A few months before a book is published, Advanced Reader Copies, otherwise known as ARCs, start floating around. These are slightly shabby-looking versions of the final book, mailed out to people in the media so they can get a review into print by the time the book goes on sale.
ARCs have “NOT FOR SALE” printed on them, but of course there is a bustling mini-market, fed by critics who don’t particularly want to hang on to dozens, hundreds, or even thousands of books. So the ARCs find there way onto ebay* or into second-hand bookstores. If you’re dying to get your hands on a particular novel, these ARCs can look very tempting. But should you buy one, or hold out? Let Uncle Max be your guide.
Neither the author nor the publisher sees any money from sales of ARCs. This may not bother you, and I sure don’t consider it a hanging crime—if publishers didn’t think ARCs were a net generator of sales, they wouldn’t produce them, right?—but you should be aware of it. I know a few readers who shelled out big bucks for ARCs thinking some of that money was going to end up with me. In fact, it doesn’t even count as a sale. Your cash goes only to the retailer and the critic who originally bounced it along.
(I have to admit, there is something annoying about the idea that a critic might get a free copy of my book, write a crap review of it, and then—because they don’t like it, you see—sell it on ebay to someone who otherwise would have bought a real copy. That’s like gouging my eyes and then kicking me in the nuts.)
The other issue with ARCs is that they’re advanced—that is, they’re printed before the final round of edits. In the case of Company, you get 99.5% of the story, but you also get a sprinkling of typos and clumsy sentences I only fixed at the last minute. I made around 50 minor changes in final edits, and while you’d struggle to spot most of them, I made those changes for a reason. A few are reasonably significant; I also inserted a new joke that, while perhaps not a world-beater, amuses me.
Then there’s looks: the ARC has low-grade artwork that I did on my word processor, while the real thing features slick stuff from Doubleday’s art department. The ARC is also missing that jacket copy I sweated over, and is a somewhat fragile paperback, having not been designed for long-term use.
This shouldn’t prevent you from buying an ARC, if that’s what you want. They make good collectors’ items, since, relatively speaking, there are so few of them. (Even I don’t have a Syrup ARC any more.) But if you’re after the story, I think you should wait for the real thing. Don’t pay ten or twenty or (dear God) thirty bucks for an ARC. For that kind of money, you shouldn’t settle for a draft.
* (Some sellers on ebay don’t make it clear that they’re selling ARCs. There are two right now that make no mention of this at all. But they are, because the real things haven’t been printed yet.)