The turds in the publishing punch bowl:
those selling ARCs before the book is released

An ARC of PANDEMIC by Scott Sigler

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.

Turd in the Publishing Punch Bowl

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.

Joe Haldeman WORK FOR HIRE ARC

Another ARC for sale, Joe Haldeman’s WORK FOR HIRE, up six weeks before it is in stores or ships from online retailers.

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.

FINAL THOUGHTS
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.

Comments

  1. Dianne Salerni

    Great post, and thanks for the information. You saved me the trouble of trying to make a stink over an ARC that already sold on eBay.

    Turds is way too kind a term for somebody making hundreds/thousands of dollars on books they get for free, under a gentleman’s agreement they do not honor, while stealing sales from authors and publishers. eBay is also pretty turdish for turning a blind eye.

    Turns out, when my husband checked into it, that my publisher HarperCollins already tried to stem this illegal business by numbering ARCs in order to track the sellers. Unfortunately, the numbered ARCs became more valuable.

    So there’s nothing I can do about the turd who already sold my book (maestro-08). I can only keep an eye out for future turds and ask them to take the sale down — or just report them.

    1. Profile photo of scottsiglerscottsigler

      Dianne: Glad the post was of help to you. On a positive note, I just filed a VeRO claim today against someone who posted an ARC of PANDEMIC, and the auction was taken down within hours. So that seems to be the way to go.

  2. Profile photo of Wesleyan_HendrixWesleyan_Hendrix

    I understand this completely. Here’s a little story. I went to buy a hardcover edition of Jeff Lindsay’s Dearly Devoted Dexter for my wife for a birthday present. I had been searching for a good book to give her and when I read about it so many years ago; I knew she would love it. What I got was a ARC copy of the book and I was pissed. It was suppose to be new and it said nothing about pre-new. I never want to take money from people who earned it and it had, as you said, right on the cover ” not for sale”. Luckily I was able to get my money back and the online store I got it from did not even put up a fight on it. They did not even want the book back after I sent emails of the actual “book”. Now a days we have great online companies like Amazon or we can go directly to the source to get the books we want though and personally I feel if you are going to run a business like Ebay you should try a little harder to deter copyright infringement.

  3. Profile photo of Byron MetzByron Metz

    Less than two months away and I haven’t even order a copy of “PANDEMIC”. The final book which will answer all of my questions. The little voice inside my head is yelling at me for procrastinating on buying a couple dozen.

  4. Profile photo of brain_deadbrain_dead

    never knew about arcs before, now i want all of them. already ordered two copy’s of pandemic from borderlands, one for myself and another for my sister, but i can’t say that the idea of an advanced copy isn’t tempting.

    1. Profile photo of scottsiglerscottsigler

      @brain_dead: Well, now you know, and they are cool. You should get at least one to check them out. There will be plenty available around March 2014, so make a note. It’s a neat part of the publishing process.

  5. Profile photo of mkazmkaz

    One more advantage of being your own publisher (like you are) is to control who the ARCs go to. Do you send any out for the GFL novels? If so, how are they selected? Have you ever seen these turn up?

    Can’t wait for the next GFL book…

    1. Profile photo of scottsiglerscottsigler

      @mkaz: We did them for THE ROOKIE, and no, they didn’t turn up. The differences are that we sent out a smaller number, and we offered them to certain people who accepted them as opposed to blindly firing out hundreds of copies to a static list.

  6. Sascha

    Damn right.

    People don’t seem to have any respect of an artist’s work anymore these days. It’s the same with music.

    Just because it’s easy to get they think they have a right to get it for free or at an unjustly low price.

    Fight for your intellectual property!

  7. Tara Li

    Baen has an interesting approach to this – selling ebook versions of the ARCs well in advance. Of course, it’s not a paper copy, and Baen has never put DRM on their e-books, so selling a Baen eARC is kind of ridiculous on the face of it. I do suspect it has greatly reduced the number of paper ARC copies they send out, though.

    And of course, there’s things like Nathan Lowell’s recent NaNoWriMo experiment, where the entire rough draft went up as a GoogleDoc you had only to ask to get the URL for. I don’t know that he’ll ever do that again, but I expect others will – and the face of publication will change once again.

    1. Profile photo of scottsiglerscottsigler

      @Tara Li: Hi Tara. You’re confusing electronic and print. My ARC for PANDEMIC was available as an eBook, for free. People have been doing that for years now. What I’m talking about are the print copies, selling that which is given to you for free so you can screw readers out of their money.

  8. Bryce Maryott

    I suggest watermarking a serial number on all ARCs so you can figure out the turds and pinch them off (bad pun intended).

  9. Profile photo of christopherjmcwhite_yahoo_comchristopherjmcwhite_yahoo_com

    I plan on buying your hardcover when you come to Cambridge in a couple of months. Just like I did when you came to Boston last time (two-three years ago?, hmmm) and I saw for the first time a credit card swipe cube on your iPad during the pub crawl. That was dope freshness @Scottsigler !! Anyway, I’m really excited to receive ARC of books. I have a few from other authors, but I ALWAYS assumed it was for my review and enjoyment purposes. What a shame some folk prefer to profit off of your hard work, undeservedly.

  10. Adele

    As an author for 15 years, nothing bothers me more than finding my ARCs for sale (except maybe Googling my name and seeing the first two pages swamped with illegal downloads, but that’s another issue…). I think lots of people (readers) just don’t know. I think most of the sellers do, and it’s shameful.

    Love your books, BTW. Recommend them to everybody. Can’t wait for Pandemic!

  11. Profile photo of ratman19ratman19

    Amen Scott.

    I am one of those fans who purchased an ARC on eBay when I saw one. I’ve been so eager to get it that I jumped at the chance when I saw it.

    Since then I’ve learned how wrong it was and offered to return it to you. I have not read it and will wait until January to purchase it legitimately. I’ve also been checking eBay every week to make sure no more ARCs show up.

    Just sucks there isn’t an easier way to make sure your property is protected.

  12. Profile photo of Jeffrey MooreJeffrey Moore

    I was lucky enough to be given an ARC copy of Ancestor (back when I was very active on this site, wish I had more time to spend on here!!). And it sits on my shelf and is one of my favorite pieces. I’d never sell it!

    However, if anyone ever wanted to give me another one, I’d grab it in a heartbeat! I got a real kick out of writing reviews for a book months before it was released. I felt like I had great sway over the literary world for about 8 seconds.

  13. Profile photo of BigJohnBigJohn

    Preach on, brother! Is it possible to somehow report the sellers to the publishing companies so they stop providing these fuckmouths with the goods in the first place?

    1. Profile photo of scottsiglerscottsigler

      @BigJohn: I’ve tried, and publishers don’t really consider it a high priority. They are overworked and are pumping out hundreds of books a year. I would think they’d want to stop it, but I think the cost/benefit (the amount of time needed to manage the list vs. the number of possible sales they stop) isn’t worth it to them.

      And there is the fact that many authors don’t give a shit, either, which is fine. The publisher isn’t going to move mountains for a couple of authors if they don’t perceive a larger problem.