Bookish, Discussions

Let’s Talk About ARCs (For The Last Time)

(I wrote this post as this conversation was happening on Twitter. It’s now a few days later and without drudging it all up again, I still wanted to talk about it as a blogger who receives ARCs).

It’s that time of year again.

Or maybe this conversation happens more that once a year. However many times we talk about it, it always circles back around.

ARCs, or Advanced Reading Copies are a weird thing. They’re both a blessing and a burden. A drain and a resource. I was first introduced to ARCs (or proofs as they’re called in the UK) back when I worked as a bookseller. We were frequently sent them, and they often ended piled up in the staff room as a little library. I read a couple and would return them to work, although if I had loved the book, I was allowed to keep them.

I didn’t really see any value in them, and when I left my job I took all the ARCs I’d hoarded back into work. Yes, that included a Six of Crows ARC and I still cry about it sometimes. While I knew publishers sent ARCs to booksellers, I didn’t know there were other ways of getting your hands on them. And it was only after I’d left my job that I realised that I kinda liked reading books before they were out. It felt exclusive. Like a club.

In recent years I’ve been very good at not hoarding books. I frequently do clear outs, and I really don’t like owning doubles of a book. But ARCs still have this special air about them. Whether I trade for them, queue for them at events, or receive them from publishers, it’s exciting to read a story early, or collect an early revision of your favourite book. I’m very grateful and privileged to receive ARCs from publishers, as I’m very aware it’s not something that’s easily done.

But the talk of ARCs on social media is like a boomerang; it just keeps coming back.

This time, a few authors had a public conversation on how they felt about ARC distribution, specifically on when they’re asked not to personalise an ARC during a signing. To these authors, they think readers don’t want it personalised because they’re planning on selling it.

Yes, I’m dumbfounded too.

Selling ARCs is a problem, for sure. And unfortunately, people exacerbate things by buying said ARCs. ARCs are made specifically for publicity, whether that’s through traditional outlets (booksellers, journalists, other publishers) or the newer ‘influencer’ outlets (bloggers, bookstagrammers, booktubers). They’re for pumping out five star reviews and generating buzz around social media. For getting people talking and the pre-orders in.

For me, I wouldn’t want an ARC that I’ve just picked up personalised because I don’t know if I’m going to like it or not. That’s it. Plus, since ARCs are unsellable, the only thing you can do with them if you don’t want them is to give them away or trade them. And trust me, ARCs (and books in general) become much harder to get rid of once they’re personalised.

These authors on Twitter then suggested writing the passive-aggressive statement ‘I hope you didn’t buy/steal this ARC’. Now, imagine trading or giving away that. Imagine being a kid in a school or a library, finding this donated ARC, only to open it and be accused by the author that you stole the book.

You don’t want us to sell ARCs. That’s perfectly fine.

But now you want to make it harder for us to get rid of them?

There are three options here:

  • Don’t personalise/write horrible messages in ARCs (Selling/buying is still an issue)
  • I keep every single ARC I’ve ever received (I’m found dead under a book avalanche)
  • Only have digital ARCs (Non-privileged readers miss out from trades/donations)

I think if ARCs had never received this coveted status, we wouldn’t be in this position. But, they exist, and they’re great for what they aim to achieve. But I do not appreciate authors creating a divide between themselves and readers who receive ARCs, especially when those readers often promote their books on social media for free and then precede to buy special and limited editions of their books.

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4 Comments

  1. thewolfandbooks

    January 22, 2019 at 7:46 pm

    “For me, I wouldn’t want an ARC that I’ve just picked up personalised because I don’t know if I’m going to like it or not.”

    Exactly! I’m not sure what else I can say that hasn’t been said on Twitter, but I do hope more people read this post and understand other POVs and that ARC holders aren’t all out to hurt authors.

    1. Hollie

      January 22, 2019 at 9:00 pm

      Hey! You’re absolutely right that people (especially authors/pub professionals) need to consider other POVs. It drives me mad when authors say things so publicly, while having a large audience, bashing readers when we are the ones who buy and adore and promote their books!

  2. Justin_T_Call

    February 22, 2019 at 12:15 am

    Food for thought. As a new author (my book came out today), what should I write in the ARCs people ask me to sign? Should I not sign them? What would be suitably nice that anyone would appreciate it, but suitably neutral that you wouldn’t try to sell the ARC in the future?

    Just brainstorming here, but something like:
    “This is an ARC, which means you should not have had to pay anyone to read this book. It also means you are willing to take chances something new and unknown, and are therefore my friend. Enjoy – and share or keep this ARC as you see fit.”

    Would that not solve both issues? Or would that still feel passive-aggressive?

    1. Hollie

      February 22, 2019 at 1:46 pm

      I don’t think there’s anything that you could write to stop it from being sold. ARC sellers will still sell ARCs with these kind of messages in, and people daft enough to buy them will probably not care about the message. Plus, while a signed ARC may have more ‘monetary value’ (to an ARC seller) than an unsigned one, ARCs will be sold regardless, whether you refused to sign it or not.

      There is no ‘suitably neutral’ message you can do other than sign your name. Or, like you said, put out a guideline that you’ll only sign finished copies.

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