Tuesday, 30 December 2014

The sad fate of the bound proof

Some have boring covers, others look like the
real thing, but there's usually a clue...
What do you call a book that's not a book? A bound proof (or if you are American and like a good acronym, an ARC, standing for Advanced Reading/Reader Copy).

It sort of makes sense. While I, as a reader, would always prefer to read a finished copy of a book, the publisher likes to get reviews in as early as possible, particularly if the reviewer is likely to provide snappy remarks to put on the cover. So quite often, before the book is actually produced, they will typeset and bind as a paperback the uncorrected proofs and send them out to eager reviewers.

The reviewer reads this not-quite-a-book as usual and produces his or her words of wisdom. But what to do next?

With a real book I have two choices. If I love it, I put it on the shelf for future re-reading. But shelf space is very limited and I can only do this with 2 or 3 books a year, where I review about 50. The rest, I'm afraid, I resell. Some people mutter about a free copy being sold, but short of putting it in the recycling, whatever I do will result in that free copy going on the market. And bearing in mind I don't get paid for the reviews I do for www.popularscience.co.uk, I don't think this is an unreasonable thing to do. (It's not just me. One of my favourite bits of Brian Aldiss's excellent autobiography, Bury My Heart at W. H. Smith is his description of John Betjeman regularly coming into the bookshop Aldiss worked in with a pile of review books to sell on.)

However, with a bound proof I am faced with much more of a quandary. I don't really want to keep it, even if it is a great book, because it's not the real thing and doesn't look good on the shelf. And I can't sell it or even give it away. So they really do end up in the recycling. And that feels awfully sad.

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