Last weekend while I was traveling, I stopped into a bookstore I’ve always wanted to visit. Folks I know in the area adore the store, and many an author friend has been excited to read there. I walked through room after room; I bought coffee; I admired the unique shelving and helpful salespeople. I kind of wanted to move in, or at least curl up and take a nap somewhere near Toni Morrison.
When I went to the shelf that held my debut novel, I saw something I hadn’t seen before in a bookstore. There, beside the hardcover and paperback copies of my book, was a galley copy for sale. (Galleys, also called Advance Reader Copy, or Advance Reader Edition, are uncorrected proofs which are sent out to give industry folks a preview of the work for their decision-making purposes, but can change significantly in the final product.)
At first I thought it was a mistake — it’s a large bookstore, it was possible that someone accidentally shelved a galley. But I turned it over and the store’s price tag was on the back, offering it for $8.95.
Curious, I asked a salesperson, and was referred to the manager. I identified myself as the author, and asked about the sale of a galley with a smile (the last thing you want to do as an author is leave a bookstore with a poor impression of you). I smiled so hard I think he interpreted my curiosity as admiration for the store’s resourcefulness.
“Oh sure, that’s no accident!” the manager said. “Lots of people like to collect them.”
“But….is it okay to do?” I asked. “I mean, on the cover it says, ‘UNCORRECTED PROOF, Not For Sale’. Does the publisher mind?”
“No, it’s fine,” he said. “Once a galley is sent to a bookstore, we can do whatever we’d like with it. People buy and sell them on ebay and Amazon all the time. Some fans really get a kick out of collecting them.”
In the abstract, I can see that. When I’ve visited literary exhibits with edits of famous authors, I’ve pored over the handwritten comments in the margins, the crossouts of entire sections, even the choice of one word over another — all intriguing, that sense of the minutiae that mattered to this person whose writing you’ve admired.
But I have trouble feeling the same thing applies to today’s galleys, and to contemporary writers who aren’t having their liner notes pored over in museums. For starters, uncorrected proofs have no handwritten notes or crossouts; they pretty much read like an ordinary paperback. So there’s no way anyone can see, say, the evolution of a piece of writing. For anyone who cared to compare the galley to the hardcover line by line, there might be omissions and additions that could be detected. As I said, interesting wonky details, possibly, in the abstract.
Except my feelings about my own incomplete work are anything but abstract. I know all too well what typos are in my galley, many of which were electronic hiccups resulting in made-up words, mash-ups of two sentences and omissions of others. I know which sections continued to change and evolve until the final version. And there are two passages that exist in the final book that were not in the galley at all, both cut early in the editing process to save space. One of them contained an unconventional use of a word; the other was an entire paragraph, an important (to me) emotional conclusion of a plot point. At each subsequent editing pass I felt their loss but didn’t speak up until the eleventh hour, and my editor agreed to restore them, for which I’m endlessly grateful. Galley readers will never see those.
It might sound silly, but these are the minutiae that matter to writers, and make us cringe about having copies of an incomplete work floating around. Incremental changes in drafts might be interesting to some readers, if changes were visible on the page. But in the electronic age, with no crossouts in the margins, they’ll never see the author’s progression. Someone buying a galley will see only inferior writing.
Galleys are great for many things — mostly, for letting bookstores and reviewers get a preview when they need it for their purchasing decisions and deadlines. But it’s not the copy any author wants to make a lasting impression with. (I didn’t show it to my parents in galley form, for example.) Yet there mine was, at half the price of the paperback and a third of the hardcover. What price-conscious customer wouldn’t choose it instead?
Another point that hardly bears making is that when the customer buys the galley, the author is in no way credited for the sale: not financially and not in sales tallies. In fact, the unsold “real” copy that cools its heels on the shelf while the galley is bought could end up being returned to the publisher by the store for a refund — and count against the author’s ability to qualify for royalties.
I’d never begrudge a bookstore the $8.95 profit, because Lord knows bookstores today need all the help they can get. And I appreciate that there are some creative charitable uses for galleys.
But someone’s going to pick up that proof instead of a finished copy and think that’s the best I can do. Misspellings, mash-ups of make-believe words. And an emotional plot development doesn’t get its denouement. The uncorrected proof as unwitting proof that there are just too many books breezily published today.
— What do you think, readers? Should galleys be available for sale?