Saturday, December 23, 2006

Thoughts after some more experience

Well, it's been a while and the first flurry of interest has died out, so let's see if I can revive it a bit. Now that I'm selling books to collectors and talking to them more, I'm finding some more thoughts about how to make this work for everyone.

I think I really underestimated how important the physical artifact is to collectors; they like to be able to touch the book, manuscript, file card, or whatever, maybe even more than they enjoy the slow exploration of the crossouts and the blots, the coffee stains and the little tears and pasted in labels, that is a pleasure they share with scholars.

Ages ago, at the Bibliotheque de l'Arsenal in Paris, I found an article from about 1830 that quoted the correspondence of Cuvelier de Trie and Pixerecourt (forgotten now, but around 1800 among the highest paid writers in the world). A couple of weeks later I found the packet of letters that the writer in 1830 had obviously used, and discovered he'd pretty much quoted all of that. There was a weird little chill from realizing I was looking at pages that Pixerecourt and Cuvelier themeselves had written upon and read and saved, that my cotton gloves were handling that original material – but most of my excitement came before, when I found the previously uncited and unstudied correspondence (which the previous historian had been quite scrupulous about, as it turned out). Knowing what was in the letters mattered to me much more than the letters themselves.

This leads to another thought about the right way to do this. Suppose I remove any restrictions about publishing the foul papers except that they may not be published in a way intended to compete with my commercial works (i.e. you can't bring out the next-to-last draft and sell it for $5 less than my final draft), and instead specify that I get some small royalty (hey, I did the work, I want a cut, though it might be a flat fee), and that the collector may insist on reasonable compensation for his/her trouble in making it available? I don't really think that the long excised sections of MOTHER OF STORMS or of EARTH MADE OF GLASS, or even the many endings of THE SKY SO BIG AND BLACK (the published edition combines endings 4, 5, and 7) would ever be of interest to any great number of people other than the occasional odd scholar.

This does mean that now and then something or other may turn up to embarrass me a bit; my old assistant swears she will acquire the tape, rough draft of Finity, that contains the sentence, "I kissed her, and she looked into my eyes and said, 'Learn to drive, you son of a bitch!'" (I dictated the rough of Finity as I drove to and from the ASTR meeting in San Antonio). I may have gotten a bit maudlin here and there or sometimes late at night, while looking for the next available hotel, I will get the creeps and it gets a little weird, but … what the hell, that's what would make it interesting, right?

On the other hand the other insight I seem to be getting is that the collectors who buy the foul papers will probably insist on allowing inspection only on their premises, or under very tightly controlled conditions; it matters to them that those file cards are the real file cards, not just what's on them.
So I'm thinking for Version 2, redraft to lift most restrictions on publication, but allow collectors to take more steps to physically protect their property? Anyone else have any thoughts?


Gary Thompson said...

And here I thought that your rules for compensation were already ridiculously generous. If someone approached me about publishing one of the few author-emended typescripts I own, I'd first ask permission of the authors estate, and second, wouldn't take any more in compensation than what I'd paid for them originally.

The problem I see with individual collectors owning pieces is one of publicity. Who will know where to look for these foul papers? And really, libraries are little better--special collections can be very obscure. My alma mater had one of the world's foremost collections of John Gay's works. Now, The Beggar's Opera might have enough research done at the acedemic level where people know about the collection. But given how little research is done on SF (and its relative youth), I doubt that there is that level of academic knowledge as to where to look for, say, Doc Smith's early Lensman drafts.

The solution is usually to try to track down the author's publisher, and through them, the estate. So what I would suggest would be some sort of--well, I hate to say registration--but resgistration. Request (and include in a letter)that any time the pieces change hands, you or your estate be notified. That way researchers will at least have a chance on knowing where to look for your papers.

Gary Thompson said...

...not to mention the benefit this would have to collectors--ensured provenance.