Saturday, October 17, 2009

Literary Legacy & The Shredder

from Jacqueline

It was when I published my first book that I came across the phenomenon known as the “modern first edition.” At least, that’s what I believe is the correct terminology. I had a few bookstore events lined up – as a first-time author my publisher correctly thought I shouldn’t tour; after all, if no one had ever read my books, the most I could hope for were people running into the store to get out of the rain. And what if it was a sun-filled day? Doomed and crushed first time author. In any case, it was at one of these events, when someone said, “Signature only, and date please,” that I realized that there were people out there collecting copies of the first edition of my first novel. These same people were ecstatic when I told them it was the real first edition, and not just the first American edition. But I guess I just didn’t get it. “Are you sure you don’t want me to say, “For Jenny?” I’d ask, and they would look at me in horror. I guess I had never noticed that shelf of books in my local bookstore, behind locked glass doors: recent first editions.

Now, of course, I know more about the collectors of modern first editions, but I still don’t quite get it. To me, a first edition has a certain look about it – it’s bound in a deep burgundy cloth cover with gold-blocked lettering, it has a fine ribbon book marker and the front piece announces that it was published in 1849, or thereabouts. Or it might have a bold dust jacket with cowboy-movie lettering, and even I would think that perhaps I would pay the money for that copy of a Hemingway or a Steinbeck. But parting with more than the cover price of the book for a Winspear? Hmmmm.

The issue of value and worth of literature came up again a few months ago, when I met a man who is a dealer in modern first editions. A more delightful and knowledgeable person would be hard to find, in this business. His catalog was impressive and included a good number of mystery authors. I was more than taken aback when he said that he would be delighted to “place” my literary archive. He had recently placed the archive of a major mystery author (I really shouldn’t mention the name) with a university of some stature. I laughed and said, “Oh, no ... I mean, who would want to read my scribbles?” I guess I didn’t want to admit that half of my literary archive was in brown paper grocery bags in the garage under two old saddles, and the rest had been shredded because I thought they might ignite and burn the house down. Plus, I really didn’t want anyone ever to see my scrawling corrections. In fact, I was ready to heave off the saddles and take the rest to the shredder. And there’s not much that survives the occasional purging of unwanted stuff from my computer.

This week, however, I realized that I might not have been taking this issue of value as seriously as might. I was chatting to my editor, going over some last minute questions regarding the manuscript of my next book, when she happened to say, “Oh, at least it will be one for the archive.” I laughed, “Oh, no, that’ll go the way of the rest of my papers – straight through the shredder.” And the line went quiet. Silent, until I said, “I think I’ve just said something really bad.” I heard a deep intake of breath. “Well, Jackie, don’t do that any more. No shredding or deleting. You need to protect your archive.”

So, dear reader, what say you? What do you think about literary legacies and first editions? For my part, with all this paper and the books stashed in boxes in the garage, I think I could end up being one of those old ladies who the paramedics can’t find in her own house. And frankly, I can’t imagine anyone wanting my dog-eared marked-up manuscripts, whether on paper or nestled within the confines of a memory stick.


  1. oh jackie, how can you even think of getting rid of them. i'm sure there are lots of collectors out there who would give anything for a manuscript. the closest i ever got to a one is that huge three-part pre-proof of freddy forsyths' book back then......

    they are your babies after all! keep them, auction them off, or give them away in a competition. that way they'd find a good home.

    i don't think i'd have to sign this one, jackie.... or do i!


  2. I know famous authors who send all of their scribblings to university library archives for future scholars to study. I say gofurit.

  3. good idea, patty,
    yeah, how about giving them to your old library back home? you'd be a local hero there.

  4. Great post, Jacqueline! :-D First editions are a big thing in the science fiction convention rounds. On top of them come the signed ARCs. While I was at a super big convention in Atlanta last month, at a publishers lunch, I got my seatmate to sign her ARC and the cd of music that goes with it - just for the hell of it. I'm not a collector per se, but I'm sure that duo will make someone happy down the track. The author was author/physicist/ballerina/singer Catherine Asaro. Some people are just tooooo talented.

    Think of all the changes that you've made to Maisie and friends, and the things or people she encounters along her path. There are whole treatises in studying 'archives'. :-D Especially when you're also documenting historical issues big and small. And the notes you make along the way...

    You're studying personal accounts from the archives at the Imperial War Museum from a war that's rapidly coming up on its centenary. Your notes on such and the relevance to the story you're writing are invaluable. Also, the documentation of your parent's stories and grand parent's stories from those times are part of the fabric of the tapestry. So I have one titbit of advice...



    Can't wait to read the next Maisie...


  5. PS: Sorry I haven't been commenting much. My laptop at the studio has big problems signing in with blogger and a couple of other sites. Sigh. And I've been spending a lot of time in my study there.

  6. You don't have to be Steinbeck. The University of Miami asked for the papers and manuscripts of my Jake Lassiter novels, and I gave the school everything I could find.

  7. from Jacqueline

    Well, I didn't expect so many comments on this subject. Sybille - yes, I DO remember the Freddie Forsyth ms. They'd had about three copies of his ms bound up, and I remember we managed to snag one and passed it round - and it was TOP SECRET! No one outside the company was supposed to know about it, and I know I was schlepping it home on the train in a shopping bag to read. What were they thinking?

    Marianne - I think I've kept most of my research notes ... somewhere. But of course, much of what I've learned is in my head. It's interesting, though, the value of the ARC's and other pre-publication copies.

    And Paul, I am impressed, really impressed. My scratched-upon manuscripts are just so messy, I think I would just crawl with embarrassment at anyone seeing them. I am sure yours are so meticulous that they are of great use to students and researchers, whereas mine are - well, the literary equivalent of a barnyard.

    Patti - I am always impressed by people who have work worthy enough for donation to anything more than the recycling bin. As I've said, I don't think there's much to learn from my scribblings such as "Come back to this" or "Check this again" or "think of another word for XYX" ... and so on. Maybe I should work on my methods of personal editing!

  8. The fact is, you -- any of you -- are the next Steinbeck. You may not know it, but who's to say he did? He wrote what he wrote. History decides.

    And yes, Jackie, there are people who would clamor for your notes and drafts that led us to our introduction to Maisie. Never doubt it.

    We have one lady who only buys signed debut hardcovers from us. She likes the idea of being in on the ground floor of the next big hit, and there's no telling when she'll be right.

    But there are people who will want your scribblings, not as an investment, but out of love for your writing. So yes, stop shredding, please!

  9. well said, fran.

    jackie those freddy ms seem to have ended up on my desk eventually. he signed them for me at the gmtv studio after the book was published.


  10. from Jacqueline

    OK, I'll stop shredding and deleting and try to keep things in some sort of order. Promise.

    Sybille - so YOU were the one who managed to snag the manuscript. And you got Freddie to sign it for you - cannot believe it! I remember sitting next to him at one of those sales meeting dinners (a bit of planning that was a huge error on someone's part!) , and on the other side of me I had that really talkative editor (can't remember his name, I think he was with one of the smaller imprints), and I did not get a chance to exchange one word with Mr. F. Mind you, I don't know what the heck I would have said to him - I was only the girl who handed round the lists of upcoming books and that sort of thing! I think it was in St. Albans.

  11. yes, that was st. albans, jackie.

    it must have been a couple of years after that, that i happened to see him on a sunday breakfastshow. as i lived in camden town at the time, i thought pop over and give it a shot. it took a lot of courage to ask him for his signature. he asked me where i got it from and i told him that i used to work for DR. he complemented me on my english and i on his impeccable german. i was still shaking when i got back to the car.................

  12. Oh, I LOVE old stuff... notes and first drafts from authors would be a delight to see. I only hope one day somebody wants to see mine! I'm glad someone has set you straight on saving yours.