Monday, July 30, 2007

Galley slave

I'm covering for one of the nonfiction reviews editors* this week, and it's striking to see the different ways that various nonfiction publishers do galleys. University presses and cookbook publishers make beautiful galleys, often full of color photos (which must be pretty pricy, but is extremely useful for reviewers). Self-help galleys, on the other hand, are quite likely to be manuscript pages that some intern got spiral-bound at Kinko's. If you're really lucky, they have completely blank cardboard covers.

* I hasten to note that all of our reviews are, in fact, nonfiction.

Fiction galleys run the gamut. Every house has its own style. For example, Random House helpfully stamps the imprint all over the cover like a wallpaper pattern. Less helpfully, they put a gritty B&W image of the cover on the flyleaf page, where they also put the jacket copy. This is very frustrating. I need to look at the jacket copy and cover image much more often than I need to figure out which imprint the book is under. Golden Gryphon goes one better: the covers of their galleys are entirely blank--even the spines--except for the GG logo and a number that I assume is the book's catalog number. If all the covers were identical, I would just chalk it up to having too low a budget to design and print individual ones. Given that they put a different number on each book, however, they could at least also put the author's name and the book title on the front cover and the spine.

Really, though, the best galleys are the ones that are essentially indistinguishable from the finished product except by the words "ADVANCE READING COPY" across the front (while I appreciate the compliment from galleys that call me an "advanced reader", they also make me cringe a little) and the edition and promo information on the back. Despite the brouhaha a while ago where it was suggested that sending spiffy galleys is tantamount to bribing reviewers, my preferences in this area have nothing to do with whether I want to keep the galley. It's simply easier to give an accurate review with a galley that gives you a reading experience as close as possible to the purchaser's reading experience, and it's easier to do good fact-checking if the author's name and the title are on the front and spine and the biblio data and jacket copy are on the back. For that matter, it's easier to find the book in the piles and piles and piles of books that cover every available surface in our office. We stack our books spine-out, like most people. If the spine of a galley is blank or shows nothing but the edges of manuscript pages, that makes it less memorable, and in turn less likely to be pulled out of the stack and assigned to a reviewer. I would think that publishers would want to make our job easier, not harder.

Look at any one of our reviews in the magazine or on the website and at the top you will see something that looks like this:

Title Title Title
Author Name, trans. from the language by Translator Name. Publisher/Imprint (, $XX.XX (XXXp) ISBN 978-XXXXXXXXXX

At the end of the review, you might see:

64 color and 100 b&w photos. Author tour. (Oct.)

Publishers who include all that information on the galley cover have my undying gratitude. That won't affect whether the book gets a good review, of course, but it does make it more likely that the biblio text on our review will be accurate, which is very, very important to us and to publishers. (The worst sin that I can commit, as an editor, is failing to correct an erroneous ISBN.)

At the very least, galleys in book form are really a must. I've seen "galleys" that were rubber-banded manuscripts. We like our reviewers and we want to stay on good terms with them; we're not going to send them piles of paper unless we really have to review the book for some reason, and if we do, the reviewer will approach the book with a feeling of dread and irritation even before the first word is read. I assume that's not how publishers want their books to be approached, so I have no idea why they do this. I think it reflects very poorly on the publisher, and thereby on the book. Why not send a galley that encourages the reviewer to approach it with joyful anticipation? That's not bribery; it's just good sense.