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Free Books and What to Do With Them

image by Jerry Paffendorf [1]
image by Jerry Paffendorf

The free book is a delightful and welcome creature. Even more delightful is the Advance Review Copy or ARC, also called a galley. These are, as the name suggests, advance copies of books – available months before the finished book goes on sale, intended for the purpose of review. Book bloggers can often get their hands on ARCs by emailing the publicity department at a publishing house, requesting them through a system like Edelweiss or NetGalley, winning them on Goodreads, or by attending trade shows such as BookExpo America.

But there’s an etiquette around ARCs, and like so many things in the publishing industry, it isn’t always clearly spelled out in writing. So here are some key do’s and don’ts to keep in mind when you find yourself in possession of an ARC.

DO: write an online review. This is the entire intent of ARCs, and just keeping a free book for yourself is not the point. Free is fun, sure, but publishers produce them for a reason, and the reason is not to shore up a leaning coffee table or give you something to read at the pool that you don’t mind damaging with water and smears of sunscreen. All you’re obligated to do – just one thing – is to write a review. Which brings us to…

DON’T: feel obligated to write a glowing review just because the book was free. Sure, that’s what we’d all prefer (speaking as an author here!), but it’s not a requirement. The requirement is for an honest review, not a positive one. If you don’t like the book, you’re within your rights to say so – just be sure you explain why. Professional reviewers don’t fulfill their obligations with a one-star “HATED IT” on Amazon, nor does any responsible reviewer, paid or unpaid.

DO: time your review as the publisher asks, if they ask. Some might request immediate reviews, some might ask you to time it to the release of the book. If their instructions are simple to follow, you might as well follow them. Right? And if you use pictures of the book on social media, bonus points! They’ll often ask for those too.

DON’T: review the book six months ahead of release if the publisher asks for reviews at release time. Same principle.

DO: share the ARC with someone else you think will like it. Once you’ve read the ARC and written your review, you’ve fulfilled your part of the unwritten contract. Pat yourself on the back! If you liked it, pick a friend or family member who shares your taste, and pass it along. Even better, give it to your favorite bookseller or librarian, and ask them to stock the book. (More bonus points!)

DON’T: sell the ARC online, either before or after the book comes out. As an author, it frustrates me to see this, and I’m far from the only one. Selling the ARC puts money in the seller’s pocket, and none in the author’s or the publisher’s. It isn’t exactly illegal, but it sure isn’t nice.

Q: Have you read an ARC? Do you have any other do’s or don’ts to add?

About Jael McHenry [2]

Jael McHenry is the debut author of The Kitchen Daughter [3] (Simon & Schuster/Gallery Books, April 12, 2011). Her work has appeared in publications such as the North American Review, Indiana Review, and the Graduate Review at American University, where she earned her MFA in Creative Writing. You can read more about Jael and her book at jaelmchenry.com [4] or follow her on Twitter at @jaelmchenry.