Why No Bookseller Can Read Everything

Alison Morris - March 10, 2008

We’ve had sales reps visiting our store almost every day for the past several weeks, most of them bringing along stacks of galleys to add to our ever-growing piles. The other day I boxed up all the ARCs of books that have already come into our store, save a handful I thought our booksellers might still be keen to read in galley form. I also cleared off a shelf that had previously held some display props, and only then did I have enough space in my office bookcase to house the galleys for titles coming out between now and August, of which there seem to be more and more each season.

Thinking some of you might need help visualizing this predicament, I took some photos so you could see for yourself. In the shot below is the (cheap) Ikea bookcase that is home to our children’s and YA galleys, sorted by month, so that I can easily remove old ones from the shelf in order to make room for new ones. (The ones I remove get donated to a local organization called Read Boston.) Ignore the top shelf (which on the left houses older galleys I still hope to read one of these days and on the right houses back issues of the Horn Book and various children’s literature reference books) — the shelves below those are all galleys for books being published between now and August (a handful at the end are September and October). Yes, there are a few we have multiple copies of, but those duplicates are offset by the fact that I also took a number of forthcoming galleys home to clutter up my bookcases there. AND some of our galeys have been borrowed by other booksellers and by the few kids who read and review ARC’s for us these days. AND there are a few publishers who don’t send us complete sets of their galleys, so not all of their books are here either.

Not too bad, you’re thinking? Well… I thought the same thing. When they’re lined up the impossibility of reading all those books somehow seems a bit less frightening. It’s deceptive. So I took another photo but staged things a bit differently for this one. I pulled all the galleys off the shelf that correspond with books being published only in the month of MAY, so that you can see how tall just that one month’s pile turns out to be. I even removed any duplicate galleys, so you couldn’t accuse me of cheating for effect.

(That’s a bit scarier looking, no?) For the sake of scale, I also took a (rather unflattering shot) of me, standing beside that May galley pile. Wearing shoes my height = 5′ 4.

There are about 60 galleys in that pile, which stretches out to approx. 4 feet of books coming out from predominantly large publishers in just ONE month this year. And, again, there are some galleys missing from that stack, so I’m certainly not accounting for everything.

Even the laziest bookseller in the least busy bookstore in the country STILL couldn’t  possibly read all the books coming out in a given season nowadays. And those of us at the opposite end of the spectrum (which describes most of the booksellers I know) are lucky if we’re managing to make much more than a dent. Especially when it comes to months as jam-packed as this coming May!

18 thoughts on “Why No Bookseller Can Read Everything

  1. ShelfTalker

    GXEL, I think the loss is barely neglible. In this case we’re donating books that will be given to a population who generally would not have the resources to purchase them in the first place. And when I give galleys away to local kids and teachers it 1.) makes them more loyal to our store and more likely to buy other books from us, and 2.) increases the likelihood of them recommending that book to their friends, who will then come in to buy their own copies. So, in the end, I really don’t think anyone is hurt by our galley donations, just as publishers aren’t hurting their sales by sending galleys to we booksellers. The fact that we aren’t having to BUY copies of those books for ourselves is more than offset by the fact that we will sell those books to others!

  2. Terry Toner

    Loved the photos – I’m one of those reps that drops off reading copies – though it’s done here in New Zealand – I’ve got a pile that grows too – I want chat to my booksellers about them after I’ve read them- time – where does it all go – still it’s a great industry to be in :-)))

  3. Elizabeth Joy Arnold

    Hey, it looks like my ARC (Pieces of My Sister’s Life, published by Bantam) is there in the first photo, top shelf, towards the right! **Slowly swinging pendulum in front of your eyes** Read it, Alison…Read it…

  4. Pat Walsh

    Arcs are important, but you’re right about the sheer number of them. Perhaps you may want to consider asking frequent – customers (who take your recommendations and share your taste) to read the arc and give you an opinion. They get a free book and you save some time. Just a thought.

  5. Doret

    I have ARC envy. (though that is a bit much) The bookstore I work at doesn’t get that many kids galleys. So I figure if publishers are kind enough to send them the least I can do if check them out

  6. clive warner

    I honestly don’t know why you’re complaining. This is the same problem I dealt with years ago when I was working as a radio DJ. Each WEEK I would get a pile of vinyl albums from the reps. Of course it was impossible to play them all, but if you don’t give each one a fair chance then you are not doing your job properly. So I would listen to the title track and if it was great (about one in ten perhaps) I’d listen to another couple of tracks at random then make my mind up to put it on the playlist or not. You should be doing the same thing with books. Read one chapter – the key chapter – and see if it is great or crap. The great ones get put on a list of ‘to read’ the others get donated to whatever charity. It’s easy.

  7. anialove

    I think it’s great your donating the extra ARCs. You might want to donate some to local school libraries – the librarians will make sure their more frequent readers read them, and they’ll offer feedback.

  8. booksrgood4u

    OMG! That is a lot of books. A a librarian I wish we could get in on getting ARCs!!! (Although the general lack of time to read it all would be the same as for booksellers.) In response to Mr. Warner – Music is much different than reading. To read a “key chapter” for most books is nearly impossible. There are many books that I would consider dull and not worth reading based on a piece of it, but as a whole they were pretty darn good. If you can’t see the character and plot development any chapter just isn’t representative of the writing.

  9. Clive Warner

    Ermm.. doesn’t seem like much of a problem to me. In the days when I was a radio DJ I used to receive about 40 new albums a week. I was able to reject about 90% of them just be playing the title track. I would have thought that with most books, reading one chapter would be enough to decide. Actually for some books, reading one sentence is enough … !

  10. Clive Warner

    In response to booksrgood4u, I do run a small press and believe me, it doesn’t take me long to reject a MS if it is rubbish. And I would never publish a book if bits of it were dull. That’s called “needs editing”!

  11. ARCs rarely sit on my shelves

    I’m one of those ARC-loving girls that reads a lot. Plus, where I work, we get a lot. Buzz is good, when it’s authentic. And there’s nothing more I love than recommending a book that’s not already hyped … and perhaps deserves it. But, to publicists out there that write press releases and perhaps don’t get why maybe your book is donated and not read, keep in mind that booksellers are discriminating. We like good books. When publicists don’t take the time to read books they’re selling, but write press releases that claim the second coming, it shows. Plus, if I really like an ARC, I’ll pay money to send it to other people that I know will like and talk about it. That’s how it works. And I know. I used to be a publicist. I am now grateful to be a bookseller.


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