Featured New Release of the Week: Loving Liberty Levine by Colin Falconer

This week, we look at a multi-generational tale of a mother’s love from yet another new-to-me Lake Union author. This week, we look at Loving Liberty Levine by Colin Falconer.

This book was a bit structurally divergent from most other Lake Union books I’ve read – while also being longer than others at 442 pages, it divided those pages up into nearly 70 short-ish chapters rather than the more common 20-30 mid-length chapters. Since I was just having a discussion about such things in one of my Facebook book groups recently, it felt worthy of mentioning here.

Overall, the story is very nicely told, beginning circa 1912 or so in Russia and then moving to the US in 1913, where the majority of the rest of the story – save for the last couple of chapters – plays out primarily in New York City. The descriptions of life as an immigrant Jew seem accurate to my knowledge of the actual history and yet tell an excellent tale of a family doing whatever it takes to give their daughter the life they think she deserves. Along the way we encounter World War I – also a topic of two other recent Lake Union books -, the Roaring Twenties, Prohibition, the Stock Market Crash of 1929, the Depression, and finally, World War II, where we end. The story ultimately calls into question the lengths a mother is willing to go through for her child and the secrets she is willing to bear, but even goes deeper than many books that explore these issues and dares to go into infertility and what truly makes a mother. It is for these last two reasons in addition to simply great storytelling that this book rises above many others. Excellent book, yet another smash hit from Lake Union. Very much looking forward to seeing more work from this author.

And as always, the Goodreads/ Amazon review:
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Featured New Release of the Week: The Victory Garden by Rhys Bowen

This week, we look at an excellent historical fiction novel from yet another new=to-me Lake Union author. This week, we’re talking about The Victory Garden by Rhys Bowen.

This book presents an interesting case when looking at it alongside Aimie K Runyan’s Girls On the Line, as both tell a story of a woman falling in love in the middle of World War I – Line from the perspective of an American socialite who chooses to go to the battle lines in France, and Garden from the perspective of a British socialite who feels she must remain in her own country, yet still has a burning desire to do something to help the cause. The fact that both authors can tell such dramatically different stories using the exact same time period and very similar beginnings is a true testament to the power of story telling, and both are to be commended for their strong work.

This book in particular is very reminiscent of Tess of the D’Ubervilles by Thomas Hardy or Gone with the Wind by Margaret Mitchell in that all three books have the same general feel to them and all three books tell the tale of a woman whose parents aren’t quite noble but wish to be seen in those circles who leaves home to find her own way in life and encounters both love and difficulty in the process. While those books both clock in at over 1000 pages (at least the versions I read in the same summer, 20 years ago later this year), this one is a far quicker read at roughly 300 pages that retains the best elements of its longer “cousins”. Literally my only real complaint about this book is fairly nitpicky – the titular garden doesn’t come in until roughly 2/3 of the story is told, and is never once referred to by the name in the title within the story.

A truly excellent book in its own right, it really is one to read regardless of your feelings of those other stories. If you’re a fan of these other stories, you’re going to want to go pick this one up immediately. Very highly recommended, very much looking forward to seeing what is next from this author.

And as always, the Goodreads/ Amazon review:
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How Can I Get Advance Review Copies?

One of the singular most common questions one will encounter in almost any group of readers where one member of the group mentions having recieved an ARC is “How can I get one?”. It is a question asked with somewhat alarming regularity, to the level that some authors have recently spoken up about writing being a business – and they are not wrong.

As we saw in the discussion of the business justification for Advance Review Copies, ARCs are, when used ideally, loss leaders for the publishing agent – the idea is to give away X copies of the book in anticipation that these free copies will generate AX sales, where the larger A is the more money those involved in writing and publishing the book are making. As a business strategy, it suffers one flaw that could one day prove to be fatal:

Not all people requesting ARCs are trustworthy.

They either are not aware of ARC etiquette or actively ignore it. While little can be done about someone who actively ignores ARC etiquette other than not giving them an ARC in the future, I am seeing more and more publishing agents being more and more explicit about ARC etiquette before selecting a given reader to receive an ARC.

Which leads directly to the titular question here: What can a given reader do to increase their chances of receiving an ARC?

The obvious first answer is to ask. This is a bit bold if you are unknown to the publishing agent, and I do NOT recommend this. Certainly not unless the publishing agent at least has some idea of who you are.

But in general, one should work to prove they are trustworthy from the publishing agent’s perspective. Show them why they can trust you to uphold ARC etiquette. No author wants to give away a book to someone who is just looking for free books. They are, after all, running a business. They need to have some indication that you can benefit their business, and that you aren’t just there for yourself.

How can one do this? There are a few things that come readily to mind:

  • Review books you are reading, even without these books being ARCs. This shows the publishing agent that not only do you read with some regularity, but that you also review even when you don’t necessarily have to – you want to tell others about the books you enjoy, even when you paid for the book yourself. I can tell you that my own ARC work picked up heavily after I began making it a point to review literally every single book I read, though to an extent this was a bit coincidental. However, given that many publishing agents ask for your Goodreads profile before approving a given reader, it is somewhat expected that they are checking your profile for frequency and quality of reviews you’ve already done. I actually was sent an ARC invitation just this morning simply due to the fact that a personal assistant to a particular author had seen my reviews for the prior books in the series this new book will be in on Goodreads – that particular author has never been featured here, as I read her books before this project existed.
    • But Jeff! Where should I review books? In general, review the book at the point of purchase – the website of wherever you bought it. In addition to this. Amazon and Goodreads are always good places for book reviews. Bookbub has become another one that authors are beginning to request more frequently.
    • And what should I put in my review? My advice here tends to be to write even just a few words – I think Amazon requires around 20 or so – about how you felt about the book. The people who write the description of the book agonize over how to present the overall plot of the book without giving too much away, so you don’t need to worry about that. Note anything that stood out to you that is NOT a spoiler, be it the author’s writing style, the cadence of the story, a particular character you loved, really anything. Your perspective on a book could be the thing that convinces someone else to buy the book, so just speak from your heart about how you felt about the book. There really isn’t more to it that that.
  • Follow publishing agents on social media. This serves a dual purpose in this particular context. For one, it shows that you a reader are interest in their work. You’re not just some bum looking for a handout, you actually want to know them and what they are doing. Also, at least some publishing agents are known to announce ARC giveaways or ARC group membership openings via their social media pages, so you can potentially get an ARC just from this.
  • Engage with publishing agents on social media. This one is similar to the last, but more involved. Basically, get to know them and let them know about you. Show that you are a dedicated fan and potentially even develop a level of a friendship with them. Basic human psychology tells us that someone is more likely to grant a favor to a friend than a random stranger, so being aware of who you are and having a positive experience with you can in fact go a long way here. This is actually how I got my start with ARCs, and how I’ve gotten several of them over the years – including some recent ones, after my reviews were already speaking for themselves in their frequency and quality.

Others may have other “strategies”, but the above is how I’ve gotten as involved with ARCs as I am.

But let me re-iterate:

BE. GENUINE.
BE. NICE.
BE. GRACIOUS.

Hell, that’s just good life advice – particularly when you want something from another person.

The Business of Advance Review Copies

In the next few days, I am going to write an article with my answer to the age old question: “How can I get an ARC?”.

But in thinking about my answer to that question, I realized that there is a more critical topic that needs to be discussed before we can intelligently look at how to obtain an ARC – “What are ARCs and why do they exist?”

Quite simply, Advance Review Copies are the literary equivalent of an early screening of a movie – they exist as part of a marketing strategy to build word of mouth (aka “buzz”) about a particular book in the days/ weeks/ sometimes even months before its release. But the goal is always pretty obvious: To sell more books. Period.

It doesn’t matter if a particular author just wants to be published at all and would maybe like to make enough money from their book to buy a Nintendo Switch or if the author in question is a “mega/ mega” – has a mega contract with a major publishing house. At the end of the day, writing books is a business and it is about making money. Yes, authors by their nature are very creative people. And particularly at the Indie level, they tend to be almost Renaissance People with how many different artistic abilities they have to have, since they themselves do *every* job that a major publishing house can farm off to dozens or potentially even hundreds of people. But at the end of the day, the goal is always the same: to sell this product – in this case, books – to make money. And the money isn’t just for the author, even on the indie level. While the author and their family are important enough, many times authors will realize that they are simply not capable of being a master of all things, even if they have the ability to do all things – which not all authors have to begin with. So an entire industry of assistants and editors and cover designers and marketers exists even in the indie realm, though obviously with a fair degree more independence and a fair degree more reliance on individual books selling particularly well.

There are many components to making a book stand out. It needs a compelling story, obviously – but there are many compelling stories that you will never hear of. It needs a solid, eye catching and mind engaging title – but there again, there are books with such titles that do not get the attention of others with lesser titles. It needs to be from an author that a reader recognizes – but how do you get this recognition without selling more books? It needs a compelling cover, preferably one that relates to the book in some way – but again, other books have sold well with little more than the title and author name in black ink on a white background. Once all of these factors draw a reader to at least glance at the book’s description, that discription needs to compel them to buy the book if the other things didn’t quite get them to do so.

And while all of these are important, there is one step in there that is specifically where Advance Reader Copies come in: what the marketing people call “brand recognition”. Maybe it is just the author – which is excellent and can lead to major sales in and of itself. (Looking at you, Stephen King, Lee Child, Nicholas Sparks, among many, many others.) Sometimes it is just the title – “1984” is arguably more well known than “written by George Orwell”.

In order to build this “brand recognition”, businesses – not just authors, but businesses generally – are often willing to incur small, short duration losses if they can genuinely expect these losses to lead to larger gains in the mid to long term than would be possible without these losses. The business people even have a term for this: “loss leaders”. The entire definition of the concept is simply “a product sold at a loss to attract customers”.

Which is exactly what an ARC is – literally giving a book away for free in the hope that it will attract many more paying customers. And this is the very reason ARC etiquette is so very important – if you don’t leave the review or if you share the ARC with someone without permission, you are cutting into the very reason you as an ARC reader exist. And if it ever gets to the point where ARCs stop leading to higher sales in the long run because of poor etiquette on the part of ARC readers, it will no longer make business sense to offer ARCs at all.

On the other side, of course, are the Lee Childs and Stephen Kings and such who already have such brand recognition that loss leaders are far less critical, and therefore can be far more tightly constrained so as to maximize profits. (Though even Lee Child’s latest Jack Reacher book was on NetGalley for ARC copies, though I didn’t have the courage to apply for it, anticipating the very scenario where such ARCs were only authorized for the biggest players in the review side of the business.)

Again, authors make money by *selling* books, not by giving them away… but Amazon and other retailers also trigger internal promotion mechanisms based on a critical mass of reviews, and it is via this very “priming the pump” mechanism that ARCs become loss leaders.

If a particular book can get X number of reviews in Y period – whatever those numbers are, and I don’t think Amazon actually releases them, for somewhat obvious reasons – then Amazon, one of the most powerful retailers on the planet today, becomes at least somewhat of an ally in helping the publishing agents to sell books. And often the best way to hit that target is to give away ideally exactly that number of ARCs and have every single person that receives one leave a review within the time period needed. But unfortunately not everyone can be trusted, and unfortunately far too many break the (usually implicit, but I see becoming explicit more and more often these days) ARC “contract”. So publishing agents have to have ways of finding out how sincere and trustworthy you are, and that is the very subject of the next post.

So there you have it – a brief look at the business side of ARCs. Next time, we look at ARCs from the intersection of the business and the reader and explain some ideas of how and why certain actions can help a reader be a better candidate to receive ARCs – to become a loss leader – while other actions may make a particular reader a less desirable candidate.

Featured New Release Of The Week: One Last Summer by Victoria Connelly

This week we are looking at a tale of three friends getting together to spend one last perfect summer together in a former monastery in the English countryside. This week, we are looking at One Last Summer by Victoria Connelly.

This was a solid tale of three middle aged women long out of college getting back together for one perfect summer to reconnect with each other. While one might expect there to be little to no drama and more of a feel good story, there was actually quite a bit of drama to be had between the reason the one woman actually drew everyone together – and her hesistance to reveal it -, another’s workaholic ways that send her to the hospital, and the other’s insecurities about her own life. Toss in light flirting with two eligible men for the two single ladies and a stern and insistent housekeeper, and you get most of the characters of this book.

Given the central premise of the book, one might expect it to be tearjerker city. And this reader could see where perhaps others would have such a response. But for whatever reason, it just wasn’t happening here. Great story, perfect for the age and situations of the characters involved. Looking forward to this author’s next work.

And one last Goodreads/Amazon review:
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Featured New Release Of The Week: The Memory Man by Steven Savile

This week, we look at an intensely dark and gritty new police procedural story that is intended to launch a new series. This week, we look at The Memory Man by Steven Savile.

This was one of the darkest, grittiest books I’ve read in quite a while. It opens with the brutal torture and murder of a Swedish politician, and it only gets darker from there. All across Europe, we see people getting mailed human body parts with a note demanding a meeting, going to the meeting… and disappearing. Clearly, a serial killer is on the loose. Eurocrimes Division agent Peter Ash, based in London, gets roped into the mystery when his friend, a fixer for the Catholic Church, asks for a favor in Paris. Eurocrimes Division agent Frankie Varga gets roped into it by a mysterious request from someone high in her local government in Sweden asking for her specifically to investigate the murder that opens the book. Along the way, all three will find they are on the exact same case.

Overall, this tale works extremely well in setting the book in the real world with all of its messiness – including brief commentary on the complexities of implementing the impending Brexit split. Each of the characters have an interesting backstory that could work as their own spinoff books, and the overall central mystery is one of those insanely dark tales that unfortunately is plausible enough – while fortunately *not* directly based on any actual known real world events – that the story desperately needs to be told. Sadly, too few authors have the courage to even mention it. Savile manages to string the reader along with just enough reveals and just enough further muddying of the waters to keep the reader engaged, and the short chapters help to compel a sense of both urgency and satisfaction of having completed another chapter.

This reader for one is very much looking forward to Book 2, as this promises to be an excellent new series indeed. Very highly recommended.

As always, the Goodreads/ Amazon review:
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The Ethics of Sharing Advance Reader Copies

Last month, I wrote about a troubling trend I’ve been made aware of recently among Advance Reader Copy (ARC) readers. Continuing discussions around ARCs, mostly with fellow ARC readers this time, has revealed another troubling topic.

Specifically, the question has come up in multiple discussions on different walls and groups regarding what to do with ARC copies once you are done with them and in particular whether it is acceptable to share them.

The very first time an author gave me a book – I don’t even remember if it was an actual ARC or not – was several years ago now. I had been reading this author for several years already and had interacted online with them for at least a few of them, and had been absolutely devouring a particular series. But I was unexpectedly let go from my job – just a couple of weeks before the new book in the series came out. This author was kind enough to send me a copy of the book at their own expense, even the shipping. But they specifically told me that I was to never give the book to anyone else.

Thus, my first “ARC” came with explicit instructions.

Over the years, I would become more active with more ARC work for more authors, and at least for me it was always understood implicitly that these ARCs were never to be shared without explicit permission from the person who gave them to me. It honestly got to the level that I just assumed everyone understood this, particularly anyone who accepts ARCs.

But these recent discussions have revealed that many people do not know, either from not being told, not thinking about it, or actively avoiding finding out. Some think that it is acceptable to give the books to just a single other person. Others think it is acceptable to donate the ARC to a library, be it public or church. Still others go so far as to think it is ok to actively sell these ARCs to used bookstores.

Dear reader, let me be explicitly clear: To my understanding of the implicit contract of accepting an ARC, you have exactly two duties:

  1. Leave an honest review in open book review forums. Consult the person who gives you the ARC for specifics, but generally at least Amazon and/ or Goodreads.
  2. Keep the ARC to yourself. Do not ever pass it to anyone else without explicit authorization from the publishing agent (author and/ or publisher).

To violate either of these two basic rules is, to put it bluntly, theft.

I dealt with the first case in the post last month.

In the case of the second rule, you are stealing from them via denying them the sale that would occur if whoever you give the book to were forced to instead buy it from the author. That is a bit more concrete case of theft than the first – no longer are we talking theoretical sales, now we have discrete persons to point to. *That* person would have been a sale had you not given the book away without permission.

But Jeff, what about second hand sales? Don’t I have a right to sell any book I have? NO! In at least some countries (including the US, where I am based), you do in fact have a right to sell any book *that you purchase* to anyone you so choose, via yard sale, giving it to a library, selling it to a used bookstore, or anywhere else. To my knowledge, the legislative acts that permit this – and there are pros and cons to even this system – do NOT cover ARCs. But I could potentially be wrong on that point, in which case I hope a lawyer familiar with literary legal issues will chime in at some point. HOWEVER, even if it is “legal” under the legislative acts, that does NOT make it ethically correct, and in that sense “theft” is a correct term regardless of specific legislative acts.

But now let us turn to what can be done about this phenomenon?

For one, I think we can have these conversations where we illuminate what is happening and why it is wrong.

For two, I think authors can be explicit when giving ARCs, even if just the first time. Such as this statement that was on the signup form for an ARC group I applied for just this morning:

ARC Non Disclosure Agreement: By clicking ‘YES’ to request an Advanced Review Copy of any book by [Author] you are acknowledging that the ARC is copyrighted material protected by [Author’s country] and International copyright laws. Furthermore, by accepting an Advanced Review Copy of any book by [Author], you agree that you will not distribute, copy or share your advanced copy to or with any person or entity without prior written consent from [Author]. If it is discovered that you have violated this agreement, [Author] reserves all legal rights available to [Author pronoun], including pursuing a lawsuit for breach of contract which may claim damages including, but not limited to, lost profits caused by the violating distribution.

And maybe we can re-iterate these points from time to time in ARC oriented groups, just as many corporations have ongoing training for employees just to remind them of things they already know.

These issues have been shocking to me to discover – maybe I’m just too much of a goody two shoes at times. But by working together, we, the people of the written word, can work to put an end to them.

And no matter what, always remember:

Never give away an ARC without explicit permission to do so from the publishing agent.

Featured New Release Of The Week: Wildflower Heart by Grace Greene

This week, we’re talking about yet another new-to-me Lake Union author’s newest book, the first in a new series. This week, we’re looking at Wildflower Heart by Grace Greene.

This book ultimately is all about finding yourself again after loss. And it resonates quite a bit, as most all of us have felt these things to one level or another. The story itself works well in grounding us in the world it is creating while also allowing several possibilities for the stories to come – and making us look forward to them. This isn’t an action packed bombastic ride, and yet it also isn’t the cozy, feel good story others might seek. But it is a quiet, well crafted story of heartbreak and hope, and in that vein it can prove very cathartic.

Overall, this is a world I would love to come back to, and I can’t wait for the next book.

As always, the Goodreads/ Amazon review:
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Featured New Release Of The Week: The Post by Kevin Munoz

This week we look to an excellent post Apocalyptic zombie tale by a promising debut author. This week, we look to The Post by Kevin Munoz.

This was a book that was very reminscent of Cormac McCarthy’s The Road in terms of overall bleakness. The key difference being that while I often cite The Road as the singular worst book I have ever read, this particular book was genuinely great. While I cop to being a Georgia native – and UGA athletics fan -, I am not overly familiar with most of the particular locales described in this book. That said, it is always nice to see an area you’ve known even a bit to be featured in a book. This book is an excellent examination of how society can rebuild itself from nearly anything, including the dual Apocalyptic events described as having happened years before the events here. Truly an excellent human centered book that happens to take place in a world that has survived the Zombie Apocalypse and is still in the process of rebuilding, this book shows those efforts – and secret efforts that could undo every ounce of progress made so far. I really cannot heap enough praise on this debut work. If you are open to genre, read this book. If you like post Apocalypse, read this book. If LGBT centered stories are your particular bent, you will also enjoy this book. If you’re just looking for a solidly entertaining read, read this book. Seriously, just read this book and hope – as I do – that we get an unnecessary yet welcome sequel.

And as always, the Goodreads/ Amazon review:
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Featured New Release Of The Week: Ghost Of Himself by Pandora Pine

This week, we look at a book that introduces a new spinoff series from a well established world. This week, we look at Ghost of Himself by Pandora Pine.

This was an excellent entry point into an existing well-established world. You get enough of a sense of the larger world without being overwhelmed in the details and thus not being able to enjoy the particular story you are currently reading. Indeed, just the opposite is true: the current story is the laser focus at all times, and you get just enough background to understand where the various existing players are coming from while whetting your appetite to find out exactly how they arrived at their current locations. Case in point being one half of the focal couple of this very slow burn romance – private investigator Jude Byrne. He is one of many links to the previously existing world, finally getting his own story in this spinoff series, and apparently he has been quite… open… with the sheer volume of partners he has bedded. Apparent series newcomer pyschic witch Copeland Forbes has been a bit more selective with his lovers, but is certainly no prude himself.

MM romance enthusiasts will likely be dismayed to realize there is no penetrative sex in this particular tale – as I said, it is truly a slow burn romance – though it does have some sexual activity, as one would expect from most modern romances outside of certain particular subgenres. But that is the only minor quibble to be had here and that is mostly just the lack of a genre trope. Otherwise, this truly is a strong tale in its own right that serves as an excellent launching pad for its own series within this larger world, while also getting new readers interested in learning about that larger world. Outstanding on all points, and very much recommended.

As always, Amazon/ Goodreads:
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