Being a blogger comes with a lot of pressure.
You need to make your blog pleasant to look at, engaging and enjoyable to read, and update it regularly. Some bloggers do the minimum, posting only what and when they feel like; some bloggers have a new post practically every day, whether it’s reviews, book tags, blog tours, discussion posts, and more; and some bloggers find a kind of happy medium between the two.
Personally, I fall somewhere between Minimum Bloggers and Middle Bloggers, posting mainly reviews with the occasional book tag and blog tour post, along with the Writer Wednesday segment I started at the beginning of the year.
And it’s draining as hell.
Because even though you see the comments from other bloggers about how stressful it can be, you’re never really prepared to jump into all of it.
Maybe you started a blog so you could get ARCs. Maybe you started a blog because you thought it looked like fun and it would be a good way to engage with your peers and other readers. Maybe you started a blog just so you could have a single place to post your thoughts on the books you read. Maybe you started a blog for a reason completely different for any of these. Only you know! (Unless you’ve posted about it somewhere, in which case, your followers probably know.)
Disregarding the need to balance blogging with all the other aspects of your everyday life, the most difficult thing to figure out is how to balance pleasure reading and pressure reading.
In simplistic terms, pleasure reading pertains to books that you pick up simply because you think you’ll enjoy them.
Whether you decided on it because of the representation, a favorite trope, a favorite author, or something completely different, pleasure reading generally doesn’t come with any inherent pressure attached.
You can decide at any time to stop reading! You can decide you want to pause in the middle of a sentence, paragraph, chapter and start another book! You can read it in one sitting or break it up into sections to prolong the happiness you find from reading it.
There’s no specific date you need to finish by. There’s nothing specific you need to critically analyze. (Though I’d argue you should definitely be on the lookout for harmful/problematic content no matter why you’re reading it)
You simply get to exist as a reader with a book.
Pressure reading, as it exists in the Blogosphere and other social media, is where things get tricky.
It can be confusing too, because pressure reading can often start out as pleasure reading, especially when it comes to ARCs.
Advance Reader Copies (ARCs)
ARCs are the bread and butter of the blogger sect. What’s better than getting one of your most anticipated reads weeks or months before their release dates? Not much! In theory.
When it comes to ARCs, there is an, oftentimes unacknowledged, understanding that you will read and review the before no later than release day.
But what happens when you’ve got multiple books that all release on the same day or in the same week? If you only post a couple times a week, do you just post all the reviews on the same day? Do you (frantically) try to reorganize your other posts to make room for these new reviews? Do you just say fuck it and post them when you have a spot open? What if posting after release day affects your ability to receive ARCs from a particular author or publisher in the future?
And, in addition to all these questions, there are even more: What happens when the publisher doesn’t approve you until a week before release and you don’t have time to finish it? If you don’t review it, your percentage on NetGalley/Edelweiss will be affected, which could prevent you from being approved down the line. What happens when you find a book and select the “Wish For It” button? More than likely, you won’t have your wish granted, so you go on with your reading and organize accordingly. But then, suddenly, your wish is granted! Hooray! Right? Maybe yes, maybe no. Because now you have to find some way to shove that book into your schedule and…cue the panic.
ARCs are both a blessing and a curse.
Did Not Finish (DNF)
Receiving ARCs/Review Copies also brings with it the issue of whether or not you can elect to stop reading the book part way through.
When it comes to pleasure reading, it’s up to you to decide how much of the book you do or don’t want to read. But with ARCs, or review copies you may receive in some way or another, it’s a bit more difficult to choose where to draw the line.
Because, on one hand, you’ve agreed to read this book in exchange for an honest review of the contents. But on the other hand, it’s really difficult to force yourself to read something that you either find boring or harmful or some mix of those and/or other factors. So it begs the question: Are you obligated to completely finish a review copy in order to 1.) review it or 2.) feel like your obligation to the book and/or author/publisher has been fulfilled?
Personally, I don’t think we, as readers and bloggers, should be forced to read something we’re not enjoying. Have I made myself do so in the past in order to critically analyze the whole novel? Yes. Will I do so in the future? Probably. Do I think others need to do the same if they don’t want to? No.
But not doing so can add even more undue stress on bloggers! Because, again, it can affect your percentage/rating on the popular ARC sites, and it can potentially prevent you from receiving review copies in the future.
And, from personal experience, I can tell you that some authors will not hesitate to contact you and tell you that you should’ve finished their book because you’ve unfairly judged it by not finishing! (Even if you don’t apply any kind of rating.)
In the Blogosphere, relevancy is the name of the game. It’s how you earn your views, your likes, your comments. It’s how you build your follower count and get recommended by other readers.
But how do you achieve relevancy?
In the current blogging climate, it’s by reading all the latest releases and reviewing them before others get to. It’s by requesting numerous ARCs and forcing yourself to read and review them with alarming regularity. It’s by keeping your eyes open on Twitter, Facebook, Instagram, etc for all the latest opportunities.
It’s by cutting out pleasure reading.
Because, unless your pleasure reading and pressure reading manage to coincide, there’s just no room for books that aren’t ARCs or review copies. There’s no room for reading a book just because you want to, because you want to relax and have fun, or have good cry.
Reading backlist books is fine and good, but 9 times out of 10, those aren’t the reviews people are looking for.
By far the most difficult aspect of pressure reading, however, is reading books that feature your marginalization(s).
In theory, reading a book about a character who is fat, mentally ill, queer, suffers from chronic pain, or some combination of these should be right up my alley. But it doesn’t always work out that way. Sometimes, It is absolutely a positive reading experience! Other times, not so much.
When you’re enjoying the book and the representation, there’s little difficulty in continuing a book.
But when the story features anti-queer hatred, ableist language, anti-fatness, racism, etc., it makes it incredibly difficult to follow through to the end. Which then means you have to consider four related questions:
- Should I DNF?
- Should I write a review for the portion that I did read?
- If I don’t finish the book, how many harmful things am I potentially missing?
- How many people could possibly be hurt in some way by the things I haven’t found/acknowledged?
When you’re reading a book that features your marginalization(s) in some way, there is an unspoken but anticipated expectation that you will read the whole thing and note any potential problem areas in order to save other people of that marginalization(s) from having to suffer through the pain of reading it unexpectedly.
This is a really heavy burden to bear.
On one hand, it’s pretty fucking brave to continue reading, despite the pain it causes you to do so, in order to potentially prevent harm for others. On the other…why should I continue to hurt myself in the name of reviewing an awful book that others are likely to just stop reading?
It’s a catch-22. It’s a rock and a hard place. One of the most difficult situations you have to make as a reviewer.
What can we do?
Some may say that all of these issues are ones we’ve brought upon ourselves, and in a way, they aren’t wrong. We chose to start our blogs, and we chose to request the review copies. So yes, in a sense, it is partially our own faults.
But the stress of living up to the demands of reviewing has the ability to turn all reading into a chore, and it shouldn’t be that way. There needs to be more understanding and compassion, more wiggle room.
There needs to be more breathing room.
On a personal level, I’ve started adopting a few guidelines into my own reviewing and blogging that may be helpful to others:
- Don’t worry too much about reviewing before or on release day. Sometimes you’ll have enough time and/or spoons to get them done on time, and sometimes you won’t. It’s okay.
- If you’re feeling burned out, you can take breaks between ARCs and read a couple books for pleasure! And if you’re like me, you can read an ARC and a pleasure read at the same time, just switching between them.
- You do not have to finish a book if you don’t want to. If you really want to read to the end in order to analyze the whole thing, that’s your prerogative and I support you! If you don’t want to and absolutely cannot read anymore for whatever reason, that is also your prerogative and I support you!
- Think about yourself first. People will understand or they won’t, but you need to take care of yourself.
- If you’re receiving a review copy directly from the author, whether they email you or put a call out on social media, tell them up front that you will do you more than likely won’t have a review up by release day before you even agree to read it.