ARCs: How to Handle Too Much of a Good Thing

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While most booksellers would agree that Advance Reading Copies (ARCs) are a useful and necessary tool for gauging the sales potential for all kinds of books, sometimes galleys can pile up in the stock room in a hurry. Since booksellers can't read them all, nor keep them all, Bookselling This Week decided to ask a few publishers and booksellers for their tips about what to do with ARCs once bookstores are finished with them.

ARCs present an interesting paradox, noted Paul Kozlowski, director of trade sales for Random House. While the sheer number of ARCs out there can seem overwhelming for a bookseller, at the same time, there's always a demand for ARCs -- and with good reason. They create sales. "There's no single, better way to create a groundswell than to get someone to read an ARC.... The ARC is the most useful advance piece of marketing we have," Kozlowski said.

"We all need and want galleys," said Dale Szczeblowski of Porter Square Books in Cambridge, Massachusetts, "but sometimes there is an oversupply of what we don't need."

This, of course, leads to the question: What are some of the best and most useful methods for dealing with the excess supply?

If it's location, location, location for real estate, then for ARCs, it's circulate, circulate, circulate. According to publishers that spoke with BTW, the worst fate that can befall an ARC is for it to end up in the stock room, unread, and gathering dust.

Eric Price, executive vice president, COO, and associate publisher of Grove/Atlantic, explained that ARC distribution is not an exact science. Hence, if the bookseller can't or doesn't want to read a particular ARC, they can always find someone who will. "Though generally sent to buyers, our galleys often end up in the hands of an enthusiastic floor staff," he said.

Random House's Kozlowski explained that anytime a bookseller distributes an ARC to anyone, whether it's a reading group leader, teacher, friend, or a favorite customer, it's a good thing. "The bigger issue is, so many ARCs stop at a buyer's desk or in the back room," he said. "We'd like to see ARCs distributed more widely -- to the floor staff, the best customers."

Price concurred. "Someone reading a book, getting excited, and telling their friends is what publishing and bookselling is all about."

Booksellers who spoke to BTW for this article noted that they each have several methods for circulating ARCs, including circulating galleys to staff, to local charities, and/or to loyal customers.

Andi Allen of Piece of Mind Books in Edwardsville, Illinois, said, "Obviously, we do read as many as we possibly can. The staff gets first pick. We set up a lending library in the store for staff ... which is good, especially for a particularly hot book. Then twice a year, I tell the staff that they have 10 days to pick what they want to take home."

Allen noted that she donates many galleys to a nearby juvenile detention home. "They do buy books from our store, but we will also donate any ARCs that are appropriate for third grade through High School. I donate them there because books are one of the few things allowed in their rooms." She said the store offers galleys to two different women's shelters. If there are any galleys left, Allen recycles them.

Sandy Johnson of the Galaxy Bookshop in Hardwick, Vermont, said that store staff members usually go through the ARCs and pick what they want to read. After that, "we ... give a lot away to the librarians in the area," Johnson said. Like Allen at Piece of Mind Books, Galaxy will offer appropriate titles to women's shelters.

Porter Square's Szczeblowski said, "Recently, we've been donating them to a local hospital -- this is after the staff goes through them. The hospital is very appreciative."

Another way of circulating ARCs is by offering them to loyal customers. "Once or twice a year we hold a bake sale for members of our customer loyalty program," Johnson of Galaxy Bookshop reported. "We invite these people to the sale, which is a kind of early bird event, and we set up an area with all of the ARCs for them to browse through."

Porter Square Books "had a January 1 [2005] storewide customer appreciation day and we gave away ARCs [of the customer's choosing] with every book a customer bought," said Szezeblowski.

And Carl Lennertz, vice president of independent retailing at of HarperCollins, told BTW via e-mail, "A good idea I've heard is to give ARCs to best customers as a perk and/or to ask them for reviews for the newsletter."

Overall, Kozlowski and Price stressed that, for publishers, it's crucial that readers send back the comment cards that are inserted into advanced reading copies. The more feedback booksellers provide, the better it is for all involved. "Sometimes [an enthusiastic response] will affect publicity and where an author [will tour]," said Kozlowski.

Importantly, while there's a lot that a bookseller can do with an ARC, there's one thing they should never do, stressed Lennertz. "ARCs are not to be sold. This practice by a few reflects badly on all." 

"It's not appropriate to sell an ARC," Price said. "It's still an uncorrected proof ... and changes can be made. That can get lost when an ARC is distributed by third parties." --David Grogan