Confession time: I suck at self-promotion.
I’m not anti-self-promotion. In fact, in the last six months or so I’d say that just about every one of the books I’ve purchased has been a result of the self-promotional efforts of others. And if I read a book I really like, I will tweet it, talk about it, shove it into peoples’ hands. But talk about my own writing? Ah geez, let’s not go there…
Here is what I am good at. Somebody sez, “Hey, Jaye, do you think you can…?” If the idea intrigues me, I will figure out how to do it. (Then I won’t shut up about it. Heh.)
I just finished building an ARC for Lawrence Block’s soon-to-be released Hit Me, a Keller novel. I’d never made an ARC before, but I’m quite familiar with them. Back in the Dark Ages (the 1990s) I called them “green books.” Publishers would wrap galley proofs in plain covers (often institutional green and stamped NOT FOR RESALE) and send them out to reviewers and anyone else who might help promote the book. I have no idea how many publishers provide actual bound, printed ARCs these days. It’s very expensive. Even if an indie publisher is using print-on-demand, the cost of mailing out printed copies could eat up all the profits. The thing is, ARCs work. The big publishers knew it back in the old days and indie publishers know it now. So I’m not telling anybody anything new when I claim ARCs are a valuable tool.
What may be new is that some of you might not realize that you can make your own professional-looking, easily accessible ARCs. It doesn’t have to cost you anything except time and paying attention to details.
Professional looking is important. Very important. The reviewers on your list get a lot of submissions and have to pick and choose which books to read and review. That decision might come down to picking a book based on presentation. Yours might be the next Great American Novel, but if it looks amateurish or painful-on-the-eyes to read it might be passed over.
Also important is accessibility. The biggest trouble with any kind of electronic submission is you’re never quite sure what kind of device your writing will be read on. A Kindle, Nook, iPad, smart phone, tablet, computer–what? I suppose you could send an email to your list and ask people what their preferred reading format/platform is and then customize your submissions. Or send a .doc or .docx file and hope for the best.
Or make it very easy on yourself and your intended readers by creating a pdf file. For those who don’t know, the acronym stands for “Portable Document Format.” The keyword here is “Portable.” Even if you’ve never made a pdf file, I know you’ve read them. You’ve probably read them on not just your computer, but on your ereader, smart phone, iPad, tablet or magic toaster oven. What you may not know is that many word processing/desktop publishing programs can generate a pdf file. If your particular word processor doesn’t have that capability, you can use Adobe Acrobat Reader (free download) to generate a pdf. The true beauty of the pdf is that every reviewer on your emailing list will be able to access and read your file.
Here’s how the ARC looks when I ran it through MobiPocket and downloaded it onto my Kindle:
I used Scrivener to build and generate the pdf file for this ARC. Scrivener is NOT a desktop publishing program, so it’s not the first choice if one were laying out a for-print book. It does, however, make excellent pdf files and is user-friendly.
Some tips for making your ARC:
- Clean Source File. I keep hammering home the necessity of creating clean source files. If you have a clean source file, all you need to do is copy it and paste it into the program of choice and you are ready to format.
- Turn on the “show hidden characters” feature. You want to track what you are doing so as to maintain consistency throughout. (In many programs the “Show” feature is usually in the main menu bar and is indicated by an icon with a pilcrow–paragraph mark. If you are using Scrivener, go to FORMAT >OPTIONS >SHOW INVISIBLES)
- Wide margins, large font. Your goal is not to be all fancy-pants, it’s to make your ARC attractive and easy to read. Since paper-printing costs aren’t part of the equation, take advantage of it. Don’t annoy reviewers with a teeny-tiny font and pinstripe margins.
- Use “printer’s” punctuation. Make sure you use proper em and en dashes, joined ellipses, right and left single and double quote marks (as opposed to straight quotes), and special characters with grave and acute marks or umlauts as necessary. This detail alone will elevate your ARC above the crowd.
That’s pretty much it. Pay attention to details and put in the time, and you’ve just made one of the best promotional tools any writer can ask for.