I’e2’80’99ve been thinking about ARCs lately, after my publisher very generously upped their order of the things for my own purposes. And then Sarah has been talking about the subject over at the great communal blog Galleycat, too(the Dec 2 posting), prompting this post of mine.

ARC, for those not conversant with the ins and outs of this odd industry, stands for Advanced Reading Copy, known also as bound galleys. These are in effect a paperback version of an upcoming hardback, complete with all the errors of the proof pages (‘e2’80’9cgalleys’e2’80’9d), which are sent to reviewers and buyers some months before the publication date. After all, if the publisher wants the title reviewed before publication, and if it is to be on the bookseller’e2’80’99s shelf on the sale date and not a couple of months later, they need to give buyers and reviewers lead time. The number of ARCs varies wildly, of course, but printing two to three thousand of them for a bestselling author is about the usual.

Now, the ARC nearly always clearly says on the front of it, ‘e2’80’9cNot for resale.’e2’80’9d Nonetheless, ARCs are sold, by the hundreds, in antiquarian booksellers, by collectors, and (practically as soon as they hit the mail room) on eBay.

Even the most mild-mannered of publicists tear their hair the practice. A lot of writers refuse to autograph the things. I personally never mind signing them for the booksellers who received them in the first place, since usually that bookseller hung onto the ARC because they love my writing; however, it does trouble me when a collector presents me with a stack of them that are clearly intended for resale.

As Sarah points out, the problem is, how many sold ARCs translate into unsold hardbacks? Devoted collectors will buy both, but how many readers have the means to do that? If one of my readers reader shells out $40 for a flimsy and uncorrected paperback version of the upcoming $25 THE ART OF DETECTION because he or she just can’e2’80’99t wait to read it, is s/he then going to buy the hardback anyway in May, for the definitive punctuation, the pleasure of a beautiful book, and the ability to lend it to countless friends before it falls apart? I’e2’80’99d like to think so, but I have my doubts.

Thing is, I make my living out of selling books, not selling ARCs. My publisher has been very generous in their willingness to print bound galleys, because it’e2’80’99s the most effective way to promote the book before publication. But ARCs cost them money, and sold ARCs are a hole in the pocket.

A $25 hardback brings the writer between ten and fifteen percent of the cover price. Every ARC sold in place of a hardback takes $2.50 to $3.75 out of my bank account. This is not a lot of money if we’e2’80’99re talking a dozen ARCs, but if we’e2’80’99re talking hundreds, that hurts.

Then there are the long term effects. Numbers are all in the publishing world, and as eBay and the like grow and make the selling of ARCs ever easier, how does that affect my own numbers of books sold? If your local Borders normally orders twenty copies of the new Laurie King, but last time only sold eighteen because two people bought ARCs and decided to wait until the paperback comes out, then next time that Borders is only going to order eighteen. Multiply that times the number of stores across the country’e2’80’a6

And of course, the bestseller lists. If I have a book that hits the number sixteen slot on the New York Times extended list, I can’e2’80’99t help agonizing over how many more sold during publication week would have brought it to number fifteen, at which point it would have become an official, bona fide, ‘e2’80’9cNew York Times bestseller.’e2’80’9d A silly distinction, perhaps, but that phrase attached to an author’e2’80’99s name or stamped on the cover of a book makes a huge difference in the eyes of the publishing world.

If, say, one in ten of the publisher’e2’80’99s ARCs end up being sold to readers who then did not buy the hardback when it came out, would those two or three hundred lost sales have nudged the book that one step further into prominence?

Readers don’e2’80’99t think about these things’e2’80’94and why would they? The point is having the story out, and who wants to wait until May if you can lay your hands on a copy of THE ART OF DETECTION in February? It is, of course, immensely gratifying that people care enough for my books that they’e2’80’99re willing to pay twice the price for even a pale imitation of the final product. However’e2’80’a6

Writers like me can only afford to write if our books sell. Publishers can only afford to publish writers whose books sell. And booksellers can only afford to pay the rent on their spaces if their books sell.

I’e2’80’99m not going to tell you not to buy an ARC. I’e2’80’99m not even going to ask you not to sell one, because after all, it’e2’80’99s only taking advantage of a publishing house, right?

But I will ask you to think about the writer. This is a tricky business; writers disappear every day. So if you buy an ARC’e2’80’94mine, someone else’e2’80’99s, it matters not’e2’80’94please, buy the hardback when it comes out, too. And if you didn’e2’80’99t really like the book, or just didn’e2’80’99t care for it enough to own the real thing, or even if you just have no room on your shelf, buy it anyway, and donate it to your local library. It’e2’80’99s tax deductible, they’e2’80’99ll love you, and the glow of Doing the Right Thing will spill over into the rest of your day.

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  1. Anonymous on December 3, 2005 at 8:22 pm

    I am a cheapo, I just get your books for free from the library.

  2. KB on December 4, 2005 at 1:31 am

    Yours are among those I still buy in hardback, always, because I just can’t wait to read them. However, I’m trying to cut down the number of hardback books I haul around so I’ve started buying them, reading them and donating to our local (very small) library. About the only books I keep anymore are signed copies.

    I don’t know how much you get for paperbacks, but I always end up buying another copy of the hardback I like, in paperback, because they are so much easier to move, carry around and read!

  3. Anonymous on December 4, 2005 at 4:29 am

    Hi, Laurie. I think it’s good for us to know this kind of stuff, whether we are wearing the reader hat, the writer hat, or the nut-case fan hat. (I’d count myself as all of the above.) cheers!–Meredith T.

  4. riobonito on December 4, 2005 at 6:15 am

    Well said, and an education for this reader. I’ve never bought an arc, and you are only one of three authors I buy in hardback…I’ve seen these for sell on ebay and wondered about them. Thanks for giving us this lesson. Cheers to you Laurie

  5. Bronwyn on December 4, 2005 at 1:49 pm

    Laurie, since I work at a Barnes&Noble, I have to say ARCs are very well appreciated among booksellers. There are several folks who read your novels religiously at my store, and when the new ARC comes in (which God, I hope it does!) we all take turns reading it. Can I always buy the hardcover? No, because I make very little money. But, because I’ve read it and loved it, I can reccomend it to my customers wholeheartedly and have had quite a few sales of your novels because of this. I admit I do end up buying three or four copies of the paperback, as the ones I “lend” never come back to me. Especially Beekeeper’s Apprentice… I just repurchased it for the fifth time this year! (Here’s hoping some of those folks buy the new one in hardcover….)

  6. Anonymous on December 4, 2005 at 10:45 pm

    I receive several ARCs from a bookstore, and any good book I buy in hardcover, even after reading ARCs. On more than one occasion, I’ve found an error that others missed. The problem with selling these is–who’s the seller? I’ve always thought ARCs should be printed in very thin paper with fading ink–hence would stop most sales.

  7. WDI on December 5, 2005 at 12:19 am

    Thanks for the education, Laurie. It sounds like the ARC’s are similar in some ways to desk copies of textbooks — given to professors to read and evaluate with the stipulation that they not be sold. Sell the desk copies and the number of new textbooks sold drops, decreasing profits and ultimately driving up prices to the students.

    I can imagine myself buying an ARC as a collectible, but now I know that, if one were ever to come my way, I would be honor bound to buy the hardback as well. No problem in the case of your books, or those of any of the other authors from whom I’d want to collect stuff anyway 🙂

    Now, how do I get myself undercover at the local bookstore so I can read the advance copy before the hardback comes out (not to worry — I always buy those the day they hit the shelves!) . . .

  8. Anonymous on December 5, 2005 at 2:02 am

    I read ARCx from several bookstores and also buy the hardback copy of most to read again. The problem is — who is the seller? I’ve always thought the ARCs should be printed onvery thin paper in fading ink–thus would not last very long!

  9. Chris on December 5, 2005 at 11:53 am

    I’ve never bought an ARC, although I was given one of FOLLY by a friend in the Book trade who knew I was a fan. I bought the HB as soon as it came out and used the ARC when I was interupting the reading with a day on the beach – keeping the HB clean, you see! Seriously though, I would much rather have the finished article both to read and to shelve, and that is what I shall do again next year.

    The points you make are very interesting – and you do deserve the sales, after all the hard work!

  10. 2maple on December 5, 2005 at 3:25 pm

    Great explanation.

    I’ve only ever bought one ARC but, I also bought it as an audiobook knowing that, as you described, sales are the author’s bread & butter. I assumed, hopefully correctly, that a sale of an audiobook counts the same as a sale of a hard cover. If I’m wrong about this, my apologies.

  11. Jan the Man on December 5, 2005 at 9:06 pm

    Your blog is great! It’s hard to find blogs with good content and people talking about Sherlock Holmes, these days! I have a new blog and a new website if you want to come leave me a comment or two! May I put a link to this blog of yours on mine? My name is Jan Manzer and I’m new to blogging. Would appreciate you checking out my site at Jan Manzer dot com. I tried a light-hearted spoof on this new site about my favourite detective, Mr. S. Holmes. I took some of the stories and did a search-and-replace on my own name. Kinda weird but kinda cool at the same time. Let me know what you think. you could try A SCANDAL IN BOHEMIA first. it’s located at Jan Manzer & the Scandal in Bohemia dot com.
    Here’s a sample excerpt from that story with my name inserted:
    I had seen little of Jan Manzer lately. My marriage had drifted us away from each other. My own complete happiness, and the home-centred interests which rise up around the man who first finds himself master of his own establishment, were sufficient to absorb all my attention, while Jan Manzer, who loathed every form of society with his whole Bohemian soul, remained in our lodgings in Baker Street, buried among his old books, and alternating from week to week between cocaine and ambition, the drowsiness of the drug, and the fierce energy of his own keen nature. He was still, as ever, deeply attracted by the study of crime, and occupied his immense faculties and extraordinary powers of observation in following out those clues, and clearing up those mysteries which had been abandoned as hopeless by the official police. From time to time I heard some vague account of his doings: of his summons to Odessa in the case of the Trepoff murder, of his clearing up of the singular tragedy of the Atkinson brothers at Trincomalee, and finally of the mission which he had accomplished so delicately and successfully for the reigning family of Holland. Beyond these signs of his activity, however, which I merely shared with all the readers of the daily press, I knew little of my former friend and companion.

  12. Laurie on December 5, 2005 at 9:26 pm

    I’m going to permit the above “comment” this time, although if I get more in the future I may delete them. Let me know if you (all) object to the inclusion of what amounts to an advert for this gentleman’s site (which I have not visited, by the way, not being a devotee of Holmes pastiches.)
    Laurie King

  13. Meg on December 5, 2005 at 10:53 pm

    I remember the first and only time I saw an ARC of mine for sale at a bookstore. Talk about an unpleasant surprise! It was my first book, and I had no idea that uncorrected copies would be made available for purchase. I asked the bookseller to please take it off the shelf, and they did, albeit in a snotty, put-upon manner. I’ve not purchased anything in that store since then. Petty on my part? Unrealistic? Not sure. Don’t care!

  14. Chris on December 6, 2005 at 10:09 am

    Not keen on the “advert”. It’s presumptious. Not the done thing to use someone else’s web site without permission…

  15. MerrieB on December 9, 2005 at 3:18 am

    Here’s my take on hardback books, as an avid reader. If I know the book is by an author I love and it’s in a series I know I’ll re-read, I buy the hardback. They stand the test of time better than a paperback.

    I’ve had to hunt down the first 4 books of the Mary Russell series in hardback because I’d worn out my paperback copies! But then, I’m pretty hard on paperback books, especially by the 4th re-read.

  16. dave lamson on December 9, 2005 at 7:57 pm

    I own “ALL” of your books! The hard backs are all signed 1st/1st and I would never damage one of them by reading it! so I buy paper backs and ARC’s and read them! (over and over) I
    haven’t always been able to find the
    paper back I needed and had to “BUY” a
    ARC. For me, I was glad there was an ARC to buy for who knows when I would
    have found the paper back! And I could
    not wait!!!!

  17. Anonymous on December 17, 2005 at 5:08 am

    I’m one of those scurrilous knaves that waits for paperback, or checks out a hardback at the library if I just can’t wait. But your comments put me in mind of another discussion about ‘lost’ sales, over at There, Eric Flint and other Baen authors offer full-text downloadable copies of currently-in-print books, FOR FREE.

    The horror! People might download free copies instead of paying for them! How will authors survive?

    Very well, that’s how. Objective measurement shows that backlist sales actually go *up* when authors put their books up on the Free Library. Likely that’s because of people just like me, who see a book that might possibly be interesting, and download a copy to ‘try it out’. Whattheheck…it’s free. I’ve probably purchased 30+ paperbacks from Baen authors that I didn’t previously have, as a direct consequence of their “free” downloads on the BFL.

    So, on the topic of ARCs….you *might* make the argument that sales of these will diminish your hardback sales. Or you might equally make the argument that the additional exposure will net you more sales than would otherwise have been. In any case, my policy is not to buy hardback copies; I wait for paperbacks, which file and store much better. And even though I’ve downloaded some books, if I liked them I bought a paperback copy as soon as I could find one. More convenient, easier to share.

    I finished A Darker Place this morning, and I’m starting Locked Rooms tonight (library copy). I’ll buy LR in paperback when it comes out, even though I’ve already read it.

    Mark G. Forbes
    Corvallis, Oregon

    OBTW….reading “A Darker Place”, I was struck by the familiarity of some of the locales. I’ve been to Prescott, Jerome and Sedona (I’m a hang glider pilot, and Mingus Mountain is a famous flying site) and I could swear I’ve *been* to some of the places you refer to in the book. Likewise the scenes along I-5; been there, done that myself. Good stuff!

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