Advance Reading Copies—Dos & Don’ts for Self-Publishers
How do you go about getting one (or more) of those nifty recommendation blurbs from well-known authors on the back cover or inside flyleaf of your book?
How can you time your book to appear when a notable review of it is also released?
What about getting test audience feedback on your story or their reaction to your cover?
You can do all of these with Advance Reading Copies of your book, also known as ARCs.
Advance reading copies: benefits
At the most basic level, ARCs are a preview of your forthcoming release. Prior to the main print run (or mainstream e-release, if you are not doing a print version), you print/create a select number of copies and send them to select people. Emphasis: select. You are not saturation-covering the known literary universe.
ARCs are NOT final copies of your book. You can use them to check for errors, formatting, and print production choices. You may also think about tweaking the cover, now that you have an example of it in your hands and not only a PDF.
You can get test audience feedback with ARCs. In addition to more private feedback directly to you, you can use advance reviews to your advantage on sites such as Goodreads and Amazon, and to reach out to bloggers and others. ARCs are great for reviews and author blurbs, because you can get a copy of your book into the hands of reviewers before you publish to a wide audience.
Advance reading copies: don’ts
Although your ARC is not the final copy of your book (and you should clearly state this in all copies), appearances matter.
- Don’t send out a messy ARC. Make sure your formatting is clean and neat.
- Avoid sending out your ARCs before you’ve had at least one major editorial pass. Readers don’t care how awesome your story will be later if they think the book is a hot mess right now. Remember, they can post advance reviews on various websites.
- Avoid hedging about your genre. Readers will not be pleased if they receive a horror story when they expected a comedy, or vice versa.
- Don’t send out your copies without basic proofreading. You might be surprised how many people focus on your spelling over the story, even if you tell them they’re reading an advance copy.
- Don’t send out ARCs that are not CLEARLY labeled as such.
Many authors don’t think about the ARC until they’re through with the editorial process. However, I have had clients who were excited to share their book, and who really wanted to gather blurbs and reviews prior to release. In some cases, they sent out unedited manuscripts in the form of a Word document to readers. Unfortunately, this produced mixed results. I would strongly caution you against this tactic. Most people have certain expectations when they hear the word “book.”
ARCs and beta readers
As I mentioned, ARCs can be a great way to get feedback from your audience. However, they are different from true beta readers.
Beta readers are your writing colleagues and others who read your work while it is still in progress. These people have a high understanding of the writing process and sensitivity to the challenges and excitement you encounter while writing your book. They help you brainstorm, they commiserate with you, and provide you with craft feedback. They are a small group.
ARC readers on the other hand read what you hope will be the final product. This can be a much larger group than the beta readers, especially if you send them to reviewers and bloggers. They may or may not care about your process; they review the book in front of them as though it was the real thing. They may not have craft insights to share with you, and instead react with words such as “boring,” “awesome,” “interesting,” and so on which do not help your writing process—though they do help you gauge whether you’re reaching your audience.
What you should do with ARCs
- Do clearly mark your ARC copies as “advance” and not final.
- Do proofread them before they go out!
- Do read reviewer guidelines and send ARCs to reviewers several months before you wish to publish.
- Do tell your readers what to expect in terms of your book genre.
- Do use this opportunity to see how you feel about the print production and the cover.
The bottom line
Advance reading copies are your book’s ambassadors to the world. You can generate advance interest in your book, get blurbs and recommendations from other writers, receive glowing reviews, catch errors, and take the temperature of your test audience. ARCs can do this best when they are produced and used with care and attention to quality control. As with every other part of the book process, think about what you want your ARCs to achieve.
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