Should Bookish Influencers Edit Books Covers into Photos If There Are No Physical ARCs?

In December 2020, author Tess Sharpe asked on Twitter what other authors felt the results would be of publishers moving towards using almost exclusively e-ARCs rather than physical ARCs (this may be a result of the pandemic, but this was a trend publishers began even before COVID-19).

In response, a number of authors agreed they saw a difference in online buzz, based on whether physical ARCs had been available for their books or not. Particular concern was raised over the very visual platforms that publishers seem to have been favoring over blogs in recent years– for instance, Bookstagram, where the entire point is to provide one’s followers with an original photo of the book being promoted or discussed.

There’s a lot to unpack in this conversation about ARCs, marketing, and the labor provided free by bookish influencers, but personally I was struck by some quote retweets and side conversations where multiple people active on Bookstagram raised the idea of Photoshopping the cover of a book they did not have a physical ARC of into a photo.

This was generally presented as a positive thing, a little fix influencers could to do promote authors when no physical ARCs were forthcoming, but the whole idea struck a bit of horror into my soul. Is this the wave of the future? Will bookish influencers be asked to do even more work, the work of fancy photo editing to pretend they have a physical copy of a book when the publishers haven’t actually sent them a copy?

This proposition irritates me on the base level that the prevailing argument for why bookish influencers aren’t generally paid for the promotional work they do is that we “are paid in free books.” (Not everyone gets review copies at all, but that’s a different conversation.) However, if you take away physical ARCs, what exactly are influencers being “paid” in? Early access to the book? The chance to read it two months before the general public? I suppose that’s somewhat exciting, but personally I don’t mind waiting for the actual release date, and I don’t consider “early access” to the manuscript to be “compensation” on the same level as a physical book (or, you know, money).

However, if publishers no longer send influencers physical ARCs, it can affect influencers’ stats, as well (in addition to the decreased buzz for the authors noted above). I’ve seen some Photoshopped Bookstagram posts already, photos that have an image of a hot, upcoming release with a small disclaimer in the caption saying something to the effect of, “I don’t actually have an ARC; I Photoshopped the book cover in,” and I am always disappointed. I feel as if I’m looking at something fake, and I’m no longer interested in the photo.

It’s difficult to explain, but part of the appeal (at least for me) of Bookstagram is seeing what other readers actually have. Even while many people in the book community struggle with what can seem like the extolling of consumerism, the veneration of the influencers who own the most books, subscribe to the most book boxes, have the most stuff…that’s arguably what is interesting about the photos– the sense that these people have something a bit rare, a bit unique, a collection of books and bookish items that is aspirational for many. If people are just Photoshopping photos to show things they don’t actually have, well…anyone can do that. So what’s the point of looking at the photo?

And some of the responses to Sharpe’s original tweet got a bit at this; they suggested that views for a post on Bookstagram went up if the photo showed (what appeared to be) a physical book, rather than an e-book. If publishers stop sending influencers physical books, those influencers might see their own stats drop if they can’t provide followers with the types of photos they want to see– and, of course, lower stats might lead to receiving fewer ARCs.

So, really, this whole thing sounds exhausting to me. Are bookish influencers going to have to buy Photoshop or learn new photo editing skills and then dedicate extra time to create photos that give the illusion they have a physical book that a publisher never actually sent them? Setting up an impressive Bookstagram photo can take a lot of time in the first place, but it certainly takes a lot less time to plonk an actual book down somewhere and snap a photo of it than to set up and take the photo and then Photoshop it to include a book cover.

And influencers will be asked to dedicate this extra time and money in the name of supporting authors. Publishers won’t send the influencers physical ARCs, but they will ask for links to reviews and posts on Bookstagram and other social media sites that generally rely on photos. It’s just more free labor asked of influencers.

I genuinely hope that physical ARCs become more common again after the pandemic ends. Digital ARCs should, of course, be an option for those who prefer them or find them more accessible. I just don’t want to see authors and publishers start thinking that asking influencers to Photoshop book covers into photos is a reasonable or common thing to do.


21 thoughts on “Should Bookish Influencers Edit Books Covers into Photos If There Are No Physical ARCs?

  1. Books Teacup and Reviews says:

    I agree with your point. Influencers should promote book in whatever format they have received. Why to turn e-copy into physical when you ae not even paid or have received physical book in return of all the work have to do to promote the book.
    I don’t photoshop, i use free apps and put kindle with coloured book cover on kindle pic of my own. I don’t use physical book for promo if I haven’t read or got physical copy. I post what I got, I just create good looking kindle pics.


    • Briana | Pages Unbound says:

      Yes, it just seems like extra work to me and an extra step just so…we can sell other people’s books? I’ll put tons of time and effort into marketing books in the rare event I write one myself! :p

      I’m seeing a couple people mention the colored covers issue, and it hadn’t occurred to me before because I have a Kindle Fire. I can definitely see the appeal of a colored photo vs. black and white for Instagram, though.

      Liked by 1 person

  2. Bibliosini says:

    I have always battled with this issue: I was never comfortable with Photoshopping the covers of my Kindle books onto physical copies in my pictures. It takes out the appeal of the whole book photography process for me 😦
    And I agree with your point here; I really hope physical ARCs start get distributed more after the pandemic slows down.


    • Briana | Pages Unbound says:

      I’ve never tried it, but I personally think I’d find it time consuming and not fun. I was really surprised to see so many people tweet that not having physical books wasn’t a problem because they could just edit the photo to pretend they had them. I mean…it’s their time, I guess??? But to me it seems like extra work put on influencers so we can sell other people’s books for them.

      Liked by 1 person

    • Briana | Pages Unbound says:

      I know some people like e-books and they’re easier for international readers to get books, but personally I find physical books so much easier to read AND take photos of. I love authors and all that, but this is my hobby. I have no interest in doing things that take up my time and aren’t fun for me so I can promote someone else’s book for them free!

      Liked by 1 person

  3. Eustacia | Eustea Reads says:

    I’ve always gotten digital ARCs (since I’m not in US or UK or Australia) and I used to put a cover over my Kindle Fire screen. But now that I’ve got a kobo… I’m just going with black and white covers. It’s so much easier!


  4. Charvi says:

    I think this is a very valid frustration. While I do edit covers of books a lot of the times I do it because I know in the current times it’s hard to get physical copies. It becomes totally different when publishers and authors pull back physical arcs because that just shows that they don’t respect us enough or don’t think we even deserve the arcs. Of course, there are many more nuances to this debate but I can totally see a withdrawal of physical arcs which is honestly discouraging. As it is we rarely get paid for reviews and promotion and now we won’t be getting physical arcs either? Definitely makes you wonder if you would want to continue doing this.


    • Briana | Pages Unbound says:

      Yes, I can understand people aren’t mailing ARCs because of the pandemic, but it seems to be a trend in general to cut costs. I think it’s Macmillan that has (or wants to) eliminate physical ARCs completely? That’s up to them, but I just hope that photo editing to *pretend* you have a physical ARC doesn’t become some kind of standard. I was honestly baffled when I saw so many bloggers willingly proclaim they do/would do it. They want to do even MORE work free to sell someone else’s product for them??? (Again, totally their choice, but I don’t want authors and publishers come to expect that as some kind of alternative to sending influencers physical books.)

      Liked by 1 person

      • Charvi says:

        Oh yes, definitely. That doesn’t make sense to me because why would you say you have physical arcs when you’re just photoshopping if you’re not doing it for the status that comes with physical arcs. I’m trying not to judge but like you said, publishers better not expect it from everyone!


  5. booksandmate says:

    I agree with your point that everything seems to be jsut adding more unpaid labour for reviewers. However, I think that digitally inserting the book cover into a picture to make it look pleasant whe you don’t have a physical arc is the alternative interantional reviewers have been left with for ages. Sometimes, it’s the only way to review the arc on bookstagram, because the eArc file we’ve been given doesn’t even have a cover page. Taking a picture of a screen that says the title is not the most eye-catching thing ever (and it doesn’t help with the engagement either). I do agree that it would be awesome is physical arcs start getting ditributed again after the pandemic.


    • Briana | Pages Unbound says:

      Yes, I can definitely understand the appeal if someone doesn’t have access to ARCs or physical books, especially as some bookstagrammers have noted their engagement seems much better with “physical” books in the photo. I just don’t want it to be a standard where publishers think, “Oh, we don’t need to send books to anyone. They can just edit their photos and pretend they have books!” Uh, no thanks?


  6. Krysta says:

    I think expecting bloggers to do more work free so they can pretend the publisher sent them a product that the publisher did not, in fact, send them is ridiculous. If a business wants someone to promote their product, they need to send that product, not be cheap about it and expect bloggers to accept that the business so clearly does not respect them.

    And I can’t imagine this is standard. Do you think a fashion blogger would be expected to receive, say, a white shirt, and then edit it into different colors so they can model what it would look like if the retailer had sent them a totally different shirt? I don’t think so and the fact that book bloggers are expected to do this just shows that publishers don’t think very highly of them, but also that publishers know that they can get away with this.

    Unfortunately, I think we’ve been sold the lie that if we just work harder, do more, perform better, we’ll get something out of it. But this makes it clear that we won’t. If we show publishers that we are willing to do more for less, they are only going to take advantage of that. They aren’t going to be kind and start sending physical copies or paying us (which is something many are pushing for).

    Maybe editing in physical books seems like a good tradeoff at first because the blogger gets more views/engagement than with an e-ARC. Long term, however, the impact will be negative as publishers expect bloggers to be content with pretending they are still receiving physical ARCs when they are not.

    Liked by 1 person

  7. Sammie @ The Bookwyrm's Den says:

    I think this is definitely an important conversation to have! I actually first realized this when a really big book blogger I follow gave tips about Bookstagram and explained how to edit covers of books you didn’t own into existing photos, which kind of blew my mind. I hadn’t realized that was a thing until then. I can definitely see how this is a bit disingenuous, but I suppose if it’s an already released book, it’s not like anyone knows what book you own, right? I can definitely see the danger and red flags if it’s a book that hasn’t been released yet and you’re implying you were sent a pre-release copy.

    I do edit my photos to insert covers for eARCs onto my Kindle (which doesn’t have an option to show anything in color anyway). It’s definitely a process. Not a long one, but still, it adds up. I basically only do that when I have free time and feel like it. I definitely wouldn’t want to feel pressured into doing it just for the “honor” of getting eARCs (which are great, but not if they add a whole ton of work to what’s already a large stack of work).


    • Briana | Pages Unbound says:

      I’ve seen a couple posts in the past several weeks about how to edit book covers into posts, and I definitely didn’t realize beforehand that this is apparently already somewhat common?

      Yeah, if people are taking photos that look like they have a hardcover when they actually have an ebook, whatever, but I personally feel a bit tricked when I stumble across photos where people are pretending they have rare/nonexistent ARCs or books that aren’t published yet. Even if there’s a disclaimer in the caption saying they don’t really have the book, it seems designed to make people stop and think, “OMG how did she get an ARC of the new [super famous author] book???” Before they see the “gotcha” caption saying it’s actually Photoshopped.

      Yes, overall, I just hope this doesn’t get normalized as something publishers can expect. Like, “Oh, so many bookstagrammers just edit book covers in and are happy to do so, so we don’t need to send physical ARCs for promo.”


  8. ireadthatinabook says:

    I agree that it is definitely unreasonable if publishers starts to expect nice photos of books they haven’t sent. However, if someone do want to edit their photos I would recommend GIMP as a good free option to Photoshop.


    • Briana | Pages Unbound says:

      Yeah, if people want to put in the effort, I think it’s up to them. I was just a bit baffled how carefree some people seemed about it, Like, “Oh, don’t worry, authors. If publishers don’t give us physical ARCs, we’ll just Photoshop book covers to pretend we have ARCs!” Uh, that’s nice, I guess, but please don’t make publishers expect that!

      Oh, yes, I see GIMP recommended a lot! Personally, I must say I know nothing about it. XD

      Liked by 1 person

  9. Nicole @ Feed Your Fiction Addiction says:

    I’m not incredibly active on Instagram, so I don’t have as much of an opinion about this as other people might, but I agree that it seems weird when I find out that a digital cover was Photoshopped onto a physical book. I have done it once with a Kindle book, but that was only because I loved the book so much that I really wanted to feature it, even though I only had an ebook copy. I wouldn’t do it otherwise.


    • Briana | Pages Unbound says:

      Yeah, after seeing some thoughts from other people, I think pretending you have a physical book when you actually have an ebook is slightly less weird than the people who are…pretending to have ARCs that don’t even exist or books that aren’t published yet? Even with a disclaimer in the caption, it seems like a cheap way to get views. Like, you see this photo while you’re scrolling and you’re like, “OMG how does this person have an ARC of the new Maas book??? I thought they weren’t even doing ARCs!” and then you realize…they don’t. It’s just Photoshop I don’t know about other people, but it just makes me feel tricked.


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