article on marketing with advance review copies (ARC)

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Small Publishers Association of North America

Issue 5/2006

Marketing With Advance Review Copies, A Follow-Up

When I finally accepted the fact that I had to come up with an Advanced Review Copy (ARC) of my book in order to obtain pre-publication reviews, my plan was to print around twenty-five copiesóthat was the minimum number my digital printer of choice (Fidlar Doubleday) would allow. Subsequent to that, I decided to use the ARC as a marketing ploy and decided it would be a great idea to send it out to every independent bookstore willing to look at it across the South. At the same time, I figured I could submit that same ARC to potential distributors in hopes of acquiring a distributor between the time I submitted my book to reviewers and the time my final book returned from the offset printer. Finally, I planned to hand the book out to those fellow authors, who would agree to proof it for me. Manuscripts not only look different on the computer screen than the way they look on the printed page but also printed pages look different bound than they do on a loose 8 Ĺ by 11 inch piece of paper. What Iím saying is, you catch different things in different formats. I donít know why, but I think most writers and laymen will agree with me on that.

That's neither here nor there. My point is that for various reasons my planned 25 digital ARCs swelled to 100 copies. Most of those I will end up eating and hereís why:

Let me begin with the reason that proved hardest for me to swallow, that being my rejection by a distributor who specializes in working with small, independent presses. This particular distributor is one of those that offers full service book development, editing, manufacturing, distribution, and marketing. With all the services it offers, itís understandable that it takes only 5% of pre-constructed books for distribution. I had already written, professionally edited, typeset, and digitally printed my book (the ARC). I knew my chances for acceptance into this particular program were slim, but acceptance would give me an interface with Ingram. Since it cost me only the time to put the application package together and postage, I felt the outlay was worth the effort.

I was prepared for rejection. What I wasnít ready for were the reasons given for the rejection.

The criteria used for acceptance of a book into this program were: pricing, interior layout, cover design, content, overall quality, editing, and sales potential.

Of those seven areas, my book did not meet the distributorís standards in four: interior layout, content, editing, and sales potential.

The book is a 6 X 9 trade paperback, typeset in cochin and done in Quark. Personally, Iím proud of the appearance of the typeset page.

Content? The story is a historical romance set in Mississippi. Romance is the biggest seller of all genre fiction. Granted New York publishers arenít anxiously looking for new historical writers, nor are they looking for novels set in Mississippi or anywhere in North America period, preferring Scottish-, Irish-, and English-set historicals. I am aware of these factors, which is part of the reason I am publishing what I love on my own. I can only assume, since no specifics were provided me, these were also considerations in the distributorís assessment of the sales potential of my book.

Lastly is the fault the distributor found with my editing. Iím not sure if the concern deals with story editing, copyediting or both. The ARC is an uncorrected proof and a number of typos were present in that particular printing of the book (all corrected now, I hope). I had the book professionally edited for the fine points of grammar and usage. Regarding the story itself, I am confident the characters and plot are well developed and the historical setting accurately researched. The story line works. The distributor may not have liked my voice or writing style. There is nothing to be done there. Thatís how I tell my tale.

Of those criteria, it is the Ďeditingí fault that haunts me most. Whenever I gear up now to contact prospective buyers and offer them an ARC, I think about those typos and am hesitant to send out the book. That is ridiculous, I know. Iím not even sure that is the reason the book didnít meet the distributorís ďeditingĒ standard. The fact that the book is an uncorrected proof goes without saying, which I do say anyway with a big stamp on the title page. Still, the reluctance on my part is there. If I were getting any feedback from the prospective buyers to whom Iíve sent my ARCs, my attitude would be different, but Iím not. I realize their lack of response might support the distributorís concernsódonít think I havenít considered thatóbut Iím not convinced. I am approaching independent bookstores, some of which are romance friendly, many of which are owned by women. I canít believe that every one of those potential buyers see no hope for my book. I simply feel, lacking a distributor, the method I chose is not working.

What I now believe to be the best course of action is the one I chose last winter, then changed. That is to approach independent bookstores across the South, only approach them directly. I am going to hand carry my finished book to the owner of each store and put it in his/her hands. No phone calls, no mailingsóat least initially, because I donít believe that is enough to get the job done. Iím going to meet the owner/book buyer face to face (just like any bookseller does). I believe I need to give a number of books away if I hope to sell through these stores.

In the meantime, I have printed a bunch of ARCs, most of which I will never use. Whatís frustrating, looking back, is that I was giving them away, but because they were done on a digital press, they were more expensive than the finished book will be. All in all a wasteóbut a good lesson-learned for my future reference and for yours.

My suggestion: Print up the number of ARCs you feel you will need for pre-pub reviews and for your proof readers (ARCs are excellent for proofing), then try to get your book in for final printing so that it will be delivered at least a month prior to its official publication date. Then throw a bunch of those babies in the back of your car, with your contact information, and start visiting bookstores. I intend to start closest to home and move outward. I also plan to follow up with those stores, because I still have a feeling theyíre not going to be quick to get back in touch. Iím telling myself itís the nature of the independent book buyer and not my book.

I hope so, anyway!

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