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,
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.)
local delivery guy is very impressed with my parcels.
When he comes to deliver a box, he says,
“It’s from New York,” his eyes filled with awe,
as if New York is a magical, mythical place, floating above
the rest of the world on the back of a giant turtle
and inhabited by knights and princesses, none of whom
send packages. And this guy is an international
courier. He must be exhausted when he gets home at nights,
after reading all those thrilling exotic addresses.
But my latest box was exciting, because it had some
foreign editions of Jennifer Government
fresh off the presses from
The Spanish one was
especially cool, because I didn’t know it was being published
there. But, unless this is some kind of elaborate hoax, I guess it is.
Foreign editions usually come as a surprise to me, because the
chain of people required to pass along the news is longer than
two, which I’ve worked out tends to be the practical limit.
For example, I discovered that there’s a truly amazing
edition courtesy of site member Kalle, who posted
the details in the comments here. Kalle was even better than
my publisher would have been, supplying a translation
of the blurb:
Jennifer Staten is a hard and breathtakingly funny thriller.
The government agent Jennifer is struggling against baby-sitter
problems in the same time as she has too save the world from
aggressive marketing methods like torture, mass murder and
strategic nukes… A satire from the wonderful world of the
big companies, not too unlike from our own…
The 32-year old bestseller author Max Barry is probably the worst that has happened to the big companies since Michael Moore.
He is definitely the best that has happened too SF-satire since George Orwell.
They say “definitely,” so you know it’s true. Unlike the references to
torture and strategic nukes, which I’m pretty sure aren’t in any book
I ever wrote. That’s a pretty interesting way to entice readers: advertise
parts of it that don’t exist. I don’t know if that’s a sound way to
build repeat readers. I’m also curious about their apparent targeting
of people who are smart enough to know George Orwell, but gullible
enough to believe I’m the best writer in 50 years. And as for that cover…
well, at least that would seem to guarantee that very few people will
be getting to the end of Jennifer Staten only to wonder,
“Hey, where were
the tactical nukes?”
I also found out about a forthcoming Chinese version from the translator, a
guy called Wayne Fan. I (eventually) wrote back to thank him for letting
me know, and then, because I couldn’t resist, said:
I’ve always wanted my books to be translated by a Fan. (Boom boom.)
Wayne wrote back:
Thought you are too busy to return my Fan mails.
Nice. Should be a good edition, then.
Doubleday has nailed down my Company US book tour, so
if you’re interested in listening to me orally mangle my novel and
write amusing things on your copy, you’re in luck! Providing, of course,
you live in one of a very small number of cities:
- Los Angeles, CA
Wednesday January 25th, 2006
- San Francisco, CA
Thursday January 26th, 2006
- Seattle, WA
Saturday January 28th, 2006
- Portland, OR
Monday January 30th, 2006
- New York, NY
Wednesday February 1st, 2006
[ Tour Details Here ]
If you can’t make it, here’s the one-line summary: I’m taller and more Australian
than you expect.