The ARC of changes

I treat these Journals, in part, as a chance to share with readers a bit about the nature of the book world. I’ve become aware over the years that even people who are lifelong readers often know little about how books are produced, marketed, sold, how they get to them.

Sometimes in the next two weeks, advance reading copies of River of Stars will begin to go out, some in January, many more in February, on a timetable worked out by my various publishers – and ideally coordinated among them. (Monthly magazines get them earlier, for example, they need more time.)

When I was first published (back when books were written with quill pens and read by flickering candlelight), and even until the turn of the 21st century, pretty much, advance reading copies (or galleys) had a specific pair of functions.

They went out, a month or six weeks before publication, to the main review sites, in order that editors could assign them, and the reviewers would have time to read the the book and write their vivisections or rapturous encomiums, or whatever, to appear – ideally – the week the book went on sale. A classic frustration for publishers has always been a great review appearing in a major paper long after the book has appeared (and sometimes gone from the shelves of bookstores).

Another small batch of galleys would go to ‘major accounts’ – the buyers for important chains or stores, or the store managers, to start generating (ideally!) positive word of mouth about the title. A few might go to other writers or known opinion-shapers, for the possibility of a jacket blurb or press release quote.

There weren’t that many galleys prepared, and they were fairly rudimentary much of the time (they still are, in the UK, usually).

The blogosphere and online world in general has changed the game. Galleys (usually called ARCs now) are made in much greater numbers, often much more handsomely, and they go out earlier, and more widely. The underlying notion is that online world is where word of mouth is generated. A long piece by Laura Miller of Salon unpacked how cleverly this path was pursued for The Hunger Games when it was about to appear. http://www.salon.com/2012/03/18/the_making_of_a_blockbuster/

There are some interesting tensions linked to this. The tradition, the rule, for newspapers and magazines is that a review must not come out before the pubication date of a book. The idea is simple: publishers want someone to be able to go buy a book when they read a review, not wait three weeks – and even forget about it. But online reviewers don’t always observe this rule (there are exceptions) and – frankly – publishers don’t always want them to. Advance buzz has to be, well, advance.

This rankles book page editors. They are dutifully holding back their reviews and discussions till a book is on sale, but meanwhile the whole world (or the part of it with internet access) will have been reading about the title for a month or more.

There is no obvious right or wrong here, though I suppose I’d agree that holding the Washington Post or Toronto Globe & Mail to a pub date review starts to feel unfair if major online reviewers are way ahead. My sense, is that the important online sites tend to wait until close to pub date, while it is independent bloggers who like to get out early with a review.

Maybe it’ll become a measure of a blog’s transition to stature … that it begins to wait until closer to the book’s release. But the irony is, if publishers are excited or optimistic about a book, they may not mind if blog reviews surface early. There’s a complicated tension here.

In other words, as with so much of the book world today, we are in flux, people are still figuring out how to dance to this new music.

6 thoughts on “The ARC of changes

  1. I would offer that pushing out advance reviews helps with advance sales. I read a review and order the book if it is available for an advance order. Especially with Amazon and Kindle books. I can see a new book is coming out by an author I like, go pre-order and presto it appears on my Kindle in a couple months after I have forgotten that it is coming out.

    If the publisher does not put it in the que for advanced sales or is (insert adjective here) enough to believe that they should keep back the eBook version until after the hardback is published then I might very well forgot to buy the book until I go searching for more books to read every few months.

    BOB

  2. I would offer that pushing out advance reviews helps with advance sales. I read a review and order the book if it is available for an advance order. Especially with Amazon and Kindle books. I can see a new book is coming out by an author I like, go pre-order and presto it appears on my Kindle in a couple months after I have forgotten that it is coming out.

    If the publisher does not put it in the que for advanced sales or is (insert adjective here) enough to believe that they should keep back the eBook version until after the hardback is published then I might very well forgot to buy the book until I go searching for more books to read every few months.

    BOB

  3. Bob, yes, for sure, advance sales are a hope associated with early reviews/discussions of a forthcoming book. The timing and pricing of e-books is a much harder topic. Most houses have now surrendered the idea of treating them like a paperback – give the hardcover some space alone in the market, then let it fade away as paperbacks and e-books take over.

  4. Bob, yes, for sure, advance sales are a hope associated with early reviews/discussions of a forthcoming book. The timing and pricing of e-books is a much harder topic. Most houses have now surrendered the idea of treating them like a paperback – give the hardcover some space alone in the market, then let it fade away as paperbacks and e-books take over.

  5. In his previous post Mr. Kay cited a tendency towards grace and classiness as an exemplary way to be. Above he shows how it’s done.

    There are two key moments that, for me, exemplify his classiness. First is that he hits the salient point unerringly, but kindly. Nowadays this is rare. That does not make him any less correct.

    A blogger would feel the need to be first. It unburdens them from the need to stand out in the crowd. They are also being true to their nature – while attitudes are indeed in flux, and their reputations are thus evolving – as bloggers are stereotypically considered “rebels,” not bound by the “true journalist’s ethos.”

    Let me be clear. My opinion is not so gray, but I challenge anyone to dispute that a blogger who publishes their review early, against a publication house’s expressed desire, is acting in any way contrary to what is more or less expected of them. Even today.

    Which brings me to Mr. Kay’s second arrow nestled just as unneringly next to the first. Learning to dance to the music of a new age. The digital age. He is correct but by my lights he is being much too kind. My opinion carries much less weight so I feel more comfortable in freeing up my shoulders and swinging through with a long handle on my bat.

    I believe the publishing world’s struggle in adapting to the developing technology is a severe case of nestling safely in the reassuring arms of…..alright, it’s a case of “dancin’ with the one who brung ya” because you’re afraid to get in the middle of the piste and “shake ya groove thang.”

    That reticence leads to misguided attempts, often from authors who are desperate, and sometimes from those who should know better – “release the fans” indeed!

    George

  6. In his previous post Mr. Kay cited a tendency towards grace and classiness as an exemplary way to be. Above he shows how it’s done.

    There are two key moments that, for me, exemplify his classiness. First is that he hits the salient point unerringly, but kindly. Nowadays this is rare. That does not make him any less correct.

    A blogger would feel the need to be first. It unburdens them from the need to stand out in the crowd. They are also being true to their nature – while attitudes are indeed in flux, and their reputations are thus evolving – as bloggers are stereotypically considered “rebels,” not bound by the “true journalist’s ethos.”

    Let me be clear. My opinion is not so gray, but I challenge anyone to dispute that a blogger who publishes their review early, against a publication house’s expressed desire, is acting in any way contrary to what is more or less expected of them. Even today.

    Which brings me to Mr. Kay’s second arrow nestled just as unneringly next to the first. Learning to dance to the music of a new age. The digital age. He is correct but by my lights he is being much too kind. My opinion carries much less weight so I feel more comfortable in freeing up my shoulders and swinging through with a long handle on my bat.

    I believe the publishing world’s struggle in adapting to the developing technology is a severe case of nestling safely in the reassuring arms of…..alright, it’s a case of “dancin’ with the one who brung ya” because you’re afraid to get in the middle of the piste and “shake ya groove thang.”

    That reticence leads to misguided attempts, often from authors who are desperate, and sometimes from those who should know better – “release the fans” indeed!

    George

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