(I can’t tell whether these people are reading a first printing or a first edition — from the State Library of Victoria.)
We frequently get e-mails from people asking about first printings and first editions of books, and sometimes there seems to be some confusion about whether or not they’re the same.
A printing is one print run of a book. So if you ask the printer to print 10,000 copies of a book and then you sell them all and go back and ask for another 7,500 copies, the first 10,000 copies was the first printing; the next 7,500 copies was the second printing.
Those two printings are in the same edition.
Things like paper stock, cover stock, and printer can change with different printings. So sometimes you’ll get two books from different printings but in the same edition that have slightly different colored ink.
Check out the two copies of Gene Luen Yang’s Boxers & Saints below. They’re from different printings — can you see any differences between the two? You may not be able to tell from this photo, but the two are noticeably different in color because they were printed in two different countries. But they’re still the same edition!
So what’s an edition?
An edition is when you make a significant change to a book. It doesn’t count if you fix a few typos or art mistakes — the change has to be important. A new edition might change the cover image or the cover stock, the trim size, add an introduction or some back matter. or even all of those things. When you hold up two of the same books that are different editions, you’ll be able to tell the difference.
As below: the hardcover and paperback editions of Mark Siegel’s Sailor Twain. You’d never look at those two and go, ‘I can’t tell these apart!’
First printings are collectible, so people do occasionally want to know if the book they’ve got is a first printing.
How can you tell? It turns out that it’s pretty easy.
Pick up a book and find the copyright page. That’ll be the page that has all the publication information like the copyright line, where it was printed, who the publisher is, etc. It’s basically the page full of text in the book that is not part of the actual story.
Somewhere on your copyright page — typically on the bottom — there will be a list of numbers that count backwards from 10. If the numbers go all the way to 1, it’s the first printing. If the numbers only go to 7 (like on the copy of Adventures in Cartooning below), it’s the seventh printing.
Trying to find a first printing can sometimes get a little crazy because depending on the demand for a book, a publisher may have to reprint once (or multiple times!) before the book goes on sale in the first place. So you can run out to a store on the publication date of a book and still only be able to find a copy from the second or third printing.
So is your book a first printing? You should now be able to find out for yourself!