why the advanced reader's copy (ARC) campaign failed

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Small Publishers Association of North America

Issue 2/2007

I Think I Know the Answer to Why Those Book Buyers Didn’t Respond to My ARC Campaign

If you’ve read my 05/2006 Newsletter, you know that I had 100 advance reader’s copy (ARC) of The Devil’s Bastard printed, delusional with the belief that between the time I received the ARC and subsequently published the book, I would have hundred’s of pre-orders in hand and found a distributor or two. Those two things did not happen, and I worried perhaps that there truly was something wrong with my book. Feedback from readers suggested otherwise, still, I had that concern. In October, two months after I had the published version of The Devil’s Bastard in hand, I believe I uncovered the truth about the failure of the ARC ploy: The bookstore owners/buyers don’t read them, at least not the ones from newbies. I suspect they don’t even keep up with them. My cover, though adequate for what it was—and ARC—would not draw the attention of a reader. In addition, the book buyers are probably inundated with new books. Exacerbating the bookstore owner’s situation, only one or two people are usually involved with the ownership/management of independent book stores. They don’t have a lot of time. I reached this conclusion on my own through my persistent dealing with one bookstore owner.

The bookstore is in Natchez, which is the setting for The Devil’s Bastard. I had visited this store and talked to the owner in January 2006. The owner was nice, polite, and seemed receptive to looking at my “non-existent” book. I took his contact information and left my own (I had made business cards by that time). When I got my ARCs in April, I sent him a copy. Weeks past, I heard nothing. [Remember now, this is very early in my publishing career—I’m still pretty green about how things work.] Finally, I call him. He didn’t have the book. If he ever received it, he couldn’t recall it. I waited until August and sent him the “real” copy. I called to ensure he got it. He did. He hadn’t had time to look at it. Call next week. I did. This weekend, I’ll look at it. Call next week. I did. Not yet.

I wanted so much to be invited to a book signing during the fall pilgrimage in October; I just really thought my book would be such a success. I gave him a couple of weeks. Nope. Finally, late in the week before the pilgrimage was to start, I called and I could hear it in his voice—he’d looked at my book. His wife was going to look at it that weekend. I called Monday and he said send six books. It was too late for the fall pilgrimage, and he didn’t mention it, but by then I was so excited to have my book on sale at an independent bookstore in Natchez I wasn’t worried about it. The pilgrimage happens two times a year, spring and fall. There will be plenty of other opportunities. Looking back, it’s obvious the owner simply had not had time to look at the book. Otherwise he’d have told me right off the bat—“Ms. Russell, it’s just not right for us”—and I’d have left him alone. This bookstore has placed several orders since, so my historical Gothic suspense set in a place that would become Mississippi is selling in Natchez.

The owner of a Hattiesburg bookstore validated my findings this past December, when she invited me to her big, annual book fair. I had left my book with her weeks prior to her call. I had hoped she’d consider carrying it in her store. I’d called once to see if she’d had a chance to look at it. She hadn’t. Then out of the blue, she called me, said she’d looked at the book, liked what she saw, and would I be interested in participating in her annual “bookfair.” Would I ever! She now carries my book in her store—she’s even sold a couple.

So, pick your targets and nag ’em into submission (shoot, in the case of the Hattiesburg store, I didn’t even have to nag a whole lot). My gut is the same is true for all those little independents. Consider you and your book from their point of view: those store owners don’t know you from Adam, they are inundated with new books (most from established publishers) and other local authors, and they are short of time and manpower. Stick with ’em. If you’ve got a good book, they’ll eventually get around to looking at it for you, if for no other reason than to get you out of their hair.

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