Our Reading Lives

The Not So Fun Side Of Being A Book’s First Reader

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Jamie Canaves

Contributing Editor

Jamie Canavés is the Tailored Book Recommendations coordinator and Unusual Suspects mystery newsletter writer–in case you’re wondering what you do with a Liberal Arts degree. She’s never met a beach she didn’t like, always says yes to dessert, loves ‘80s nostalgia, all forms of entertainment, and can hold a conversation using only gifs. You can definitely talk books with her on Litsy and Goodreads. Depending on social media’s stability maybe also Twitter and Bluesky.

*Before I jump in, for anyone who needs the insider baseball information about reviewing books: many reviewers have access to ARCs/galleys (advanced reader copies/physical books), e-galleys (digital), and ALCs (advanced listener copies/audiobooks) before their publishing date. Think of it like film reviewers who get to see the film before it’s in theaters for audiences.

Have you ever galley bragged? Or been a bit jealous of someone reading a book you’re super excited about well in advance of its publication date? There are definitely fun perks to being a book reviewer — getting an ARC for an upcoming title by an author I adore is the closest adult feeling to the Scholastic Book Fair of my childhood. But there are a few not great elements of reading an early review copy.

As boring as this probably sounds, my work reading is organized. While I pick up books on a whim for personal reading, work reading is different. I go through a lot of book catalogs, Edelweiss, Netgalley, emails, and announcements to compile lists broken down by months/years for all my crime reading — it’s the focus of the Unusual Suspects newsletter that I write. This is all to explain that you would think this would keep me from accidentally reading a 2024 title in June of 2023, but it did not.

“How?” you may ask: I was searching for a new book that would grab me from the opening page, which I do by randomly opening e-galleys and ARCs and reading the first chapter. Sometimes I set aside a handful before one is the winner and sometimes the first book I open hooks me into reading a huge chunk in that moment. That’s what happened with Amy Tintera’s Listen for the Lie, which I hadn’t yet slotted into the appropriate file in my e-reader, so I started it with the assumption that it was an upcoming 2023 release. Wrong! It will be released on March 5, 2024. The problem? I inhaled the book — not the problem — and had no one to talk to about it! It got me thinking about how reading an e-galley so far before its publication date can create a few problems.

Who do I talk to about the book?!

The book I read, and loved, way too early is a mystery book so I can only discuss it with someone who has already read it, or I’d just be handing out spoilers like they were going out of style. Thankfully, in this case, a fellow Book Riot writer had also read their e-galley shortly after me and we got to chat about it. But that is so rare, especially this far out from the pub date. What would have happened if no one else had read it yet? Would I have forgotten all the things I wanted to talk about by the time it did come out? Would the details about the twists have mixed with details from other books? If someone specifically mentioned a character, would I still remember anything about them? This may only be a sticky point for readers who want to talk to someone about the book, but that happens sometimes — personally I’m glad that I read Gone Girl before it became “known” but after it was published so a friend and I read it together. Imagine having to sit on that twist for a year!

What if I hated the book? Or thought it was just “eh”?

In the case of Amy Tintera’s Listen for the Lie, I can’t wait to tell people who like sarcastic humor, a fictional true crime podcast, and a main character you root for even if she isn’t sure if she’s a murderer to read it! But what if I had hated or not really liked the book very much? I don’t mean in a problematic way, I mean just not personally enjoyed it. I don’t want to be the first reviewer in a place like Goodreads giving a one or two star rating when so many readers don’t apply the logic that a book can be not right for some readers and beloved by others. Then I have to wait for the book to publish and have enough reviews that my review won’t tank it early, without giving it a chance to find its audience. And who has that kind of memory? Or needs even more files to keep track of?

What If I liked the book, but being first means my “like” isn’t good enough for the author?

Another reason I do not like being the first to publicly review a book is I think three stars is a good rating — it means I liked the book. Like is good. But I once had an author send me a private message demanding to know how I got their book pre-publication (their publicist sent it to me) because they were upset that my rating was three stars. (Authors please use your group texts, talk to your agent, or go outside and yell at the sky instead of doing this.) Even though I know that a three star rating is good and that I don’t owe an author anything just because I read their book, that incident has always left me hesitant to be the first to rate a book I didn’t love so hard the moon could hear me shouting about it.

book cover for Where Sleeping Girls Lie

Will any of this keep me from reading books well in advance of their publishing date? Nope! Now that I already ripped off the 2024 seal, I’m currently reading Where Sleeping Girls Lie by Faridah Àbíké-Íyímídé — and you better believe the second there is a galley for Tana French’s and Alyssa Cole’s 2024 titles (The Hunter; One of Us Knows, respectively) I will be dramatically yelling “clear my schedule” and inhaling their books.