Almost every author runs across this at least once: A fan approaches you with a copy of one of your books and asks for an autograph. You’re happy to oblige, and then you see that the copy is a bound galley that was sent out by the publisher to reviewers. Called ARCs, or advanced review copies, those galleys are not the final version of the book, but an uncorrected copy of the manuscript. It has typos and mystery goofs that creep in during printing. The cover of the binding isn’t final either, but a piece of quick art work to use until the real cover is approved.
Every ARC is marked “Uncorrected Review Copy, Not For Sale” but thousands of them still end up on eBay and other online sites. Sometimes the description doesn’t mention that they’re uncorrected galleys, and unsuspecting readers may not notice the disclaimer on the front cover.
For the author, that purchased ARC means a loss of a sale for which the author would have otherwise received a royalty. For the publisher, it means a loss of the wholesale price of the book. For the reader, it means they’ve paid for a substandard book with typos that can affect their enjoyment.
So what does an author do in that situation? Most people go ahead and sign the copy rather than make an issue of it, but point out that it is an uncorrected galley. A few authors refuse to sign something with errors in it, regardless of how the person got it.
There are so many of those ARCs floating around now that PMA, the association of independent publishers, has just passed a resolution asking its members to stop working with online booksellers that accept galleys. That won’t stop all of them, of course, but it’s a beginning.
Buying an ARC is like buying a new car that hasn’t gone through an inspection, or buying a music CD of a group’s rehearsal. It may be very close to what the finished product will be, but minor flaws can keep you from full enjoyment. Mainly, buying an ARC means you’ve paid good money for an unfinished product.
What is a book buyer to do about unauthorized ARCs sold online? If you buy a book online and receive a bound galley instead of the real thing, complain. Demand your money back. Demand that the galley be replaced with a real book. And don’t feel you’re cheating anybody out of a sale, because people who are given ARCs don’t pay for them. And if you ask an author to sign one, don’t be surprised if you get a less-than-enthusiastic response.