Wednesday 20 October 2010
How to speak publisher - A is for ARC
And ARC is for Advance Reading Copy (also advance copy). This is essentially a bound proof - a copy of the book that is not in its final form and may still contain errors. It may have a different or unfinished cover. Advance reading copies are sent out to groups of people who might have some useful input to the book, and to people whom the publisher hopes will provide a nice comment that can be printed on the jacket or back cover (a 'puff'). It may be used in marketing the book (eg showing it to potential foreign distributors or film scouts), or it may be given to lawyers preparing to defend the book against defamation cases, or to the person doing the book's website so that they know a bit about the book and don't produce total tosh (if they can be persuaded to read it, of course).
If you are sent an ARC of someone else's book, it's probably so that you can provide a puff (unless you are a film scout, web designer or lawyer). If you don't like the book, don't feel obliged to provide anything. A note to the editor politely saying that you've read the book but don't feel able to provide a quote is fine, or send it back saying you don't currently have time to read it. You don't need to give a reason. In the interests of protecting the author's feelings - especially if it's someone you already know, but you can never tell when you might come to know another author - don't say the book is shite. Authors are sensitive souls. Then again, my favourite response from someone sent a copy of my book for comment is 'unfortunately, this work is completely useless'. The publishers didn't put it on the jacket, though I have a sneaking suspicion that it might have been quite a selling point if they had.
ARCs of your own books give you something to gloat over and show off to your friends a few months before real copies arrive. They're not the same as review copies, which are usually the same as the copies that will go on sale, just delivered early. For a 'big' book, though, ARCs may be sent out to reviewers to whip up some pre-publication frenzy.
Some book collectors consider ARCs the 'real' books and like to keep them. If you live somewhere infested with writers and reviewers, you'll find lots of ARCs in charity and secondhand bookshops. There is some cachet attached to having advance reading copies of certain books, usually literary novels. But for a big-name author's new title up to 5,000 ARCs may be printed (yes, I know - more copies than the real print run of some books!)
If you want to produce something that might be of value to your descendants - if you're lucky enough to become famous and stay famous after your death - you can annotate an ARC of your book with insightful (or rude) commentary and corrections, then put it away carefully to accrue value and spiders.