Tuesday 20 February 2018

Just Saying - ARC's and DNF's

I've been thinking about what, if any, difference it has made to my reading habits working in an Indie bookshop.

Before I was a bookseller, I knew nothing about ARC's (advanced reading copies). Each and every book that I purchased was a precious thing, new or used. I would spend hours browsing, to-ing and fro-ing about which book/s to read next. The local library was my testing ground for new authors and recommendations and book borrows from friends supplemented my own growing library of favourites. Word of mouth and synchronicity was my was usual approach to finding new books.

If I bought a book, I read it through, regardless. DNF (did not finish) was not an option. I finished every book I started (eventually).

However since working in a bookshop the whole wide wonderful world of ARC's and gratis reads has opened up to me. Suddenly my shelves (cupboards, under the bed and bedside chair) were overflowing with options that I hadn't had to pay for.

Many times, this process revealed amazing new authors and stories that I might never have picked up otherwise. And that is, of course why publishing companies release ARC's. Word of mouth and personal recommendations are still one of the biggest ways to get a book 'out there'.

But I've also had lots of duds. And for the first time ever, I've failed to finish books that I started. Personally this has been a struggle. So much time, money, energy and effort has gone into putting this particular book in front of me, I feel obliged to finish it. Perhaps it's just a slow start, maybe I'm not in the right mood to appreciate it, perhaps the amazing, insightful ending is worth the hard slog to get there?

For years, I ploughed through books that weren't working for me. Until a colleague, who had been in the book industry a lot longer than me, told me to stop. Her view was that no book was ever going to suit every reader. And that is was actually my bookseller's duty to only read books that interested me so that I could happily, faithfully and genuinely recommend them to our customers. My sense of relief was immense!

However, I've finessed this idea somewhat over time.

It is not necessarily a bad thing to not finish a book. The DNF's may not be my cup of tea, but by reading a few early chapters, I get the gist of the book and get a feel for which kind of reader I could recommend the book to. Also, by working out why I didn't like a book, I can honestly let readers know what my concerns were and they can chose whether or not it is something that is a problem for them too.

I'm definitely reading more widely since being a bookseller, especially contemporary, debut authors across all genres and age groups. These are the authors who the publishers are usually keen to get 'out there' via ARC's. Creating a buzz around a new book before it hits the shops, is good for everyone concerned...as long as it's genuine.

I've broadened the range and type of book that I would normally have read, but my basic criteria has remained the same. The book has to grab my attention, I have to feel impatient to pick it up again each day and it has to create a world for me to fall into or give me characters to love and hate and live with through their trials and tribulations.

The glut of ARC's that can swamp the back office of a bookshop sometimes feels like a cheapening of the reading process though. All those books that I'm only half-interested in, waiting to be opened, read and loved, can feel like clutter rather than something worthy of my attention.

Abandoning books at the 50 page mark has also become my thing. If it hasn't grabbed me or convinced me by page 50, then hasta la vista baby! Life's too short to read a boring book. It's not as if I don't have something else to fall back onto.

Does reading a book you haven't paid for and don't have to return change your reading experience? Does it enhance and expand your reading? Or does it lower your expectations?


  1. I've had a similar experience with ARCs. At first I felt obliged to finish and review them all (I get them via NG and publishers rather than as a bookseller). But I found it was making reading begin to feel like a job rather than a pleasure after a bit. So now I DNF far more, and am happy to send brief feedback rather than write a full review. And that means I have more time to read books I'm likely to love and rave about rather than criticise. ARCS are fab, but they definitely have a downside unless readers learn to Just Say No...

    1. " that means I have more time to read books I'm likely to love and rave about rather than criticise."

      Reading should be fun, even for those in the book industry. I often see incredible rave reviews for books that I couldn't get into, and just figure that I wasn't the target audience or in the right mood for this book and that's okay.

  2. I've read books that I wouldn't normally have picked up, and for the most part, have been really happy I did. But I also find it harder to find the time to read older books that I know I would like. It's a balancing act, I guess.
    I enjoyed reading your own experiences with this!

    1. Ahhh that's the other thing I forgot to mention...older books!

      All these interesting new releases has made it harder for me to read the classics or enjoy rereading old favourites - something I've been endeavouring to rectify this past year or so.

  3. I envy you those ARCs (at times), although I do have more than enough in my TBR already without picking up books that I'm slightly interested in. I also envy you your ability to DNF, I'm trying to get better at that, instead of just getting bogged, and setting it aside with much guilt.

    1. My first year as a bookseller, I was like a kid in a candy shop! I've had to learn to pace myself and exercise some self-discipline since then. The DNF habit is part of that.

  4. It must be lovely to be a bookseller & get a ton of ARCs. Quite a perk of the job! Seems no reason to finish bad books as you say (though is 50 pages too soon?). I get most of my books from the library so they are free and I often don't get to a lot of them so I just return them, which is okey dokey. I do still try to finish books I start -- I know it's a weird hang up that we should all get over. I will work on it.

    1. It really is & I still get a little thrill whenever I get an extra-special-to-me ARC (ie like the new Tim Winton! Although my boss got first dibs on that one.)

      I used to think that 50 was too soon, but in my pre-bookselling days, I would decided whether to buy a book or not based almost purely on my reaction to the first page. So 50 is actually a HUGE advance on that method :-)

      The 50 limit applies more to books that I want to enjoy, think I should enjoy, but for some reason end up not getting into. Recently it was the new Alex Miller book. I love his stuff but was soooooo disappointed with The Passage of Love. I forced myself to get to page 50 just in case it improved, but it didn't, so I abandoned ship. A couple of other reviews helped me to realise that I wasn't the only one having a problem, which made the decision easier.
      Knowing I have a rather large back up pile to turn to when one book fails to excite helps as well :-)


This blog has now moved to Wordpress.
Please visit This Reading Life to comment.

Note: only a member of this blog may post a comment.