In December, 2007 and again in April, 2009 I did some guest blogging at ForeWord Magazine's ShelfSpace Blog. While ForeWord Magazine is going strong, they have discontinued doing that guest blogging. So, I am going to rerun those posts here at Tea Cozy. Any edits to remove confusion about things like dates is in brackets.
ARCs: Just like the Hardcover, only Free!
Part One: What is an ARC?
Lurk at a few book listservs or read some book blogs, and you begin to see one word over and over: ARC. Soon, you realize that people are reading books before the publication date by getting these things called "ARCs". What are they? And how come these people are getting them?
I asked several people to share their publishing wisdom about ARCs: Brian Farrey, a Flux Acquisitions Editor; Andrew Karre, Editorial Director for Carolrhoda Books, a division of Lerner Publishing Group; Sheila Ruth, Publisher, Imaginator Press; and fantasy author Sarah Prineas.
What, exactly, is an ARC?
At its most simple, an ARC is an Advance Reading Copy. Or Advanced Reader Copy. And it's also called a galley. Yes, even amongst the experts there are variations on this answer!
Andrew Karre explains that an ARC "is a promotional piece and a sales tool." Brian Farrey adds, "it's primarily a marketing/publicity tool aimed at generating advance interest and excitement for a forthcoming title."
Brian Farrey clarifies that technically speaking, a galley is a version of the book that is made up to six to twelve months before the book's release while the ARC appears four to six months prior to release. Farrey notes that many people use the terms ARC and galley interchangeably. "[Galleys] are for hot, hot, hot books where the publisher wants to generate buzz," Farrey says. "They're meant to get people talking about the book itself, not necessarily to generate reviews (although that does happen too)." With the recent cutbacks in publishing, Farrey speculates that we will start seeing fewer galleys and more ARCs; and that they will be done digitally, via PDF.
Brian Farrey says that both galley and ARC are "typically printed on low quality paper and materials (they're not meant to last; they're meant to be read once and tossed)." Galleys often do not have any cover art, while ARCs usually do.
Sheila Ruth, Publisher, Imaginator Press, notes that technology has also impacted the production of ARCs. Full color covers are the "result of improvements in technology reducing the cost and improving the quality of digitally printed color."
It's more than just appearances and quality of paper. Andrew Karre explains that "the text can be at various stages of editorial development," observing that "ideally it's a close-to-final manuscript that's only lacking proofreading." Farrey points outs, "there will be typos and other errors." The ARC is not meant to be the final book, but rather "give a feel for the final book."
Fantasy author Sarah Prineas illustrates how the difference between an ARC can be more than a misspelled word: "the ARC quite often is an earlier iteration of the book, so might contain a lot of sentence level and continuity errors and infelicities of prose that will be caught in a later copy edit. Another difference is that if a book has internal illustrations, these will often be either missing from the ARC or present only as rough sketches."
How do you tell the ARC from the finished book? As Karre says, "All ARCs have some variation on a banner that says "Not for Sale: Advance Uncorrected Proof."" If that's not evidence enough, "instead of reader-focused backcover and flap copy, it … has details of release date and promotional plans as well as copy more akin to catalog copy, where the audience is librarians and buyers, rather than readers."
As explained above, at best the ARC is close to the final book. Farrey cautions, "sometimes there are significant changes between the ARC and the final copy (which is why reviewers are urged to check any quoted material against the final copy)."
Why use a "not final" copy of the book to promote the book?
Andrew Karre points out those things that cannot wait for the final copy of the book: ARCs help book designers fine-tune their designs and "authors and publishers send them out for blurbs. Sales people like to have them to show and perhaps leave with bookstore buyers. Foreign and subsidiary rights sales people use ARCs."
Sheila Ruth explains how originally, influential journals such as Booklist, Publishers Weekly, Library Journal/School Library Journal, Kirkus, and Foreword Magazine, would "only review a book if they receive it 3 or 4 months before publication date." Ruth continues, "Galleys/ARCs were used primarily for these prepublication reviewers and for other influential reviewers, like some of the major newspapers. In recent years, however, many publishers are printing larger numbers of ARCs and using them to generate wider prepublication buzz, distributing them widely at conferences and sending them out to bloggers in large numbers."
Andrew Karre points out another way that ARCs are used by publishers: "In [young adult literature], publishers also participate in [the Young Adult Library Services Association]'s excellent galley program, which puts ARCs into the hands of teens."
ARCs are not cheap; and publishers have to decide how many to create.
Sheila Ruth says it depends on the publisher: "In some cases, only a small number of ARCs are produced to send to the major journals and influences. In other cases, particularly for the "big push" books from the major publishers, hundreds can be produced."
Andrew Karre says, "the basic thing to know is that, the larger the print run, the cheaper any single book in that run will be to produce." Karre adds, "the ARC is probably going to cost more and maybe several times more."
Brian Farrey of Flux breaks down the price of the ARC (which, remember, is given out at no cost) to the final book: "we might print 30 ARCs of a book but 5,000 of an initial print run. Those 30 galleys, because they're so few, will cost us around $5-7 per copy. Because of volume discounts, the final print run might be between $1-2 a book." The publicity team at Flux "works to craft a very targeted list of media contacts who will receive ARCs."
If the number of people and groups who get ARCs seem long, remember the purpose. Andrew Karre is blunt: "Every ARC will earn its keep by creating a book sale or two (a librarian reads an ARC, digs it, talks about it to her teen reading group, buys copies of the real book for her collection, etc.) Let me repeat: ARCs must create sales of actual books."
Stay tuned for next week, when I delve deeper into the ARC versus The Final Book!
This was originally posted in April 2009 at the ForeWord Magazine Shelf Space Blog. I also posted here at Tea Cozy my full interviews with Andrew Karre, Brian Farrey, Sheila Ruth, and Sarah Prineas.
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© Elizabeth Burns of A Chair, A Fireplace & A Tea Cozy