I receive a lot of galleys. Many of them turn up in my mailbox unsolicited, sent by agents or editors who are hoping for a blurb. Sometimes I’m contacted by an author or agent, asking if I’d agree to look at a galley, and if the story sounds interesting, I’ll invite the person to send me one. I never promise a blurb. I can’t even promise that I’ll be able to read the galley because I’ve already got a stack that’s about a dozen high piled up around my bed. Most of the time, I turn down these requests because I know I just don’t have the time to read them, and I hate to raise anyone’s hopes. I’m busy enough trying to get my own book written, and it takes me at least six hours to read a galley and come up with a useful quote.
A few months ago, an author contacted me about his upcoming book, and I told him to have his editor send me the galley — again, with no promises. Weeks later, I received a rather startling email from the publisher, informing me that their company no longer sends out galleys:
“We find that we receive zero responses to printed galleys, so instead we will email a PDF to interested reviewers,” the publisher told me.”
Okay, I can understand that it’s cheaper and greener to do it that way. But I won’t read manuscripts on a computer screen. I just refuse to. And I don’t have a Sony e-reader on which to download the PDF, so I really don’t want a PDF version. I want to read a printed galley. But this particular publisher doesn’t print galleys.
It’s the first time I’ve encountered this, so I’m wondering if this is a new practice among publishers. If so, I think it’s a bad one. Reading a PDF manuscript requires me to sit in front of my computer — where I have a lot of other, and better, things to do. When I do read galleys, I usually do it in bed. Or I’ll throw a few in my suitcase and take them on vacation. I’ve encountered some of my favorite reads while on a beach, sipping a Margarita with a battered galley in hand. I love galleys because after I’ve read them, I can throw them away so they don’t come home in the suitcase with me. Unless they’re truly spectacular books, in which case I keep them forever in my own private library.
I think that printed galleys are part of the cost of doing business as a publisher. If you don’t print galleys, you shouldn’t expect to get any cover blurbs.
But back to this particular publisher, who — within just the first few sentences of that email — has already discouraged me from reading this author’s book. The email gets worse:
“We also understand that people such as yourself write blurbs and then sell the galleys afterwards, as a form of compensation — and we don’t have a problem with that.”
Such as yourself? Meaning that the only reason I’m giving blurbs is because afterwards I can get five bucks on Ebay for the galley? Five bucks is supposed to be compensation for six hours of my time? When an author gives a blurb for a book, we do it because we love a story, and we want to give the author a leg up. We do it out of generosity, not because of some crass grab for compensation. To even imply such a motive is astonishing — when you’re asking someone to do you a favor.
(And just for the record, I would never sell a galley, on Ebay or anywhere else. As an author myself, I consider such sales unscrupulous.)
And the email gets even worse:
“If I send you the PDF and you provide a cover blurb, I can send you a finished, sellable copy of the book.”
So if I give a blurb, then I’ll be rewarded with the real book, which I can then sell on Ebay for even more cash than I could the galley! It’s a real bargain for me, you see — in exchange for six hours, plus my good name pushing the book, they’ll deign to send me a real printed copy.
The email ends:
“But I won’t send you the PDF until you let me know one way or the other if you’d have time to look at it.”
I had already told the author that I would do my best to read the galley. Now the publisher is saying that they won’t even send me a PDF until I assure them I’ll read it.
I’m so astonished, I don’t know what to say. Is this the future of the book business?
Would anyone in publishing care to comment?