The Worth of a Man (8/6/2010)

As I write this, there are two ARCs of The Thief-Taker’s Apprentice available up on eBay. One of them is signed, the other is unsigned. The difference in price is considerable. My thoughts on this are conflicted. Along the lines of:

Wow. That’s a lot of money for a book.

So my signature is worth that much? Coo.

To someone else.

Which bit of NOT FOR RESALE isn’t clear?

The book isn’t out for NEARLY THREE MONTHS yet.


I’ve signed exactly two ARCs of The Thief-Taker’s Apprentice. Signed them at Forbidden Planet. I’m really quite sure I haven’t signed any others, and, well, the fact that it’s got a date on it kind of dots the i’s and crosses the t’s quite nicely. So, Britobooks, now I know who you are. The question is, do I mind?

On one level yes, simply because ARCs state that they are NOT FOR RESALE and so selling them on e-bay is riding roughshod over the wishes of the publisher, who presumably supplied said ARC free and gratis and entirely at their own expense. And my publisher is my friend and if you upset my publicist, you upset me in a big sticking together all-on-the-same-team group-hugging kind of way.

But should I care? Exactly how does an author, lose out? So what if it’s on sale on eBay? Seriously, is there anyone so desperate to read The Thief-Taker’s Apprentice that they’re prepared to pay five times the recommended retail price just to get it three months early? No. So it’s going to go to a collector who’s only interested in it because it’s an expensive and a rarity. In fact, signing the ARC is a marginal win for me, isn’t it, since it pushes the price up and ensures that the book isn’t bought by a casual reader who might otherwise have bought a copy from a shop. Since that ARC would otherwise presumably have languished in a box and might now be read, leading to the (unlikely, perhaps, but still extant) possibility of enthusiasm, further book purchases, reviews, etc., strictly I think I should be pleased it’s on e-bay instead of in a box.

Well I’m not. Publication day is three months away, the ARC is in ‘fine unread condition’ (one therefore assumes no review will be forthcoming[2]). Britobooks, you have cost me nothing, but  your don’t-give-a-shit attitude is rude and makes my publicist sad. I wave my private parts at you, fart in your general direction and speak your name to my friends in Her Majesties Revenue and Customs. However…

Let’s suppose, for a moment, that Britobooks, whoever he/she is, had in fact read the ARC and had reviewed it (and is simply waiting, as asked, for a few days before publication before releasing their review into the wild) and had waited until after publication day[3]. The ARC has served its purpose and a surfeit of ARCs, after all, is a problem… So if it’s sold on e-bay, who exactly loses? If an ARC is read, reviewed and then sold after the first edition is in the shops, frankly why should either author or publisher care? [1]

(Progress report: Working on the last rewrite of OOTS. Can’t decide if it’s a disordered mess or the best thing I’ve ever written. Possibly both. Aiming to submit to my publisher around about the day of the Gemmells).

[1] My personal preference would be for spent ARCS to find their way to charity shops and be read several times more rather than languish on the shelves of a collector, but hey, you take the trouble to write a review, I’m not going to complain.

[2] Also, from a quick stock check of other signed proofs in their store, I can also reveal that I’m worth about a quarter of an Abercrombie. I find I can live with that.

[3] Late edit: It’s been pointed out to me that early release of ARCs into the wild like this then leads to the possibility of pre-release torrenting of the book, and that surely does hurt both author and publisher.

11 Responses to “The Worth of a Man (8/6/2010)”

  1. Mark says:

    I certainly agree with your gut reactions to this sort of thing, farts and private parts aside.

    There’s a theory, which I’m not sure I subscribe to, suggesting that when ARCs (and limited editions I suppose) do the round and become desirable items like this, it’s kind of good PR for the author. To be a collectable author is, apparently, no bad thing.

    But yeah, I’d rather the review copy was being read appropriately. They’re not cheap to produce.

  2. Adele / hagelrat says:

    I have two issues, one is this person presumably got something for free and is now profiting having not delivered their end of the deal.
    The second is, hello, 3 months before publication date?
    If you want to sell the book (as opposed to using it for a contest which still provides some publicity, or giving it to charity shops) then I really do think you ought to have provided a review, a well considered one. You are after all profitting from the deal and so should the publisher/author. I also think that selling ARC’s before the book is available in the shops is a pretty shitty way to behave frankly.
    If the book is out and the ARC has served it’s stated purpose, being read and reviewed then I have no issue with it entering the second hand market like any other book.
    I ranted at length on this a while ago.

  3. Stephen Deas says:

    Mark, Adele: In a way it’s flattering. Nevertheless, am considering an embargo on signing ARCs prior to publication day.

  4. Philip Athans says:

    The unwritten feeling among most of the people I know in the publishing biz is that a few copies of an ARC on eBay, especially for a new author, is a swell bit of guerilla marketing that has some potential to create positive buzz, and in ones and twos, poses no threat to actual sales. Why it’s unwritten is that a few here and there are good, but every single ARC up on eBay or at you local used book store could cannibalize real sales. That’s why, as a publishing professional, I did not write this, and so it has remained unwritten.

  5. Paul Graham Raven says:

    I’ve sold ARCs (but not signed ones – I keep those, because I’m a fanboy, and I’d not be able to ask for the autograph with clear conscience otherwise), but I never sell until well after the edition for which it is promotional material has been out, and I only sell ARCs that charity shops look at and say “I think this may be a bit obscure for us”. I used to donate to libraries, until I worked for libraries and found out what happens to most donated books (i.e. they get pulped, because the library doesn’t have the shelf space for obscure sf that won’t be read either.

    Selling before release date is a bit cheeky, and also a bit vampiric, as you suggest… but speaking as a fan and a small press publicist, i really can’t see any moral issue with selling an ARC once the finished book is out.

  6. Adele says:

    The alternative to an embargo is to only sign pre release if it is dedicated to a name. If niching else narrows the market but means genuine reviewer and fans can still get their signed copy to treasure. I only get books signed for contests which I am entirely open about or for my ‘precious’ shelf so there is no reason not to dedicate it to someone.

  7. Ian Sales says:

    An alternative to selling or donating ARCs would be to list them on a site like or Someone else could then read it – and you know they will, or they wouldn’t have swapped/mooched the book from you.

  8. Gavin says:

    I think its a rather fundamental betrayal of trust to sell before publishing and cynical to ask for a signed copy with the view of not reading it and just selling it. The biggest worry I think is a scanned copy appearing on the net before its published.

  9. Sharon says:

    It is a shame because this casts genuine collector’s in a bad light.
    Those who are lucky enough to recieve a proof to review and then want it signed will be reviewed as an Ebay seller!
    This parasite clearly has no interest in literature of any kind.
    Stephen there are genuine fans out there. I have a considerable collection of signed first editions which I would not dream of selling and yes I have read and reviewed them all!

  10. Stephen Deas says:

    Sharon, Adele: Personally I still don’t see any problem with selling & signing ARCs AFTER the book is in the shops. I have been conviced that selling them beforehand is deserving of some finger-wagging because of the possible piracy issue (althuogh I suspect on for authors with a bigger name than mine…)

  11. Paul Graham Raven says:

    I’m pretty much with Cory Doctorow on the matter of piracy (i.e. obscurity is a far greater enemy), but then I’m not a published author…

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