Thursday, March 27, 2014


(NOTE: Well if I feel tomorrow, like I feel today/I’m gonna pack my suitcase, and make my getaway/Lord I’m troubled, I’m all worried in mind/And I’m never vein’ satisfied, and I just can’t keep from cryin’)

Book publishing has a private vocabulary ready to confuse the neophyte and reprehensible non-reader. Typeface, gutter margin, price point, leading, co-op advertising, remainders, spine width, deckle-edged, laid finish, perfect binding, case bound, signature, and blad are tossed around editorial offices like so many Nerf footballs during Super Bowl season. One term welcomed by bookseller and book reviewer alike is “arc,” or advance review copy, also known as bound galleys or prepublication copy. Receiving an arc means you can effectively shill for the forthcoming book without demanding payment.
Before a book is printed, the manuscript goes through developmental editing (not a lot of fun), copyediting (writer embarrassment over simple grammatical and spelling errors makes this less than fun), and proofreading (what is fun?). This is given to the designer for his or her expertise in using the right typeface and page layout. An arc is made of the book just before the last, final, all-right-I’ve-had-it pass at proofreading.
Arcs usually appear within three months of the book’s planned release so booksellers have time to decide how many copies to order and the many kinds of media can reserve space for reviews. They arrive from the publisher’s marketing and publicity department or the tender, caring hands of the local sales representative, and are stacked tall at trade shows like Book Expo America. Ads on book-centered web sites also offer arcs to regular readers through contests. The index might be missing, the table of contents scattered with double zeros instead of appropriate page numbers, and anything else sure to be in the finished book but not quite ready is marked with “TK,” meaning “to come,” or, in the case of photographs and other graphics, marked “FPO,” or “for position only.” Even with the TK and FPO, the arc is very close to what a generous, kind, and altruistic book buyer can expect.
Early quotes from writers possessing high name recognition shout about the book’s virtues on the front and back cover, and the opening pages. These are by friends of the writer or editor, and based on an earlier version of the manuscript before becoming the bound pages ready to read. Some are sincere, others not so, much like the information about marketing and publicity. Yeah, right, a first-time writer on an eighteen-city tour? Tell me another bedtime story.
Arcs are never for sale. They are free as nature intended, following the example of Pierre-Joseph Proudhon’s dictum, “Property is theft.” Arcs are traded and argued over like regular books without having to bother with the original purchaser. The only arcs with value in the antiquarian trade are those graced with the writer’s signature. A bookstore selling unsigned arcs will soon go out of business, as it should.
Posting a review of an arc for any online site is a favor to the writer and publisher. Reviews are the reader taking dictation as the book speaks to him or her. Unless a book is wildly inaccurate and you have a professional’s knowledge of the subject, writing a review to tear down a book is the dumbest expenditure of time outside of alphabetizing your DVD collection by the key grip’s name.
Reviews may try to be objective, but all reviews, especially book reviews, are subjective. What other readers want to know is how the book affected you so they can make an informed decision before buying. Read critically, praise where praise is due, and let the potential reader know of any problems you encountered with the book. Honesty and passion, including an articulate argument in favor or against, make for the best reviews. The finished review should be devoid of rancor and full of the joy coming from encountering a new book.
Hershel Budwort, 65, was arrested early Tuesday morning for soliciting first-time writers to sit on their haunches and read The Dog Walked Down the Street: An Outspoken Guide for Writers Who Want to Publish (Cypress House, $13.95). Charged with operating a retail outlet without a license, bad skin, and failure to remit, Budwort claimed that he had collected state and city tax and was “keeping the money until the government came and got me.” Two city police officers brought Budwort into custody without the use of handcuffs or truncheons. “Heck,” said Officer Tentrick, “This is the best book for new writers to learn the dark secrets of writing and publishing. I mean, really, no one should break the law and buy a copy from a sleazy street dealer. Registered dispensaries known as independent bookstores are in every state of the union. I logged on to for my nearest store and met a good-looking clerk who is also a fan of the book. We have a coffee date next Thursday.” This could be you. A cheer makes a loud noise.

NEXT: Ear Cropping for Smaller Breeds

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