World Fantasy Convention, October 1989
Limited Editions, PCs, and Stuff
A Discussion with Joe Lansdale, Robert R. McCammon, and Hunter Goatley
Editor's Note: This conversation took place at the 1989 World Fantasy Convention in October 1989. Current publishing practices make increased numbers of copies of "limited editions" available but promote decreased quality in those copies. Having spoken with Rick McCammon about these trends, I sat down with McCammon and Joe Lansdale to get their thoughts on the current state of limited editions and signed copies of books....
Goatley: Rick, you and I've talked about how many limited editions are printed now, and about dealers charging more for signed books. You and Joe have both indicated that you may stop signing a lot of things, or some things, or for certain dealers. I'd just like to get your feelings on current publishing practices....
Lansdale: I haven't gotten to the point where there's anybody I'm gonna quit signing for. All I'm saying is, I'm a little bothered by the fact that the trade editions and the so-called limited editions are the same books, with the exception of a cardboard box and an autograph page. I think that if you're doing that, that if they were going to call that the limited, that'd be OK, if you were only charging like about $10 more. Because you're really printing the same book with this one page and this box, which is worth about 50 cents. I just don't feel that jumping something from, say $22, to $50 or $60, is fair to people. I think if you're going to have a limited [edition], and you're only going to have, say, 300 or 600 copies—whatever they're doing with limiteds—that book ought to be different from the other one in some special way—I don't know, bound in dog-pecker skin, or something—but something different. If it's got different illustrations, a different artist, or color plates ... you know, something that makes it special.
The only person I know that's really doing special editions is Joe Stefko [whose Charnel House recently published Tim Powers's The Stress of Her Regard, with illustrations by Powers and bound in hand-streaked denim with a matching slipcase—Ed.]. But, of course, he's not doing trade editions. They're different, they're unique....
McCammon: Yeah, you're not going to go find them in a bookstore.
McCammon: You see, my feeling is that the collectible market is almost out of control.
Lansdale: It is.
McCammon: People are making tons of money off people's names, and everything.... All signatures can't be worth 50, 60, 70 dollars. It just seems to me that the more signatures you have floating around, the less value your signature has.
Lansdale: No, I don't think that has anything to do with it. I think what makes a signature worth more has nothing to do with that at all; it has to do with how bad people want those signatures. What you're forgetting about is most people aren't accessible to us, and they want signatures. I don't have anything against that, because I know that there are people that I know that collect [signatures] that can't go to all these things [conventions]. They're very excited and willing to pay that money.
All I'm saying is that if you're going to have something, if they're going to have people pay that money for it, the book dealers ought to have enough integrity to make those books a little bit more special. So, OK, you're paying for the autograph. And I think the market has to decide how much it's worth. I mean, that's fair enough. I think that it should not be obviously just the same book and you're paying 30 bucks for the autograph.
I don't really like seeing [the price of] books even doubled with my autograph. A couple of dollars more, fine, because you're paying for the accessibility of having it autographed by somebody that you might not have the chance to see, but double?
McCammon: Well, when you open up a book and it's like $100, it's almost shocking to me.
Lansdale: If it was really, really rare, it'd be different.
McCammon: Yeah, but if there's all these copies floating around.... You've got hundreds of these copies floating around that are supposed to be limited editions, and you've got your signature on all of them, and each one is like a hundred-and-something dollars....
Lansdale: Yeah. A press that I like—I love Dark Harvest; those guys have done a lot for the field and they've been really good to me and to a lot of other writers—but I'm bothered by the fact that their limited editions, as well as their trade editions, are just full of typos. And here are things that are instant collector's items, immediately; I mean, as soon as they come out, they're instant collector's items. That's understandable because, in a sense, they are very limited compared to what New York would be doing. But on the other hand, it's a smaller market. They print about what Doubleday used to print, the old Doubleday hardback line.
If they're gonna do that, the 300 or 600 copies ought to be different in another way. And these things ought to be proofread! I mean, these are supposed to be special, collectible editions; they ought to have that kind of love and care put into them. And I think that they could spend a little bit more money on their artwork, the interior artwork especially.
Goatley: I don't know if you read the editorial I had in issue 2 of Lights Out!....
Lansdale: Yeah, as a matter of fact, I did.
Goatley: I brought that up about Razored Saddles. I stopped counting at about 40 [typos], and that was just misspelled words, words that were repeated, and words that were missing.
Lansdale: Yeah, here's the deal. They sent the stuff to me to proof, and I did proof it, and still some of the errors that I proofed appeared. I probably missed some, but they shouldn't send it to me to proof it by myself; they should have a proofreader first, and then me. Because you've got to remember, I've looked at this stuff no telling how many times. They get it to me, and I have to have it back almost overnight—you know, 2, 3 days; I did the best I could, but....
McCammon: You can look at something and miss ... you could be checking one thing and miss something else.
Lansdale: There were errors in the final edition that weren't there in the stuff they gave me, and how can that happen when they're doing this on computers? I can't figure that!
Goatley: A decent spelling checker would've caught a lot of the problems with Razored Saddles. You know, a spelling checker is never going to be able to replace a proofreader, a person doing it, but still....
McCammon: See, that kind of thing just drives me crazy. It drives me crazy in a regular edition anyway. Typos drive me absolutely crazy; when there are typos like that in what's supposed to be a limited edition....
Lansdale: One or two don't bother me, but something that is just riddled with them, like you said, a limited edition....
McCammon: It's probably hard to keep out all of them, I guess.
Lansdale: I've never read a book that didn't have some, but it's worse....
Goatley: I've seen some that are real close.
Lansdale: Yeah, I guess I've read some where I didn't notice any, but they probably had some. The thing is that proofreading on the whole, not just Dark Harvest, but on the whole in the industry, has declined incredibly. I'm not a good proofreader....
McCammon: It's declining beyond the specialized markets; it's in New York....
Lansdale: That's what I'm saying; I'm not a great proofreader, I'll tell you right up. I think I'm a good editor, in the sense that I know what a good story is, most of the time. That doesn't mean everyone's going to agree with my choices, but I know how to get good stories out of people, how to put together an anthology and do something that I think's unique. But that doesn't mean that I necessarily know how to spell. And the other thing, too, is that by the time I get [the proofs], I've probably read [those stories] four or five times apiece, for a variety of different reasons. I don't see a lot of those mistakes. I would see them more if I didn't have to do them in two or three days. I'm saying they ought to have a proofreader to eliminate that. A proofreader then could quiz the stuff out before, just like the New York houses do; when you get it, you can make your decisions as to whether they made the right choice.
McCammon: Something I noticed that's kind of interesting: I got a pamphlet in the mail recently that said there was a copy of the original "Nightcrawlers" script, with my original corrections on it, for sale. And [it has] an editor's letter verifying that it was the real thing, for like $450. A guy in Los Angeles was selling it. I don't know how in the world he got that, or who did it, but I wonder if we're not gonna start seeing more stuff like that popping up.
Lansdale: My manuscripts have already been selling.
McCammon: I mean not coming from us, coming from our editors, from people we work with....
Lansdale: Well, that's what I'm saying: I've heard of manuscripts of mine, photocopies of them, that are floating around and being sold. I think in today's market it's harder for people to tell a photocopy from an original.
McCammon: Yeah. I think that's kind of bizarre; that's kind of a step beyond the signed, limited editions into something else.
Lansdale: Yeah. It's up to us to choose to sell our own manuscripts, if we want. But it's not up to somebody else to choose to sell them.
McCammon: If somebody somewhere is taking this stuff out of their files and saying, "Well, I'm gonna sell this to somebody, a dealer, and we're going to make $X$ amount of money on it."
Lansdale: And say it belongs to them.
Lansdale: I guess technically it does, but.... Well, I don't know. I don't think they've got that....
McCammon: No, no, I don't think they really do.
Lansdale: Seems like to me it shouldn't belong to the publisher, instead of the individual. Usually I get my manuscripts back after the thing has been printed....
McCammon: Yeah, I don't know, I guess I lost track of what happened to the manuscript. I don't know who had it, or.... You know, I thought I had the original, that the original came back to me, so I'm not really sure what happened to it.
Lansdale: Maybe a photocopy.
McCammon: But supposedly it's an original that has my corrections on it and a letter.... But the weird thing about it is that, it says in the ad—it has a letter from my editor, whoever that is, because I had no editor; I don't know what editor they're talking about—verifying that this is an original manuscript. That's just kind of a different thing, you know?
Goatley: I don't know if you guys even saw it, but upstairs they've got AB Bookman's Weekly magazine.
Lansdale: Yeah, I saw it. McCammon: Yeah.
Goatley: There was an article in there by Barry Levin on the controversy over PC copies [presentation or publisher's copies]. I thought he had a lot of really good things to say, but he was talking about how completists collecting stuff have to have every state of a book, and he said that it used to be that there was the trade edition and a limited edition. Then they started getting into the PCs, and now there are presentation copies for "Friends of the Press," copies for "Friends of the Author," copies for "Relatives of the Author," and in this little scenario, he came up with 8 states of the book. And that seems to be happening more and more....
McCammon: And there are some people who would want all of those books?
Lansdale: [unbelievingly] What the hell for? Why would anyone want all those books? It's the same book!
McCammon: I guess if you're a completist....
Lansdale: I guess so. The thing on the PC copies is, it's a way you can print unlimited copies. And that's bothersome. I don't think there ought to be PC copies, personally. I think there ought to be two things: I think there ought to be a limited, and there ought to be a trade. We ought to get our limited and trade editions for doing our work, just like we get PC copies. In one sense, I always feel slighted by getting a PC copy—I mean, I'm really not a collector, I don't really care, I don't really give a shit—but if I'm gonna get 'em and I wrote 'em, I feel like the others should be worth more somehow, the numbered copies. What they ought to have is maybe review copies or something—I guess that's what the PC copies are for—but maybe have those as bound galleys, or whatever.
Goatley: See, that's becoming.... Well, two things: Barry Levin suggested that what he thinks they ought to do is go back to the two states, limited and trade....
Lansdale: I do, too.
Goatley: ... and you guys, instead of getting PC copies, would get the first ten numbered copies, so all of the early ones would be the PC copies.
Lansdale: The others would be bound galleys, just like they send out for review.
Goatley: The other thing I was gonna say is that that seems to be happening more and more, too. There are more advance reading copies of books that collectors have to have.
Lansdale: Well, the advance reading copies have to happen; that's where you get your reviews and where you sell them to paperbacks.
Goatley: Right. No, I understand the purpose for them....
McCammon: You know, I think you can step back and look at this in a different light: the excitement is that there are so many different types of books that collectors can buy, and hoard, and it's like the story is almost incidental.
Lansdale: There are people who don't care at all; they find out who's collectible. But that's always been that way; I've always thought that was odd. I think that's why I never got the collecting bug, because I was always a reader—you know, that's why I got books; to read them.
McCammon: What appeals to me is the story, not necessarily the book.
Lansdale: Yeah. Which is not to say that I don't try to get the best edition of something I can, but I just won't go out and spend hundreds of dollars so I can say I've got the first edition. I want it to read. I'm not knocking collectors—I don't mean that in any way—but I always assumed the true collector was also a reader, but I find that isn't always true.
McCammon: No, it's not true. And that's kind of bizarre.
Lansdale: What do you do, just look at these things? I mean, what's the worth to it? It's like having tires in your garage.
McCammon: I was gonna say, it's like an investment maybe.
Lansdale: Yeah, but they stuff them in the attic or something; they usually don't sell them as an investment. It's like stocks and bonds: it may not be worth shit; nobody might want a McCammon or a Lansdale five years from now.
McCammon: [laughs] I guess it is kind of like stocks and bonds....
Goatley: I wonder now with the Stephen King stuff that's bringing so much, and your stuff that's starting to. Five years from now, is that King stuff people are paying hundreds of dollars for now, is it gonna be worth half that?
McCammon: That's why people should be buying the work, I think—for the book.
Lansdale: Because it may not be [worth what they're paying].
McCammon: Yeah, it may not be.
Lansdale: I saw stuff like—I think it was the galleys of The Nightrunners—for a couple hundred bucks! It's ridiculous! You know, I'm not knocking myself, but I haven't been around long enough for something to be that collectible. You know, I can see somebody paying maybe 50 dollars because it's rare, but a couple hundred bucks?
Goatley: And that seems to be happening more and more with brand new writers.
Lansdale: Yeah. I mean, hell! I'm not brand new, but in a sense I'm new.
McCammon: But it's happening to people who have been working in this field a lot less than you have.
Lansdale: I know. It's amazing!
Goatley: A lot of it seems to be just certain dealers who decide. They get the advance reading copy, or galleys, or whatever, and they start selling it. Everybody's gotta have it after that.
McCammon: Yeah. Is that because it's a good book, or because it's simply a collectible title to put on the shelf and look at? It's almost like the story is incidental; it doesn't mean much anymore.
Goatley: Yeah, they're just trying to get this rare thing.
Lansdale: On the other hand, though, I'm really enjoying getting to work with some of [the small press] guys, because it gives me a chance to do some odd things that I wouldn't get to do before, like Razored Saddles and the thing I'm doing for Mark Ziesing, my short story collection. I'm probably not at a stage right now where I could sell a short story collection in hardback—paperback, yeah, probably, maybe, let's say maybe—and that's good. Mark Ziesing does work that I think is equal to the professionals in New York, in both proofreading and in the appearance of the books; this guy's gonna go real far. So there is that. And Mark, too, I think, is the kind of guy that if you said, "Look, these things ought to be a little bit different or special," I think he would go do something about it. And I think that we've gotta make them aware that we won't be happy with [inferior quality].
David Hinchberger I like very much; I really consider David a friend. But they've been putting the little pages in the books that come out. I didn't mind doing that, because I'm not a collector; I didn't know. To me, numbered didn't mean dick to me; I didn't know, I just signed it. I thought the number was just how you kept up with it; I had no idea it meant anything. So Dean Koontz told me about it, he explained it to me, and I said, "Fine, I don't want to do that." I will sign the pages, tipped in, as long as they're not numbered, because that implies that it's a limited edition. Which I don't think Hinchberger was doing just to make a buck; I think he really thought that he was doing something special for the people who wanted it. I thought it was marked up a little high, but I will sign them as long as they're not numbered. What I'd rather do is that they have some kind of bookplate that you just stick in. Because I don't want to mislead people; I never thought that anyone would consider it a special edition—I thought it was just a special thing from [the Overlook Connection]—but people do [consider it a special edition].
McCammon: This number thing is kind of indicative of a deeper level of collecting. It's, again, beyond the story. We've got to have a certain number, we've got to have a certain print run, that sort of thing.
[The discussion evolved into the Joe Lansdale interview published in Lights Out! issue 3.]