Self Publishing Basics: How to Create Your ARC Cover

POSTED ON Sep 21, 2009

Joel Friedlander

Written by Joel Friedlander

Home > Blog > Book Design, Book Reviews, Cover Design, Marketing, Self-Publishing > Self Publishing Basics: How to Create Your ARC Cover

Years ago I used to buy books at a famous bookstore in downtown New York City, in the old book selling district. This bookstore was famous for the range of subjects it carried, its steady inflow of new books, and the lively and sometimes erudite people you could meet browsing the narrow aisles looking for an out of print book or a bargain read.

The other reason this bookstore was famous was the shelves of books near the front of the store that proudly displayed Reviewer Copies for sale. These books, dutifully rubber stamped with large “Reviewer Copy: NOT FOR RESALE” stamps, were in new condition and often still had publicity information from their publishers stuck inside the covers.

Sometimes you could see people arrive with cartons of these books, which they would sell to the store. Particularly prized were the bound galleys or as we call them now, advance review copies, (ARC) intended for pre-publication reviewers and advance reviewers with long pre-publication schedules, and usually sent out 4 months before the official publication date.

A Long Way from Bound Galleys to Digital Proofs

At one time these uncorrected proofs were bound up in plain covers and sent to the early reviewers. Now, digital proofs usually take their place.

However, you have to be careful when preparing the cover artwork for your ARC because a misstep here could completely eliminate any chance of getting a valuable review in one of these trade-oriented review sources, such as Publishers Weekly or Library Journal. These are reviews that can potentially sell thousands of copies of your book. Make sure you know what they are looking for.

Of course, these prepublication reviewers are important:
“Unfortunately, they are all the most important reviews a publisher can get,” according to SPAN (Small Publishers Association of North America).

Here is the production version of the paperback cover for Body Types:


Unfortunately you cannot use this cover for the cover of your ARCs because it obviously is the cover that will be on the finished, printed and bound books. With pre-publication reviewers it’s important to maintain at least the fiction that this is an early proof, whether or not it is. And make sure your book is not for sale on, because that alone could disqualify you for inclusion in these review media.

Also the bar code on the back cover is intended only for resale, so the existence of the bar code alone would alert a reviewer at one of these publications that this was not, in fact, an early, not for resale, proof copy. Straight to the recycling bin for you!

Creating the ARC Cover

Here’s the customized version:


(Download a full-size PDF of this cover.)

Here are the key differences and changes made to the first cover:

  • Prominent box added to brand the books as “Advance Uncorrected Galley”
  • The same prominent box added to the back cover
  • The lower half of the back cover has been reformatted both to make room for the box, and to accommodate the new elements
  • One quote, which was used in the press release that accompanied the ARC package, has been removed
  • Author information has been moved up
  • A new box, “Marketing Campaign” has been added. This box contains critical marketing information. Make sure to include here:
    • A brief summary of marketing plans
    • Bibliographic data including ISBN and subject categories, trim size and page count
    • Pricing information
    • Contact information for your publishing company and your PR or marketing contact person
    • Who will be distributing your book

And most importantly, the Marketing Campaign box has completely obscured the bar code. This cover definitely cannot be used for retail sale, and that will help maintain your eligibility for pre-publication reviews. Now it’s up to your book and all the care and attention you’ve put into it, to shine.

Joel Friedlander

Written by
Joel Friedlander

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