Tuesday, March 27, 2007

Maybe they do things differently down under

A childlit reference today to a blog post last year on Michael Thorn's Achockablog revealed a semi-juicy scandal heretofore unknown to me involving the excellent Australian writer Alyssa Brugman, who complained to her publisher that Thorn was selling an ARC of her book Being Bindy on eBay. The publisher, Faber, dutifully if thickheadedly wrote Thorn to tell him to cease and desist, or they would stop sending him advance copies for review. Apparently the blogosphere was thick with reproof, because Brugman wrote a rather stern note about the matter on the home page of her website, saying that ARCs are the property of the publisher, not the reviewer, and therefore Thorn had no right to sell them.

Personally, I think Brugman might better torture herself by contemplating the fact that Thorn had no desire to keep his copy of her book, but the fact remains that the book was his to sell; at least it works that way on this side and end of the pond. Publishers don't lend books to reviewers, they simply hand them over. Thorn very carefully made the point that he does not sell ARCs as new books (which would be fraud) or indeed before their publication dates. The publisher is certainly within its rights not to send Thorn (or anyone) review copies if they don't want to, but this would rather defeat the purpose of review copies. (And, contrary to what one irate publisher told me, no one needs permission from the publisher to review a book.) I imagine that Faber knows this, too, and is banging its corporate head repeatedly on the table for being caught between author and reviewer on this one.

For the record: after the Horn Book has finished with its reviews, and the publishing season has passed, we cherry-pick titles to keep in our collection (everything reviewed in the Magazine and a culling from the Guide), give some away, make "creative art" projects out of others, consign some to a Wall of Shame, and sell the rest as a lot to a used-book wholesaler.

But if anyone knows: is this standard operating procedure among our fellow nations?

20 comments:

Andy Laties said...

For seven years The Children's Bookstore bought all the review copies sent to ALSC for assessment (Caldecott, Newberry, etc). That is, each year, in February, I'd pack up a thousand books from the 40 East Huron building and cart them off to our store (I think I was paying about $4,000 for the lot). ALSC is always strapped for funds and the money was quite welcome I believe. Prior to our arrival as a buyer, ALSC had been selling its review copies to The Strand, for a lot less, and after we closed our store in 1996, I believe they once again started selling the lot to Strand.

Strand does a huge business buying review copies. For decades I believe it was an unspoken thing that the terribly underpaid workers in the NYC publishing houses all supplemented their incomes by walking their copious free books down to the Strand. (Not officially sanctioned, this behavior, mind you -- but blind eyes were turned by all.)

I once attempted to engage a committee of top editors in a conversation about this general issue of review copies flooding the marketplace, and NO-ONE would speak about it.

A visit to The Strand's lower level speaks volumes (ahem). (Looking for ARCs anyone...?)

Disco Mermaids said...

So when do we get to see pictures of this "creative art" and Wall of Shame? You can't just drop something like that into your post and that's it!

- Jay

Zolah said...

I think most authors have a tendency to obsess when it comes to their books - and we often pick ridiculous things to obsess about. I know I do! It's just that Ms Brugman picked a particularly stupid thing to throw a fit about - and even more stupidly, decided to get her publisher involved. As far as I'm aware it has always been standard in the UK for reviewers to sell their ARC copies on once the book is published.

Roger Sutton said...

Sorry, Jay, that's one of the perks of working here. But the Wall of Shame goes back at least as far as the late '70s, to judge from what one can find there. Handy when one needs an "and here's what you DON'T do" example for a speech! I believe I have cited here the one picture-book allegory about a pumpkin who, much to the grief of her best friend, gets turned into a pie as a present for Jesus.

Roger Sutton said...

And Zolah makes an interesting point that reminds me that when my own book for kids--Hearing Us Out: Voices from the Gay and Lesbian Community (op)--was being published it felt like the whole world revolved around me. Anne Lamott writes funnily about this phenomenon in Bird by Bird.

Andy Laties said...

Yeah but in your case it's different because the whole world actually DOES revolve around you.

sdl said...

But there's a big difference between selling an ARC and selling a finished copy, isn't there? I think the publishers have a moral right if not a legal one to ask that ARCs be kept out of general circulation--they distribute them to people in the field who presumably understand that they are not the finished work.

Roger Sutton said...

Well, yes, Andy, now it does.

SDL, I think if the item is represented as what it is--an unfinished book--there's no reason someone can't sell it. As the discussion on Achockablog says, there has always been a thriving market among collectors for galleys, manuscripts, etc., and while their intellectual content remains with the copyright holder, the physical object can be bought or sold at will. The only risk a seller runs is that a publisher may decide to cut off the supply.

Debra Hamel said...

Boy, she is rather stern, isn't she. I would assume that the "not for resale" notice has to do with bookstores being informed that they can't sell the books as new. No? Anyway, it's absurd for her to think that a review copy given to a reviewer remains the property of the publisher. Where'd that idea come from?

Barbara said...

Why can't you give ARCs to local school libraries? They are always short on funds for purchasing books.
Just a thought.

Roger Sutton said...

You couldn't give actual ARCs because they cannot be added to a public library collection--they're not finished books. You could give finished books to these institutions and many award committee members, for examples, do. More often to daycare centers and Ys, though, because the processing and cataloging a library would have to do often outweighs the fact that the book is free (and often too late for demand).

ACHUKA said...

Roger touches on one of the key issues here. What DO you do with unwanted proof copies / ARCs? As he says, you can't give them to libraries. The idea of returning them to the publisher (whose property Ms Brugman continues to insist they remain) is ridiculous. So... you either burn them, dump them, or see if anyone - i.e. a collector or an academic (occasionally the textual variants will be noteworthy) wants them. It's as humdrum and unscandalous as that.

Barbara said...

In the case of children's books is giving them to classroom teachers a possibility? They always need more books in the classrooms.
Sorry to keep prodding, I'm an avid recycler and a school librarian.

Daphne said...

Since Roger asked abt fellow nations ... I'm from malaysia and it would be great if we had this problem about what to do with ARCs.

It's getting better but, generally,the review copies we get are of the finished products and often months after they have been published. It's probably because the book market here isn't seen as very large and profitable and so ARCs would be "wasted" on us.

It's also very frustrating to ask a publisher or distributor's rep abt a book and receive a blank stare. "Is that one of ours?" is a common refrain.

The way I get (at very least)new books (if not advance copies)is to borrow them from the local Kinokuniya. The children's merchandiser there is passionate abt children's and YA lit, and she orders most books straight from the US/UK/Australia etc, so that her section is always up to date.

By the way, Roger, was Kampung Boy by Lat ever reviewed in the Horn Book Magazine?

Thanks!

Roger Sutton said...

Kampung Boy (a graphic novel) seemed to me to be an adult book so we didn't consider it for review. The imprint, First Second, publishes graphic novels for both kids nd adults, and its publisher confirmed to me that Kampung Boy was from of the adult side of the imprint.

Daphne said...

I see. Over here (KB was published more than 20 years ago) it's seen as neither for adults or children. Interestingly, I see that Booklist has put it on its list of Top 10 Graphic NOvels for Teens!

Daphne said...

Oops! I meant that KB isn't targetted specifically at either adults or children. Of course, most Malaysian adults read it and think, "Ahhh ... the good old days ..." and most Malaysian kids read it and say, "How come he never watches TV?"

a. fortis said...

Fascinating discussion, and timely for me, as I wonder what to do with a couple of ARCs I'm not so hep on... My options (besides dumping) seem to be A) used book store, B) library book sale (essentially, how our library gets rid of stuff it can't use), and C) friend's ten-year-old daughter. Which makes me think that perhaps the best use for the unwanted ARCs is to encourage a young person to read...unless, of course, it's just SO BAD you can't in good conscience advocate anybody reading it. Pumpkin pie for Jesus sounds like one of those.

Roger Sutton said...

A., there's always the fireplace--which is what Brugmann seems to prefer. I did once burn a book thus and got a strangely subversive thrill.

Colleen said...

If you have any ARCs with minority characters of middle grade reading level and up then head on over to my site, chasingray.com, and click on "Books for NOLA Kids" in the sidebar.

I'm working with Books2Prisoners in New Orleans and they are gathering donated ARCs, etc to build libraries in the four juvenile detention centers around the city. Those kids have nothing and any books that might appeal to them would be much appreciated.

As for me, I received about 500 ARCs last year primarily due to my column at Bookslut. Some are kept, some go to family/friends but most are donated - either to the NOLA kids or the local thrift shop run by very nice ladies from the Episcopalian Church. They make a few dollars by selling them and readers are introduced to new authors very inexpensively.

(And some books are so awful they get recycled although this happens rarely for me, thank heavens!)

I can't imagine preferring your book was destroyed then went to someone for less than the cover price. I wonder how Ms Brugman feels about used bookstores selling her book for half price? Once she figures it out, that's going to put her over the edge I'm sure!