An Open Letter to Publishers About E-Arcs

Posted 25th June 2020 by Sia in State of the Sia, Thoughts & Essays / 1 Comment

You couldn’t pay me to move to the USA, but the fact is, it’s tough to be a book blogger outside North America. Forget attending cons or taking part in giveaways; it’s virtually impossible to get a physical Advanced Reader’s Copy if you’re not a US resident. Which leaves us with digital arcs.

To me, an e-book isn’t a poorer choice; I’m physically disabled to the point that I literally can’t handle a paper book. All my books are e-books. I want e-arcs, folx.

But I want e-arcs I can actually read.

There’s no way to tell, when you apply for an arc on Netgalley or Edelweiss, what format it’s in. And that’s a problem. My response rating on Netgalley is only 60% because too often, what I receive is a PDF file – something I can’t read on my Kindle. Something I can’t read at all, because the same issue that makes a paper book too heavy for my messed-up hands means I can’t carry around my laptop or tablet to read a PDF on that instead.

On Netgalley, sometimes, if you’re lucky, the e-arc is in ePub format. I can’t read that on my Kindle either, but that’s fine; I only need about a minute with Calibre – which is a free program for editing ebook files – to turn an ePub file into something that reads perfectly on my Kindle.

Today I got my first e-arc from Edelweiss. I had two options: a PDF, which, as we’ve established, I can’t read. And an AZW3 file that would work only on my particular Kindle – presumably so I can’t upload it online somewhere and pirate it.

Fair enough. Legit concern.

But the AZW3 file? Was converted from the PDF file. And what you might not know, if you’re not kind of obsessed with ebook files and formats like myself, is that PDF doesn’t convert well into any format. The formatting breaks – lines break halfway through, paragraphs shatter into pieces, speech marks float off into the ether. And I guess some people can deal with that, but I can’t. It’s insanity-inducing.

And – look, I get it. I’m sure publishers prefer PDFs because they’re so much less attractive to pirates. And I wish I could say that’s not a fair thing to worry about, but it is – I’ve seen for myself when unscrupulous reviewers post e-arcs they’ve received online before the book is even published. That can and does destroy a book’s sales, which can destroy a writer’s career – it can certainly doom that one particular series, whose sales might never recover. The ripple effects can be huge and unequivocally awful.

But…what if you put a mark inside each e-arc? So that if someone pirates their copy – shares it online – you can trace it back to the reviewer who received that copy, and broke the law by sharing it? And take them to court? You’d really only have to do it once, I’d think, to make sure no reviewer did it again. Put the fear of all the gods into anyone tempted to try it.

Because right now, every would-be reviewer is getting punished with hard- or impossible-to-read e-arcs, when the vast majority of us would never dream of breaking the faith placed in us by sharing those e-arcs.

I don’t need to sell you on the fact that hype sells books. If you work in the publishing industry, you know it does. And I shouldn’t need to tell you that most books don’t get big marketing budgets – which means most of that hype is built up by the authors themselves (taking part in interviews and giveaways and blog tours and the like) and by book bloggers. I don’t discover the books I want to read from catalogues, or tv advertisements, or billboards or even libraries – I find them when the bloggers I follow hype the hell out of them. I find them through word of mouth. Because that’s how books actually get marketed. When readers share how much they love them.

Publishers don’t pay bloggers – and we don’t want to be paid! We do this because we freaking love it – we love reading, and we love finding new books to love, and we love waving glittery pom-poms to bring attention to our new literary loves. But it is work. Writing reviews is work, and hyping books is work, and most of us also have full-time jobs or school on top of our blogging. This is work, and we do it out of nothing but love.

So – could you at least, please, pretty please, give us e-arcs we can read? Just – use ePub as a default format. Put unique marks in each one so you can find any rulebreakers – there’s programs that will generate those marks for you – and give us e-arcs that are formatted properly, that we can read on any device we please.

We’ll be good. I swear. We love this too much not to be.

One response to “An Open Letter to Publishers About E-Arcs

  1. I know on NetGalley you have the option to tell the publisher you aren’t going to review a book, and that counts as having reviewed it. I’m sure you can do the same on Edelweiss. I’ve done that a few times and it always has to do with format. I personally will ONLY read mobi files for Kindle, and if I ever get an epub only option, I’ll tell the publisher I won’t be reviewing it because mobi wasn’t offered. So everyone has a different preferred format! I have heard from other international readers that formatting is often a problem, so I’m sorry you have to deal with this!

Leave a Reply

(Enter your URL then click here to include a link to one of your blog posts.)