One of the major activities at BookExpo America is publishers’ distribution of advance reading copies (ARCs), also known as galleys or bound galleys, to attendees, who are booksellers, librarians, and others (I’m "other").
ARCs aren’t finished books.
For example, on Saturday I picked up a copy of Crazy Aunt Purl’s Drunk, Divorced & Covered in Cat Hair: The True-Life Misadventures of a 30-Something Who Learned to Knit After He Split, by Laurie Perry, who blogs as Crazy Aunt Purl.
Here’s what the ARC of her book looks like, back home at my favorite coffeehouse.
Note that across the top is a band that says "UNCORRECTED READERS COPY – NOT FOR SALE." In this case, there are a few typos (not proofread yet) and the knitting patterns at the back of the book are incomplete and/or not tech-edited yet—or there’s just a title at the top of the pattern page. Here, in fact, is a picture of one of the disadvantages of an ARC:
The idea of ARCs is to get some folks reading and talking about the book early, deciding whether to stock it in their bookstores or buy it for their libraries. They aren’t complete. They aren’t perfect.
The production staff at the publishing house is scrambling to finish its jobs so the book can go to press on time. Those pages will not be blank by the time the "real people" get their finished copies. Nonetheless, there’s got to be enough copy in the ARC that the "advance readers" won’t say, "This is a blank book so I haven’t a clue what I think about it." ARCs give a good preview.
Anyway, I had meetings all day Friday so I didn’t get to walk the show floor until Saturday. As I cruised past the author-signing tables (which have long, rope-channeled lines leading up to them), I noticed that it was just then Laurie’s half-hour at table 22 and the line wasn’t too long, so I might be able to jump into it without a ticket (tickets are given out each morning before the expo opens). At the start of the line, you throw a contribution into a collection box in exchange for the ARC. The money goes to non-profit literacy-promotion programs. So I folded a bill, dropped it into the slot, and joined the queue, which was less-than-interminable only because it was not Laurie’s only signing at the event. Her publisher tends to schedule both booth and table signings.
Laurie’s table was directly adjacent to the Chicken Soup folks (same publisher), so one of her signing buddies was Jack Canfield. It’s that kind of event.
And it was true: luck was on my side. I got a galley. Laurie looked like most authors do in that situation: happy and dazed. It’s a big deal to be at BookExpo, and a bigger deal to be at one of the table signings; your eyes glaze over, though, because it’s such a weird environment.
I started reading the book between events later that day. By page 5 I was laughing out loud. I finished the ARC on the flight home last night.
Laurie manages to talk about challenging life transitions with honesty, perception, and humor. If you’re familiar with her blog, you’ll recognize the style, although this is a book, not a blog, and has a narrative arc.
Although there’s enough of a knitting component for yarn aficionados, neither that nor the cats is the biggest part of the text (yet, in terms of patterns: I can’t say much about them except they have great titles).
What it’s about is a shift from expectations to reality when life throws you an unexpected upset that throws your core identity into question.
Here’s a quick quote from early in the book, pre-knitting but after Laurie’s friend Shannon has suggested she needs a hobby . . . like knitting: "I looked around at my house. Just a pile of stuff, half in and half out of boxes. . . . I was a thirty-something woman living alone with four cats. . . . I was on the short bus to crazy. I pictured my grandmother making hoopskirted yarn cozies for the toilet paper. I pictured myself making doilies for furniture that I did not own. I saw my cats wearing knitted hats with lace appliques. From my vantage point, knitting seemed like 100 percent of some road I did not want to walk down."
There’s another spot toward the end where she incorporates a lovely riff on the benefits of commuting by bus: it makes me wish I didn’t work one staircase away from where I live.
And many good and insightful, sometimes very amusing, moments in between.
I don’t pick up many ARCs at BookExpo. I’ve learned that publishers at BookExpo push more interesting-sounding books than I have time to read and I’ve become extremely selective in what I consider carrying home. Books are heavy. I feel guilty if I don’t read the galleys I pick up. I have galleys from four years ago that are still on my "read it some day" piles.
Drunk, Divorced & Covered in Cat Hair turned out to have been a fine choice for my limited collection this year, even though I do hope I’m well past too much experience with divorce. It’s a good read even without the patterns—a book to look forward to when it’s released in October 2007.
Congratulations to Laurie, and heads-up to readers. If the ARC is good, the real book will be even better.