Wednesday, December 30, 2009

ARCs: Just Like the Hardcover, Only Free! Part 2

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 Two: What's the big deal?

Last week, I wrote about what an ARC is: an advance version of a book, printed to create buzz, reviews, and sales.

Let's talk about what an ARC isn't: the final published version of the book.

Once again, I spoke with 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.

Despite the language that appears on ARCs, some bookstores seem to think an ARC is the final book. Stories abound of people who order a book via an online bookstore, and discover that they've been sold an ARC.

Some libraries, likewise, seem to think that an ARC is "good enough" for their patrons.

Keep in mind, I am not talking about informal galley groups with patrons and students. Sarah Prineas sees positives in sharing ARCs with young readers, as long it's not a formal sharing. "I think it's great when teachers and librarians share ARCs with their most enthusiastic kid readers, and with each other. They're the ones who fall in love with books, and their excited comments after reading an ARC can, in turn, get others excited. That's what "buzz" is all about!"

I am talking about libraries that make ARCs part of their formal collection, complete with spine label.

Oh, some librarians I spoke to said "never!" But others told me of seeing ARCs in collections, or waiting to be processed, and educating both directors and technical staff of why ARCs shouldn't be on the shelf. Suzi Steffen of Oregon is an avid library user. She checked out a recent nonfiction book from her local public library. "I was shocked & pretty annoyed to see it's an ARC."

On a professional library listserv, a librarian justified adding ARCs to her permanent collection because low budgets meant fewer materials. I wonder – as budgets continue to fall, with other people adopt this "but I cannot afford the final book" attitude?

And really, what's the harm? It's just a few typos, right? Isn't putting books – even if they are ARCs – into the hands of customers the most important thing?

Brian Farrey explains that "in theory, there aren't many substantial changes between ARC and final copy. Most changes are to correct typos, clarify text (eliminate confusing or inconsistent plot points/character traits)."

Andrew Karre says that while "ideally, very few changes are made--mostly proofreading and adding details like bios, art, design tweaks, dedications, etc. In practice, a lot can change. I've seen covers change, major plot points change, and even titles."

Publishing is a business; and like any business, many factors go into the process and a tight timeline exists. An ARC is needed at a certain time, ready or not. Andrew explains, "Book publishing can be a bit like that famous I Love Lucy episode in the candy factory. The conveyor belt generally does not stop for anything."

Typos do matter. Sheila Ruth agrees, saying "even such minor errors reflect badly on a book, because they make the book look unprofessional."

I've read ARCs with grammar and spelling errors, knowing that those things would be corrected in the published book. But to read them in what is the final version of the book can take the reader away from the story and creates the impression that the writer and publisher are sloppy.
One young adult author I spoke with experienced a mix-up with her publisher, when the wrong book file was sent to the printer. The author and publisher realized that some things just had to be fixed before sending out the ARCs. Italics had been left out that would have rendered the story confusing. The solution? Sitting down and underlining the necessary parts of the story in the ARCs – all 600 of them.

Sometimes, the changes are more significant than these "minor" typographical errors.

Sarah Prineas, the author of The Magic Thief fantasy series for readers ages 9 to 12, shares what happened with the second book in her series. "My situation with The Magic Thief: Lost was a little different than usual. I'd originally turned in the LOST manuscript much earlier and my editor and I finished our edits on the book over the summer. But then, sadly, my editor was laid off in June and I was assigned to a new editor, for whom I offered to do a new round of edits. I turned the book in again for her in September, and the ARC went out during the third week of October. That's a pretty quick turnaround, and as it happens, my new editor and I were not finished with our edits yet. Still, the ARC had to go out then because the book itself comes out in May, and the booksellers and librarians need that much lead time to place their pre-orders for the book."

Obviously, Sarah couldn't hand write in changes in the ARCs. "I've tried to offer caveats when I see that friends have gotten copies of the ARC--"beware, the final version of the book is very different!" Also, my editor wrote a letter that was included with the copies of the ARC that went out to reviewers and booksellers. The letter basically said that the ARC and the final book would be more different than usual."

When I was discussing this with Carlie Webber, young adult services librarian for BCCLS, New Jersey, she handed me the ARC and book of Be More Chill by Ned Vizzini. The ARC has a chapter not found in the book.

Reviewers and those who understand what an ARC is – and isn't – know that when they read the ARC, they are not reading the final book.

These differences between ARC and final version should be enough to keep that ARC off of a library (or bookstore) shelf. The library that has one in its collection is not only giving its patrons inferior service, they are also misleading the patrons into thinking the ARC is the final book. As Sarah Prineas says, "adding the ARC to a permanent collection isn't a great idea …. The ARC just isn't as nice a book as the final version. Most ARCs are going to fall apart after just a couple of reads, and this isn't a great way to promote love of books."

A bookstore or library customer who gets an ARC that they believe is the book is going to think less of a publisher who put out the "book." Imagine the student who does a report on Ned Vizzini's book and links an argument to the "missing" chapter. Or the reader of Sarah Prineas's second book, who think they know how it ends… but doesn't. Is this really giving customers the best possible service?

In case quality service isn't enough, there is one more reason for not shelving that ARC. Simply put, it's stealing from the publisher.

Andrew talks bluntly about his concerns. "I hadn't heard of [adding ARCs to a library collection], and I'm a little shocked. It's not an exaggeration to say that shelving ARCs is an existential threat to the whole practice of distributing ARCs widely." Andrew later says, "there is almost nothing a librarian can do that's more damaging than shelving an ARC. Like I said, an ARC is expected to make a sale. If you shelve an ARC, then that ARC has the opposite effect. I think the relationship that's developing between publishers and libraries in YA trade publishing is very exciting, but misusing ARCs will kill it. I know budgets are tight, but shelving ARCs is stealing."

Are you thinking of adding that ARC to your collection? Don't. Pass it along to another librarian or a customer to create buzz and get input; but don't add it to your collection. Trust me – it's OK to throw it away. It's not throwing away a 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


Marie Cloutier said...

Nice. There was a discussion about ARCs going around a listserv that I read, of mostly small-scale religious librarians who really don't have money to buy most things. I'm also wildly opposed to shelving ARCs; I think it's unethical and poor service, among other things- you make all the points I made but you made them better. I would say that ARCs are like the bridesmaids' dresses of the book world- cheaply made and intended for one or two readers before they fall apart. Not good. Thanks for this great post.

Carrie Ryan said...

I just wanted to add another author point of view. Sometimes the ARCs are very similar to the finished book (that was the case for my first novel) and sometimes not (the case for my second novel). I've talked to plenty of authors who've added/deleted/significantly revised scenes at the ARC stage and some who've changed the ending.

Many readers might feel that the ARC is "close enough" but it's surprising what the addition/deletion of one line will do (trust me, one deleted line from my first book seems to be haunting me). I recently tweaked the ending of my newest book (only out in ARCs right now) -- did I *significantly* change the words? No - I just added clarification, tightened a few things, pointed clearly to the next book in the series and created an epilogue. Do I think that changes the reader's experience/expectations with the book? Absolutely.

I think it's interesting that if we were talking about a bound un-typeset manuscript no one would question whether it should be added to a collection (even though these are sometimes sent to buyers, librarians and authors to create buzz) but go one step farther in production and the question gets fuzzier.

Jennifer said...

I withdrew at least 5 ARCs from our YA collection when I first started working at our library. I have no idea how they got in there and I'm not asking....I do give out ARCs as summer reading prizes and "free books", although I take a few minutes to explain them to the kids. I never did convince the used bookstore I worked at years ago not to sell them. Oh well.

Anonymous said...

I'm not sure if I said this before or not, but I want to second what Carrie Ryan said, but from the reader's point of view. One of my libraries has some ARCs in the collection, and it's funny, but I wasn't particularly thrilled with any of those books when I checked them out. After I read these posts when you first linked to them, I wondered if that wasn't a coincidence! Now I feel sort of cheated out of enjoying those books-- I don't know, maybe I wouldn't have liked them all that much in their final states, either, but who knows what difference a little more editing might have done to them?

Liz B said...

I think, when people first "meet" ARCs, they think "oh, it's just a paperback version of the book."

I read a blogger who wondered why, if a publisher sent an ARC, they would also send a hardcover. It's because now you can read the actual book! And maybe find out that a part you marked as rough, etc. was fixed before givingn it a two-star review.

One reason I hesitate over "slamming" books I read from ARCs is a concern that I end up putting out in the Internet a bad review .. and then discover that what I critized got changed in the final book. I'm kind of curious if that does happen; like for Carrie's second book (which I'm looking forward to reading!), if the critism is for what was changed, how many blog readers (or blog reviewers) are savvy enough to know that the criticism isn't for the final book?

Jess said...

We've had a few ARCs donated to my library, and one or two were catalogued & put into circulation, but we always pull them once we realize. Which is why it pains me to go to Powell's and see ARCs for sale on their shelves - I get irritated every time I see one, but haven't worked up the nerve to confront anyone.