Monday, November 17, 2003

ARCs and all about them 

According to Deadly Pleasures, there won't be any advanced reader copies (hence, ARCs) of Michael Connelly's next Harry Bosch novel, THE NARROWS. Connelly explains why:

" As of now they are not publishing an ARC of The Narrows. That may change but right now they figure they are not necessary for selling the book. I sort of agree. especially with this book. There's a lot of stuff in it I think should be kept under wraps until publication time."

I don't sort of agree--I definitely do, for a couple of reasons. One, Connelly's one of the big guys now, regularly hitting the bestseller lists, regularly ensconced amongst readers on the bus, subway, or tube (he's even more popular in the UK, at least based on my own unofficial view). So putting out a marketing campaign which involves advanced copies isn't going to increase his readership any more, because the average reader knows who he is and probably reads his books. Two, the last couple of years, the finished book did not bear a lot of similarity to the galleys. When CHASING THE DIME was released back in October 2002, an ARC preceded it. However, Connelly made substantial changes in the interim, adding as much as nine new scenes of material and excising other bits that in his mind, didn't work. There was evidently enough difference between the ARC of LOST LIGHT and the finished version, which hit stores this past April. By not releasing a galley, it gives him more time to get the book in enough shape that he's happy with it, and not worry that a mistake-filled or "wrong" edition is circulating amongst booksellers sales reps, or Ebay auctions.

So when is an ARC necessary? And why bring them out in the first place?

The whole point of advanced reader copies is to start up the hype, the buzz, the promotional activity. It's a marketing tool. When an author is brand new, or changing directions, out of sight for some reason, then there has to be a way to make sure that bookstores will stock the book, that sales reps will push the books in their departments (be it on the publishing or bookselling side), that distributors like Ingram or Baker & Taylor will keep the books in their warehouses. Thus, it means that people have to read the book and deem it worthy of their time and effort. So if you're an author who is brand new, ARCs are a lot more beneficial than doing an exhaustingly long book tour. It's conventional wisdom that first novelists shouldn't really tour for their first book because who's going to turn out for a new author unless there's been a tremendous amount of hype prior? It's slightly counter-intuitive but the point is, people don't show up to signings for authors they haven't heard anything about. Not usually, anyway. But booksellers CAN still sell the books if they've read them in advance, and when the author's next book comes up, they have a base to build on, and the promotional cycle can increase and build.

I love getting ARCs because I can then start doing what I do best earlier--which is promoting and pushing books I love and telling people that they must read them. If one person reads what I say and goes out to buy the book and then future books, I'm exceedingly happy. It was the case when I actually sold books and now that I'm no longer doing so in a bookstore setting. And OK, it's cool to read books before the general public does, but the general public may not read them if others hadn't gotten their hands on the book first.

But at some point, there's really no reason to bring out galleys of an author anymore. A lot of publishers carry on too long, don't know when to quit. But Little, Brown finally got smart about Michael Connelly. I expect that other publishers will follow suit with authors at about the same visibility level, if they have not done so already.

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