The Advance Reader Copy (ARC) is a miracle. If you love to read, working at a (indie or buying office of a chain) bookstore is, logically, the best place to work. But perhaps not for the reason you’d think – being surrounded by books day in and out is fantastic, to be sure. The biggest perk, however, is the free books. The books that publishers never expect to see a profit on. The ARCs.

Sometimes called galley copies, the ARC is an important marketing tool for publishers. About six months prior to the publication date, ARCs are produced and distributed via multiple venues – trade shows (attended by buyers), sales reps (who take the ARCs to the buying offices), and to the media for review. Setting the media aside (as that’s not my area of expertise), the buyers who are given or pick up galleys generally do not expect to read them. It’s their responsibility to read the ones that interest them and hand off the ones that don’t.

That’s where the store/buying staff come in. There are usually so many ARCs floating around a buying office that one’s reading supply is potentially limitless. The reading does not come without responsibility, however. One of the goals from the publisher’s perspective is to win advocates for the book. And there’s no better advocate than the bookseller. Hand-selling a certain title to customers can make a tremendous difference in the overall sales of a book. The other goal of the publisher is to get bigger buys for books where galleys have been printed. For example, if the buyer enjoys or hears that a colleague enjoyed reading a forthcoming title, they may be encouraged to increase their buy quantity. The two goals work hand in hand – if the buyer takes in a large quantity, it’s because they are confident in the hand-sale-ability of that title.

There are so many facets of the publishing world that make this a complicated industry. ARCs make the inherent complications totally worth it. Obviously, there’s a sense of “specialness” associated with being allowed (nay, requested) to read a book before it’s even been published. And it isn’t like you’re reading a stapled crappy paper copy of the book. Galleys look almost identical to a finished book – with the exception of the back cover copy (which usually contains marketing, publicity and detailed title information as well as the ‘blurbs’ that usually appear there) and somewhere on the front it usually says “Galley” or “Advance Reader Copy — not for resale.” So you’ve got a nice looking book that you didn’t have to pay for, and if the publisher was willing to shell out funds to print galleys, you can expect them to be the best books in the upcoming season’s selection. So you can expect a quality read. And you can add to the feeling of importance by giving the book a good or a bad review to the buyer making the ordering decisions.

And if you work in a really major store or for a big chain, you have built-in Christmas presents that you didn’t have to pay for! In my experience, this is an acceptable gift for family and close friends — who are appreciative of what they can get, especially if they are even vaguely familiar with how very little one makes working in this industry. It’s these little perks that keep us coming back to work (in some instances… in others – like my new situation – there are so many perks you can’t keep up with them) for so little compensation.

Really the only downside I can see to this process can be illustrated using my own three years of experience in the industry: Five Full Bookshelves. Makes moving a SERIOUS pain.