Galleys are great for many things -- mostly, for letting bookstores and reviewers get a preview. But it’s not the version any author wants to make a lasting impression with. (bass_nroll/flickr)

I traveled to a literary festival recently as part of my book tour, and 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.

When I went to the shelf that held my debut novel, I saw something I hadn’t seen before: There, beside the hardcover and paperback copies of my book, was a galley copy for sale. Galleys, also called “Advance Reader Copies,” are uncorrected proofs sent to give industry folks a preview for their decision-making purposes, but can change significantly in the final product. And they’re marked by the publisher with the words, “Not For Sale.”

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.

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 very politely asked about the sale of a galley (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, ‘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.”

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 cross-outs of entire sections, even the choice of one single word changed in favor of 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 without the stature to have their liner notes pored over in museums. For starters, uncorrected proofs have no handwritten cross-outs; they pretty much read like an ordinary paperback. So there’s no way anyone can see the evolution of a novel. For anyone who cared to compare the galley to the hardcover line by line, there might be omissions and additions that could be detected. Interesting details, possibly, for true literature wonks familiar with the final published work.

“I do collect galleys of books that are special to me. Books I have discovered that have turned out to be big sellers, ones by my favorite authors, manuscripts sent out before the actual galley comes out,” said Kym Havens, assistant manager of Wellesley Books. “But they are for my preview and will never be sold. It feels essentially wrong to me.”

“A bookstore selling a galley off their shelves is simply unethical,” says Mary Cotton, who owns Newtonville Books along with her husband, Jaime Clark. “Galleys are sent by publishers to booksellers in good faith — that a bookseller might read it, love it, spread the word to customers. To place it on a shelf, in competition with books whose sales would actually earn money for authors and their publishers, is not right.”

Yes, there’s the financial point, too — 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.

But my feelings about the galley aren’t financial. 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 in fact two passages that exist in the final book that aren’t in the galley at all, one of them fairly important to plot nuances. Both had been cut early in the editing process to save space. At each subsequent editing pass I felt their loss but didn’t speak up until the 11th hour, and my editor agreed to restore them, for which I’m endlessly grateful. Galley readers will never see those.

My friend, author Joe Wallace, had a galley of one of his books truly bungled, with little dashes added willy nilly — sometimes three inside a single word, hundreds and hundreds of them — for a run of about 80 pages. Folks inside the publishing industry appreciate that this kind of thing can happen, and read around it. But regular readers might think Joe was some ee cummings of punctuation, and just get irritated.

These things 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 the changes were visible on the page. But they aren’t.

I’d never begrudge a bookstore the $8.95 profit … But someone’s going to pick up that proof instead of a finished copy and think that’s the best I can do.

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 version any author wants to make a lasting impression with. (I didn’t let my parents read it in galley form, for example.) Yet there was mine, at half the price of the paperback and a third of the hardcover. What price-conscious customer wouldn’t choose it instead?

I’d never begrudge a bookstore the $8.95 profit, because Lord knows bookstores today need all the help they can get. And I do 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. They won’t see an intermediate step in the process, an author’s progression.  Someone buying a galley will see only inferior writing.

Tags: Books

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  • Steph

    I can’t imagine selling any of my galley copies. I would give them to a reputable charity or fellow reader but to sell them for any amount of money seems a bit dirty to me. I’ve donated some of mine to a local nursing home and others to a local women’s shelter which makes me feel good plus gives others who might be down on their luck or at low points something fun to read.

  • Bill

    Unfortunately the bookseller was right, proofs and arc (advance reading copies) are collectible, they come out before the first edition, are fragile and have a smaller print run. When Life of Pi was big, a first edition could go for $40-50 but a galley could go for 1000s of dollars. The good news is this is primarily for collectors only, someone who’s genuinely interested in reading the work will usually go for the actual book.

    • Joe Wallace

      The fact that ARCs are collectible is beside the point. They say Not For Sale on them, and by selling them a bookstore is breaking a deal they’ve made with the publisher and writer: You’ll get a sneak peak at an unfinished version of the book, but you will not profit from it. It seems as simple as that to me.

      • vadoglover

        Any agreement is between the advance reader and the publisher, not between the bookstore and the publisher. You can’t create an agreement unilaterally by putting text on a cover.

        • BirdsDecision

          Most of these ARCs are sent directly to the stores (especially Indie’s), so isn’t that creating an understanding amongst them? I know of a few major Indie stores that do this, and they should be ashamed.

          • vadoglover

            Are you sure most go to stores? The one I had was sent to a reviewer, not a store, and I definitely got the impression that was where most of them went – to individuals that review books for magazines, papers, or online.

      • Michael_J_Walsh

        Not all ARCs say “Not For Resale”.

      • vadoglover

        They don’t all say Not for Sale on them. The one I bought did not, for example. Further, the one I got was not from a bookstore – it was an Advance Review Copy sent to an individual reviewer.

    • vadoglover

      I have purchased one ARC, for a favorite author, for hundreds of dollars, when the regular book was priced at about 25. I also bought the regular book as soon as it came out.

      The market I’ve seen for these is usually composed of fans and collectors.

      If sold to fans for a higher than list price, and not simply sold at a lower price by bookstores who got the ARCs directly, these copies are probably not taking sales away from authors.

      If the bookseller is the one who got that ARC directly, and is selling it at a lower price or against an agreement, that’s a different story.

      Collector sales of ARCs are often to people who know exactly what they’re getting and are getting them precisely because they are fans of the author and want a unique collectible. I’d hate to see them thrown away or discarded when there are people who would treasure them.

  • Michael_J_Walsh

    Most of the folks I know who collect ARCS also end buying the finished book. Collectors are insatiable.

  • Izandra

    The bookstore I worked for most definitely did not sell them. We would give them away to regular customers as gifts for being loyal which they loved.

  • michaelgg

    I totally agree with you. Unfortunately, when I complained about the practice to the largest store in town (in the world even?) I was given the brush-off. They don’t seem to see anything wrong with the practice.

  • scopexPDX

    In order for publishers to dictate what a bookstore or reviewer can do with their galleys after they’ve given them to them, they would have to get that bookstore or reviewer to sign an agreement. Printing not for sale on the cover is not binding in any way, to the person who receives the book from the publisher, or anyone else.

    A galley for sale does represent one copy’s royalty out of the author’s pocket (and that’s really not much, even if every single galley produced was resold to someone who would have bought a new copy otherwise) but arguing that someone could read them and think the errors that got corrected were intentional is pretty weak. Come on. The real case to make against the collection of ARCs is that to be most collectible they must be in pristine condition. Not even read once with clean hands. If people believe a book is going to be collectible, the galleys can be spirited away without being read. If fewer of the employees in a book store have read the book because someone scooped up the galley and put it on ebay, then that’s not good for the writer. But that happens to people like John Irving, not first novelists.

    I have worked for a store that sold its ARCs, and also for a dealer that sold them. It is absolutely true that they are mostly bought by collectors. And having a book considered collectible in any form is good for the author. A galley for sale isn’t doing you any more harm than a used copy, and there are a lot more of those at Powell’s.

    • vadoglover

      Speaking personally, I just wanted to have it, and I was willing to pay very well for it. I didn’t care if it was pristine. It was (and is) in very nice shape, but not untouched.

    • Michael_J_Walsh

      There are exceptions to “must be in pristine condition. Not even read once with clean hands.”

      “This copy has been quite heavily read and is in
      about VG condition. The spine is slightly slanted and there are reading
      creases down its full length. There are creases to several corners of
      the book and the rear cover is a trifle soiled.” $20,605.25

  • Michael_J_Walsh

    Speaking of collecting galleys, here’s one that was never published as a finished book: