10 January 2011


Many years ago, a publisher friend told me that he never took home advance readers copies. "Such ugly things", he sniffed. True enough back then, but things have changed considerably since. Where once reviewers, librarians and buyers were presented with objects like the above, they're now just as likely to receive something that might at casual glance be mistaken for a trade paperback. Consider the Chatto and Windus "UNCORRECTED BOOK PROOF" for Barney's Version...

... this ARC of Dennis Bock's The Ash Garden...

...or the ARC of A Gentleman of Pleasure, my forthcoming biography of John Glassco.

(Now, I ask you, who wouldn't want to take that home? Publication date: 1 April.)

Its arrival a couple of weeks ago has had me looking over some of the ARCs in my collection. The most interesting by far came out of McClelland and Stewart in the 'seventies. In those days the company didn't issue many ARCs – not surprising, given its reputation for missing pub dates – but those they did produce garnered attention. Take the "ADVANCE PROOF" of Charles Templeton's Act of God, which featured a cover letter cover inviting the recipient to guess the novel's sales.

Both copies in my collection are signed by Jack McClelland (and Charles Templeton); I've seen others upon which the publisher's name is scrawled by an unknown hand.

Act of God was a great commercial success, though I expect the prediction of 47,300 copies sold in Canada before year's end was a tad high. Ever the optimist that Jack McClelland. How else to explain the very generous $50,000 Seal Book Prize awarded in 1978 to Aritha van Herk for Judith, her first novel?

The news was announced in grand style, as reported by the Canadian Press:
Aretha van Herk, a 23-year-old Edmonton housewife and university student, good-humoredly climbed a ladder in a grimy downtown parking lot in Montreal recently to endorse her cheque – displayed on a massive billboard announcing "Congratulations Aritha!"... The Guinness Book of World Records will be asked to verify that the actual cheque – the billboard – is the largest cheque ever made.
The publisher built on the story by offering a signed ARC produced exclusively for women whose first name was Judith. "We want those who share her name to meet her first", says the cover.

Just how limited was this "limited press run edition"? In Jack: A Life with Writers, James King puts the number at 3500 – adding that the publisher received 4500 requests, including a good number from cheats looking to cop free copies.

I paid $3.95 for mine back in 1990. It still has a place in my home.


  1. Enjoyed the ARC stories. One of my collecting sidelines is ARCs with covers different from the published edition.

    Interesting to note that the Richler ARC has the same portrait used on your book "Character Parts".

  2. Good eye. I imagine Richler and the folks at Knopf Canada really liked the photo - it was also used on Belling the Cat (1998), On Snooker (2001), Dispatches from the Sporting Life (2002) and, of course, the finished Barney's Version(1997).

  3. I hope suit styles like that never come back in style.

  4. Could be worse. This was the 'seventies, after all, a time when safari suits were in fashion.

    Aritha van Herk looks very nice... and seems a trooper. I can't imagine it's easy climbing a ladder in a dress.