In the publishing industry, the term “ARC” refers to an Advance Reader Copy. This is a book sent to reviewers prior to release so the book in question can hit the ground running with a slate of reviews already. Publishing companies have been doing this for a long time. Many moons ago, each one had a list of professional reviewers to whom they sent ARCs of anything they thought the reviewer would like and give a positive review to.
Usually, an ARC is a final draft. It may or may be not a final version. What’s the difference? Proofreading, primarily. There could be minor formatting problems. It may still have a hefty dose of typos. The prose itself should be in pretty good shape by this point, though there could be a few problem spots that need rewording. If it’s a print copy, it has text making it clear the book is an ARC or a Proof. An eARC also has some kind of indicator if it’s not a final version.
The Big 5 publishers still do this, of course. As a tactic, it works. Having the NY Times reviewer say something nice–or wretched–about a book grabs eyeballs and opens wallets. Those of us in the indie and small press wilderness do it, too. Except in our case, it’s generally not the NY Times reviewer whose hands we shove them into. Instead, we put them into the hands of fans, bloggers, and genre-specific minor celebrities. Sometimes, we can convince local or regional media folks to give it a go.
How, you might ask, does one get an ARC? There are a myriad of ways to do it. First, of course, you can become a professional book reviewer. Second, you can join a book review service. These organizations come in many sizes and shapes, from the big kahuna of NetGalley to smaller operations like The Masquerade Crew and Choosy Bookworm. Nearly every book-oriented site, from Goodreads to tiny blogs has some way to help authors generate reviews by providing free copies of their books.
Individual authors you love will often be happy to provide an ARC if you ask. It’s important to note that, unlike purchasing a book, receiving an ARC comes with the obligation to review it. There’s usually a time frame attached, because the author wants to have reviews in time for the launch.
So, why would you, a random person, want an ARC? To support an author whose work you love, or to help curate a genre you love.