Friday, April 17, 2015

Are ARCs the Prologues of Marketing?

I have read a lot of criticism of prologues. The general theme of these critiques seems to be that the prologue is a false start, an easing in to the novel that should have started with a bang. "Just start at Chapter One," acquisition editors instruct. I personally have ignored this piece of advice and incorporated prologues and epilogues into both of my thrillers, because I like them that way and because I can, but that's a topic for a different blog post. Here, I want to talk about the ARC.

It seems to be standard protocol for publishers to generate ARCs--advance reading copies--of novels for pre-release prior to launch of the final version. The reason I assume this is standard protocol is because my PO box is constantly full of them. They come with non-glossy, simple covers upon which is plastered the disclaimer: "Uncorrected Advance Reading Copy," as if to assure that the reader that he or she isn't getting the real thing.

I understand the function of these, I think. You can give your novel out to a selection of readers and reviewers as a sort of beta testing and then make adjustments as appropriate before publishing. And you can generate some buzz, whet the appetite of eager fans, and incorporate the glowing reviews from your ARC into the final version. 

But can't you do all of that anyway? As I gear up to publish The Death Row Complex (without an ARC,) I'm asking myself what ARC advantages I'm missing out on. Why give readers a false start, a prologue, if you will, instead of blessing them with the final version from the get-go? Once those glowing reviews come in, and a subset of readers has caught your mistakes, can't you just make the tweaks and call it a new edition? And for the love of God, why give them the *uncorrected*--i.e. unfinished--version to base their reviews upon? Am I missing something there?

Having pondered this a bit, I've come up with (I think) three possible reasons for the ARC. 1) It must be cheaper to produce, given the simpler paper covers. So maybe the idea is to give away some freebies for publicity, but to save money by giving away cheaper versions. At the very least, it will save you the cost of the ISBN you would use for re-releasing the same novel. 2) Given that my PO box is constantly full of these, it's clear that they go to readers who will write reviews but aren't particularly important people. So maybe the idea is to generate some reviews on the down low, pick and choose the ones you want to highlight, and avoid the embarrassment of releasing your novel to Oprah until it's been vetted by some unimportant people. And 3) Perhaps the ARC is a way to make a subset of readers feel special, a way of saying, "You're one of the lucky few getting this book before its out!" And, let's face it, a good ego stroking is a clear avenue to a favorable review. 

Do you release ARCs? Why or why not?

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