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.

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Something happened between middle school and high school. Sure, sure puberty and all that. But something else, something far more mysterious: I started to be creeped out by libraries.

I’m not opposed to the idea of the library – it’s nice that people can have access to books without having to spend money to obtain that access. I don’t begrudge peeps from checking out all the library books they want. I just really don’t want to have much to do with it. Today, however, I got my very first library card in at least fifteen years. And I am still just as grossed out as ever by the whole thing.

Why do I have a problem with reading “used” books? This makes me feel like 1) a germaphobe (which I am NOT) or 2) a snob (which I probably am). In chatting with Dear Friend about my library book phobia, my  main word choice was “gross.” I explained that I don’t like touching books other people have touched, unless I know the other people. She asked me what I thought was living on these books. My response: “gross things.” She replied by saying that most “germs” have died by the time I get my hands on it. To which I replied, “gross. dead germs.” This is logical to me, but only made Dear Friend laugh at my absurdity. Reasonably, she questioned my motive in getting a library card to begin with. Honestly, I felt I had no choice. As I have literally $0 to allocate to book purchases and the book is a recommendation of my father’s called Financial Peace (Dave Ramsey), I figured it would show a little maturity to do the library thing.

Gross.

It took me awhile to find the book in question because I’m just not used to the Dewey Decimal System. I find it absurd that non-fiction books are categorized by subject and then by author but the subjects aren’t labeled on the shelves! Take a note from ANY bookstore, libraries! Luckily “Finance” wasn’t a difficult subject to locate on my own (once I found the astoundingly large “Faith” section) but come on. How hard is it to print and laminate a sheet of paper that has a list of categories on it, cut it up, and tape it to the shelves? I don’t feel like waiting in line for use of a computer just to check where in this place a book might be. Make it easier, please (and not just for me, a rather erratic library user – for everyone else!)!

But mostly I feel like I need to go buy a box of medical gloves before I read this newly checked out book. I don’t like the plastic covering. I don’t like greasy fingerprints. I don’t like unrecognizable stains on the pages. I don’t like being distracted from the reading experience by anything, and most definitely not by my fingers sticking to the cover. Ick.

In the end, I’m willing to do it to save a buck. But I think the world would benefit from some sort of book cleaning dip or something. Like dry cleaning! Or something! Other than sticky book covers! Please!

Oh, dear reader, do not assume this joyful event came without struggle; it did not. There were countless unexpected delays, parts that needed to be ordered and then did not arrive when expected, messages that were not relayed as requested, and internet connections that failed to cooperate. All told, there were three trips to and from Birmingham in pursuit of the blessed reunion. All monetary proceeds from eighteen hours of house cleanings went to secure my precious laptop in a repaired condition. Dear reader, it has been a two-and-a-half week-long nightmare, each lonely moment separating me from my beloved computer complete misery.

But I am a survivor. I cut corners by checking only one of my email addresses regularly when I borrowed Hubby’s computer for an hour each day. I declined to visit my favorite industry blogs. I was almost thankful for the Olympics for interrupting regularly scheduled television so I could safely avoid Hulu. I sated my need for TV by watching my half-hour soap opera as frequently as I could.

Instead of my usual computer-driven life, I found other occupations for my time. I wrote blog entries by hand (Oh, the dedication!), I read eleven books (six of which are decidedly children’s books, two were non-fiction – though one of them was less than 100 pages long – and at least one was quite demanding and took several days to read), I cleaned the main living areas in my home four times. I made fourteen lunches for Hubby. I lost six pounds. I washed ten loads of laundry and three loads of dishes. I went grocery shopping four times, two of which were to get items I forgot in preparation for cake baking. It snowed twice. I hand painted (okay, spray painted mostly) my dining room table and chairs (which look awesome, by the way!). I survived life without constant access to Facebook, Outlook, Pandora, AIM and Hulu, as difficult as it seemed at the time.

This afternoon has had a subtle glow about it. I caught up with Nathan, Eric, and Le R (ie, my favorite publishing bloggers). I had surprisingly little television to entertain myself with, but that was okay because I listened to all of the “teen pop” I could possibly handle on Pandora. I chatted on AIM. I stalked on Facebook. I pressed the addictive “send/receive” button in my Outlook about ten thousand times. I sent and responded to emails. I listened to a commencement speech given by J.K. Rowling at Harvard in 2008 (highly recommended). I composed this blog entry without hand writing a single word. I edited my resume and wrote a cover letter (though I admit I did this out of necessity rather than for the enjoyment of it).

Tomorrow, though, I hope to strike a balance. In my two-and-a-half weeks of laptop withdrawal, I’ve come to realize that perhaps I, when left to my own devices, spend rather more time than I should staring at a computer screen. Quite a lot can be accomplished when one’s lap isn’t being constantly occupied by a computer. So tomorrow, when the glow of the reunion has faded, I plan to do things that require moving. Don’t get me wrong, much can be done with the use of my beloved laptop as well, but I’ve become sort of accustomed to a clean house and proper conversations with people. Here’s to the attempt, at least!

It’s that time of night* when I’ve usually settled in with my book (currently: re-reading Alias Grace – Margaret Atwood) but I’ve been writing for three hours (by hand, still) and though I’ve tired of the story I was telling, I still have some primal need to keep moving pencil across page.

For some reason I feel compelled to discuss the fact that I’ve created an actual, physical reading list for  my unborn children. I first composed this list at fifteen and  have since added even more fantastic  works of fiction. I wonder now if it’s an oversight to include only fictional works? I can think of maybe  two non-fiction books (outside of text books) I read growing up, and another handful of character building books my Dad assigned me. Maybe I’ll just let my Mom and Dad make a list of  such books and they can attempt to enforce the reading of said books. Fiction is generally much more agreeable.

Not to mention that once my kiddos have read a few of my selections, they’ll come to trust my excellent taste. I’ve  even considered the fact that my son(s) will be opposed on principle to reading The Little Princess so I’ve added (where necessary) some “boy” selections. Only where the ones I’d prefer them to read are just unbearably girly. They’ll grow out of this, of course, so by the time Pride and Prejudice shows up on the list, they don’t get to opt out.

Mostly I’ve included books  I managed to avoid in English classes over the years (can you believe I never had to read Pride and Prejudice as an English major??) but books (or rather plays, in these instances) like Hamlet and Oedipus Rex were quite influential in my education as a person and a writer that they found their way onto the list as well.

I have such strong and vivid memories of being read to as a child, I can’t deny my children the same experience. I’ve included most of the  books that were read to me, like The Chronicles of Narnia and A Wrinkle in Time. I can remember being amazed by these books, completely absorbed in the characters and action, never being satisfied when whichever parent happened to be reading to me at the time got tired and quit for the night. I couldn’t wait until I could read and thought it would be beyond awesome if I could create something equally magical.

Not that I want (or expect) my children to be struck by the writer bug (it’s a poor living, so far), but I do know my life would be so much smaller without  books and I want a big, vivid, book-filled life  for my kids. And because I’ve put so much forethought into it, I know they’ll be reading quality literature instead of Tiger Beat and Harry Potter (JUST KIDDING! All seven volumes feature prominently on the list!).

* Note: This was written around 11:30 pm, not at 3:30 in the afternoon as the time stamp might suggest 🙂