Publishing 101: A Look at Story ARCs

Welcome back to our continuing series on Publishing 101 – the author’s journey.

Today we’re continuing tour of the publishing process with a look at ARCs and their place in a manuscript’s journey to publication.

“ARC” stands for “Advance Reading Copy” (or sometimes, “Advance Review Copy”). As the name implies, ARCs are advance copies of a book produced for, and distributed to, reviewers.

Until a few years ago, ARCs were mostly produced in physical, paperback format. Now, many publishers use digitial ARCs (in various ebook and e-reader formats) as well as–or instead of–physical ARCs. In addition to ease of distribution and reduced production costs, e-ARCs take up less physical space and can be distributed via email or through one of the online services, like NetGalley and Edelweiss. Many publishers now print smaller numbers of physical ARCs for distribution to print-only reviewers (for example, the New York Times) and distribute the majority of ARCs in electronic format.

From the author’s perspective, e-ARCs are a good thing. Physical ARCs are expensive, due to the smaller size of the print runs (for the economic perspective, Google “economies of scale”). As a result, unknown and debut authors seldom receive widespread distribution of physical ARCs. E-ARCs level that playing field a bit by allowing wider distribution of ARCs to reviewers and bloggers (many of whom wouldn’t have the chance to receive a physical ARC). Digital ARCs also make international reviews a possibility (at least, where rights and licensing issues don’t interfere).

Normally, the publisher will construct a list of target reviewers and approach them about receiving (and reviewing) ARCs of a book. In many cases, the publisher (acting through a publicist) will contact the author and ask if the author has media contacts or reviewers to whom additional ARCS should be sent. As an author, it’s wise to start making lists of these contacts well in advance, so you’re prepared when the time comes.

Note: if your publisher doesn’t ask, or discuss a plan, it’s smart to contact the publisher after your First Pass review, to ask about plans for reviewer copies and to offer a list of your contacts.

Not all publishers distribute ARCs, though most large and mid-sized publishers do. Many small presses also distribute ARCs (often in digital format). Learn about the publisher’s ARC and review policies before you sign your publishing contract, so you know what to expect.

Sometimes publishers provide the author with a few hard copy ARCs for personal use and distribution. If you’re fortunate, and receive a few, here are some ideas on how to use them:

1. Hold a giveaway. Contrary to what some people believe, giving away a book does prompt paid sales. People who enter and do not win will often buy the book–after all, they want to read it. We’ll talk more about giveaways another week, but keep the idea in mind.

2. Give the books to bloggers or local reviewers who might not have the clout to obtain an ARC another way. Unless you live in a major city, your local newspaper might not rank highly enough to receive a physical ARC from the publisher — but local newspapers often feature pieces on local authors. Call the paper, explain your situation, and see if there’s a staff reviewer interested in reviewing your book.

3. Hi, Mom. While you may not want to give your ARCs away to places that “can’t help you sell books,” you should never underestimate the reach of a motivated friend or family member. Friends and family members have a reason to talk about your book – or to pass that ARC along to someone else with the ability to spread the word.

Be creative. Remember: ARC means Advance Reading Copy – so your goal is to get it read, and read by people who talk about books with others.

Thanks for joining me for today’s blog on ARCs! Join me next week when we take a look at Publicists, and their role in the author’s career.