ARCs vs Finished Books

There’s a wide-ranging conversation currently going on about ARCs, those advance reader copies publishers make available before the books are published. Something I wanted to point out as I don’t see much about it is that ARCs are “uncorrected galleys” meaning they are not the finished books. In fact they are often quite different from the finished books; I have editor and author friends who hate, hate, hate it when people see the ARCs as the final books as they fuss over their creations up to the last moment and want the published book to be what is considered, not those versions that came before.

I can totally see why. A couple of years ago I did a New York Times review of Lynne Rae Perkins’ YA novel, As Easy as Falling Off the Face of the Earth (a fantastic summer read, by the way) and feel I dodged a bullet by being able to see the published book just before turning in my copy. I’d not planned on mentioning the illustrations because the ARC only had a few, but when I saw the final book which had far more, I did. Thank goodness I was able to base my review on the finished book not the ARC.

In my experience, changes big and small are often made between the ARC being sent out and the publication of the final book. Recently I received an updated manuscript for a work to be published this fall that had already gone out as an ARC weeks before. Evidently enough changes were made to make this worth doing. And I’ve often heard others mention the differences they noticed between the ARC and the published book. Certainly, in my experience, award committees base their decisions on published books not ARCs. For good reason.

So, again,  just a reminder that the ARC is definitely NOT the book. Something to keep in mind when considering those hot-button topics of who gets them and what to do with them.


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8 responses to “ARCs vs Finished Books

  1. Robin Smith

    And that goes for picture books as well as novels. I know that picture book ARCs and F&Gs (those floppy, fallapart things!) are less common, but changes are still possible at this point. As a matter of fact, they get recalled by panicked publicists when something isn’t right. This just happened to me a few days ago. As a reviewer, I love looking for the problem, but as an illustrator or author, it would make me nuts knowing that there was something out there that was wrong.


    • Robin, I wondered about picture books, especially F&Gs, so thanks for letting us know. No question I’m going to be a wreck once the ARC or F&G for my book (not sure what it will be) comes out, A COMPLETE WRECK.


  2. My ARC has 3 crucial lines of missing dialogue in it (they are crucial to the mystery), and we made uncountable small changes that not only corrected errors but also made the language more beautiful. On top of that, the publisher has changed the cover since the ARC was printed, and the new image represents the story, the character, and the literary nature of the book so much better. In these ARC controversies I always cringe when I hear that some people use ARCs practically (or actually?) as library books, or as gifts to teens. I desperately want my ARCs to get pulped and recycled after they’ve served their review and collection-development purposes!


  3. Monica, your post could not have come at a better time for me! I am working on page proofs at this very moment and yet the ARCs are already published. I’ve been very distressed at this thought — it’s like I’ve stepped out on the front porch to get the newspaper in my pajamas and the door has blown shut behind me. I’m not very fond of having the world see me in my pjs! Your words have helped me relax just a bit. I am so grateful to you for tackling this topic.


    • Glad to know. I do hope some of those so focused on other aspects of the ARC issue come by to read yours and the other comments. I think they are completely unaware of how many authors feel this way.


  4. Monica,

    I’m so glad to read your post. I’ve seen ARCs advertised on eBay as “the real book” and as “1st Editions.”

    I have a question: do you think the essence of the book stays the same from the ARC to the actual published copy? In other words, does an ARC that feels like a star to you ever become unstarworthy in the published copy, or vice versa?


    • Good question. By and large if I love the ARC, I love the book as much if not more. In fact, off hand, I can’t recall a major change of heart between reading the ARC and the finished book for those that are all text. But when there is to be art and it isn’t all there or not as it is to be in the final book,e.g. illustrated nonfiction, graphic novels, and illustrated novels, there is a big difference for me. So when I come across an ARC for one of these with a lot of art-to-come notes and/or it is not in the full color of the finished book (as often is the case with gns), if I can I wait. I have definitely had times when I was “eh” about the ARC for one of these and then my opinion went way up when I read the complete and finished book. That wasn’t the case for the Perkins which I already loved, but it has occasionally happened with a book for which my response to the ARC was lukewarm.


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