Monday, November 27, 2006
Yes, the strange and wonderful world of the book collector. I didn’t really know of its existence until shortly after The Various was published, in 2003.
Then some chap emailed me and asked if he could send me his copies for signing. I said sure. (What, he’s got more than one copy, I thought? He must be keen.) Then this big box arrived with about 25 books in it. I think that’s when I began to realise that there was something weird going on.
Shortly after that, somebody told me that they’d seen an early proof of the book sell at auction for about £70. I found this astonishing. Who’d pay that kind of money?
It gradually became apparent that there was a lot of interest in The Various from people who didn’t exactly fall into the 9-13 target reading age group. Some were very obviously dealers, some were private collectors, but all seemed keen to buy signed copies – or better still copies with a little doodle in them. So I’d obligingly do a sketch on the title page (grateful that the book was getting some attention) only to see the thing come up for immediate sale on ebay.
I started asking questions, and learned that there’s a lively futures market in books and their authors. Rare signed first edition copies of books that have gone on to be successful can fetch hundreds of pounds. Dealers and collectors look closely at newly published books and take a punt on those they think will be successful. So a good quality hardback book, from an emerging author and reputable publisher, is likely to attract attention from the collector’s market – the more so if the initial print run is low volume.
The collector’s market for children’s books is particularly strong. JK Rowling’s first Harry Potter book only had a print run of about 500, I think. Nobody could have foretold just how successful she was going to be, and so a mint condition copy of this first edition is going to be worth a lot of money. The downside of book speculation, as with all gambling, is that you can just as easily catch a cold as make a profit. Authors whose early work once seemed so promising can quickly fade away, and you're left holding a stack of signed books that nobody wants.
The most I’ve seen a copy of The Various go for is £900. This was an advance proof, sometimes known as an advance reader's copy or ARC, like the one above, in which I’d done a little colour illustration. Amazing. Since then I’ve embellished quite a few copies of both The Various and Celandine. They do still come up on ebay, but I think that a lot of people are now waiting for the third book to be finished – then I imagine that we’ll see complete ‘sets’ of collector copies coming up for sale. I’m in touch with a number of serious dealers and collectors, and I’ll very often produce work to order – a drawing of this character or that scene. I’m happy to do it. It’s just free-lance illustration as far as I’m concerned, and if these copies then go on to trade hands for big money, then I’m delighted. My primary concern is to produce the best writing that I’m capable of. Anything that then helps bring that writing to a wider public has to be a good thing for me.
They’re all mad, of course, these collector types. And I'm all for that. The world needs enthusiasts, and book collectors are among some of the most knowledgeable and enthusiastic people you’re likely to meet.