First thing, let’s define what ARCs (Advance Readers Copies [sometimes also referred to as galleys or bound galleys or AREs—Advance Readers Editions]) are, so we’re talking about the same thing: An uncorrected proof of the book that is bound into book form for easier reading. They are expensive for houses to make, because they do not benefit from the economies of scale of finished editions, so much so that each ARC produced actually costs the publisher far more than the amount it costs to print final books. For many titles, the ARCs will represent one of the biggest outlays of marketing money the book will receive.
If they are so spendy, why do them? The best way to get people to be passionate about a book is to let them read it. Thus, ARCs, designed to make sure the people who make purchasing decisions get to experience the book far enough out from when orders are placed. Ideally, that pays off like this: Bookstore Buyer X, who is responsible for deciding if his or her store will carry a title and how many to order if so, reads an ARC, falls for it, and orders twice as many copies as Store would normally order for a book of that type. Or Librarian Y encounters a deeply special but maybe not splashy novel and begins beating the drums for it, leading to other librarians discovering it and to a solid performance in the institutional markets. Everyone wins, hooray!
ARCs were once pretty much only available to trade publication and mass media reviewers, booksellers, librarians, and others who, in order to achieve the desired outcome, had to read the book before publication. But over the last few years ARCs have taken on another role—tool in creating the intangible thing known as “buzz.”
“Buzz” is lovely but only insofar as it translates to sales—this is after all a business. And here’s where I warp into Mayor McCranky. Because remembering from above that the goal of an ARC is to create a stronger entry for the book in the marketplace—why do we now have an ARC culture where people collect them like trading cards, or display them like spoils of war after a trade show, or go online to sell & buy them on eBay, or pass them person to person so everyone on the internet with even a passing interest has read the book two months before it even hits shelves?
This stuff is hard to talk about, because I don’t want to sound like I am dogging on fans, or bloggers, or Twitterers, or any other group of people who love books and want a piece of them as soon as possible. I love that passion. But I don’t love the sense that an author “owes” their fans a freebie, or that waiting however long for a book to publish is torture beyond the pale that justifies the effort of seeking out a galley when you don’t fall into one of the must-receive categories above. There’s a lot of entitlement around ARCs that I find honestly baffling when you consider they are a business marketing tool.
Sometimes I see posts that aren’t much more than “Look, I have it and you don’t!” (Honestly, this is one of the things that concern me about book-world social media overall—the risk of creating The Insider Club You’re Not In Gee If You Were Awesomer You Would Have ARCs Too. Not true! Or at ALL the point!) Or I’ll see a site run a giveaway of a book that came out five months ago and do a giveaway of the ARC. Where’s the “Advance” in that? Give away a real copy if you feel like you have to do a giveaway, or just do a review. After all, the reason the ARC came through in the first place was in hopes your words would introduce people to a title they’d want to buy. Are the words you create powerful enough to sell someone on a book? If you’re really an influencer, a key part of the bookselling ecosystem for which ARCs were designed, they should be.
I’m a huge fan of e-galleys because they seem to circumvent some of these undesirable uses of ARCs. An e-galley gets the book into the hands of people who need to read it—and then when the book publishes, it expires. Not languishes in a stack for three years. Not gets sold on ebay. Not whirls off to fourteen friends (I’m not anti-book-loaning—you buy it, you can do whatever—but it’s sort of antithetical to the point of ARCs).
If you’re someone who does get ARCs on a regular basis, you have the potential to be a force for the success of the books you loved, and that’s fabulous. All I’m asking is that you think of how you use your galleys, relative to the bookseller who decides to carry a title she might have initially planned to skip or the librarian who starts an institutional push. The publisher’s return on investment in those scenarios (One galley yielding, say, 10 or 20 or 200 additional sales) is looking pretty good. If you’re getting your hands on ARCs, what does the publisher’s return on investment look like for you?
Ways you can use your galley access for good:
- Spread the word, not the galley.
- If the publisher asks for it, give feedback! Let them know if a book resonated particularly well with you. Let them know if you’re spreading the word, and how.
- You won’t love every title, and you don’t have to. No need to be the Reader Who Cried Five-Stars. Save your enthusiasm for the titles you’re truly passionate about and people will listen.
- When you do speak, make it count. The internet is great, but there are other ways to advocate for a book. Request it with your librarian. Ask if your local bookseller will stock it and tell them why it’s so wonderful.
- Continue to contribute to the book economy in whatever way you are able. Buy debuts too, not just Book 6 in the mega-series (because there wasn’t an ARC so you didn’t get it free). Donate $20 to a teacher to add to the class library, or for the kid who might not have the cash to participate when the Scholastic fair comes through your local school. If you love books, support them at whatever level you are able.
I’d love to hear what you think about the subject as well in the comments. How have you seen ARCs used for good? What do you think of e-galleys? Should I see if there’s a vacancy in Oscar’s trash can because I too am a grouch?
Filed under: Holly Root | 79 Comments