Galleys out, PDF’s in?

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?

32 replies
  1. gfriday
    gfriday says:

    The advantage you have as such an excellent writer is that you’ll be able to respond with an articulate, scathing respone.

  2. Kyle K.
    Kyle K. says:

    OMG, part of the thrill of being a published author is getting that first galley and being able to send it out to people! I would be devestated if they didn’t do that for me, especially if I knew they were sending out emails like that one…!

    And I totally agree, I would never sit in front of my computer for HOURS to read like that. There’s absolutely no way.

    You don’t have to say which one (you COULD if you really want to!), but is it a small publisher that doesn’t know any better, or a big one that’s trying to cut corners?

  3. therese
    therese says:

    Tess,
    My opinion on this is, the publishing world is scrambling to reinvent itself. Like you, I prefer the tactile connection of words on a page and not on a screen. But I wonder about the new generation of readers, if they will understand that singular connection between themselves and the author – and a lovingly crafted story on the page – where they can lose themselves, and return to themselves, richer for the experience.

    The email you got, and the impersonal comments, are a sorry example of what needs to be considered, about the intent to shift rich and textured stories – into sound bites. We are in a world where marketing and the bottom line, are still the focus. It may take authors like you, to blast through this, for current and future authors and readers.

    Technology may be changing at the speed of light but humans don’t evolve that fast, we still want to curl up with a good book by the fire. But even more important, to readers, is that the authors are treated with respect and reverence. Reader-are who stand in bookstores-enthralled to meet the author who wrote the book-they found so amazing.

    These readers are the ones who will delete an email, with an attached PDF, as spam. Green may be the thing, but respect for the people, is what makes the engine of story – work.

  4. ec
    ec says:

    Wow. Those comments are incredibly insulting, ignorant, and unprofessional. I feel bad for the poor author who just got shot in the foot by his own publisher.

    I have received galleys on PDF a few times and really don’t mind it. But then, I don’t receive dozens at a time, and I do have a e-reader available should I chose to go that route.

  5. ec
    ec says:

    P.S.

    At least the publisher didn’t preemptively accuse “you people” of uploading ms PDF’s to file-sharing sites.

  6. ec
    ec says:

    You know, after I thought about this for a while I think I may have some idea of where this publisher might be coming from.

    There are a LOT of online review sites, many of which have just a few reviewers or even just one. If the publisher has been sending out galleys to online reviewers, chances are the reviewers simply aren’t able to get to them. And since all it takes to become an online reviewer is a website or even a blog, anyone can hang up a virtual shingle. It is very likely that some of these folks are selling galleys and ARC’s on eBay. This could easily become problematic for publishers and authors, especially if the galleys get out before the book is released.

    That said, the wording is still insulting to those online reviewers who DO conduct themselves in a professional manner. And it is completely off base when it comes to best-selling writers whose endorsements the publishers are courting.

  7. cjewel
    cjewel says:

    I’d be insulted too if I got a letter like that. Wow. A cover blurb from you would be a tremendous coup, so I’m having a hard time imagining an editor who isn’t aware of what that would do for sales.

    Maybe someone new, who didn’t know any better, actually sent this out. I can kind of see (if I squint)sending a letter like that to a review site, only, it’s still rude, so I’m done squinting.

    I think./hope this is a case of someone clueless. My experience of this sort of request is that it’s handled much more professionally.

  8. BernardL
    BernardL says:

    I’m not in publishing and while I share your incredulity at the Publisher’s condescending e-mail, I can share some facts from the collectibles industry. Imagine if you had been given an original galley for the first Harry Potter book. That galley would be worth a tidy sum on the collectibles market as would a first edition with author’s signature. Although the publishing representative who crafted the e-mail has as much tact as a rock thrown through a plate glass window, the value of such a deal would work to enhance an otherwise bland offer. Don’t take offense at it, Tess. Just remember all industries have clueless people who sometimes initiate very bad business ploys. If you still want to fulfill your promise to consider the novel for a blurb, contact the author and explain you don’t read PDF’s but you would consider looking at the work if the author sends a printed galley. If I were the author, I’d have it in the mail the same day to you.

  9. Tess
    Tess says:

    Bernard, I think most authors wouldn’t mind having their galleys turn up on Ebay if the sellers would at least wait until a few weeks after the book’s on-sale date. What we object to is having our books available for sale before the actual book is in bookstores, thereby depriving us of any royalties on the sales.

  10. tuttle
    tuttle says:

    This sounds like this particular publisher is trying to weather the economic storm as best they can, which, to a point, is understandable since paper (even for gallies) costs money.

    This (as you’ve pointed out) is pretty off-putting though to anyone who prefers to read a story on paper. But the times call for change and I understand the reasons behind the changes during this transition period. (and I agree with you that there is a difference between reading a short story and reading a whole novel) (Although it might be an easier thing to sell to other writers for blurbing purposes IF the galley was available on a Kindle, which has much more mobility, though, the problem with THAT is that many authors do not have Kindles.)

    What I’m actually worried about is that if this economic storm lasts TOO long, many, many publishers will cut back on future generations of writers (like me) and they’ll stick with writers who have (even small), proven track records in print.

    This will of course bite into their overall profit, budgets and personnel, but at least they’ll still be around when the storm is over. (2010?) Better to cut back and not publish untried newbies than risk giving them a chance and going under.

    I understand the logic.
    I don’t like it.
    But I understand it.
    Good luck to us all (writers and readers)

  11. ec
    ec says:

    And when it comes to highly anticipated books, a galley sold on eBay could very easily become a PDF on a file-share site, thus making pirated copies available before the street date and depriving the author of royalties on a LOT of sales.

  12. BernardL
    BernardL says:

    For a galley on the collectibles market to be worth anything at all, it would have to become a runaway best seller first. Otherwise, it is quite worthless.

  13. wrrriter
    wrrriter says:

    For this “publisher,” it’s unfortunate that there isn’t a reply email equivalent of a letter bomb. I’d be happy to send you the bomb graphic I used in my book to include in an email, though.

    Ray

  14. marielu
    marielu says:

    I’m definitely curious about which publisher sent that email as well.

    I’m not surprised to see the conversion to PDF–I suppose I’m an outlier in that I do prefer to read books on my computer or on an e-reader (or on the iPhone). It’s lighter and easier for me, and as I’ve grown up in the tech age it’s not an unusual thing for me or most of my friends. However, I do have to say that the way the letter was worded is the real culprit. Reading preferences aside, the letter is rather cold and unappreciative of an author’s precious time, and definitely came off the wrong way. I hope this publisher rethinks their words, even if they don’t rethink the PDF part of the deal.

  15. IServeTheCat
    IServeTheCat says:

    Speaking as a member of “the new generation,” as Therese puts it, I can answer that. No. There is NO substitute for holding a book in your hands, and being young doesn’t change that. We spends hours on the computer every day. Books are a fabulous relief for the resulting eye strain.

    One other thing… just because an author you like endorses a book doesn’t mean you will like it. I *love* Tess Gerritsen’s novels. I have picked up a few books with her blurbs on them and tossed them across the room to the “donate” bin a chapter or two into the stories. In one case, I e-mailed Ms. Gerritsen and asked what she had enjoyed so much about a particular book. She said she didn’t remember it. With a dozen galleys piled upon her bedside, I am not surprised.

    Tess, if you enjoy a book, read it and blurb it in your own sweet time. THEY wat YOUR business. Not the other way around. *Beep* this editor for forgetting that. His e-mail was disgustingly rude.

  16. sarah pekkanen
    sarah pekkanen says:

    Wow, I found it really surprising that a publisher would send such an impersonal and somewhat offensive letter to someone who was considering doing a huge favor for their author. And six hours of time is an enormous favor. My publisher and I are currently soliciting blurbs for my book — not in your genre, Tess, don’t worry! 🙂 — and I feel guilty about asking frantically busy authors to give me such a huge chunk of time. I’ve been pleasantly surprised by how kind authors have been about it, but I’d still bend over backwards to do anything to make the process easier on them.

  17. Yasmine
    Yasmine says:

    I’d be embarrassed if that was my publisher/editor acting like that. Berkley went to electronic copyedits/page proofs, but the ARCs are still print, thank gods.

    I only blurb if I like a book, and I only agree to look at a few books each year for that purpose–I just don’t have the time. I do read every one I agree to look at, because I do put limits on the number, but that never guarantees a blurb and would be far less if I had to read them on the screen. I hate reading on the screen.

    Yasmine

  18. Yasmine
    Yasmine says:

    Tess–there’s another problem with galleys getting out early now–piracy on the net. THREE DAYS after my last book hit the shelves, it was being pirated on the net. Made me sick. I’d like to stuff the galleys down those the throats of those thieving (insert appropriate expletive that isn’t family friendly here).

    Yasmine

  19. lwidmer
    lwidmer says:

    What an insulting publisher! That’s so demeaning/short-sighted/unfriendly/assuming/arrogant and downright stupid! Not only would I not review the book (since they’ve made it so damned impossible to do so), I’d contact the author and let him know why, forwarding the email from the publisher. That’s insane. Selling the galleys on eBay? Seriously? Even so, WHO CARES? This is a publisher that is focusing on the wrong things. I feel sorry for the author.

  20. egtalbot
    egtalbot says:

    I’m speechless. Well, not really, but that is too much. It seems to me that if a publisher offers the OPTION of an author receiving a galley or a pdf, that wouldn’t be bad. But this is ridiculous. The author is not being served well.

    Regarding the issue of galleys taking away from royalties that others brought up in the comments, I can understand not wanting them out there before the book is released, although if that happened, an enterprising author could use the publicity of such a thing to generate more real sales. But I
    can’t imagine there are enough galleys for any given book to make a big difference in royalties in the long run. Surely publishers aren’t sending out 200 galleys for a book that’s gonna sell 500 copies.

  21. Charlene Teglia
    Charlene Teglia says:

    Holy. Crap. If I were that author, I’d be appalled, horrified…and I would want to know. I would print and ship the galley myself, too, because it would be the least I could do. FedEx Kinko’s makes that really easy. What’s rotten is that this author has surely lost the chance for a quote from you, and may never know this happened.

  22. oline cogdill
    oline cogdill says:

    As a reviewer of mystery fiction, I found this a most interesting subject. (Joe Finder alerted me via twitter). I have long thought — and have suggested to the NY publishers — that they could save a lot of money by arranging through Kindle or Sony to have advanced readers copies sent electronically. Before you say how terrible, let me finish. As a reviewer I may be 100 to 150 arcs a week. I am literally drowning in them. I don’t want them to stop but…The electronic versions would be cheaper for the publishers, not as wasteful and, for me, when I go on vacation I often take 10 books with me and wish I could have hauled more. I could take 50 with me electronically. I would still want to see the finished book. That’s just for me. To get a blurb from an author such as Tess or a bookstore, the galleys are still needed. What I find more disturbing about this is the publicist was totally clueless about how this works and insulting to boot. I have had publicists asked if I could do a review without the book (No); how much it would cost (nothing, I am paid by the newspaper and the other publications I review for) and if I could guarantee a positive review (no). By the way, the galleys/arcs I receive are not sold on ebay. Some I actually keep but most are brought over to a local police department that sends them to soliders overseas and to VA hospitals around the state. (For those who do not know me, I review for the Sun-Sentinel and McClatchy Tribune Wire Services from which my reviews are picked up by about 250 publications world wide and for Mystery Scene magazine.)
    I also blog at
    http://www.sun-sentinel.com/offthepage
    and http://www.mysteryscenemag.com/msblog

  23. kaolin
    kaolin says:

    As a small press publisher, I’m always thrilled when someone will consider reviewing a PDF–but I would never presume requiring it of them. We print around 400 copies of each issue, 30-40 go to contributors, 15-20 go to reviewers/best-ofs, and then we send out another 50-100 PDFs for review.

    From the language of the bits you excerpted, I’m presuming this is a small press pub and that there are reasons outside of their perhaps-recent practice of not sending out galleys for review for their not getting any blurbs or reviews…

    As a reviewer, also–I review both hardcopy and PDF. Hardcopy gets preferential treatment, though, largely for the reasons you mention.

    http://www.gudmagazine.com/

  24. apalala
    apalala says:

    In your position, it should be easy to get hold of several (one of each) e-book readers to evaluate for free. Your readers would benefit from such a review.

  25. Aunt-Harmony
    Aunt-Harmony says:

    First of all, I love your books. That’s the important thing.

    I write, and some of my fiction is available on line as in pdf form. I don’t expect readers to change their habits for me, so if they don’t like reading on-line, on printed pdfs, or on an e-book reader, then I don’t expect them to buy my books. I am experimenting with various media, and this experiment may not work.

    But I would never expect a reviewer to conform to my experimental formats. I supply reviewers whatever format they like. They are doing me a great, great favor. I know, because I also review books.

    And, there are other forms of unforgivable rudeness, like the publisher who recently asked me for a review and said, “You have to have this review back (in four days) (in the precise format we specify).

    http://www.geraldmweinberg.com/Site/eBOOKS.html

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