This blog is part of a four-part series of bookstagram tips, split up from my original post on this topic for easier readability. This first post focuses on all things arcs (advanced reader copies).
There are a variety of ways to get free books to read and review.
I’m going to share tips for each of the following (click the link below to jump to that section and note that some may have different availability depending on your country – I am writing from the perspective of someone in the U.S.):
- Your library
- Audiobook advanced listening copies
- Digital books (ebooks)
- Physical books
- How to contact publishers for arcs
Physical, eBooks, and audiobooks from your local library
The easiest way to get free books that you’ve already paid for with your tax money. You are still supporting your favorite authors by checking out their books from the library. Increased demand means libraries buy more copies, and publishers do gauge library interest when they look at marketing future books.
If you aren’t a huge fan of physically going to the library, double check what digital resources they offer. I am able to check out eBooks and audiobooks through both the Libby app and Hoopla. I often have to wait weeks for very popular books (a test on my nonexistent patience) but they are always worth the wait.
I am a huge fan of Libro.fm, and recently learned they have an Audiobook Listening Copy program. I am not sure what criteria they consider when approving people or what their follower threshold is. But, I was able to get access this week after requesting it. My tips: share why you’re interested, whether you already share audiobooks/ how you’d plan to share them, and a little about you. I already have a paid Libro account since it’s where I buy audiobooks. They have the best sales, and you support a local bookstore of your choice by purchasing through them vs. Audible but you can apply with a free Libro.FM account. And if you know you love audiobooks, you can get your first month of Libro.FM free using my referral code (I do get a referral credit if you sign up through my link—so we both get free books!).
Digital books (eBooks)
There are more options here since they’re cheaper and publishers have more flexibility.
My personal favorite is Netgalley. It’s a very easy place to start if you are looking for arcs, and where I’d recommend focusing your time if you’re going to go for arcs. You don’t have to have a huge following to start getting approved for books here. You’ll see a lot of arc reviews on bookstagram with Netgalley reads.
Every publisher has different criteria of what they’re looking for, but they all have profiles where they share them. Netgalley also shares lots of getting started tips to help set yourself up for success.
Edelweiss is another site similar to Netgalley, and works similarly. I don’t personally use it because I don’t find their website as user friendly and Netgalley gives me the opportunity to review plenty of books. But it’s a great site to visit when you’re trying to see what books different publishers have coming out, so it’s worth a mention.
Other places to get digital arcs:
- Individual authors who might reach out to you
- The ShelfAwareness newsletter
- Publisher newsletters—for example, Simon & Schuster sends an email with free eBook downloads each week to subscribers. Other publishers will share opportunities to request arcs directly from them via their email lists.
My general tips for Netgalley:
- Share your insights on your profile. Include your follower count and engagement/ impressions prominently. You can find both in the insights area if your account is set to a creator or business account.
- Follow that with some personal information—what genres you love to read, what makes you unique
- Include links to where you share reviews in the links section—Instagram, Twitter, Goodreads, your blog if you have one, etc.
- Start with a few “read now” books to get your percentage up right away. There are usually several in every genre.
- Don’t go request crazy all at once. I repeat, don’t go request crazy all at once. Most likely, you will get approved for more books than you expect, and that is overwhelming. Almost every new person makes this mistake despite everyone saying it. I did it, and you probably will too, but at least I tried to warn you! It’s so tempting with how many options there are and how long you sometimes have to wait to be approved. But I highly recommend you just pick a few to request and wait it out.
- Post reviews when you are done to Netgalley. This is how you get your review percentage up, when you send your opinions to publishers. If you didn’t like a book, it’s better to still share a review and include why it wasn’t the book for you. Avoid using the “decline to review” option if possible since it brings down your score.
- If you’re a white reviewer, consider not requesting #OwnVoices books so there are more copies for Own Voices reviewers. Watch for those reviews instead. Support them by sharing the reviews, and then go check the book out from your library or buy it instead. I recently became aware of the large disparity in arcs and who receives them. I hadn’t seen much since I primarily use Netgalley vs. requesting physical arcs. So this is new advice I’m following for myself moving forward.
- Don’t be discouraged if you get declined for books you really wanted. Like I mentioned above, some publishers (especially big ones) have very strict criteria they follow for reviewers. You may not be the reviewer for them. Or, they may have reached the quantity of books they had to give out. And that’s okay!
There are many ways to get physical arcs without directly reaching out to publishers.
My personal favorite is BookishFirst. It’s a free site that allows you to read previews of books and enter for a chance to win an arc if you liked it. You read anywhere from 10-50ish pages before writing your first impression and being given the option to enter to win. You earn points for writing that first impression, for coming back and writing a full review, and for sharing reviews. When you have 2,000 points, you can trade them in for an arc (some go more quickly than others). I have won two BookishFirst giveaways, traded in points for another, and already have enough points for a second trade in—after about six months of interacting as I have time.
If you’re interested in joining BookishFirst, you can use this referral code for 100 extra points (I get the same amount of points if you use my code: 2bcc96e592ac7cd9b).
Quick tips for success with BookishFirst:
- Get specific in your reviews and first impressions. Share what you like so far and why, what makes you dying to read it, who you’d share it with if you read, etc. If you didn’t love it, don’t drag it or rate it 1 star. I usually give it 3 stars and just say it wasn’t meant for me and why. It’s the right book for someone even if it’s not meant for you.
- Go back and check to see if there are books you’ve read on their site. After books are published, you can go back and write reviews for them to earn points. Even if you didn’t win a giveaway for it! This is a great way to get some extra points right when you join.
These are another way to win physical arcs (and sometimes eArcs). I didn’t have any success with Goodreads giveaways for a long time. I never won until I made sure every book I’ve rated has a review of at least a few sentences. Since then, I’ve won three. So, if you have a lot of star ratings but no text reviews on your Goodreads “read” shelf, spend some time adding reviews in before you dive into giveaways.
Other tips for getting arcs through goodreads giveaways:
- Don’t enter for books you don’t actually want to read, because you are expected to review them after winning
- Use the sorting features to see different genres or find giveaways that may have less people entered
- It’s a lot easier to view and move around on a computer vs. a phone. You need to be in a browser on your phone to open the giveaways page, which will then open in your app.
Tips for contacting publishers for arcs
Sometimes there may be a specific book that you’d love to early review. You may want to request it directly from the publisher if so. This is the area where I have by far the least experience, because I don’t request many arcs from publishers. I don’t find it to be worth my time and have plenty to read already.
I’m going to point you to resources I’ve found helpful rather than share a ton of tips. I have only requested two arcs and thus am no expert here. One showed up from St. Martin’s Press a few weeks after I asked for it. The other didn’t, and that’s okay! So my success rate is 50/50.
Resources for working with publishers I’ve found helpful
- I stumbled upon a blog by Zakiya N. Jamal when I was first looking for arc tips. It’s a great resource, so definitely check it out for more.
- This book publicity contacts directory compiles the contacts for a ton of different publishers. Their contact information is all publicly available on their websites. But you have to hunt for it on some. You can find a book’s publisher in the details listed on any retail site too. And often it’ll pull up when you google the book. Go to that publisher’s website and you’ll want to find the press or marketing contact in their contact page. That’s who to reach out to! Some have a specific contact for review copies as well – defer to that always.
One of the things most people struggle with is what to put in their emails for publishers. As a communicator by day, I can help you with that!
Here is the general format I used when I reached out to those publishers. Each bullet point is its own paragraph, but keep each short and sweet:
- Greeting + introduction. Share a bit about who you are and why you’re reaching out. Ex: “Hello, My name is Allie, and I run a book blog and bookstagram called Allie Mikenna Reads. I am inquiring about a review copy of X book by X author on sale X date, with X ISBN number.”
- Share why the book caught your attention/ why you’re interested in it, specifically. Go beyond “I’m really excited about it/ I love this genre.” Also share what qualities the book has that make you want to read.
- Include why you think you’re a good reviewer. Maybe you frequently review that genre, have a unique perspective on the topic the book covers, love the author and read everything by them, etc.
- Share where you’d promote the book, including the followers/ engagement you have on each of those places
- Share your information to make it easy for publishers to act on your request and see your reviews. Include all the places you review books, with links. You can include reviews of other books by the author you have shared in the past (if you used that as one of the reasons you’re requesting). And don’t forget to add your address!
- Close with a thank you
Hopefully these tips help you in you’re wondering how to get arcs and not sure where to start.
Have a tip I didn’t cover? Feel free to drop it in the comments below!