One of the strangest times in a writer’s life is when the ARCs go out into the world to seek early praise and attention. The “ARC” is book world shorthand for “Advance Reading Copy,” which translates to: an unedited, unfinished version of a book. Which translates to: one of my worst nightmares.
A little background: The ARC is sent out to reviewers, bloggers, magazines, newspapers, and libraries months before the book is officially released. The ARC can be sent out in the hundreds or the thousands. (The thousands!)
If the ARC does its job, it will inspire early reviews, blurbs for the back cover, advance orders, advance press, and a general sense of “buzz.” Inevitably, ARC copies will find their way to eBay so that the ARC collectors of the world (and there are many) can add to their collection.
Now, whatever your job or career, I want you to imagine just for a minute sending hundreds or thousands (thousands!) of copies of a very important project out before it is done. And not just any old very important project, but a project you have poured everything into for months and months and months and that is still in progress. You know what it will be and you know what you have to do to get it there, but before you can get it there, as you are still working, it is sent out for others to judge. This is your project’s first impression.
For all my complaining, it is truly thrilling when someone likes your book, based on this rough, unfinished version. (Because you know the book is only going to get better.) Especially when you have written a historical novel about a girl who spies and have tried to be as authentic as you can when building the world she spies in.
For instance, here are two blurbs for Becoming Clementine from a former spy and the founding curator of the CIA Museum (“the preeminent national archive for the collection, preservation, documentation and exhibition of intelligence artifacts, culture, and history.”). It’s like having your painting of Van Gogh endorsed by the artist himself as well as by the founding curator of the Louvre.
“Jennifer Niven has done it again! In Niven’s third adventure featuring this courageous female pilot, Velva Jean persuades the military to use her in flying intelligence agents to France, where she crash lands and is rescued by the Resistance. Her arrest by the Gestapo and her heroic triumph over the horrors of war (as well as her moving romance with a French agent) makes Becoming Clementine a riveting, ‘can’t put it down,’ must read.”
—Dr. Margaret S. Emanuelson, Veteran of OSS and author of Company of Spies
“A proud descendant of Revolutionary War espionage heroine Jane Black Thomas, author Jennifer Niven comes by her appetite and aptitude for spy fiction instinctively and naturally. In Velva Jean’s latest adventure, cloak-and-dagger buffs will recognize and appreciate Niven’s artful and knowing introduction of tradecraft—techniques used to carry out covert operations. Hiding local currency in shoulder pads. Miniature compasses designed to look like dress buttons. Lethal knives built into shoe and boot heels. All are actual examples of tradecraft utilized by covert agents staging missions behind the lines during World War II. As a collector of `spy gadgets,’ and as a fan and student of real-life female agents, I found Niven’s authentic application of tradecraft a hidden gift in the espionage thriller that is Becoming Clementine. Read it for the intriguing tale and the intriguing tradecraft.”
—Linda McCarthy, founding curator of the CIA Museum
That early praise is very affirming. Which makes me dislike the ARC process just a little bit less.