A reader's copy is a bound uncorrected proof of a book or manuscript that is released to a limited audience. Bookstores and reviewers are commonly sent reader's copies so that they can familiarize themselves with products about to be released. A reader's copy usually has a plain paper cover with a notice indicating that it is an uncorrected proof and that the final version may have substantial differences. Release of a reader's copy is also supposed to be restricted, although many bookstores give reader's copies away to loyal customers.
A reader's copy is an excellent promotional tool for unknown authors. Reader's copies by major authors are usually not sent out to bookstores, because publishers are confident about their saleability. Booksellers can be exposed to new genres and authors with a reader's copy, and feel confident recommending them to customers. Reviewers find reader's copies very useful because a review of the book can be printed on the day it is released, since the reviewer has already read it.
Usually, a reader's copy is sent out in a box of other materials. Many publishers send out such boxes once or twice a month to bookstores and reviewers along with other trade associations. In addition to reader's copies of upcoming releases, the boxes will also include posters, buttons, and other promotional goodies. A catalog listing the publisher's releases for the next quarter is also enclosed.
In many independently owned bookstores, reader's copies are widely shared among employees staff so that they can offer suggestions on books to order. Publishers count on this to sell books, knowing that staff members will encourage the owner of the store to order books they think will sell well. This also means that the stock of such stores tends to be well balanced, because it reflects the opinion of several people rather than a single staff member responsible for ordering, or a central corporate decision maker.
A reader's copy often contains printing and typographical errors, and may not have page numbers. It usually represents an early proof of the book, meaning that further changes will be made before the book is printed for general release. If there is cover art, it may change. Usually a reader's copy also includes a comment card which can be mailed back to the publisher. Comment cards are often used to extract blurbs for the covers of the book.