Hey everyone--I've thought long and hard about how to write this blog post without sounding like an entitled asshole. Many thanks to Kelly Jensen for assuring me I am not. I hope that's true, and that we can continue to have open discussion about review copies and how they can best be used in the online YA community.
In 2015 I did something that my organization-loving self had never before attempted: I recorded and kept track of every review copy that I received during the year. It was partly because I always say I receive more books than I can read, and I wanted hard numbers to back me up, and partly because I keep track of books I own, books I read, books I want, and books I have to read, so it just made sense that I'd take a stab at keeping track of the books I receive for review. (Also, Kelly gave me the idea. Thanks, Kelly, for a year's worth of excuses to procrastinate!)
First, I created a simple word document, and then I brainstormed every possible way I could organize this document. I wanted to keep it as simple as possible, but I also wanted to keep track of more than just the title, for purposes I'll get into later. I ended up dividing the document into two sections--solicited and unsolicited. This is the biggest divide when it comes to my book mail in general, and I should note a rather new development in the history of YA blogging--publishers have more recently started asking us what exactly we want to receive, which I personally think is awesome. At the beginning of 2015, I figured that 60% of the books I receive would be those that I request via response forms attached to catalogs, and the remaining 40% would be random books that get sent to me and show up like little surprises on my doorstep (which can also be good, because sometimes these surprises are books I never would have picked up otherwise, and I end up loving them).
Spoiler alert: Those percentages were actually reversed. That's right--40% solicited, 60& unsolicited.
I also color-coded the titles, to indicate finished copy vs. ARC or bound manuscript. I assumed most books came to me directly from their publisher, but I also annotated if they came to me via independent publicist, through my workplace, or if they were passed along "unofficially" by a friend or colleague. I had a little annotation to indicate if I received a book from the author, but I only used it once, when my close friend gave me an ARC of her new book--as most bloggers know, authors rarely have extra ARCs or review copies to pass along, so don't even bother asking. In parentheses after the title, I also recorded if the book arrived with any freebies/goodies/swag other than bookmarks or postcards.
So how did the numbers stack up?
In 2015, I received 138 different titles for review, and 139 books total (one title was accidentally duplicated).
Of those books, 86 were unsolicited and 52 were solicited or received in conjunction with a blog feature. Of those, 4 copies were unsolicited duplicates (finished copies following ARCs).
Of those books, 72 were ARCS, and 67 were new, finished copies.
I received the majority of the books from the publishers directly, but 15 were received from independent publicists. I received 3 ARCs from friends/colleagues, 1 ARC via my workplace, and 1 bound manuscript from an agent for blurbing purposes.
Overall, 9 books arrived with swag or goodies. These goodies ranged from journals, luggage tags, tea, hot chocolate, travel mugs and cups, temporary tattoos, nail polish, magnetic poetry, cookies or candy, buttons, posters, calendars, and gift cards to coffee shops. Interestingly, the swag arrived with unsolicited books only--all part of a larger marketing plan, I'm sure. My favorite extra to receive this year was the magnetic poetry--it's on my fridge and it makes me smile every time I see it.
And here is the number that I think you will find most shocking: Of all of the books received this year, I only read 12 of them.
That's right, 12. I wish it were higher. I really, really do. And I only read 105 books in 2015, total. To be completely fair, something like 20 of those 138 books hit my mailbox in the month of December, and many are 2016 releases that I hope to/definitely plan on getting to. (And as of writing this, I have read 2 of them in 2016! Which is pretty good considering most of my January was eaten up by a Harry Potter re-read.) If it seems unfair that I received 138 books last year, but read less than 10% of them...well, I agree. Completely. I wish I could tell you that I plan on doing better in 2016, but "read more of the books I receive for review" isn't one of my New Year's resolutions, and I'm happy to share why that is.
When I started reviewing, I was (and still am) baffled and grateful to receive review copies. There were years when I had the energy (and the drive!) to read every single review copy I received, but it left room for absolutely nothing else. And while I still love getting in on the hype for new books and discovering upcoming releases, I've diversified my tastes. In the last three years, I discovered a love for middle grade, dark adult murder mysteries, and an appreciation for nonfiction. I currently have a modest TBR stack of adult books at all times. None of this is because I don't love YA, but because I've grown as a reader.
So what this all means is that something has got to give. (Cue Fleetwood Mac, "You Can Go Your Own Way.") And that means I've stopped trying to keep up with every single new YA release and write the sort of blog that always covers new, trending YA novels. If admitting this aloud means I get taken off some lists or don't get sent ARCs anymore, that's okay with me. Send the ARCs to people who will read them, and I am happy to buy, beg, or borrow (but never steal!) the books I really want to read when they come out. I am going to continue to do my best here on the blog, and I've even enjoyed some of the surprise ARCs this year! But sometime in the middle of 2015 I had a small panic attack when I fully realized how many books I don't end up getting to, and I had to remember that reading is something I do for me, not for the blog or anyone else. And that reminder has been really empowering--it led me to make time for a Harry Potter re-read, and inspired my to explore Emma Donoghue's backlist, both top notch reading decisions so far this year.
If you've managed to stick with the blog through the last two tumultuous years of erratic posts and weird ramblings about deadlines, then I'm sure this is cool by you. I could write a pretty speech about how blogging has changed in the past decade, but I'm not really nostalgic for the good 'ole days. I'm grateful for them, but insanely happy to be where I am now--which is catching up on a few of last year's releases, planning reviews of a few upcoming releases and backlist titles, and scheming about which backlist books I want to read (and re-read) to fill in the gaps! (Hint: I've decided that 2016 shall be the Year of the Re-read, and I've got two great series I loved in middle school on deck!)
Oh, and in case you're saying, "Okay, Tirzah, but what do you do with all those books you don't even read?!?!"--don't worry! The finished copies go to my under-funded local library, where they are loved by the community and where I can visit them frequently, and the ARCs get sent to my book industry colleagues and writer & teacher friends, where I know they'll be loved and talked about. I think this is the best solution for everyone.
And no, I'm not keeping track of my book mail in 2016. It was the most wonderful terrible I idea I ever had, and I'm never doing it again.