Advance Review Copies of Books

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.

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3 thoughts on “Advance Review Copies of Books

  1. I’ve bought many books online, and I have not gotten an ARC yet. Thank goodness, because I would send it back right away. I love to read, but the acquisition of books is my passion. I expect the corrected version when I shell out $14-20 for a paperback, and more for a hardcover. I’m sorry that I never thought about it from your point of view. Thanks for the information.

  2. Blaize, I can certainly understand your viewpoint, especially as an author. However, take a moment to think as a collector. A true collector of books who values them and reads them and takes good care of them. I am one of these. I love to have copies of the manuscript, the proof, the advanced readying copy, the galley, AND the first edition. It is fascinating to me to watch the process the author goes through from beginning to end. Well, as close to the beginning as I can get. As a collector of first editions, an ARC is more of a 1st edition than the finished product, be it a hardcover or paperback original. The manuscript is truly the 1st edition. So it is very interesting to me to follow the way the book changes and evolves. I don’t care about typos. I care about the way the author changes the story perhaps or introduces an additional plot line while writing the book.

    I know of one author (James Patterson) who wrote a book (I forget the title) and ARCs were produced in great quantity. Booksellers and those who read the ARC were so negative in their comments about the ending that he completely redid it. How fun it would be to have both versions! Kind of like getting the “director’s cut” of a DVD.

    And another point. I know the author has lost a royalty on this particular sale. However, perhaps the person who bought it is on a limited budget, and that is all they could afford. Yet think … they’ve been introduced to the author’s books. If they really enjoy it, perhaps they’ll buy the hardcover or paperback when it or a future (or previous) book of the author’s is published. Think of it as a promotional item to sell other books.

    After all, isn’t that what an ARC is really for? They are sent to reviewers and booksellers so they can advise their “clients” about the book and handsell it or write a review. They are promoting the author’s book. In many (most) cases, that reviewer is not paid for their service except for receiving the ARC of the book. So perhaps if they turn around and sell it after reading it and doing the author a service by promoting it, consider that their pay for the favor they have done the author.

    Just another point of view.

  3. I must admit I never thought of anybody collecting the whole “set” of a book’s presentations. That’s sort of awesome to think about, and I’m impressed. ARCs have usually already undergone all the author’s edits and changes, so the only raw thing about them are printing missteps. But if you truly want one and know what you’re getting when you buy one, that’s a different matter.

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