In 2002, publisher Cemetery Dance released its first full limited-edition novel by Stephen King: From a Buick 8. It was a visual and tactile treat of a book, issued in three states, or versions: a “gift” edition, a limited numbered edition, and a 52-copy lettered edition, each one more sumptuous than the last. Bernie Wrightson’s illustrations managed to deftly capture the otherworldly strangeness of the creatures that emerge from the titular Buick, despite the fact that they are said to be indescribable. While it wasn’t the first book with Stephen King's work published by Cemetery Dance (that honor goes to 1998’s The Best of Cemetery Dance, which includes the reprint King story “Chattery Teeth”), it set a precedent. Later King publications – Blockade Billy; Full Dark, No Stars; It: The 25th Anniversary Edition; and especially the two Secretary of Dreams compilations – matched or surpassed what From a Buick 8 started, which cemented Cemetery Dance as one of the most exciting, important publishers of Stephen King limited editions.
Now, a quick primer on limited editions for the uninitiated: unlike mass-market, or trade books – those hardcovers and paperbacks you see on the shelves at Target and on Amazon.com and in actual bookstores, long may they live – limited editions generally only have a single print run; when they’re gone, they’re gone. These runs are usually presented in different “states”: a lettered state of a signed limited is most often the rarest, restricted to twenty–six or fifty–two copies (and designated by the letters A–Z or A–ZZ inside) and usually features the most lavish production values. A numbered state is more accessible, a little less expensive and featuring most of the bells and whistles of the lettered version. Numbered editions usually have a print run of fewer than 1,500 copies – a miniscule amount when compared to the million–plus print runs of King’s mass market books. More recently, specialty publishers have offered a third state, the gift edition: unnumbered and unsigned, but still featuring the same exacting standards of their more expensive cousins. Gift edition printings are kept low, as well – most often under 5,000 copies – and are usually priced affordably for average readers. For about double what a person would pay for a hardcover in stores, they can own a beautifully–produced piece of art … albeit without Stephen King’s signature.
A little over a decade after Cemetery Dance published Buick 8, we arrive at one of the most anticipated novels of Stephen King’s career: Doctor Sleep, the sequel to King’s masterpiece, The Shining. While frequent King limited-edition publisher Subterranean Press (The Green Mile, Stephen King Goes to the Movies) was tasked with handling the limited reprint of The Shining, Cemetery Dance concurrently pulled out all the stops with Doctor Sleep. Released as a “deluxe special edition,” Sleep comes in the standard states, each boasting an oversized design (7 inches X 10 inches). The heft on this thing is incredible, underscoring the notion of a limited edition as an object to be held, as well as a story to be enjoyed. Erin S. Wells builds on the impressive illustrations she offered in the 25th anniversary edition of It, but it’s Vincent Chong’s color work that truly astounds. Recalling J.K. Potter’s mixed-media illustration that defined Scream Press’ outstanding Skeleton Crew limited, Chong’s pictures offer both literal and phantasmagorical interpretations of the text, serving to heighten the horror without rendering it explicable.
The gift edition, published at an accessible 1,750 copies, came unsigned and slipcased, with both the cover and the case sporting two-color hot foil stamping. This edition also features illustrated endpapers, with an original drawing by King mainstay Glenn Chadbourne. Move up a grade and we get more amenities: signed by King, Wells, and Chong, the numbered edition of only 750 copies is bound in leather with that two-color hot foil stamping. Another step up from the gift edition, this version comes in a traycase. It’s the 52-copy lettered edition (A-ZZ) that really dazzles in its adjectival excess: imported endpapers, gilded page edges, a satin page marker, a custom traycase, this edition is the definition of how Cemetery Dance can present textual works of art as visual works of art. Also signed by King and all artists, this lettered state sold out in just over an hour.
While in recent years, King limited editions have come out more routinely, it’s a mistake to think that the editions themselves are anything routine. Doctor Sleep once again proves there are still enough people who care enough about books as objects to put as much time, care, and effort into the book part as King put into the story part.
Kevin Quigley is an author whose website, CharnelHouseSK.com, is one of the leading online sources for Stephen King news, reviews, and information. He has written several books on Stephen King for Cemetery Dance Publications, including a book on comics and Stephen King, Drawn Into Darkness, as well as Chart of Darkness, Blood In Your Ears, and Stephen King Limited, and co-wrote the recently released Stephen King Illustrated Movie Trivia Book. His first novel, I’m On Fire, is forthcoming. Find his books at cemeterydance.com.