Riot Headline 10 Exciting Books to Read this Summer

Advance Reader Copies: To Buy, or Not to Buy?

Jaime Herndon


Jaime Herndon finished her MFA in nonfiction writing at Columbia, after leaving a life of psychosocial oncology and maternal-child health work. She is a writer, editor, and book reviewer who drinks way too much coffee. She is a new-ish mom, so the coffee comes in extra handy. Twitter: @IvyTarHeelJaime

Student carrying books

One of the biggest perks of working at a bookstore is all of the advance reader copies, or ARCs, you get to read. Publishers send uncorrected proofs and ARCs to bookstores, reviewers, bloggers, etc, ahead of the actual publication date to generate reviews and to give the store a chance to see if they want to order it. It typically says on the front and back covers, in big bold letters: UNCORRECTED PROOF – NOT FOR SALE.

When I moved to New York for graduate school, my book reading was severely curtailed, and not just because of school demands. Books are expensive, even used paperbacks. So imagine my delight when I went to a certain notable bookstore here and found ARCs for $1.99 (now $2.99). Not old ARCs (though there were some), but ARCs of forthcoming books. The bookgeek in me was screaming, “Cheap books you can afford! Yay!” The writer in me was saying, “You know the author and publisher aren’t making any money when you buy this. Do you really want to do this?”

And there’s the dilemma. Stores — and people — are not supposed to sell ARCs. They are given in good faith. I’ve often been given ARCs by friends who work in the book industry or by authors for a book review, but I have never sold any. I have thrown them out (painful, but necessary), I have passed them on to domestic violence shelters, and I have sent them to fellow financially struggling friends, who then go on to review them on Goodreads.

I’m not going to lie. I miss the satisfaction of working in a bookstore and getting to read books before they hit the stores. Which is why I’m a bit addicted to ARCs. And as a graduate student about to graduate and searching for a job, I can’t spend $15 to $25 each time I want a book, and the library doesn’t always have what I’m looking for. So I go to said notable bookstore and buy some ARCs. I promote and review books I like on my blog, Facebook, and Goodreads. I tell bookseller friends about books they might want to order for the store. I buy my favorites when they are published. But in the end, I’ve paid for ARCs.

Do you buy ARCs? What should bookstores do with them? Is any publicity for a book good exposure?