Got Galleys? What They Are and Why You Need Them

At the risk of making everybody’s eyes glaze over, today I’d like to talk a bit about one of those hands-on, practical issues that’s key to any book’s life cycle but totally unsexy: Galleys.

No, this has nothing to do with seafaring or food.

The truth is, there’s a lot about writing and publishing that’s not only unsexy but – as my French husband likes to say about certain other things – real “love killers.” (Picture husband sneering at my comfy fleece PJs and saying, “un vrai tue-l’amour.”)

But like with those PJ’s, we’ve just got to have them. Editing, revisions, production timelines, marketing, sales reports….  These are just as important to your book as those sexy, dazzlingly inspired late-night write-athons we’d all much rather be talking about.

Galleys are one of these things.  While we’d love to ignore them and just keep writing, if we do they’ll eventually get in our way.  (Just like those PJs…) Because at some point, most authors publishing and publicizing a book will need to understand galleys and make decisions that involve them. Otherwise, vetting your book and getting it the visibility it deserves becomes extremely complicated.  I’ve seen this happen all too often.

Many of you have probably already heard the word “galleys” floating around in writerly circles. But I’ll bet that you’re not exactly sure what it means. So let’s start with their definition.

In essence, galleys – which are typically created up to 5 months or so before your pub date – are a preliminary version of your book used by your publisher for various purposes before the final copy is ready.  Sometimes called “galley proofs” or “uncorrected galley proofs,” they might still have typos or even sections that need some tweaking. Often the cover has not been designed yet, and instead, is a temporary layout showing basic info such as the title, the publisher’s name, your name and the publication date.  Or the cover might be partially designed so that the front is in pretty good shape but the back has a lot of space left to fill. That’s where, ultimately, blurbs should go.

Yes, they’re usually ugly. Like fleece PJs. But like the PJ’s, they’re also practical.  Beauty aside, there’s a lot they’ll be used for:

  • Your editor will use them for proofreading and late-stage edits.
  • Your publisher will (typically) mail them to reviewers and other media contacts who need to receive them well in advance of the pub date.I say “typically” because not all publishers take the same steps with regards to publicity.  Some will only mail to reviewers and not to other media contacts.  Others might not be doing any mailing at all.In these cases, your independent publicist, or even you, will be handling these mailings.
  • You and your publisher will send them to other authors in the hopes of gathering blurbs.
  • Your publisher’s sales force might present them to booksellers in seeking store placement.

What if, like so many authors nowadays, you’re with a small press that doesn’t produce galleys at all?  Or are self published?

Without galleys, it becomes very difficult – if not impossible – to do the groundwork necessary for publicizing and selling your book.  All of which needs to happen before your pub date, as I explained in this post about Why Book PR Needs Lead Time.

In these cases you’ll need to fully embrace those fleece PJs and take galleys production into your own hands.  Small press authors can usually arrange with their publishers to have galleys printed, but may need to cover the costs. If you’re with a small press, you should absolutely ask about this as soon as possible after signing a contract – or even during the signing process.

Self published authors have various options, including creating galleys using a provider such as BookMobile or Keystone Press.  This, too, needs to be planned in advance so you synch your production schedule up accordingly.

And if for whatever reason you simply can’t get galleys at all, there is an alternative.  And yes, it’s another completely mind-numbing writerly love killer:

ARCs.

ARCs, or advance review copies, are typically final copies of the book produced in advance.  They are usually not available as early as galleys, but will serve the purpose in many cases – though not all.

If you are self-publishing, especially via CreateSpace, getting ARCs without actually publishing can be tricky.  But that’s the topic of a whole other unsexy post…

The bottom line is: when going into the publishing process, be aware that you will need galleys, or at least ARCs, for a variety of purposes.  Make sure to either communicate with your publisher early on about this so they can be available in time to be used properly in supporting your book, or to plan galley production into your self-publishing timeline.