Monday, December 13, 2010

Advance Copies

When I was a very young lady, I worked in a bookstore for three great years. I loved the job because I loved being among books, and being in bookstores and libraries still is one of my favorite things to do today.

I did not like the customers because invariably they would be disagreeable, so when our small store was transmorphed into a huge monster-eating mega store, I finagled a position in the receiving and returns department, which was beyond fabulous because I got to see every new book that came in (this meant putting aside copies for myself of great new titles), and send under-selling titles back, which meant stripping covers off paperbacks (employees could keep a stripped copy or two; this was a great way to read older titles), and sending back older books to publishers for credit.

It also meant advance reader copies went straight into my hot little hands. In those days (I'm talking 1994-1997), publishing house reps would go from store to store and actually place orders based on our sales information. Striking up a good relationship with these reps was key because they would keep their eye out for titles and authors you liked and bring you advance copies. I was close enough with our Bantam Double Day rep to exchange Christmas cards for several years until we sadly fell out of touch.

Bookstore employees were encouraged to read the advance copies and recommend them to customers; we were also allowed to actually check out books and read them as long as we didn't breathe on them or fail to turn the pages with sterilized tongs...not a problem since that's how I treat my books anyway. (I'm kidding about them requiring that. But not kidding that that's how I treat my books.) So we employees actually got quite a few advance copies--also commonly marked "Uncorrected Proof."

One advance copy that came in around that time was The Golden Compass by Phillip Pullman. I still have this copy, and it's in great condition. I have scanned the cover so you can see the fetching artwork--it's changed since then, but it reflects the original release, first edition artwork, which is absolutely what attracted me to it in the first place. I couldn't get away from that gorgeous polar bear*.

*For some reason, I am completely swayed by pictures of polar bears. If you want to lure me into a secret cave and trap me, put a picture of a polar bear in front. I'm yours. Note: this will not work for my nemesis, obviously.

I didn't actually read it for a few years. In fact, I only took it because I was leaving the store for greater pastures and was trying to get as many advance copies as I could to last me a while since I wouldn't have the bounty again. It took me probably two or three years before I got around to reading The Golden Compass, and my God. My God! What a book! By the time I was done reading it, I looked for more in the series and lo and behold, the next one was just being published. The squeeing that went on!

The point of this post was to talk about something Pullman put in one of his author's notes for this series, and I will do that on Wednesday, because today I want to wallow in the glory of how cool advance copies are. The Golden Compass copy is from 1995, and it did a lot of promotion for the book. The inside cover features a letter from the publisher imploring us to see how extraordinary and fantastic the book and Pullman are--and if you click on the cover of the image, you can enlarge it and see the quotes of preliminary reviews taking up the cover space. On the back cover, it actually lists the marketing stats. Take a gander:

  • First printing: 100,000 copies
  • $250,000 advertising and promotional budget
  • Internet publicity: science fiction/fantasy groups
  • Author tour
  • Reading group guide
Holy cow! What a plan. And how cool that they put this info right on the back of the advance copy! I should note here that my copy has "Uncorrected proof" all over it but I never saw any mistakes when I read it, which I have, several times.

It got me thinking about other advance copies. I had a ton, but I think I must have gotten rid of them over time because the only other one still on my shelf that I could find was for the beautiful book Arranged Marriage, by Chitra Banerjee Divakaruni.

This "advance uncorrected proof," as it is labeled, is much less exciting than the one for The Golden Compass, as you can see. It features what looks like a photocopied and size-reduced picture of the actual cover, with some basic information stamped below (in the oval):
  • Tentative publication: July 1995
  • Tentative price: US $19.95/Canada $26.95
  • Please note that any quotes for reviews must be checked against the finished book.
The back cover offers a few more scintillating tidbits:
  • 5 1/2" x 8 1/4"
  • 320 pages
  • ISBN number
Not very exciting. But, it was more of a complete book than The Golden Compass, which didn't even have a copyright/publisher's page. Arranged Marriage does. Also, it's pretty clear that Arranged Marriage didn't have a massive PR campaign attached to it.

But, Arranged Marriage is signed. To me, by Ms. Divakaruni.

I met her at a bookstore signing when Arranged Marriage was finally released. I'd read the advanced copy and loved it (go buy it, it's superb), and was excited to meet her. I remember the look she gave me when she saw my copy, a plain paperback, with "Advance uncorrected proof" on it. It was kind of a double-take, and the bookstore minder next to her kind of sneered, like I was trying to pull one over on them by bringing a very different-looking book to be signed. But Ms. Divakaruni said nothing, and graciously signed it. She has since remained a favorite author of mine, and I've bought and read her later books, but I didn't realize until much later that she must have thought me horribly cheap and gauche for bringing an advance copy to be signed. But I loved that copy, because that was the one with which I'd fallen in love with her words.

Those are my advance copy stories.

Have you ever had the fortune of getting your hands on one of these gems, that were not your own (for those published writers reading)? Thoughts?


Linda G. said...

What a cool job! I can't believe you got paid for it.

I'm the same way with my books -- rather anal about taking care of them. It's a sickness I've passed along to my daughter.

CKHB said...

Getting an ARC makes me feel SO special. I even used to seek them out in used bookstores, long before I was writing myself. I have an ARC signed by James Ellroy -- he said, "And of course you're going to buy a copy as well, to make up for this?" I promised him I'd give a copy as a present.


Lt. Cccyxx said...

I have no experience with advance review copies, though they sound cool. You can sometimes find out the plan for a book, though, if you look on publishers' websites. For example, check this out:

Simon C. Larter said...

Gah! Darn you and your fine print notes!

*stomps off to plot some more*

*perhaps something with an untraceable minion and polar bears*

Elisabeth Black said...

I think I've also done some things that appeared gauche and cheap about books, but whatever. I'm in the love books, love writers camp, and I hope it shows.

Great story. That Golden Compass cover is beautiful.

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