ARC reviews by Vicky Who Reads - Sprinkles of Dreams Blogger Feature

Bookish Musings & Discussion Time // “How Objective are ARC Reviews?” by Vicky Who Reads

Hi everyone, and welcome to another brilliant guest post on my blog! 💎

I’m extremely excited for you to read this incredible, insightful post today, written by the one and only Vicky @ Vicky Who Reads.

When I first started blogging, Vicky’s blog was one of the first ones I discovered, and I was (and still am) so in awe of the way she talks about relevant and important issues—so of course she’s one of the first people I reached out to about a guest post, when I thought of introducing the Sprinkles of Dreams Blogger Feature on my blog.

Not only is Vicky an extremely outspoken and eloquent blogger, she also spreads her wisdom on Twitter, is a visual artist (Vicky Who Draws), and even helped organize a blog tour for The Weight of Our Sky, which I’m so excited to be a part of (put this book on your TBRs!!).

I had so much fun editing and formatting this post, while still staying true to Vicky’s blog aesthetic—I hope you enjoy reading this post as much as I did, and leave us your own thoughts on this topic in the comments! 💗

xx, lily - Sprinkles of Dreams
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I have to say, when Lily approached me with different topics, asking me to guest post on her blog, this one really stood out to me. Both because I am ultimately extremely tied to this topic as a blogger who reviews a lot of books early, and because I think it’s something we need to discuss.

I think a really central fact about the book community is that most of what’s “going on” revolves around new things. New releases. New authors. New things.

And yes, there are bunches of people in the book community who don’t care about the new things and who talk + blog solely about old stuff because they love it. This is not to say that people who talk about new things don’t love what they do, but it is to say there are people ensconced in their own little bubbles within the bubble of the book community.

But with regards to today’s topic, it’s pretty reasonable to establish that the book community we’re talking about revolves around new releases. Publishers rarely tweet about backlist titles. Authors promote their new titles more than their old. Book boxes always include new books, not solely backlist ones. And this is fine, and I believe it’s still important if we want the community to survive and not grow musty on the Internet.

Yet, there are potential implications within what this means to promoters who do involve themselves in new titles, specifically ARCs.

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I’m only going to talk about bloggers + ARCs, because that’s what I know and am familiar with (also because I don’t think I’ve ever heard of a blogger doing a paid promotion of a book, only booktubers).

And the question of objectivity and ARCs comes up a lot, especially with physical ones. Because ultimately, you’re getting books for free and it seems hard to separate the nice gesture of getting a book and the objective nature of the task ahead of you.

I wanted to bring real, concrete data to this post, and I started attempting to record it, but I ultimately let that idea go because this is a topic that’s really hard to track concretely.

So instead, I can only speak from experience, and here are a few things I’ve noted.

Floral divider – Vicky Who Reads1. I don’t think a lot of people intentionally review unobjectively.

I don’t. I think anyone who does this would have the lack of authenticity show up in what they write, and a reviewer flat out lying about their feelings about a book is honestly unheard of.

I do think that there are subconscious forces in play (more about that later), but I genuinely give all reviewers the benefit of the doubt (it’s the only way you’ll be able to trust what you read), and I don’t believe that anyone (in the YA community whom I’ve met) consistently lies in their reviews.

Yet, I still think that some early reviews are definitely potentially skewed, or a book’s buzz is skewed as a whole, but I don’t think any of this is because someone goes “Oh, I didn’t read this/I didn’t like it—let me try and write a 5 star review.”

Floral divider – Vicky Who Reads2. Omission is not the same as lying, but both can skew a review.

This is a key factor in why I think early reviews seem skewed (and they probably are, a little bit). Some reviewers drop off a star rating for books they don’t like, mark it as read on Goodreads, and just never mention it again.

Reviewers on blog tours are told to write positive alternate posts if they didn’t enjoy the book, and hold off on posting their review—for example, how I write “5 Things I Liked About This Book” posts for when I encounter a blog tour book that I don’t like. Overall, I might not like the book, but I’m always capable of finding five things I think someone else might like. (And I understand this procedure, as blog tours are ultimately for promotion, so I try my best to be positive yet not lie.)

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I think the main reason why early reviews seem to be more positive than the general consensus is because early reviewers are just more inclined not to say anything bad.

This doesn’t mean they’re lying about the good, but it does mean they’re omitting the bad. So you hear all these great things, and people end up being generally mum about the bad.

Not only does this contribute to hype, but it also reveals a big part of why the early reviews of a book sound a lot more positive than the later ones. Because nobody is really talking about the bad. A few voices might, but it’s not like everyone is trying to focus on the bad. They’re trying to help a book sell.

Floral divider – Vicky Who Reads3. Mood can be everything.

This is where the subconscious factors in. I think mood is really important to liking a book. I’ve read books where I know I wasn’t in the right mood for it, and ultimately ended up not liking it, because I just wasn’t ready for that book.

And sometimes, mood is largely influenced by hype. Hype can make you suddenly in the mood for something, and that’s how some of the skewed, generally early reviews occur. Because c’mon. Just from this situation, which book do you think you’ll end up liking more?

  • Moby Dick, which you’re being forced to read for 12th grade English, that you really don’t want to read, but have to.
  • That one YA book you’ve been so excited about for a whole year!!!

I’d probably end up rating the YA book highly. I’d probably be more eager to like the YA book too. I’d probably be pretty curmudgeonly about reading Moby Dick (still am). I think hype can really influence mood, and that a good mood going into a book makes people more open to rating things highly. It puts them in an excitable mood for something, and honestly that can be why a book ends up being five stars.

Floral divider – Vicky Who Reads4. Everyone is human, and sometimes wanting to like something can affect whether you think you like something.

I also think something that comes along with ARCs is that almost nobody is “hate-reading” an ARC. In theory, no one is reading an ARC they don’t want to read. All the ARCs you pick out are books you’re genuinely interested in. And they’re something that you want to like.

And I think wanting to like something is a huge influencer. I am certainly not a psychology expert. But you’ve probably seen those videos of people going somewhere with freezing temperatures, thinking about how they’re actually really hot, and then shedding all of their layers, because that’s what they think.

Gold Divider - Vicky Who Reads

I think the mind is a powerful tool, and this obviously goes along with hype. Not only does excitement put you in the right mood, but just wanting to like something can put you in the right mood.

You want to like all the books you read—don’t you? (I don’t know anyone who doesn’t.) And so if you maybe know the author, you’re more inclined to want to like their book more. If you have any reason to like the book, you’re going to try. And the effort you put into liking an ARC is sometimes more than the effort you put into liking an already published book.

Want is a powerful tool (and also a great book).

Floral divider – Vicky Who ReadsSo what’s the solution?

Honestly, I think the best thing anyone can do is establish transparency and boundaries consistently. Make your readers understand from what view you’re writing something.

I personally only say negative things in the reviews on my blog, and the reviews on Goodreads. That’s it. And it’s always my intent for the readers of my blog to know that. For them to know that I’m not going to randomly badmouth something in a recommendation post and I’ll only talk positive things in those sections of my blog.

I establish clear boundaries of where I might talk bad about books (reviews and Goodreads), and where I only talk about the good things (everywhere else).

Because I—we—are not just bloggers. We’re also promoters.

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I think anyone who accepts an ARC from a professional entity (or with the intent that the professional entity might see it) must understand the fact that you’re not just a blogger right now. You’re also a promoter.

And I don’t think this is something everyone understands completely. Because yes, you are writing an honest review of a book. But that honest review—whether it’s positive or negative—will hopefully help a book sell.

The whole purpose of the professional entity giving you that book is so it hopefully sells better. You’re promoting the book with your honest review, positive or negative (because a negative for you can still be a positive for someone else).

Gold Divider - Vicky Who Reads

As a blogger, knowing how I separate promotion and reviewing allows me to keep my reviews honest. It lets me promote things shamelessly (read Descendant of the Crane!!!), which in turn lets me feel like I’m satisfying the “promoter” in me enough to keep my reviews completely honest.

If you’re a blogger worried about your reviews not being objective, try and figure out how you separate promotion and reviewing. And once you figure out where you talk about books in certain ways, keep things transparent with your readers and followers so they too know.

much love, vicky
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Vicky is a teenage reader, book blogger, aspiring writer, and artist. She loves reading diverse books and seeing herself in novels, and strives to help make the book community a more inclusive space.

Pop by and say hello! You can find Vicky at her blog, Vicky Who Reads, and on Twitter, Instagram, and Goodreads!

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39 thoughts on “Bookish Musings & Discussion Time // “How Objective are ARC Reviews?” by Vicky Who Reads”

  1. Reblogged this on Vicky Who Reads and commented:
    I wrote a thing! If you want to read my thoughts on ARC reviews & if they’re objective, check out my guest post on Lily’s (Sprinkles of Dreams) blog!

    I touch on four reasons why I think ARC reviews seem more positive than regular reviews, as well as a bunch of other topics on the objectiveness of these reviews.

    So give it a peep + don’t forget to check out lovely Lily’s blog! See you tomorrow with a new post! 💖

    Liked by 1 person

  2. Hi Lily! This is a remarkable guest post and a needed one at that! I try my best to be transparent with my ARC reviews about the negative points I found in a book but I do get that the hype really does affect my opinion sometimes. I hope we see more guest posts like this in the future ❤

    Liked by 2 people

  3. Hey Vicky, this is such a cool post! I totally agree with all your points, and I know I’ve found that with some books from authors I’ve personally corresponded with over email, I feel more inclined to give them a high rating; where I might rate a different book three/four I’ll probably give this book four/five. And sometimes I catch myself out doing it, but it’s an instinct? I think everyone does their best to review books fairly but personal feelings/hype are definitely going to have some influence.

    Liked by 2 people

    1. yeah, I totally get it! it’s like when you know someone better, you’re going to put more effort into liking their stuff, y’know? so glad you enjoyed reading! ❤

      Liked by 1 person

  4. I think mood and the pressure to write positively because it’s an ARC and you don’t want to sound like a bad person/reviewer are the most important factors. I’ve struggled a lot in the past with that and, for instance, I’d never dream of DNFing an ARC simply because it would be disrespectful to the person who granted it to me. I’l always try and read it until the very end so I know for sure what my opinion will be. Something I wouldn’t think about doing with a book I’d pick up myself.
    That blog tour strategy is genius, though. I don’t do blog tours but if I did I’d definitely take advantage of it.
    Brilliant post! 🙂

    Liked by 2 people

    1. yeah, I totally get that! I don’t DNF ARCs either even if I hate it, because I got it for free & feel obliged to try and help promote it. and thank you so much! so glad you enjoyed reading.

      Liked by 1 person

  5. A thought provoking post. I think there can be a tendency to skew towards the positive when reviewing ARCs because I for one only request books that sound interesting to me. Also there is the consciousness that the writer is likely to keep track of reviews and a blogger may want to establish some kind of relationship with the publisher too.

    Liked by 2 people

    1. thank you! and yes–that’s very true. I definitely try not to request things I don’t like & ARCs are more often books I’m super hyped for vs. non ARCs.

      Like

  6. Great discussion! Honestly I think this is something thats not talked about enough! I personally know from my experience if I receive an ARC (especially a physical ARC) I’m much more inclined to want to love the book?? I mean best case scenario is you love the book you promote how much you love it, your happy, and the publisher is happy. Best case scenario right? However as readers we know that we cant love all the ARCS we read (unless were really that lucky) and unfortunately a couple of not so glowing reviews will pop up about an ARC I’ve read but that doesn’t mean the temptation of bias isn’t there! Great post and I love that your using guest bloggers so much fun 🙂

    Liked by 2 people

    1. yes! I feel like people WANT to enjoy the ARCs (vs. things like hate reading a book lol) so I definitely think the bias is a bit existent because of that. glad you enjoyed reading! ❤

      Like

  7. This is so interesting! That is such an good point about liking something more just because you really want to. It’s easy to miss something’s flaws when you’ve got your rose coloured glasses on.

    I have never received an ARC so I don’t know, but I imagine for myself there would be an element of guilt involved as well, in saying I didn’t like a book that I’d been sent for free. But that is probably just my baggage, haha.

    Liked by 2 people

    1. no I totally get it! I always stick it out to the end with ARCs because I’d feel guilty DNFing it (which I probably shouldn’t, but I do) and that sometimes lets me find more positive things about a book. i.e. These Rebel Waves was slow and meh for 80% of the book, but because it was an ARC I read to the end and actually enjoyed the ending, so I rated it higher!

      Liked by 1 person

  8. Super thoughtful post 🙂 Loved it.
    I never managed to get behind the idea of “i wanted to like this”.
    But mood is certainly an important factor. If i’m in a mood for something serious and expect a book to be like that but it turns out just an “easy read” page turner, i will likely be disappointed and view it in a negative way.
    Same can happen the other way round. If i’m pleasantly surprised by a book i might like it way more than i normally would have.

    Liked by 2 people

  9. Vicky, this was such an amazing post! I have to be honest: I don’t know much about ARCs and I’ve never really involved myself in this area of book blogging. Being an international blogger is obviously a huge factor that kept me away from it, but also because even before I re-started in my current blog, I’ve never had an audience big enough to be able to promote an ARC.
    Nonetheless, this post was very interesting. I remember seeing a lot of ARC reviews, back when I was more active on book blogging, and there were constantly some controversy around them – especially when, after the book was published, more negative reviews popped up.
    But after reading your post, I realize there are lot of factors that can change the way an ARC is reviewed. It doesn’t mean the blogger is lying; it just means that, because they’re promoting the book, they rather focus on the positives.
    I also think it’s on the readers to really trust their reviewers and bloggers. Even though I read and follow countless people in the bookish community, I know who are the ones that share my preferences. There are definitely bloggers that I may not relate with (like I hate most of the books they love and vice-versa), but because I love their personalities and insights, I still follow & read their content. Obviously, I’d be more cautious when reading their reviews, and not because I don’t trust them, but because I know how our opinions diverge.
    I really wish more people would read posts like this, to really understand the process of reading & revewing an ARC before leaving such comments on bloggers.

    Liked by 2 people

    1. awww, thank you so so much for all the sweet words! it’s definitely so true and I think this topic is a lot more nuanced than “book bloggers are liars–ARCs are bad” and what you said about trusting reviews from different people is sooo true!

      Like

  10. I think there is an unconscious desire to be a little kinder to ARCs if received from an author or publisher and not a giveaway. You want to be kind if the author is going to read it. And you want the publisher to be pleased, not upset you one-starred their book. What if they’re less likely to approve you for ARCs in future as a result? So, yeah, I agree there’s pressure there. And, actually, the more I think of it, the less I can remember seeing any negative ARC reviews.

    Liked by 2 people

    1. yes! definitely there’s an element of kindness, especially because you’re closer to the people and you know they might read it. it’s like the whole in person vs. through a screen thing–if you know someone better, you might try and be nicer. the pressure is real lol

      Liked by 1 person

  11. I absolutely love this post! It is so freaking accurate. I always struggle while reviewing ARCs and there are times when I have honestly hated a couple of them.

    Great post! ❤️

    Like

  12. You are much more diplomatic than I am! I can get so super negative in reviews because those are the reviews I find most helpful as a reader. I also try to outline my expectations (esp with ARCs when all you go off of is a summary) versus the end result and then try to explain why I didn’t enjoy something because that same thing might be perfect for someone else. (I do only get approved via NetGalley and Edelweiss, though, so this might be different if I were being contacted by publishers.) I received One Day in December as a dARC and did not enjoy it at all, but it’s become my most liked review on Goodreads and almost the top 1-star review overall… so there must be other people out there who agree!

    Like

  13. Such a great post! I have to say, I have definitely read reviews which were shamelessly lying, and I totally get that that was probably so the publisher would like them and send them more ARCs… Generally, I think it’s true that things get skewed for other reasons though for sure…

    Like

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