by Erin Mitchell
Galleys. ARCs. Advance copies. Whatever term you use (and, yes, I know they don't all mean the same thing), it boils down to this: letting people read your book before it's published.
After a website, this, my friends, is the single most valuable marketing tool at your disposal.
So why is making advance copies available such a problematic tactic? As is usually the case, there are a bunch of reasons...
Printing advance copies is expensive, and it's a spend whose ROI is difficult to directly measure for publishers. And that's before you even get to the expense of mailing them.
If you do electronic advance copies, even through a service like NetGalley or Edelweiss, chances are pretty good that the book will end up on one or more pirate sites. This is a big concern for some publishers, and one I will never understand because the simple reality is that anyone who would download a pirated book was never going to buy it to begin with.
I spend a fair bit of my professional time pitching books to people who are influential about them and talk about them in traditional and online media, asking them to read advance copies. Sometimes I'm successful in these pitches and sometimes not (hey, pobody's nerfect). Recently, though, I've found myself about to be in the enviable position of pitching a book everybody's going to want, which has given me a slightly different perspective on advance copies.
The book in question is Lawrence Block's new novel. We're announcing it next week, and I am incredibly lucky to have read it, and so I can promise you it's fantastic. As good as anything LB has written so far, and, my innate fangirlness aside, you know that's saying a lot.
For a number of excellent and logical reasons, LB is publishing this book himself. Which means I don't have the luxury of just sending off a list of people who should get ARCs to a publisher and having them magically appear. Which means I've had to think carefully about who needs to get them. Which has led me to wish that every book got the same consideration.
I realize that publishers don't have the staff to be able to devote this much time and energy to every single title. At the same time, with some titles, it really feels like too often they take a "throw enough shit, some of it sticks" approach, which is unfortunate. In the spirit of offering what I hope is a constructive suggestion, here's what I'd love to see happen...
I am fortunate to get quite a lot of free books. The UPS truck delivers treasures on a regular basis, and opening these packages is an enduring joy, even when the books contained therein are not my cuppa. Sometimes, though, I seek out a particular book for any one of a variety of reasons, and set about asking for a copy. And most of the time, I don't get it.
Why? More often than not it's because I'm not on the right list for that book. Yet it's a book I'm excited enough about to ask for, so should I be on said list? Not to sound arrogant, but yeah. I should.
Side note: When I get a free/advance copy of a book I enjoy, I make a point of purchasing at least one copy.
The problem is not (just) the people--who, in reality, are usually quite junior--approving and denying requests. The (bigger) problem is the technology. The aforementioned NetGalley and Edelweiss are great insofar as they go, but they don't really go far enough.
And the solution is as simple as a form.
Every book has a web presence. Most authors have websites. All publishers do. And there's no reason said sites can't have a place where someone can request a review copy of a book. Such forms are simple to implement and make managing requests far more efficient. All it takes is a human to keep an eye on and respond to incoming requests.
Or at least, I think this is the case.
When I updated LB's website, I included such a form. I did so primarily because I know that despite my best efforts, I will miss some people on The List (see above regarding pobody) and I want to give the a user-friendly way to raise their hands. Also, when an author has such a magnificent backlist as LB does, there are new people talking about older books all the time, and I want to do right by them.
The form is set to both email me when someone fills it in and keep all requests in a CSV-downloadable database. Which means keeping track of who's asked for and received what is simple and efficient.
I'll let you know how it goes.
Whew. This is a lot of text. If you've read this far, I hope I've convinced you that making free copies of your book readily available to people who influence readers' book purchases is important. And that it's not quite as difficult as it might seem.