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Professional Review Question

I am the first to admit I am not a professional reviewer. I didn’t go to school or take a class on it. I’m definitely an outsider to the publishing industry. What I know about it comes from reading blogs and talking to editors and authors so I generally try to not question publicity matters.

For example, a few months ago I was sent an uncorrected advanced proof. It was bound and printed on regular paper and about the size of a trade paperback. I actually don’t mind these bound, un fancy copies because I figure they are cheaper to produce and I don’t feel guilty about tossing them when I am done with a review (as I try to buy the books that I want to keep and re-read in e form).

This particular uncorrected advanced proof looked like a line edited manuscript. It had strike throughs and suggested rewrites and proofing marks. I was unable to read the book. I’ve mocked up a page from Jane Eyre to give you an example of what it looked like as I don’t want to embarrass the author or the publishing house.

When I decided the book was unreadable, I kind of laughed about it, shared it with the other DA folks and let it go. It didn’t bother me as it wasn’t a book that I was really anticipating and because I am grateful for getting free books. It wasn’t a big enough deal to me to rock the boat and lodge a complaint. What would be the purpose, I asked myself.

I mentioned it casually on the blog one day and it prompted a personal email from an author indicating that some publishing houses from the editors to the publicists have done this in the past. I wondered if it was standard and whether professional reviewers should overlook these issues in reading the book and ultimately reviewing it.

I’m debating whether to bring this up to the publicity department. I don’t want to be considered a complainer because, as I said previously, it is a privilege to receive ARCs. I understand that. However, if it is in the authors’ best interest to have these issues brought to the attention of a publicity department, I would do so. What’s your opinion on this? Should reviewers overlook the state of the ARC? Should publicity be contacted? Is it even a big deal?

Jane Litte is the founder of Dear Author, a lawyer, and a lover of pencil skirts. She spends her downtime reading romances and writing about them. Her TBR pile is much larger than the one shown in the picture and not as pretty. You can reach Jane by email at jane @ dearauthor dot com

48 Comments

  1. Kimber An
    Jul 17, 2008 @ 10:26:48

    As an unprofessional blogging book reviewer, I couldn’t care less what condition the ARC is in. I can read just about anything. Strike-throughs and editorial marks don’t slow me down. I want to read the story bad enough that imperfections are irrelevent. In fact, I consider it rather flattering, because the author, publicist, publisher or whoever was in such a hurry to have me review the book that they couldn’t wait until it was in perfect or near-perfect condition to send it. Maybe that’s not the case, but it’s my fantasy and I’ll have it if I want to.

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  2. Angela James
    Jul 17, 2008 @ 10:36:23

    You know, we send out our review copies and note that they’re uncorrected ARCs. They’re not marked up, just uncorrected ARCs. And we’ve still gotten reviews that say “I don’t know if they took care of this in line edits but this typo bothered me…”

    I think that sending out marked up ARCs only draws attention to the process, rather than letting the reviewer sink into the story. In a way, the process is supposed to be invisible, so the reader/reviewer isn’t thinking about how the book is written or the stages it goes through, but the story itself.

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  3. Jaci Burton
    Jul 17, 2008 @ 10:40:05

    If that was my book and it was sent for review that way, I’d cringe.
    A mss that’s been copyedited already and is close to finished as possible, cleaned up, in galley format with no marks, then yes. Something marked up like that? No. Hell no. I’d be embarrassed.

    My opinion only, but I would hope my publishers are submitting something cleaner than that. Yikes.

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  4. Amy Wolff Sorter
    Jul 17, 2008 @ 10:43:25

    I have to agree with Angela. When I send out printed ARCs, I take care to mention that they are not finals. However, in my experience, reviewers tend to notice the typos and will comment on it. When I reviewed, I noticed typos, too — and I would find that mark-ups and scratch outs would take away from the book itself. As a result, I like to send out as clean a product as possible for a reviewer to look at.

    I’m with you though — it’s hard to complain when they’re being nice enough to send you a free copy. But keep in mind that if it’s still being marked up, it probably shouldn’t be sent out for review. It would be like introducing a new fashion design, but still having pins or threads showing on the dress or pants or whatever. No fashion designer would do that, so why would a publishing house do it? It’s messy and it doesn’t look too good for the publishing house.

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  5. Mireya
    Jul 17, 2008 @ 10:49:04

    I’d write to the author first. Why? because I think that the author should be aware of the way in which his/her ARCs are being sent and that he/she should discuss this with her editor. Sometimes marked ARCs are sent by accident, other times it is standard procedure. Either way, the author should be aware of it.

    As a review site owner, I do instruct the editing team and the reviewers on how to handle unproofed ARCs. They are asked to please not take into consideration obvious editing mistakes while evaluating a book, if the version of the book states it is an unproofed ARC. I have to say that I’ve received unproofed ARCs that were so horrendous that the reviewer just couldn’t overlook the mistakes. We try to find someone else for the book, and if we get a second reviewer with the same issue, the book doesn’t get a review.

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  6. Nonnie
    Jul 17, 2008 @ 10:51:12

    I’m a “publishing specialist” by trade, and I personally agree with Angela that sending out the books with the strike-throughs, etc would keep pulling the reader out of the story. If you have to jump around the page just to read the book, I think frustration will set in, and what may very well be an A review could turn into a C review or worse. An ARC in a less marked up format may allow the reader to keep the connection to the characters and offer a more pleasing experience, and a better review.

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  7. MeezerGrrrl
    Jul 17, 2008 @ 10:52:51

    I would bring it to the attention of the publicity department that sent you the ARC.

    You should very explicitly mention that you are grateful to participate in advanced reader/review programs. However, in order for the publishing house to get any benefit out of sending an ARC out to the review community (whether professional, or not), they are doing the book and author a dis-service by sending what, from your example, is a marked-up, copy-edited manuscript in the pre-composition stage.

    Not only is this unprofessional, but the copyediting is too much of a distraction to the reviewer. I know this because I use to try to read what I was paging back in my book comp. days. Minor copyedits weren’t all that distracting, but severe tearsheet surgery, involving multiple pieces of paper – a deleted paragraph marked “replace with ‘A’” – are enough to make any reader (and compositor) nuts, let alone someone trying to review the actual content.

    Further, I’m with Jaci… I’d be seriously embarrassed if someone sent out my marked-up MS calling it an ARC.

    I don’t think it’s ungrateful to let the company know they are doing themselves wrong with this approach – I would hope that they would be grateful for the feedback.

    Good luck with this…

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  8. Catherine
    Jul 17, 2008 @ 11:04:08

    (I’m only a reader, not an author) I don’t think that the condition of the ARC should be overlooked. I mean, typos sure, because it isn’t the final product, but not markings all over the book.

    I know that the books are free and you look at them as a privilege, but at the same time they’re not giving it to you because they’re your friend. (then again maybe you have a lot of author friends that like to do this?) They’re giving it to you in the hopes that you will love it and pimp the book. They know you have influence and that people are drawn in by your reviews.

    Having said that, I really think that it would be in their best interest to give you a product that you will actually be willing to read. If there were markings all over my book and I had to strain to try and figure out what I was reading I would just stop. That’s not very good for the author that you might have loved, you know?

    Also, about the professional reviewer thing, I like you guys because you aren’t that kind of reviewer. I want your gut feeling about a book because you feel like sharing it, not because you were paid to. I don’t know, I just never feel like that kind of review is genuine.

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  9. Keishon
    Jul 17, 2008 @ 11:24:57

    From a reader standpoint – I couldn’t read anything like that. I completely agree with Angela – readers don’t need to see the process, we just want to read the story. I see nothing wrong with asking for a cleaner copy for something you especially would want to read and I can’t imagine why they wouldn’t comply. Otherwise, if it was something that you didn’t want to read, I’d toss it to the side and make no mention of it.

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  10. Kathryn S
    Jul 17, 2008 @ 11:34:08

    Huh. I don’t think I could read that either.

    And I don’t care if a reviewer is ‘professional’. I care about content of the review. And common courtesy. Say whatever you want about my books — just leave me alone. lol. That’s my philosophy!

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  11. Stephanie
    Jul 17, 2008 @ 11:35:26

    If I got one of those (I get ARCs occasionally, and I’m not a ‘professional’ either), I’d definitely let someone know. Question: are the editing marks firsthand (they edited that particular copy with a pen), or are they photocopied in?

    I think it should be made known to publishers that this is not acceptable. I mean, it’s like laws and sausages: we don’t want to know how they’re made. To me, it looks terribly unprofessional, like wandering around with your slip showing. I don’t know why the publishing house would like to present themselves like that.

    Of course, I get so few ARCs that I have a horrific fear that I’ll never get another one, so I might not comment. But still.

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  12. Bev(BB)
    Jul 17, 2008 @ 11:43:43

    To me, the sample in the article is still in manuscript form not ARC, I don’t care what they’re calling it. ARC is “advance reader copy” and should be ready to read for all intents and purposes, just maybe having some , i.e. very few, technical glitches still hidden there. Even in a so-called perfect final edit there are going to be problems that are not caught so no one expects there not to be in an ARC, but scribblings on a document intentionally sent to reviewers? What in the world is the purpose of that?

    Except to make them stop reading, that is.

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  13. Julia Justiss
    Jul 17, 2008 @ 11:45:32

    I was frankly surprised that any publicity department would send out what is essentially a line edit as an ARC. Why go to the trouble to bind something that is extremely preliminary, looks sloppy and is filled with distracting commentary? I would tend to believe someone fouled up and sent out the wrong thing.

    Most writers (and publishers) want the ARC to look as much as possible like a real book, so as not to distract the reader from the story. Perhaps that’s one of the reasons there are so often complaints about the types, etc–the ARC looks “real” enough that readers forget it’s not a totally finished product.

    I would definitely contact the publicity department about the “mistake” you were sent and say you would love to have clean ARC copies in future. If the publisher doesn’t want to send out readable copies I’d contact the author. I know I’d rather send my own than have something as unprofessional and sloppy as what you’ve described sent out with my name on it.

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  14. Kimberly Nee
    Jul 17, 2008 @ 12:07:39

    Those marks all over the pages would yank me right out of the story each time I came across one. It would be as irritating as anything to try to read around them, not to mention losing my place and having to go back and re-read what I’d just read. After a while, I’d probably just want to toss it aside and forget all about it.

    I would also be embarrassed if it was one of my books sent out looking like that. It just doesn’t look professional, sending out copy with scribbles and notes all over it. It should be as clean as possible before it goes anywhere, IMHO.

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  15. Susan G
    Jul 17, 2008 @ 12:11:32

    I think it would be in the author’s and the publisher’s best interests for you to send a message to that publicity department, Jane. I know you would phrase it just as tactfully as you did above. And putting aside whether it’s okay or not to send out an ARC with so many proof markings this agency needs to know that an essential part of it’s campaign failed. You couldn’t read the story so it just dead ended right there.

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  16. Karen Scott
    Jul 17, 2008 @ 12:14:05

    I don’t care that it’s an ARC, it’s unprofessional to send that kind of crap out.

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  17. Wendy
    Jul 17, 2008 @ 12:16:28

    I’ve been getting review copies for over 15 years and I’ve never received anything like that.

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  18. azteclady
    Jul 17, 2008 @ 12:27:46

    Everyone before me said pretty much what I would say, but I do have a question…

    Aren’t ARCs supposed to be close to printing stage? I mean, by the time you (publisher) get ready to print or send out ARCs, shouldn’t most of the content editing be done already? Typos, the occasional transposed word–those I can understand. But content?

    How can anyone write a review when the content is subject to change?

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  19. Jackie
    Jul 17, 2008 @ 12:30:42

    I’ve been told by one reviewer that one of my ARCs had been bound backward (the demon writer in me thought that was amusing), and one that I had received was missing the acknowledgments page. Production glitches happen; these didn’t bother me.

    But I would absolutely freak out if the ARCs had actual copyedits marked up in them. That’s a huge oversight. I don’t see how it’s possible for a reviewer to overlook such sloppy presentation.

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  20. Leah
    Jul 17, 2008 @ 12:34:59

    I hope to be published one day, and I would really hate for an uncorrected ARC of my book to reach a reviewer. As another poster stated, a comma out of place here or there, or an extra line or spacing problems, fine, but what if I still had to cut some paragraphs, or correct a timeline issue, or make sure a character’s name and appearance were consistent? That would be really embarassing! Plus, why are they sending it out so fast? Why not wait to get the corrections done? This would make me worry that they are in such a hurry that the book that finally gets to the shelves would also be in poor shape, no matter what corrections I made. If I were the author of the book you received, I would want to know. I might not be able to do much about it, but at least I would know what was going on with my work.

    I would also like to second Kathryn S. I like the reviews on DA and other sites because they are not “professional.” I get the feeling, sometimes, with the NYT or other publications that the reviewers are writing with one eye on the book and another on their own work, hoping to be lauded for their great insight or scholarship. I don’t always want some philosophical or sociological essay, I just wanna know if you liked the book or not, and why.

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  21. Keri M
    Jul 17, 2008 @ 12:45:05

    F. Paul Wilson on his website encourages people to let him know about any typos that come up while reading one of his ARCs. I don’t receive any ARCs, but have bought them used once or twice. I didn’t buy them to read though, these were signed by the author and I bought them for that. I bought the paperback later when it came out. Keri

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  22. Jane
    Jul 17, 2008 @ 12:47:00

    I can clear up some issues.

    1. The line edits in the example appeared on nearly every page.

    2. I don’t really understand the difference between the ARC and the final copy. I’ve heard some authors make the argument that the ARC is not the finished book and that’s one reason that they don’t want them sold. And there is a notation inside each review copy that any quotes should be checked against the finished copy. I’m not sure what the difference is between the ARC and the final copy as I would likely need a redlined comparison of the two to notice the differences, although I could be wrong.

    3. Most arcs are sent to reviewers 3-4 months in advance with each publicity department handling it a little differently than the others. I think we get Harlequin ARCs nearly 5-6 months in advance. Reviewers also get early finished copies. These are the copies that are actually sold in the bookstores and get sent 2-4 weeks in advance of the sale date. It’s nearly impossible for us here to read, review a finished copy in time for its release so we do ask for the advance copies, if possible. Some other reviewers, particularly the print ones like RT and PW, have even longer “lead” times and need the advanced copies sooner than others.

    4. I do have a few author friends but I don’t get manuscripts from them either. Sometimes I’ll get word documents for review and if the commenting feature is on, I’ll turn it off.

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  23. B
    Jul 17, 2008 @ 13:09:25

    I spent a brief stint in Amazon’s Vine program, in which I received a couple of ARCs. We were told we were supposed to review for any technical problems, because they’re not the finished product, etc. etc.

    And I had to wonder, why not? First of all, the only way we know for sure whether that’s really true is to get a good look at the book when it comes out, which we’re not about to do if we didn’t like said book. Second, my problems were generally things that, well, if they were actually going to be changed before the book came out, I shouldn’t have been given the book to read at all, because too much would have to be changed from what I read.

    One of the ARCs I got was utterly bloated. Not only were sentences way too long and convoluted, the paragraphs were enormous. Many of them took up 2-3 pages, even. It was the sort of thing that should have been cut down by at least half before a publisher even agreed to publish it, let alone before it actually hit the shelves. That it was bought at all boggled my mind.

    The very worst part of it all? The man who wrote it used to be an editor for Time magazine.

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  24. Sarah
    Jul 17, 2008 @ 13:09:47

    Let me add another voice to the chorus suggesting this be brought up to the publicity dept and/or author – whoever submitted the ARC. I’ve edited a book review magazine for nine years and also review “professionally” (if getting a small check per review qualifies me), but I haven’t gotten ARCs in that form before. If I did, I’d think it was a mistake and ask if I was sent the right thing.

    I occasionally receive bound manuscripts that haven’t been typeset, but I’ve never received anything with proofreading marks and corrections handwritten in. I feel badly for the author in question. As an author, I wouldn’t want my work to be judged by reviewers in that form.

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  25. Sunita
    Jul 17, 2008 @ 13:09:59

    In academic publishing we have three stages: unedited manuscript that goes to the editor and is sent out for peer review; accepted ms., which is line edited by a copyeditor and sent back to the author, who then goes through and agrees/disagrees with the line edits; galleys, which are the proofs of the finished book, which the author reads for the last chance to catch typos, etc. You’re not supposed to make substantive changes to the galleys because they’re very expensive to redo, so they should be an acceptable substitute for the finished product.

    It sounds as if you got Stage 2, whereas it makes the most sense to send out Stage 3. I see Stage 3 at conferences when the publisher wants to make the book available for perusal but copies are not usually distributed (except maybe for blurbing purposes).

    Shorter version: you should definitely let the publisher know that this version is sufficiently difficult to read that you aren’t able to review it. You might want to tell them that you’d be happy to accept galleys. I’d let the author know in a private email too, just in case she’s unaware. Like others, I’d be horrified if my copyedited ms. went to someone for a serious review.

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  26. Fallen Angel Jean
    Jul 17, 2008 @ 13:14:41

    I’ve been reviewing (not professionally, as I’ve never been paid for it) for about four years now, and I’ve never seen an ARC complete with the editing annotations. Usually ARCs are okay and easy enought to read. However, I have seen manuscripts that needed editing in the worst way. In fact, I have sent one or two manuscripts back to the publisher because each book needed so much editing it was essentially unreadable.

    So, I guess my answer to your question is, the reviewer should overlook the state of the ARC if they know it’s an unedited ARC, unless it’s totally unreadable. However, if its the copy that is being sold to readers, I think the publisher should be notified, since it is the publisher who is in a position to do something about it, i.e., withdraw the book until additional editing is completed, totally ignore the criticism and go on selling it, or whatever.

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  27. Bev(BB)
    Jul 17, 2008 @ 13:23:22

    2. I don't really understand the difference between the ARC and the final copy. I've heard some authors make the argument that the ARC is not the finished book and that's one reason that they don't want them sold. And there is a notation inside each review copy that any quotes should be checked against the finished copy. I'm not sure what the difference is between the ARC and the final copy as I would likely need a redlined comparison of the two to notice the differences, although I could be wrong.

    I honestly don’t understand the distinction nowadays with the advent of computers and more or less electronic pre-publishing processes either. I would speculate however that the original purpose of an Advance Reading Copy was for the initial print run to check out whether the copy actually had been typeset correctly. And since they were going to be firing up the presses to do a certain number anyway, they just went ahead did enough to do a publicity blitz, i.e. several thousand copies depending upon the author’s level.

    Still, the assumption would always be that by this point the product would be generally ready for production, i.e. post-final-editing. Anything found once printers contacted ink had to be major enough to change. We are not talking about minor changes like typos on a single page. Incorrectly arranged galleys, missing pages, large chunks of text out of order. Those would be major. Those have to be found. They would still have be found electronically now.

    But they are not marked up in redline on individual pages, either.

    So, I’d have to assume that the ARC still serves the same function, more or less, as the print run before the press take off on the actual printing of the book. The more or less last chance to check for those major defects in how the actual pages are laid out. Could there be typos? Sure, but that’s not what anyone should be worried about by the time the book gets to the ARC I’m thinking because otherwise they haven’t been doing their jobs.

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  28. Sherry Thomas
    Jul 17, 2008 @ 13:27:28

    The differences between ARC and final copy often are subtle–in my case, the ARCs are only made after the line edits and copy edits are done. But sometimes subtle differences can be significant.

    For my upcoming book, I caught a research error during the very last stage, i.e., I was sent page proofs that are identical to the pages in the ARC, and asked to make any final corrections. The research error would go unnoticed by 99.98% of readers. But it was an error–an error of omission at least–that would have blown my entire set-up.

    I corrected it. I don’t know that were you to read the final version you’d even notice, but now it’s correct. :-)

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  29. Chicklet
    Jul 17, 2008 @ 13:34:47

    Like many others, I think you need to contact the publisher’s publicity department and ask whether you were sent the correct copy. There is no way a publisher can expect a reviewer to read that copy; having to move text around with your eyes in order to complete a sentence is way beyond the purview of the reader, whether or not the reader is a “professional” reviewer.

    I hope this was bound and mailed out to reviewers by accident, because I don’t want to know which publisher actually thinks ARCs should look like this. I can guarantee that when I was working in bookstores (indies, where the staff made a lot of recommendations to customers), if we had received an ARC like this, none of us on staff would have read it.

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  30. Karen Templeton
    Jul 17, 2008 @ 14:52:58

    As a rule, Harlequin sends authors what they call “author alteration” pages — still in Courier type, with numbered lines — to catch those last, pesky goofs before the book goes to print. For category books, at least, they don’t go galleys, which are supposed to be close to how the book will look in print. The AA pages are what goes to, say, the RT reviewers. In either case, the books haven’t had their final polish, but are considered good enough for review, since no major changes will be made at that stage (ostensibly). And waiting to send out a more finished product puts the book in jeopardy of being too late for timely reviews.

    But as an author, I’m with everyone else who said they’re appalled at the idea of having a marked-up copy edit sent out for review. Very poor form, IMO.

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  31. GrowlyCub
    Jul 17, 2008 @ 14:59:07

    As one of the non-paid (does that make me an ‘un’professional? :) reviewers and as a reader I feel very strongly about sloppy editing in the finished product.

    I’ve read ARCs that were in the early stages (nothing like reading ‘gateau’ instead of ‘goatee’ to throw you out of a story; I kept seeing a pound cake attached to the poor guy’s face), but never one that was as bad as what you showed above.

    I feel it doesn’t do the author and publisher any favors to put out a half- or less-finished product for review.

    Purely from a curiosity standpoint I would find looking at such an ARC interesting as a way to understand the process involved, but not if I were expected to read and write a review for said ARC. Matter of fact, I’d find it kind of insulting if a publisher sent something like that to me and thought it reasonable for me to slog through it.

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  32. Leah Hultenschmidt
    Jul 17, 2008 @ 16:07:53

    Like Sherry was saying, typically the ARCs are made from the initial typesetting–after the manuscript has been copyedited, but before the author and a proofreader have had a chance to go through to catch any last-minute typos or inconsistencies. It’s pretty rare to find any major, noticeable changes between the ARC and the final book, but they do happen.

    Jane, I think you’re absolutely fine in talking to the publicity department to let them know those kind of ARCs just don’t work for you. Believe me, they *want* you to read the book. I had a blogger contact me once to say he preferred to wait for the finished book rather than get galley pages because they weren’t as comfortable to read, and he didn’t need books more than a month in advance anyway. I was happy to accommodate him because it ended up being less work on our end. Everyone was happy. I’m sure this publisher would prefer to know that you’re not reading this book because otherwise they’ll just keep sending them to you, and that ends up being a waste for everyone.

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  33. fshk
    Jul 17, 2008 @ 16:44:16

    I’m a textbook editor, so grain of salt and all that because it’s not quite the same, but when I was handling reviews, we occasionally sent out page proofs with corrections marked. Not line edits, though, but big things so that we wouldn’t get 15 reviews that all said, “There’s art missing on page 17.” Sending out an ARC with line edits on every page seems unprofessional to me. I used to work at a major house and never saw ARCs go out with corrections marked.

    That “these are uncorrected proofs” disclaimer on ARCs is mostly so the publisher doesn’t look stupid in the event there are big errors that haven’t been caught yet. ARCs all get reviewed in-house, too, to make sure everything looks correct.

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  34. Jessa Slade
    Jul 17, 2008 @ 16:57:28

    As a newbie author, I’d definitely want only my cleanest work going out to a reviewer. Okay, next-to-last cleanest work, since I realize ARCs have to be in hand ASAP. When I think of some of the comments I or my CPs have left in our work… Awk. BS dump. Post-coital horror here? Shudder. Definitely not for public consumption. I’ve never heard of this in any of my writing groups before, so thanks for bringing it up.

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  35. K. Z. Snow
    Jul 17, 2008 @ 16:57:36

    Definitely, Jane, let the publicist know (and how big a dumbass can that person be?)

    Reviewers — who are readers, after all — need clean copy, as devoid of distractions as possible, to determine whether or not a novel “works” for them. I’d be going out of my effing mind trying to read past the editor’s marks; why should you be any different?

    It simply isn’t fair to either the author or the reviewer!

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  36. Mireya
    Jul 17, 2008 @ 17:30:42

    For whatever it’s worth, in the four years that I’ve been dealing with queries for reviews, only twice I received ARCs like the one you described, Jane, and I got the strong feeling that those were mistakes. I can’t remember if they were actually reviewed or not. I know I didn’t review either because I am easily distracted, so I wouldn’t have been able to undertake the task.

    I got the feeling they had been sent by mistake because I had received ARCs from those publishers before and they were never like that. The majority of the print ARCs I receive are obviously ARCs, but they are cleanly put together and bound. That particular ARC you got may have been a mistake, Jane, an “isolated” incident so to speak.

    Oh and to clarify, me is not a professional nor is my newsletter a professional one. I don’t know how this would be for a true “professional” reviewer.

    I should have posted all this in my original reply.

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  37. Gennita Low
    Jul 17, 2008 @ 17:41:39

    An ARC is usually a bound galley, the final stage before mass market printing. I have seen author-alteration pages bound together as ARCs but they are usually clean, without any major line edits. Every author gets a galley of the book and are given a few days to a week to reread it to make sure there aren’t any typos and mistakes.

    By this stage, the major rewrites and the line edited versions are already done, and there should be very few typos. Publishers strongly discourage major changes in a galley because it’s very expensive. In fact, the author is told to limit them to 20 changes or it might come out of her pocket. Most mid-list authors have to send out their own ARCs and we usually use our galleys to make copies at Kinkos. I sometimes pay a little extra to get them spiral-bound. It doesn’t look like you received a galley, Jane.

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  38. Jeaniene Frost
    Jul 17, 2008 @ 18:50:43

    “I don't really understand the difference between the ARC and the final copy.”

    As others have stated, ARC’s are the bound page proofs (also called galleys). An author is given those identical pages, loose, a couple months before release for a final inspection of the manuscript. Often times, little changes are made on the page proofs that get updated for the final book version that hits the shelves. Usually not big changes, but things can differ a bit from the final product. Example: in the ARC for One Foot in the Grave, Cat dyes her hair blond. In the version of OFITG on the shelves, however, she’s a brunette. Also, there are about 50 less adverbs in the final printed copy versus the ARC (because that’s all they’d let me delete! :).

    As an author, I would be aghast if my pre-page proof, marked-up manuscript was ever sent to a reviewer. My vote is yes, do tell the publicity department that you would only like to receive post-edited material. It’ll be better for you to read, and the author would probably thank you if he/she could.

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  39. Jennybrat
    Jul 17, 2008 @ 20:32:30

    I know ARCs are uncorrected but have never heard of any that have mark ups in them. I think in itself, it gives an interesting insight into the editing process but can be disruptive to a reviewer.

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  40. Jessica Faust
    Jul 18, 2008 @ 03:42:05

    I think I’m one of the few who is completely appalled and freaked out by this.

    There are typically four stages in the editing process, from a publisher’s perspective. The first stage comes soon after the author turns in her finished manuscript. That stage is revisions. The author works with her editor on heavy changes to the book–this could mean not much of anything or massive rewrites depending on the editor. This stage will uncover and fix plot problems, character problems, etc.

    The second stage is line edits. This is also done by the editor. The editor goes through the manuscript line by line and looks for things like inconsisencies, poor word choice, dialogue that might seem stiff, awkward or not fitting that character or time period, etc.

    The third stage is copy edits. Copy edits are still done (still often by hand) on the author’s original manuscript pages. The copy editor looks for things like inconsistencies, typos, grammar errors, etc.

    Once the author has reviewed, fixed or corrected the errors from the copy editor and line edits the book goes to the printer. The printer obviously takes the design given to them by the publisher and makes sample book pages. These are often call page proofs. They are printed on regular 8.5×11 paper, but designed to give you an idea of what the book will look like. It is the page proofs that are made into ARCs, bound galleys and essentially sent to reviewers.

    Because the printer is often taking the material from the manuscript to make into the pages there are sometimes printer errors which is why the publisher notes that changes might be made. The author gets one last look at the book through the page proofs. This is the time to make sure all the copyedits and line edits were made, there are no typos and to fix any small errors. Big revision time is long over at this point.

    It sounds like in this case you got the copyedited manuscript which is, in my mind, unacceptable. How can you review a book that might yet have major strike-outs or rewritten pieces. I think the publisher should definitely be alerted. This is not a book I think you can properly review since you don’t even know if what you received resembles the final product.

    If anything, I would return the ARC you received explain why you couldn’t possibly review it in this format and ask that they send you a final book when they have one.

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  41. Vicki H
    Jul 18, 2008 @ 06:16:24

    Dear authors,

    What do I know, I’m just a scientist and romance junkie. I do a lot of writing of grant proposals working collaboratively with other scientists. When we do so we always “track changes”, a nifty enough feature of MS Word. HOWEVER when an edited document comes to me, I always have to do something (most of the time that is to accept all changes) in order to make the editing go away. It’s too many lines and I lose track of the science by paying too much attention to the lines.

    If I am not working or reading I also quilt, mostly using a rotary cutter and mat. However, the mat can sometimes prove more of a distraction than an asset if I am trying to do something a little more “arty” and less geometric. I remember vividly taking a class from a famous quilter and instructor who told me that in those circumstances she flips the mat over to its blank side, otherwise she had to deal with “Too many lines”.

    I think the same principle applies here to the ARCs to which you refer here. Maybe not everyone will have a problem reading them with the editing marks still in place, but some people are bound to get distracted. If I want something to get a good review, I am going to make sure that it goes out in as perfect a condition as possible, no typos, nothing more to distract the reader/reviewer than it is in my power to resolve.

    Although receiving and reading ARCs are indeed priveleges, it should also be the responsibility of the publisher to make sure that the ARC is ready to receive as good a review as possible.

    But then again, what do I know, I’m just a scientist. Sorry for the ramble.

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  42. Susanna Kearsley
    Jul 18, 2008 @ 10:02:42

    It sounds like in this case you got the copyedited manuscript which is, in my mind, unacceptable.

    Hi Jane. I’m with Jessica.

    What you call ARCs I’ve always known as ‘bound proofs’. As Jessica’s already said, once all the editing work has been done on a manuscript, it’s sent to the printer, who sets it in proof. The page proofs are then returned to my publisher, and my publisher sends one copy on to me so I can check for errors.

    Reading proof, by the way, is nothing like reading for pleasure, because you really do have to read each and every word and punctuation mark to make sure you haven’t missed anything. (In my last book, for example, the printer had accidentally inverted all the single quotes used for abbreviated words like ’tis, and all of those had to be individually caught and corrected.) It usually takes me a week to read proof pages.

    Any ‘printer’s errors’ that I find are free to change. Any ‘author’s alterations’ that I make are free up to a certain percentage of the overall text, though at this stage it’s really not on to change more than a word or so, and most authors resist the urge.

    When I’m done, I return the page proofs to my publisher, and their proof-reader incorporates my corrections into his or her own proof copy, which is then returned to the printer, who sets the final copy.

    Bound proofs, or ARCs, are made from the page proofs because it’s assumed that there won’t be too many mistakes to distract a reader at that point, and no major changes left to come.

    And not to make you feel guilty for tossing your ARCs, but they actually cost MORE to make than a finished book, which is why publishers generally only do them for those books they plan to push. I always count myself lucky if a publisher makes bound proofs of my books.

    But what you got was NOT a bound proof. I’m not sure what it was. To be honest, I’ve never even seen one of my copyedited manuscripts look like that. (Copyeditors usually just go crazy on my commas, but I’ve never had one strike out whole lines of my text!)

    So yes, you’re right to think it’s strange.

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  43. Robin
    Jul 18, 2008 @ 11:09:57

    I think I'm one of the few who is completely appalled and freaked out by this.

    If I were an author, I’d be totally appalled that my work could conceivably be sent to a reviewer in that shape.

    As it is, when we review an ARC, we have to keep in mind that it’s still unfinished, that changes could occur, and that (hopefully) line errors will be caught and corrected. Some of those errors are already pretty distracting to me, as a reader, when they come in such a neatly presented ARC. But not usually enough to ruin my reading experience.

    If the purpose of sending out ARCs is to facilitate reviews, then it seems to me that a copy like the one Jane received is already hobbling the reviewer by delivering a text that is *overtly* distracting to read, let alone unreliable as a simulation of the final book. I think copies like that do a disservice to the author and the publisher, because they shift the burden to the reviewer to be able to see and read past all those marks in order to give the book a fair read. And even reviewers like Jane, who make every effort to give a book a fair shake, may be negatively affected by a copy like that, even if they do not register it consciously. It’s a risk I’m surprised that publishers would feel comfortable taking.

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  44. Jane
    Jul 18, 2008 @ 11:12:03

    Just an update. I emailed both the author and the publicity department and everyone was very nice about the whole thing. Thanks for the input, guys.

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  45. Anon76
    Jul 18, 2008 @ 11:22:51

    Yep, I’m with Susanna and Jessica.

    As I always understood it, an ARC is created at the point when all the content and line edits have been done to the best of everyone’s ability, and yet one more word by word pass-through is necessary. Why? To catch all those pesky typos and other flubs that sometimes sneak in when going through the other edit processes.

    The ARC is as close to the final copy as you can get, and necessary to allow time for reviews.

    What you received? I don’t know what you’d call that. LOL

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  46. Jessica Barksdale Inclan
    Jul 18, 2008 @ 17:34:25

    Most of my ARCs have really looked just like the finished novel–save most of the covers. About three have had “almost” covers on them with the photos or picutres that would eventually be on the cover. But the rest have been pink or green or yellow, title, name, pub info, etc. Ugly. But never has one had any markings in it. Just the disclaimer on the front that states this is an ARC.

    I find the state of the ARC you received to be very curious, and I would have issues reading such an ARC. I don’t know if I’d really be able to get into the story, focusing instead on the comments.

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  47. RfP
    Jul 18, 2008 @ 18:10:54

    Being able to read it is only one issue. Some readers might feel they could follow the markup or ignore it enough to get into the story. However, it’s still inappropriate to review a far-from-finished novel as if it were final.

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  48. Willaful
    Sep 07, 2013 @ 16:26:52

    @Jane: That’s so funny, I was just asking about that on twitter right before I found this. When I used to review before ebooks, sometimes pubs would send a printed version after the ARC. But I don’t know how ebook readers are expected to check, since they don’t send final copies of those. Maybe it’s just a hangover from print.

    One of the very first times I got a book from NetGalley, I found a factual error in it, and contacted the editor. I was told it was too late to do anything about it because the book was already done. So I’m not sure how much changing really goes on.

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