A couple of days ago I received notice of a package waiting for me at the post office, a box containing a dozen limited edition proof copies of The Cruel Stars.
"Limited-edition proof" sounds a lot more impressive than it actually is. These are pre-release copies, usually generated from the text before the proofreader has had her evil way with it. So you get the occasional typo. But you also get to feel the book as an object in your hands for the first time. It's always exciting.
I gave a copy to Thomas (who's already told me it's a bit thinky - he hasn't got to the shooting and the swearing yet) and to some friends who were visiting for lunch over the weekend. The others will get salted around to various science-fiction fans in the city's bookshops and to a couple of journalists. I'll keep one or two copies for myself, because although proof copies are imperfect by nature, they're also very rare. A couple of dozen, as opposed to the tens of thousands of finished copies which will soon hit the bookstores.
Today, however, another package arrived. Much smaller. All the way from London. My English publishers, who have the rights to release the title in Australia and New Zealand, had emailed a couple of the finished hardbacks. Having already handed out a couple of copies of the proof edition, I didn't tear the packet open with trembling hands. In fact I put it on the kitchen bench, made a cup of tea, and went back to my work, forgetting about it for an hour or so. When I came up for lunch a bit later, I was surprised to see the parcel sitting there. My books, I thought. I should have a look at them.
Holy shit. I knew as soon I lifted them out of the bubble wrap that they were very, very different. They are beautiful. Hardback books often are of course, they have to be to justify the price. But the artwork, the finish, the fine details such as the light blue ribbon to mark your place, they all suggested an objet d’art rather than some gross commercial unit that would soon be making its way into the back of a goods truck for delivery into the retail channel.
In many ways they are the same object that arrived last week; the same pages, the same cover, the same contents. And yet holding them in my hands I am still taken, many hours later, by the way in which the aesthetics of the final artefact make it something quite different from all previous iterations. That, I suppose, is the magic of publishing.