, right here!), but I just couldn't believe that a duchess of that time period would be willing to throw everything away to become a doctor.

And keep in mind, being a doctor wasn't a glamorous job then. Being a doctor was a perfectly acceptable career...for someone in the middle class. That Katerina was so brazenly gung-ho about it didn't ring true to me at all and made her seem spoiled and naive. 

(Plus, I straight up didn't like her)

Katerina seriously irritated me. She constantly contradicted herself by saying one thing and then doing something that completely undermined what she said.

She never really acted like she wanted to be a doctor. Sure she talked about it a lot, but when actually placed in a situation where she could whip out her doctor hat, she seemed uncomfortable and clueless. Her crowning moment was squeamishly tying on a bandage. Forgive me if I'm unimpressed. 

Katerina pulled this "talk the talk, but not walk the walk" when it came to learning about her necromancy powers, too. She said she needed to learn more (and oh boy is THAT an understatement!), but she then spurned almost every opportunity she was presented with.

She pooh-poohed advice given to her to protect herself from magical threats because she refused to believe those threats could possibly exist. You're a necromancer, honey! Why is it such a stretch to believe Bad Magical People exist too? Her actions made zero sense to me, and yet I'm somehow supposed to buy that she's a smart cookie? I'm having trouble making the connection.

Rejecting princess-ness and knocking everyone who enjoyed such things wasn't winning her any points with me either. I like balls and princesses and girly things like that. I'm also uncomfortable with people who elevate themselves by putting down others, and so I couldn't get on board with Katerina's constant scorning and belittling of her peers.

3. I want a smooth integration of magical elements

The magical elements in some historical fantasies are integrated so well that I have to remind myself that the magical parts are not actually based on fact. That wasn't the case here.

I was totally confused about the rules of The Gathering Storm's magical elements. Because the book is narrated by Katerina and she flat out refused to learn anything about the paranormal creatures, the rules surrounding them were extremely vague. The who, what, where, when, why, and how of it all seemed muddy and inconsistent. 

For example, there were vampires, witches, necromancers, and a host of other paranormal creatures, and at some points it seemed like they were all "out" in society. But then other times it seemed like they were a big secret and the vast majority of people had no clue they existed. And if they found out, there would be DIRE consequences. So, um, which is it? I'm very confused. 

4. I want it to be more exciting than my history textbook

I was bogged down by the slow pacing and the endless balls that seemed to serve no purpose to the overall plot (and I usually like balls). My inner child even piped up a few times to whine "Are we there yet??" I suspect The Gathering Storm has come down with a serious case of series stretching.


Writing style. I REALLY noticed.

The Grand Duchess and the Grand Duchess enter a room, and then the Grand Duchess leaves.

When I wasn't tripping over all of the Katerina Alexandrovnas I was thoroughly confused with the over-used vague titles.

If a story has more than one Grand Duchess or Grand Duke etc, then I don't recommend referring to all of them by their title instead of their name. That applies doubly when they're all present at the same time.

This also really didn't help establish the characters as individuals, especially given their personalities were so sparsely developed.

Editing errors

As if I wasn't already confused enough, editing inconsistencies threw me for a loop. At one point Katerina is wearing a ring on a necklace, but a few sentences later the ring has magically appeared on her finger! A character who knows nothing of the paranormal suddenly does! This sort of thing occurred a lot.

Full disclosure though, I did read an ARC, so many of those inconsistencies may have been corrected in the final version.

Will I read the sequel?

No. I am a little curious about the plot because there were some interesting bits there, but I don't think I could put up with Katerina much more. The writing and editing left too much to be desired and I'm not going to muddle through it again.

Do I recommend it?

That depends. Even if the writing improved, I still personally wouldn't like Katerina and the lack of realism. BUT, readers who enjoyed Jennifer Bradbury's Wrapped might not mind this at all. I had similar complaints about Agnes in Wrapped and I know a lot of people loved her and didn't mind the historical stretches.



Explanation of rating system: Star Rating Key 


Do you have any questions about The Gathering Storm that I haven't addressed? 
Feel free to ask in the comments!

Add this book on Goodreads
Buy The Gathering Storm



Looking for another book like this? 
You might like: 

Click on the covers to go to my reviews.

Sunday, January 22, 2012

In My Mailbox (31)

In My Mailbox is a meme started by Kristi at The Story Siren with some inspiration from Alea of Pop Culture Junkie where we get to post about the books we receive each week through publishers/authors, our own purchases, contests won, and libraries.


This mailbox is for the past two weeks. 



For Review

In an effort to dispel some of the mystery surrounding the acquisition of ARCs, I include how these books came to me. My hope is that these explanations will help other bloggers navigate the world of ARCs and learn how to get copies too.


Click picture to make larger


The Hero's Guide to Saving Your Kingdom by Christopher Healy

I first heard about this book from Heather at Buried in Books, who alerted me because she knows how much I adore fractured fairy tales! This fractured tale tackles Prince Charming in ways you've never imagined. I peeked at the first chapter and was already laughing out loud. I can't wait to dive in!

This book is published by Walden Pond Press (an imprint of HarperCollins), so when I received an email request about reviewing The Fourth Stall Part II (another WPP book and SO good!), I inquired about The Hero's Guide to Saving Your Kingdom. Wonderfully, it appeared in my mailbox as a Happy New Year gift!


Athena the Wise (Goddess Girls #5)
Artemis the Loyal (Goddess Girls #7)
Aphrodite the Diva (Goddess Girls #6)
All by Joan Holub and Suzanne Williams

Joan Holub asked if I would be interested in reviewing the latest Goddess Girls books, and I jumped at the chance! I adore these books...that is, when I can actually get my hands on a copy! They're in constant circulation with my library girls. The squees on Goddess Girls release days are EPIC. They are MG books, but I highly recommend them to all fans of Greek myth retellings!



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A Breath of Eyre by Eve Marie Mont

Eve stopped by Small Review during the Historical Fantasy Jubilee and I've been dying to read her book ever since! (Seriously, getting sucked into the pages of Jane Eyre AND there's a cute guy with a haunted past?? SIGN ME UP!) We spoke again recently about setting up something fun for release day and Eve sent me an ARC and some swag. You'll find out more about that fun in March!


Freshman Year and Other Unnatural Disasters by Meredith Zeitlin

I received an email asking if I would be interested in reviewing this book and, after reading the blurb and watching the video trailer, I was totally hooked! I know I don't often read contemporary, but I have a soft spot for contemporary underdog books with a funny twist, so Freshman Year and Other Unnatural Disasters sounds perfect.


Fetching by Kiera Stewart

I first received a copy of this through NetGalley, but it expired before I got a chance to download it. I was totally bummed, so I emailed the publisher through NetGalley and asked if there was any chance of reading it even though it had been archived. The contact was super sweet and offered to send a finished copy for review.

Fetching arrived a few days ago and after peeking at the first chapter, I am 100% hooked. I'm SO on Olivia's side and I cannot wait to see her get revenge on the mean girls in her school. Plus, behaviorism! I'm super curious to see how Kiera Stewart integrates one of my favorite schools of psychology.


Thank you Walden Pond Press, Joan Holub and Suzanne Williams, Eve Marie Mont, Penguin, and Disney-Hyperion!



What did you get this week? Has anyone read any of these books yet? Did you like them? 
Feel free to comment with links to your mailboxes or your reviews of these books!

Join the fun!

Ever feel blue when it comes to blogging? Ever wish you could network your blog more, gain more followers, get ARCs, or learn more about the ins and outs of YA book blogging?

Check out Busting the Newbie Blues!

New bloggers ask their blogging questions, old bloggers help answer them! A casual event for the YA book blogging community.

Are you an established blogger? Come share you advice with newbies, or check out Ruby's Busting the Big Blogger Blues event!

Saturday, January 21, 2012

Small Busts the Newbie Blues 2012



Busting the Newbie Blues is an annual event designed to help new YA book bloggers network with one another and share blogging experiences with other newbie and established bloggers. This event is running throughout the entire month of January. Want to join in? Click here to learn more!


1. When did you start your blog?

I started putting things together in October 2010, but it went "live" in November 2010.

2. Do you ever still feel like a newbie?

All the time, and not so much. I'm a shy person and I live under a really big rock, so I feel like I'm always struggling with blogger etiquette and keeping up with social trends.

I pretty much don't even try to "break news" like cover reveals or new book announcements because I'm just not hip enough to compete in that arena. And that's ok. I feel like I've found my own groove when it comes to blogging, and in that regard I don't feel like a newbie anymore.


I do feel like a complete newbie when I talk with authors, publishers, or big bloggers. I pretty much have a running commentary of "They're talking to ME? ME?? Yay! Oh my word, they're talking to me. WHAT DO I SAY??? Oh great, I sound like an idiot." 

3. What has been the biggest challenge you’ve faced so far? Did you make any mistakes new bloggers can learn from?

Probably time management. I'm a "more is more" kind of person, and I've let that mentality slip into my blogging life, for better and for worse. For most of my first year I was posting every day with two reviews per week. That worked for a while, but lately life has gotten busier and I don't think I'll be able to keep up with such a rigorous schedule.

The biggest mistake I made with this was thinking I couldn't deviate from my schedule. I super stressed trying to get everything done, and then I stressed even more over the idea of reducing my schedule. Part of me fears that everyone will abandon me and I'll be letting everyone down by posting less.

But the reality is, many of my favorite blogs do not post every day. And, honestly, if they have a schedule, I haven't kept track. I read them because I enjoy them, and it really doesn't factor in at all whether or not they stick to a schedule or post every day.

In fact, I'm almost relieved when people DON'T post every day because I find it hard to keep up with all of the feeds in my reader. I ended up skipping past posts I wanted to read because I just didn't have time to read them. I need to remember that sometimes less is more.

4. What did you find most discouraging about being a new blogger? How did you deal with this?

Statistics. I am a statistics junky, so I pretty much obsessed over my stats for the first, well, for a lot longer than I should have. I compared myself to other bloggers and set monthly goals for all sorts of things.

I dealt with this in two ways. One, I started Busting the Newbie Blues. I was way too shy to start commenting on the big blogs, so I sought out other newbies like myself. I ended up meeting a lot of bloggers who have become good friends and it really helped to know that other people were feeling the same things I was feeling. Plus, I'm not going to lie, the followers boost felt pretty awesome and gave me encouragement at a time when I really needed it.

The second way I dealt with it was to CHILL OUT. This was very hard, and I still struggle with it, but I needed to ignore my stats and take a chill pill. Life goes on, even when my pageviews dip (like over the summer when kids stop Googling "What is the ending of The True Confessions of Charlotte Doyle??").

Plus, do you know how much time I spent worrying over and checking my stats? Do you know how many quality posts I could have written during that time? How many books I could have been reading? Spending my time on those pursuits would have been a lot more helpful toward my goal of increasing my stats than spending that time obsessing over my stats.

5. What do you find most encouraging?

SO many things. When you're feeling down about your blog, think of all the things YOU have done that have nothing to do with your stats. It can be pretty surprising.

I've done so many things I never thought I could or would do. I've hosted and co-hosted three events, contacted authors and publishers, received books for review, written a LOT of reviews, thought more critically about my reading, written almost daily, created and STUCK WITH a blog for over a year.

These are all things that I DID, even if I was nervous and even if I was busy and even if I was tired. I DID them, and I'm pretty proud of that. Even if you're a tiny newbie blogger, I guarantee you can point to at least a handful of blogging accomplishments you can be proud about. Try it!

The other biggest encouragement has been all of the amazing people I've met. The people who read and comment have been like my own personal cheerleader squad. You encourage me, direct me, give me insight and feedback. Your comments pick me up when I'm feeling down. Do you realize how much you mean to me? So, so much.

6. If you could go back in time and speak with your newbie self, what five bits of wisdom would you tell yourself?

  1. Do what you CAN do and don't stress about the rest.
  2. STOP WORRYING ABOUT YOUR STATS.
  3. You CAN take a break. No one will abandon you. (People will even tell you they miss you!)
  4. Deviate from your schedule if you want! No one cares as much about your schedule as you do.
  5. Don't let blogging take over your life!
(Are you sensing the "more is more" problem I have?)

7. What do you like best about the blogs you read? Have you tried to replicate this in your blog?

I love blogs where I feel like I know the blogger--their personality shines through in everything they do. I gravitate toward nicer, happier people. The kind of people who reach out instead of shut out. I don't feel comfortable around mean or cliquish people.

It is very important to me that people feel comfortable on my blog. Whether we agree or disagree on a book, I don't mind at all. I hope everyone feels at ease and that they won't be judged. Everyone is welcome here (unless, well, if someone is making an effort to be mean. Or spam. Those I don't welcome so much).

I also really love it when the blogger replies to comments. I feel like their blog is ten times more welcoming and I'm a lot more likely to comment. I also like asking questions, so it's nice to know they'll be answered.

As for reviews, I love it when a reviewer lays it all out there for me. I don't want spoilers (oh please no spoilers!) or a summary of the whole plot (please no!) but I do want to know things like pacing, if a long book feels long, what the characters are like, what other books is this book like, if it has a slow start but then makes up for it later, does it have insta-love, is there a love triangle, and on and on. I also like knowing WHY they liked or disliked the book. All of this information helps me determine whether or not the book is for me.

I also like rating systems. No, scratch that, I ADORE rating systems. I'm totally lost without them. I don't like descriptive rating systems as much because my memory is horrible so it's hard for me to keep track of what they mean (is "covet" better or worse than "adore"??). But oh for the love of numbers! Show me frogs or diamonds or stars or owls--whatever. If I can count it, then I'm happy.

I try to do all of this and I hope I've succeeded (but please tell me if I haven't!).

8. What do you dislike about blogs you’ve seen? Do you try to avoid this?

Negativity. Reviews that tell me nothing about the book. Reviews that are summaries. Clutter. Difficult to read fonts. Slow loads. Broken scripts. Disorganization. No review index.

Basically, I want to be able to find your posts, physically read them without hurting my eyes, and come away happy and with more information about the book than I had before.

I hope I avoid these things, but if I don't, please tell me! Really!

9. How did you bring your blog to the attention of so many people?

Busting the Newbie Blues! Seriously. Outside of that, I commented a lot, registered my blog with search engines, worked on making my post titles SEO friendly, and threw myself into blogging.

10. When and how did you get your first ARC (or first few ARCs)?

ARCs for me have been a strange and inconsistent experience.

Before I started blogging, I posted reviews on Amazon and, based on that, I was able to get some e-ARCs through NetGalley. I was denied by HarperTeen (they STILL love denying my requests), but Houghton Mifflin Harcourt approved me!

Then I jumped into blogging, and after only about a month I got my first ARC from Goodreads First Reads program (and if you know much about my favorite authors, you know what a love affair THAT started for me!). I received one more ARC from them early on...and nothing since.

It's been hit or miss since then, but what I've taken away from my ARC experiences so far is this:
  1. I am still very confused as to what criteria publishers use for determining who gets ARCs, when, and why
  2. Getting ARCs is like feast of famine. I'll get a bunch of them, and then nothing for a while, and then another surge
  3. I get ARCs when I least expect them
  4. A denial does not necessarily mean there is something wrong with me
  5. The longer I blog consistently and well, the more likely I am to be approved
  6. Getting ARCs is like getting presents and work all rolled into one package
  7. It's nice getting ARCs, but it's not something to stress or obsess over



What about you? 
How do your experiences compare?

Have you joined in Busting the Newbie Blues yet?
How about your Big Blogger Blues?

There's still time! These events run until the end of January!

Thursday, January 19, 2012

How to Get ARCs: A Step-by-Step Guide

While there are a lot of questions new bloggers have, one of the most frequently asked about topics is that of ARCs or, more specifically, the acquisition of ARCs. To that end, I have compiled all of the information I have gathered regarding ARCs, how you get them, and what you should do with them once you have them.

I am by no means an expert and this post is by no means the end-all-be-all of ARCs, so if you have any additional sources or advice, please share in the comments! Also feel free to ask any questions I may not have addressed and discuss this topic with one another in the comments.


1. What are ARCs and who gets them?

The What

ARCs (Advanced Reader Copies) are copies of a book that are printed up before the book goes on sale and are sent to reviewers, librarians, bookstores, and similar outlets. The purpose of ARCs is to generate early buzz and reviews, encourage purchases, and assist librarians and booksellers in deciding whether or not to purchase a particular book for their collection/stock.

ARCs are marketing tools. ARCs are actually more expensive to produce than a finished copy of a book (I'm always surprised by that!) and only a small number of ARCs are printed.

ARCs are often a little less polished than the final copy (more typos) and may be slightly different from the finished version (names, different wording of some sentences, minor rearrangement, things like that). Because of these changes, reviewers are asked to only pull direct quotes from the finished version of a book. The cover may also differ from the final version.


The Who

Bloggers get ARCs so they can post reviews and help generate buzz for the book. This works primarily as a "word of mouth" type of advertising, so bloggers who have the ability to:
  1. Reach a large number of people, and 
  2. Provide informative reviews that will encourage book sales
are most likely to receive ARCs. Keep in mind, "encourage book sales" doesn't mean "give all 5 star reviews." A blogger encourages book sales by writing informative reviews that give readers an idea of whether or not they will like the book.

As a general rule, the "big" publishers like seeing a blog up and consistently running for around 4-6 months before the blogger requests a print ARC. You don't have to wait nearly as long to request e-ARCs (I got e-ARCs when I posted reviews on Amazon and did not even have a blog). Some indie or self-published authors will begin pitching review requests when a blogger is less than a month old.

There is also an element of chance when it comes to who gets ARCs and who does not. Remember this! I have been denied an electronic ARC only to have a print copy appear in my mailbox a few weeks later. Sometimes bloggers get added onto a publisher's mailing list without doing anything, but more often bloggers must make the first move.

It all depends on a lot of different factors (some known, some seemingly mysterious), patience, persistence, and a little random luck.


2. Where to get ARCs?


E-galleys (electronic ARCs)

E-galleys are the wave of the future! Personally, I'm pretty bummed about this because I don't have an e-reader, but I can see how much more cost effective it is for publishers to distribute ARCs this way.

If you're a new blogger, publishers are also a lot more willing to give you an e-galley than a print copy, so e-galleys are a great way for newbies to get their name on publishers' radars. Here are a few sources to get you started:

NetGalley

Each publisher has different requirements for users requesting galleys. Expiration dates for galleys vary. I have a more in-depth Tips & Tricks post coming up about NetGalley.

Simon & Schuster's Galley Grab

Register an account and, if Simon & Schuster approves you, then they will begin sending a monthly newsletter with galleys you can download. All galleys expire upon publication of the book. As far as I know, this is on temporary hiatus while they make improvements, but you might still be able to register.

Galley Grab is no more! Simon & Schuster has moved its e-galley offerings to Edelweiss.

Edelweiss

See the Edelweiss Addendum post for more information about this e-galley and publisher catalog service!


Print ARCs

There are a bunch of ways you can get your hands on print ARCs, and these are only a few of them.

Publishers

When contacting publishers, look for an email address for the publicity department. If you are requesting a Young Adult title, make sure you send your request to the children's publicity contact. Here are a few links to get you started:
And here are a few catalogs for you to look through (when requesting, it's a good idea to include the Title, Author, ISBN, and release date of the book)

Other places you can find contact information:
  • On the back of ARCs: Usually you'll find publisher contact information on the back of printed ARCs and/or on the copyright page
  • Through your NetGalley emails: When NetGalley sends you an email confirming or denying your request, you can usually find the email address of the publishing contact who handled your request somewhere in the email (look for "on behalf of...")
  • Through your NetGalley approvals: If you are approved for an e-galley through NetGalley, sometimes there is an option to "contact the publisher" and this will provide you with an email address for the publicity contact

Authors

Authors do not receive many ARCs, but sometimes they do and are willing to send you a copy (rarely--usually their friends and family have first dibs, understandably!). Some authors will also forward your information to their publicist.

Many authors state on their site whether or not they can send you an ARC and how you should go about requesting one, so make sure you read their site carefully before you shoot them an email.


LibraryThing's Early Reviewer's Program

I don't have an account with LibraryThing, so I can't speak on it much. I have heard it is a good source, but you need to review each book you receive in order to receive more.

Goodreads First Reads

I received one of my first ARCs through this program when I was first starting out as a blogger. I've since received one more a few months later, but I haven't gotten any since.

You don't have to review these books, but you should and whether or not you review is a consideration for getting more books from them.

ARC Tours

I have only participated in a few ARC tours, but these seem like a great way to get to read ARCs. Sometimes the person putting together the tour will contact you, but more often you approach the tour host and submit an application. There are three types of ARC tours, and you should decide which ones you are comfortable participating in before you commit to any.
  • Tours where you get to keep the book: These are the only tours I will participate in. The pros are obvious- you get to keep the book! Not only do you get a book out of the deal, but you also don't have to pay postage or worry about short deadlines for passing on the book (though you do, of course, still need to make sure you meet the review deadline for the tour). The cons are that there are very few book tours like this offered.
  • Tours where you must share the book: These are the most common type of ARC tours offered. The pros are that you get to read an ARC! The cons are that you must pay postage, read the book faster, and you don't get to keep the book.
  • E-galley tours: These are closer to the first type of tour in pros- you get to keep the book, you generally have longer to read the book, and you don't have to worry about paying postage. The only con is if you don't have an e-reader (like me!).
You can find a great list of tour sites at Smitten With Books (as well as other ARC information). The two tour hosts I have worked with in the past are Kismet Book Touring and Premier Virtual Author Book Tours. I had positive experiences with both.

Amazon Vine

This is Amazon's ARC program and, as far as I can tell, it is invite-only. I have NO IDEA how Amazon chooses who to invite. All I know is you must post your reviews on Amazon, and you probably need good "helpful" ratings (not sure what they consider "good") and you probably have to publish your reviews often. It seems like members of this program receive a decent amount of books.

See Krystle's comment below for some insider information! (Thank you, Krystle!)


Sources for Reviewers AND Non-Reviewers

Even non-reviewers can receive ARCs! Here are a few ways I know of to snag an ARC if you're a non-reviewer, newbie reviewer, or established reviewer:

The Saturday Swap

Ruby from Ruby's Reads hosts this about once a month as a way for readers to swap books. Participants usually have a bunch of ARCs they are willing to swap. You do not need to be a blogger, nor do you need to have ARCs to swap (published books are fine!).

Giveaways

There are ALWAYS giveaways going on around the blogosphere, and many of them are giving away ARCs! I got one of my first ARCs from a giveaway hosted by Kelsey from The Book Scout. Different bloggers and authors (yes, authors host giveaways on their blogs!) have different rules (some want you to follow their blog, sometimes you have to tweet, some don't have any requirements, etc), but generally you do not need to be a reviewer in order to enter.

Shelf Awareness

This is a FREE daily e-newsletter you can sign up for, and I'm pretty sure you don't have to be a reviewer. When you sign up, make sure you register for the "PRO" edition. This edition contains a compilation of publishing and book-related news, but it is also the newsletter that has all the ads in it.

Ads? Who wants ads, right? This is one situation where you very much want ads, because these ads more often than not are links you can click on to request ARCs!

I've received a bunch of ARCs through Shelf Awareness and I highly recommend checking it out. The actual content is usually pretty interesting, too.

Random Buzzers

This is a site run by the publisher Random House and there are a few different ways you can get ARCs.

The only way I'm personally familiar with is through their Buzz Bucks program. You fill out little quizzes or do quick activities to earn Buzz Bucks that you can then use toward getting books. Most of the books are finished copies, but sometimes they do offer ARCs (though, really, free finished books are pretty exciting, too!).

They also have message boards where you can sign up to receive ARCs. I've never participated this way, so I can't give any details, but it seems like a great program.

Swap with other bloggers

A ton of bloggers are more than willing to swap books with you. Off the top of my head, I know Tayte from Reading in Paradise and Ruby from Ruby's Reads are currently looking to swap books.

Ask your local librarian or bookstore

These people sometimes receive ARCs. It can't hurt to politely introduce yourself and ask if you can leave your contact information with them in case they have any ARCs they are willing to pass on to you.  


3. Should you write a review policy?

YES! Even if your blog has only been running for a day, you should write a clear and to the point review policy. You can use my Review Policy as a guide if you'd like.

The biggest shock to me when I first started blogging was the incredible number of authors who would contact me for review requests (particularly indie and self-published authors). This WILL happen to you, so it's best to be prepared.

What you should include in your review policy:
  • What book format do you accept? Not accept? (ARCs, finished copies, audiobooks, e-books?)
  • Will you accept self-published or indie published books?
  • What broad genres do you accept? Not accept? (YA, middle grade, adult?)
  • What specific genres do you accept? Not accept? (Dystopian, fantasy, paranormal, contemporary, etc?)
  • Contact information (include your email address, do not include your mailing address)
You can also state what publishers/authors can expect if you accept their request, like how long it will take you to post your review, what your reviews include (rating, summary, etc), and any other places you will post your review or mention their book.

You might also like to include information on whether or not you will host giveaways, author guest posts/interviews, blogger guest posts, and if you will participate in ARC tours.

Review policies will make your life so much easier. Trust me. If you need to decline a review request (and you will encounter this at some point), it is much easier to point to your review policy ("I'm sorry, as stated in my review policy, I am not currently accepting e-books/short stories/dystopians/books with a character named Frank/etc for review").

Your review policy will also help you avoid getting review pitches you don't want anyway. Some people won't read your policy, but many will (my self-published requests dropped drastically after I stated in my policy that I am not accepting self-published books for review). Stating what you will and won't review up front saves both you and the requester time and frustration.


4. What to write in your request?

There are many different ways to go about writing a review request. The following is a list of things you may want to include:
  • Briefly introduce yourself (use your real name, both first and last)
  • Blog name and type of books you review (YA, MG, adult?) 
  • Blog link, and links/mention of any other place you regularly post reviews
  • Your blog stats (Date/Year you started blogging, number of unique visitors per month, pageviews per month, how often you update your blog--NOT including memes, etc)
  • How you promote books on your blog (reviews, author interviews, author guest posts, giveaways, etc)
  • If you work in a book-related field, include that (library, bookstore, etc)
  • A short reason why you're interested in the book, if applicable (don't make this about YOU, show how you can help THEM) 
  • Your mailing address (very important to include!) and your email address (yes, write it out)--you can include this in an electronic signature
  • The title of the book(s) you are requesting (+ ISBN/Imprint, author, publication date)
  • Links to previous reviews you have posted, preferably for the same imprint or similar book (thank you Jana!)
You want your email to be polite, professional, and to the point. Remember the purpose of an email like this is to of course request a book, but also to show the publisher/author that you would be a profitable person to send a limited ARC. This is business. ARCs and shipping cost money, so you need to show that you will do something that will make their expenditure worthwhile.

When I first started requesting ARCs I was SO shy (ok, I still am) and I ended up writing very little in my request. Too little. I pretty much stuck to my blog stats and the book's information. My requests had no personality and did nothing to show the publisher what *I* could do for *them*. Even though it may feel uncomfortable tooting your own horn, it is important you include enough information about your blog and your accomplishments.  

As far as I can tell, it is better to include all of your review requests in one email. That is, if you are requesting three titles from one publisher, ask for all of them in one email, not three separate emails.

If you are contacting the publisher for the first time, try to keep your number of requests to a minimum. Newer bloggers are more likely to receive titles that are not getting as much advertising attention. At this time, you may also offer to host an author interview/guest post. If you are more established, you may also offer to host a giveaway.


4. What to do after you've requested the book?

Wait. Don't bother the publisher with a million follow up emails. Publishers are very busy and oftentimes they won't even email you back (the book will just appear in your mailbox...or not).

If you get the book, great! Read on to #5.

But what if you don't? It's disappointing, I know (really, I know), but it isn't the end of the world.
  • Do not get discouraged--review requests are denied for all sorts of reasons, and some of the reasons have nothing to do with you personally
  • Do continue working on improving your blog (there is always room for improvement)
  • Do not argue with or insult the publisher/author--be gracious, say thank you for their time, and move on
  • Do read the book when it releases (you wanted to read it, right? Now you can!)
  • Do send your review to the publisher
  • Do not say anything snarky about them denying your request
  • Do wait a few months and then try again for a different ARC (maybe ask for a "smaller" title)

5. What to do after you've read the book?


Writing your review

You write your review! If you request an ARC, then you should write a review for it, even if you did not love the book. It's ok, publishers understand not every book will work for every reader. Just make sure to keep your review respectful.

If you absolutely cannot write a review, then it would be good to try to find another blogger who will read and review the ARC you received. You may also want to email the publisher and ask them what they prefer you do. You can offer to find another blogger to pass the ARC along to or see if the publisher would like you to host a giveaway for the ARC.

Publishers don't expect you to review every book they send you, especially if they've sent you a copy you didn't request. BUT, if you consistently receive ARCs but then do not review them, they will take note of this eventually and they will stop sending you ARCs. So if you want to keep receiving them, then you should review them. 


When to post your review

You can post your review whenever you'd like (unless the publisher/author requests a specific date), but publishers tend to prefer you post your review within a month of the book's release.

Most don't mind if you post up to a month before the book releases, but some publishers (like Simon & Schuster) ask that you wait until after the book has been released. Check out The Story Siren's Dear Publisher series and NetGalley's Publisher Approval Preferences page for specific publishing house preferences.

Also make considerations for what your blog readers prefer. If your blog primarily caters to librarians and booksellers, then you may want to post your reviews much earlier as these types of readers tend to use reviews for collection development.

If your blog primarily serves people who read for pleasure, then sticking to the "around release date or later" rule of thumb is a good idea (these readers--myself included-- often get frustrated if they can't buy the book soon after reading the review. Plus, it's also easy to forget about a book if you hear about it too early).


Follow up

After you've posted your review, you should email a direct link to publisher and thank them again for the opportunity. If you post your review to any other site (Goodreads, Amazon, etc), then be sure to also include direct links to your review at these sites.


What to do with the ARC

If you do not want to keep the ARC after your review has been written, then you can give it away. Your local librarian or bookstores may appreciate getting your ARCs (they use ARCs to help determine whether or not they want to purchase the book for their collection. Librarians also use them as giveaway prizes.).

You can also give it away or swap with a friend or another reviewer/blogger. You can host a giveaway on your blog, donate it to an ARC tour site, or set up an ARC tour of your own. If you host a giveaway, then authors and publishers usually like to know about it so they can help you spread the word (more pageviews for you = good, more publicity for them = good).

The only thing you should NOT do with your ARC is sell it.


6. Additional information

The following are sources for additional information about ARCs. All of the sources are phenomenal and I highly recommend checking them out. Many other bloggers have written up advice on acquiring ARCs. If you know of any I haven't listed, please link them in the comments!

The Story Siren
The Story Siren's Dear Publisher Edition series (this is like GOLD):

Presenting Lenore

Reviewer X

Books with Bite

Bookalicious

All Things Urban Fantasy

Authors and Publishers


What have your experiences been with requesting ARCs? Do you have any advice or links to share? Please feel free to ask questions and answer whatever questions may be posed in the comments!
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