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ARCs for those who might not know are Advanced Review Copies (or some variation, same meaning, same letters). Pronounced arc, like in math, or ark, as in the boat. I used to think it was spelled out, A.R.C., but my experience in hearing people in the industry talk about them says otherwise. They’re paperback not-for-sale versions of the real thing, released several months (give or take some months) before the release date. They’re kind of like a dress rehearsal. You get to see how it all comes together–cover, layout, etc.–and it’s the author’s last chance to catch any typos or glaring errors before the real thing. It’s also the first time random strangers start getting copies to review. That in itself is exciting and crazy, but the reason I and other debut authors go nuts over this ARC stuff is this:
The ARC is the first time the book is REAL. It’s the first time you get to hold your book in real book form.
You can print out manuscript pages, you can read your file on the computer over and over, but it’s not the same as your book being book shaped. As in it has a cover, and you have to turn that cover to get to the first page, but before that first page is info about the publisher and all that good stuff, because it’s published. And then after that you can turn the page to the actual story, with real layout (I am so excited to see what my layout looks like), and you can keep turning the pages. You can stick a freaking bookmark in it. You can touch it and show it to people and they will instantly see that it’s real, that you’re not just a wannabe who’s never going to make it. And I’ve been wanting this so bad I could taste it for sixteen years.
There are a few key moments where this whole publishing thing feels really real. It felt real when I got the offer, when I signed the contract, when I got paid, when my book appeared on Amazon. But seeing my ARCs on my publisher’s shelf in that picture? That’s the first time my book has been on a book shelf, because it was never book shaped before. And I would be lying if I said that a year ago I knew that would happen, because I didn’t. You can read more about my “how I got pubbed” story here, but what it basically boils down to is The Rise of Renegade X was the best book I’d ever written, all my friends loved it, and we all knew this book was The One, the one that would get published, but it almost didn’t. Things got dark and bad and everything in my life was wrong, like the world was stuck on nightmare mode.
The universe, like a good novelist, pushed me and pushed me and took everything I cared about away until I broke. And then once I broke, it put it all back. It said here, you’ve passed the test, you can have what you wanted. (That is how you write a book, btw, in case you were wondering. I could go on for years talking about how to write a book, but that’s what I’d tell you if I had to give you the short version. Don’t give your character what they want, make them suffer until you’ve pushed them to the breaking point and they’ve had to make hard decisions and rethink who they are, and then maybe–maybe–they can get what they wanted.)
So the fact that sometime very soon I could be holding physical, tangible proof that my book is real is pretty big. Not just, “Wow, that’s pretty cool,” but I’m talking Life. Changing. Big. As in “a year ago you were a failure and this close to running away and joining the circus, if even the circus would have you” but now your book is book shaped and real and people can just go ahead and touch it if they’re not sure. It’s a physical manifestation that all the hard work and sacrifice and pain and torture weren’t for nothing, and that the happy times meant more than the bad ones after all.
It’s also pretty magical, if you think about it. Once upon a time, there were words in my head, and I wrote them down. Words in your head are probably the most intangible thing ever, and even typing them on the computer is still fairly intangible. You can’t touch it. It exists, sort of, but it’s like this limbo of existence. And yeah, you can print it out and it’s sort of real, but it’s not as real as being in a physical book shape, the shape the words were always meant to be in.