Monday, September 5, 2016

ARC Light, by Lance Charnes

Somewhere in the journey from beta readers to the finished, released product, a book needs to get out and see the world. You may want to get it to fans of your previous books so they can drop reviews on your release date. You might need to provide copies to bookstore owners you’re trying to entice into stocking your work. Many review publications or blogs require copies months in advance.
But there’s a problem: you don’t have your finished product yet. The cover isn’t ready; the text is still in its final-pass edit to catch the last few gremlins; you’re still playing with typefaces in the trade paperback edition. Your release date will be on you by the time all that is done. What do you do?

Legacy publishing has had an answer for this for years: the advance reading copy, or ARC. Unlike some of trad publishing’s daffier ideas – like two-year production schedules and returns on wholesale orders – the ARC serves the indie author’s needs as well as it does those of the author on a contract.

ARCs go by a number of different names (advance review copy, advance reader's edition, reviewer’s copy), but the concept is the same. It’s a semi-finished, bound (if paper) copy of a book that’s not quite the end product, but close enough for most purposes. It may have a temporary cover, the front or end matter may be missing, there may still be some typos or glitches inside, and the illustrations (if any) may be MIA or in black-and-white. “ADVANCE READING COPY” is plastered somewhere obvious – on the cover or title page – to warn everyone about the flaws I just listed… if they understand what it means (more on that later).

Publishing houses used to send out galley proofs or page proofs to reviewers. A galley proof is just one step removed from a manuscript; it’s printed on letter-sized or larger paper with wide margins so editors have lots of room to make notes. Page proofs are another step closer to being finished, having the final page layout and pagination, but not necessarily the final form factor. These were fairly clumsy and fragile creatures, expensive to ship and likely inconvenient for a reader not sitting at a desk or table. However, they fit the times they lived in: a limited number of review outlets worth bothering with, far less competition, and far fewer time pressures.

Publishers now send ARCs in the form of trade paperbacks, or even (gasp!) e-books. One consequence is that “Uncorrected Proof” is the developing term-of-art for these critters; another is a back-alley trade in ARCs on eBay and elsewhere.

If you’re an indie author, you’re also a publisher. There’s no reason you can’t use ARCs, too, for all the purposes I mentioned in the first paragraph.

How? As long as your text is ready to go, it’s all so simple…

1.     Build a plain-wrap cover of the right size (625x1000 pixels should do the job) so you can create a valid e-book file. It doesn’t even need graphics, just the title, author name, and “Advance Reading Copy.” (The example I’ve included is a little more ambitious, but I used to be a digital artist.) It’s almost better to not use your production cover because your ARC will be easier to spot with the fake.
2.     Mark your title page “Advance Reading Copy” just in case the recipient doesn’t get the idea from the cover.
3.     Generate your MOBI and EPUB files with the same production tools you’ll use for the final – Kindlegen, Calibre, whatever.
4.     Figure out how you’ll distribute it to your giftees. You can email it if the file’s small enough. I got a BookFunnel account; they’ll help out the people who need handholding with the side-load process so you don’t have to.

Paper ARCs:
1.     Build a plain-wrap cover of the right size. Remember you need enough image for the spine and back cover, too, or your results will be very strange. Again, you only need the title, author name, and “Advance Reading Copy.” You might want to put it on both sides.
2.     Create your text block the same way you will for your final copy. (It’s good practice.)
3.     Upload these to your POD press of choice to get printed proofs. CreateSpace allows you free, unlimited fiddling with your book. Even if you don’t normally use CreateSpace, it’s worth setting up an account if your normal POD provider charges you for changing your cover or text block.
4.     Order however many proof copies you need.
5.     Do not approve the proof. If you do, it’ll be released into the world with its ugly cover and whatever other badness lies within.

Bookstore owners and experienced reviewers will know what ARC means and should be able to make allowances. However, your fans may not. If you give an ARC to a civilian, you should tell them what’s wrong (if anything) with what’s inside so they don’t think you’re peddling a bad product.

Using ARCs can buy you several weeks to several months to find reviewers or entice retailers while you’re waiting for everything else to come together. It doesn’t involve anything you won’t be doing eventually anyway. It’s another tool in your tool belt – and we can all use more of those.

Murder Lab members: want to read for review an ARC of The Collection, the first in Lance’s new DeWitt Agency series about art-related crime? Click on the cover image above and it will take you to BookFunnel, where you can download an e-ARC. The Collection should release at the end of October. Go to Lance’s website for more information about The Collection and to read an excerpt.

Lance Charnes is an emergency manager and former Air Force intelligence officer. His international thriller Doha 12 and his near-future thriller South will soon have a sibling: The Collection. His Facebook author page features spies, shipwrecks, art crime and archaeology, among other things.