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Matt Berger

Collecting ARCs: (Sometimes) Even Better than the Real Thing

I have collected advance reading copies, also described, sometimes accurately, sometimes not, as ARCs, uncorrected proofs, or bound galleys, for many years. Originally, I was drawn to them because many of the books and authors that I was interested in had their “first edition” release in mass-market paperback, and while I like mass-market paperbacks just fine for reading, they didn’t strike me in my youthful ignorance as overly exciting collectibles.

Over the years, my attitude towards these—I’ll call them “ARCs,” for the sake of convenience—has changed somewhat, and if anything I like them more now than I ever did. Talk to an ARC collector, and they’ll give you a variety of reasons for their appeal: they are the “true first edition,” preceding any other published state of a book; they represent an opportunity to read a book prior to the official publication date; and (one of my own primary considerations) they represent a version of the book that potentially differs from the one which is ultimately released.

I’ve included a photo with this posting of the ARC of Charles de Lint’s most recent novel, The Mystery of Grace, which happen(s, ed) to be running as a banner ad atop this website. Aside from any textual differences that there may be between the published version, released on March 17, 2009, and my copy (available before that time), there is one thing that leaps out at you immediately: the cover art and design used on the ARC is completely different.

More significant changes are often made between the pre-release state(s) and the published book, which calls for an explanation of the different types of “advance copies” and how they can differ. Though the terms above, and others, are sometimes used interchangably, they are not always the same thing.

[More after the fold.]

Recent Additions

It was a full and gratifying first quarter of the year for collectible books. I further strengthened my working relationship with our mail carrier (and weakened my PayPal account) by staying busy on eBay and elsewhere, doing my part to help get the economy rolling again. From all I can see, the market for fine books remains strong and healthy.

In this post and a couple to follow, I’d like to highlight a few recent releases that caught my attention and made their way into my permanent collection. These are books that I bought because I read and collect these authors, but in each case (I believe) there’s a case to be made for making a bit more of an effort and spending a bit more money to ensure that I’ve got solid, high-grade examples. In addition to the more straightforward pleasure of reading and owning a book that you’ve enjoyed, an extra step or two at the beginning can help to enhance your chances that the collection you’re building will also build in value over the years.

[Comments, and opinions contrary and agreeable, would be most welcome.]

First Edition: An Introduction to Book Collecting

It’s been about thirty years now.

As I recall, the first book that I ever bought specifically for my “collection” was the Underwood-Miller edition of Roger Zelazny’s The Bells of Shoredan. I’d been an SF&F reader for years, and had accumulated a few well-stocked shelves. I can’t say that I specifically thought of that motley assortment of old paperbacks as anything as lofty as a real collection, but at the moment that little chapbook arrived and I tucked it carefully away, I was, in my own mind at least, a book collector.

Trying to talk about book collecting as if it’s one, monolithic thing is impossible. People collect books for a variety of reasons, and trying to define what makes a book collectible outside of a personal context doesn’t lend itself to a single set of rules. We all collect what we like—what we like to read, or maybe just what we like to collect. My interests may be very different from yours, or they may be much the same. Starting from that point, the best that can be taken from an outsider’s perspective is purely informational: data that may help you, not necessarily regarding whether or not to read or buy a book, but once you know you’re going to buy something, what to look out for when you do, so that you can make the best choice among the many options that are available.

A collection has to start somewhere. Here are three suggestions that, once you’ve answered them for yourself, may help you decide where your primary interests lie:

[Suggestions below the fold!]