That’s a harsh title to a post, isn’t it? Maybe, but I think it’s accurate. For those that only read a headline and one paragraph before screaming with Righteous Internet Outrage™, please see these points first:
- There is nothing wrong with buying an Advance Reader Copy (ARC) of a book.
- There is nothing wrong with selling an ARC, as long as it is well after the publication date, so die-hard fans can spend their money on the finished product when it is available instead of grabbing something of lesser quality because they simply can’t wait.
- Yes, ARCs are collectors items: some fans love to have every version of a book they can get, and that’s cool.
- I’ve been giving my unabridged stories away since 2005. Almost everything in print with my name on it is also available for free in digital form. My stance on selling ARCs isn’t about piracy, it’s about protecting my readers, my hard-earned sales, and about people profiting from something they put zero effort into creating and spent nothing to acquire.
Now that we have that out of the way, let’s talk turds.
WHAT IS THIS “ARC” OF WHICH YOU SPEAK?
Many publishers give away ARCs of a novel several months before the publication date. The purpose is to give bloggers, reviewers and influential readers (a.k.a. “Mavens,” if you buy into Malcom Gladwell-speak), an early opportunity to read the book so they have time to consume it and talk knowledgeably about it before the book is on sale. When timed correctly, the book hits the market with several critical reviews, reviews on Amazon and Goodreads, and hopefully several bookstore staffers who know the story and can recommend it to interested readers.
To make timeline work, publishers mail out hundreds of copies of a book before the book is properly finished. There are usually many edits remaining, the author might still need to make critical changes to plot or character, and there can even be blank areas the author hasn’t quite finished up. This is why ARCs are almost always marked — marked quite clearly, as the image at the top of this post shows — with the words “Uncorrected Proof: Not For Sale.”
That means it is not a finished copy. The story is not the best quality you can get. It is the difference between a finished cake, and pulling a cake out of the oven 20 minutes before it is done. You can still taste all that sugary goodness in there, but it is not what you expect when you think of the word “cake.”
Reviewers who are given an ARC understand that the book isn’t quite finished, and take some of the obvious errors in stride. Sure, there are a hundred typos, but the reviewer expects that of an ARC and doesn’t mention it in a review. It’s part of the handshake agreement: I’ll give you something early so you’ve got time to read it, and you understand that in order to get it to you early, I have to give you the not-quite-finished version.
But, that compact does not include selling the ARC to eager fans before the finish book is available. It’s the “not for sale” part of an ARC that the turds of the publishing punchbowl ignore.
CAVEAT: SOME PEOPLE ARE NICE
Before I continue, I will say that for PANDEMIC, I have been surprised at how nice and responsive eBay sellers have been. I’ve found twenty ARCs for sale there so far, I’ve emailed the sellers and asked them to take down the auction for my copyrighted content. Nineteen of them did that the same day. Regardless of the fact that they know full well they are selling an ARC that was given to them in good faith, they still took it down without too much of a stink. I was pleasantly surprised. I’m not going to say “thank you” to someone who is trying to screw my readers and make money off of something they know they shouldn’t be selling, but I will say I appreciated the prompt response and action.
SCOTT, WHY ARE YOUR UNDIES IN A BUNCH OVER THIS? IT’S ONLY A FEW COPIES
Why do I pitch a fit about this? Here’s why:
- I don’t want my fans paying money for a lower-quality product when the final version is a few months away. The ARCs are not a finished book. There are still many edits to be made.
- You, the person selling the ARC the publisher gave you, and selling it before the publication date, have taken something that many people have worked very hard on for a very long time and are helping yourself to some cash, because you feel entitled to benefit from our labor.
- The ARCs are given free to reviewers, so the reviewers can read the book if they choose to do so. Those reviewers have no right to turn around and sell a book that was given to them for free and says “not for sale” right on the cover.
- I busted my ass on this novel and deserve to be paid for my work. I don’t get paid for ARC sales. If I choose to give shit away for free, that’s my choice, not the choice of these ass-nuggets.
WHO ARE THESE TURDS?
Publishers pay good money to print and ship these ARCs to a pre-determined list of reviewers. Granted, the publishers don’t look very closely at the list. They don’t check up to see if the reviewers are selling the ARCs. Why? Because, frankly, the publishers don’t care. If they send out 200 ARCs and get five or six reviews, they’re ecstatic.
That means the publisher is shotgunning these bad boys all over the place. The vast majority of recipients do not sell the ARCs. Or, if they do, they wait a year or so after publication date. That lets excited fans buy the finished book when it comes out, instead of spending their money on a poor-quality version a few months before publication date.
The “turds” are the people who put the ARCs up on eBay the second they get them, several months before the book comes out. They know they are not supposed to, they know they did nothing to earn the money they will make from an ARC, they know they are probably stealing a sale from the author, and they don’t care.
For some turds, this is a full-on business. Most of the people I found selling PANDEMIC ARCs were also selling dozens, if not hundreds, of ARCs for other books that would not be in stores for months to come. The “reviewer” gets the books from the publisher and immediately throws them up on eBay, not giving a rat’s ass about anyone but himself or herself.
Some people pass the ARCs on to charity stores, who sell them as they would any other donation. This is fine with me, although if a charity store is savvy enough to put the book on eBay or Abe Books with all the language that courts book collectors, they are savvy enough to know full well they are selling a book months before the publication date — they should wait at least three months after that date, then they can go crazy and I hope they bring in some bucks.
BUT SCOTT, I AM A FAN AND I BOUGHT A PANDEMIC ARC, AM I A TURD?
No. You are wonderful and awesome and I hope you dig the purchase. I also hope, however, that you want the hardcover when it comes out January 21, because the sales of that are how people keep score in the publishing industry. As for all the other ARCs of my books that were out years ago? Have at it!
BUT SCOTT, I AM SELLING YOUR PANDEMIC ARC AND I SWEAR I AM NOT TURD-LIKE.
Here’s the bottom line: if you are selling an ARC before the publication date, you are a greedy turd. There is no way around this. You got that item for free, courtesy of the publisher. It says right on the cover, “not for sale.” You know this, because you can read. You are a greedy asshole trying to take money from my fans for something you didn’t do, didn’t make and didn’t sweat for. All you care about is yourself. So, fuck you.
You want to sell it? Put it on a shelf for a year, then bust it out and have at it. If it really is the “collector’s item” you think it is, it will still sell long after the publication date, right?
THE SELF-ENTITLED LOGIC
Here’s a response I got from one seller, who to his or her credit, did immediately take down the auction:
I will remove the listing as you requested. If you go the site and search ARC you will see there are thousands being offered, many by more reknowned (sic) and successful authors. ARC’s are bought and sold by collectors who consider them true first editions. Good luck
Wow, thank you so much for explaining to me how the publishing world works. Because I’m such a novice, your industry wisdom showed me the light. The other way to read this is: “No one else bitched me out for doing something I know is wrong, so now I am butt-hurt because you did.” Because everyone else is doing it, then it is okay. Because Stephen King didn’t politely ask you to take the book down, it is okay. Again, fuck you.
There was only one turd who claimed a righteous right to sell whatever he liked. For that turd, I had to take it up with eBay.
WHY DOESN’T EBAY DO SOMETHING?
Because eBay is gigantic. They don’t have enough people to monitor the millions of auctions going on, so they really don’t care. If they did care, they wouldn’t let people sell ARCs.
However, eBay does have a full system to report copyright infringement, eBay VeRO, which I have used several times. This system works. It takes me 24-48 hours to get an auction pulled. So if I monitor eBay constantly for people trying to abuse my work and my publisher’s work, trying to take money away from my readers, then yes, eBay has a level of protection. Howver, that depends on if you get to it fast enough — once something sells, it’s over: eBay won’t do anything after the fact.
I protect my copyrights. I protect my work. I protect my fans. I protect my fan’s money, and if my fans choose to spend their hard-earned cash, I want them to get the best-quality product they can get. The ARCs are not there to supplement your income. Put the damn thing on a shelf, sell it a year from now, and everyone wins.
Don’t be a turd.