Featured New Release Of The Week: The Spitfire Girls by Soraya M. Lane

This week we’re looking at a tale of three people who come together to face nearly insurmountable odds during World War II. This week, we’re looking at The Spitfire Girls by Soraya M. Lane.

The story here was brilliantly executed… in its first two thirds. In this section, the drama focuses around the race to determine who will be the first female to pilot a four engine bomber beyond training and the race to get Spitfire fighters to the USS Wasp for an emergency trip to Malta to shore up defenses there. Lane brilliantly balances the personal and the professional through this section across all three of her leading ladies, and the book truly shines.

But after the race to get the Spitfires to their staging base, the book switches gears and the balance of the drama stumbles as the primary emphasis is placed on the personal while the professional primarily happens off screen and is more often told of in letter form than shown. While there are still some haymakers thrown here, including one that touched this reader personally with his father having similar struggles, it just isn’t quite as “unputdownable” through this section as the first two thirds of the book were.

But the final chapter of the book is an excellent ending to the mainline story, and while the epilogue is arguably unneeded, it does at a final exclamation – and catharsis – point.

Overall, a strong book that could have been stronger, and I’m looking forward to reading more work from this author.

And as always, the Goodreads/ Amazon review:
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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:


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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