I’m not usually one to post something like this, and hopefully it will be a one-off type of post, but there’s been a LOT of drama in the book and author community surrounding ARCs recently, and I wanted to put my thoughts to paper a bit. It’s not meant to be an attack on anyone in our community, or anything like that, just a (very one-sided) conversation about ARC etiquette.
What are ARCs?
ARCs are Advanced Reader Copies. They are early versions of the eventual published book, released into the world a little early. Sometimes, they are a bit different to the final published version– they might have more spelling and grammar errors, and in some cases whole endings and things have been changed.
How do I get one?
They’re usually distributed by publishers to bloggers, booktubers, and other people who do reviews online. Usually, to get a physical ARC, you have to have a certain amount of followers or a clear pattern of growth on your medium of choice. There are other ways ARCs might be given out though. Some authors have giveaways, and sometimes you can get ARCs by going to certain events like signings, brunches or conventions. There, you don’t have to be a blogger or anything, but authors and publishers do usually ask (often inside of the book or on the jacket if not in person) that people who read it leave a review somewhere like Amazon or Goodreads. This is because they’re released ahead of the final published book (also known as a Finished Copy or FC) and so authors usually use them as a marketing strategy to get some hype drummed up prior to the actual official release of the book.
Okay, now that I’ve gotten that short explanation out of the way, let me introduce the whole ARC etiquette thing. As in, things you absolutely shouldn’t do with an ARC, and why.
First up, never ask an author directly for an ARC of their book. Unless you are actual friends and you’re close enough that you text and hang out and things, or unless you’re standing in a line specifically to receive that ARC and you’re asking the author to pass a copy along, then you shouldn’t ask an author for one. Authors, contrary to popular belief, generally don’t have a choice about who their ARCs go to. They may receive proof copies (another word for ARC) of their books, but they’ll only have a small handful and they will likely be marked for friends and family and people who helped them to write the book. Asking an author for an ARC, especially via something like DMs, is a little like going into a restaurant and asking if you can have your meal for free. Not because anything has happened, but because you want a free pass.
Never sell an ARC on Ebay or anywhere else. Unfortunately, we’re seeing this more and more in the book community. I went to Bookcon a few weeks ago, and was frustrated to see copies of huge upcoming releases like Ninth House on ebay for about $200. Obviously, it was someone who had gone to BookExpo, which is specifically an event for bloggers, librarians, teachers, authors, influencers etc to see what is coming up in the publishing world. It was particularly upsetting because that book in particular was a unicorn (a very rare book). They had 10 copies to raffle at Bookcon and the line at BookExpo was so long that many people got turned away because they ran out of books.
This can be very damaging for high profile authors. Jay Kristoff, in particular, keeps getting annoyed and reporting ARCs of his books on Ebay. If a high-profile book is sold, we don’t really know where it is going to. They rack up a big price on Ebay and other places as they are considered a collector’s item, so chances are it is a fan who wanted to collect an ARC, or someone who plans to sell it as part of a collection at a later date. But there’s also a chance that it could go to someone who plans to leak the book. It can be scanned, edited, distributed on social media or anything.
In the case of smaller authors, it’s also a big issue. I actually spoke to an author called Annie Sullivan, who recently spoke up on several book orientated books on FB to request people report the selling of an ARC of her upcoming book on Ebay. She explained that the sale: “makes me sick because this person is essentially stealing from me. That person selling the ARC is making money off the book instead of me—a book I spent years laboring over. They’re taking away a sale that I could’ve made money off of by selling the book. Additionally, most people might think, “It’s only a book or two,” but every single sale counts for an author. If a book doesn’t sell enough copies, that author may never get another book deal. If the two or three hundred people who got ARCs all went out and sold their copies, that’s 300 lost sales. The loss of those 300 sales very well could truly mean an author not meeting sales goals. They could genuinely be costing an author their career—not to mention making publishers think twice about giving out ARCs in the first place. Selling ARCs can also blow an author’s chances of making the bestselling list. Preorders really help authors make bestseller lists—and it’s actually cheaper to preorder TIGER QUEEN right now than it is to pay what the person selling the ARC was asking for it. But someone might be so impatient to read it that they’ll pay that price, leaving the author with a missed sale. It may come as a surprise, but most authors don’t make a ton of money off their books. It’s a labor of love, and the more people who sell ARCs for their own benefit, the more it affects authors and their ability to afford to keep writing.”
Yes, selling ARCs is stealing. They are given away for free, for promotional purposes. Some people swap them, and that’s a kind of grey area, but selling them basically means you got something for free and now want someone else to pay for it. Which is fine if it’s like a bag of sweets or something, but when it is someone else’s creation, someone else’s hard work, then it becomes a bit harder to ethically approve.
Do not buy ARCs. It should go without saying really, that if selling ARCs is bad, then buying them is a terrible idea too. I do understand that people can sometimes slip with this. Someone told me that their boyfriend once bought them an ARC on ebay because he knew she liked the author and didn’t realise it was a shady sale. Obviously, stuff like that happens. ARCs aren’t a very talked about thing, and unless you’re a part of the book community or you know someone who is, you’ve probably never heard of them. On top of that, sellers often know to try and advertise them as ‘rare copies’ with the word ARC either in smaller print or just thrown in at the end. It happens. But, if you know about ARCs then you should absolutely not buy one. I know it is very tempting to purchase a copy of an unreleased book by your favourite author, but it really is hurting them, and it really can end careers. Not to mention you’re lining the pocket of a thief in the process.
ARCs should be free. Moving on to some authortube drama now, and how ARCs should be free. Recently, there’s been some backlash against self-published author Kristen Martin, who only gave ARCs to people who had been top tier patreons for three months. The top tier of her patreon is $50 a month, so basically, people were paying $150 to get an ARC of her new book as well as some other benefits. Which is really quite dodgy.
For a start, it basically suggests she believes her work is worth that much. I’ve heard people say that she didn’t hire an editor, so $150 for an unedited book by a fairly small author is kind of insane.
Then there’s the issue of moral integrity. ARCs are meant to be for review. Bloggers do a lot of hard work, and very rarely get paid. One of the side benefits of doing all this work is receiving ARCs and getting to sometimes go to fun events. Skipping over us like that suggests you simply don’t care about people who help support your career. It’s also difficult when someone starts selling copies at that kind of price, for reviewers and fans with less money to be able to get hold of a copy. If everyone did this, there would only be very rich bloggers, and the industry would lose a very big support system.
Then there’s the issue of how the reviews are going to go. If she’s charging that much, the average person like me who hasn’t read any of her stuff is unlikely to want to pay for it. So it’s only going to be big fans of her novels. Which means the reviews will be skewed in her favour. Again, stuff like this is why bloggers are encountering some problems.
I have also heard of another self-published author who tried to either give away ARCs from other authors with every purchase of one of her books, or is selling the ARCs and giving a free copy of her book with the purchase. Again, needless to say, this is SO wrong. Authors should not be seeking to rest on the laurels of someone else’s success. They shouldn’t have to potentially ruin someone else’s career to make theirs.
Anyway, that’s pretty much all I have time to say right now. I hope everyone who reads this knows where I’m coming from and can either support authors by asking for ARCs from publishers or netgalley etc to review, or will buy finished copies of the books when they get released.