Sifting through Slate’s mailroom recently, we found a new edition of Neil Gaiman’s first novel, Neverwhere, with three words printed beneath the title on its glossy cover: “author’s preferred text.” It’s not the first time those words have graced a Gaiman cover—you’ll also find them on the 10th-anniversary edition of American Gods. So we wondered: What does this mean? What is an “author’s preferred text?” And what makes one text more preferred than other texts?
It turns out that the “author’s preferred text” is the director’s cut of the literary world, only far less ubiquitous. The definition is, in part, pretty self-explanatory: It’s the version of a particular work that the writer prefers, editorial interference be damned. The phenomenon is not limited to Gaiman, though he may be its most frequent practioner. Stephen King released a mammoth new edition of The Stand, subtitled Complete and Uncut, in 1990, in which he not only restored gargantuan passages that had been cut in the editing process, but moved the story’s time period ahead by a decade.
According to Jennifer Brehl, Gaiman’s editor at William Morrow, the preferred text of Neverwhere was inspired by the imprint’s commercial success with the preferred edition of American Gods, which had been conceived as a special release pegged to American Gods’ 10th anniversary.
The “preferred” cut of Neverwhere, according to Gaiman’s new introduction, is “assembled from various drafts of the book,” and reconciles the British and American versions that came before. Originally developed as a 1996 television serial for the BBC, Neverwhere was published soon after as a novel. When Avon Books expressed interest in an American printing, Gaiman rewrote parts of the story—which centers heavily around both a fictional and real-life London—to clarify British geographical details that Americans would likely be unfamiliar with. He also added about 12,000 words of new content, and cut many others in the process.
For Gaiman, the “author’s preferred text” is, in part, a way of restoring some of the text that was lost in translation during its Americanization. One thing that the new edition reinstates is some of the humor that Gaiman claims was eliminated from the initial U.S. version, as he wrote in his intro:
My editor at Avon Books, Jennifer Hershey, was a terrific and perceptive editor; our major disagreement was the jokes. She didn’t like them and was convinced that American readers would not be able to cope with jokes in a book that wasn’t meant solely to be funny.
The text also includes a second prologue that didn’t make it into the American version, and a new Neverwhere story called “How the Marquis Got His Coat Back,” which appeared in Rogues, a short story collection featuring content from a whole host of writers, including George R. R. Martin and Gillian Flynn. The preferred edit of American Gods, meanwhile, restored large swaths of text that had been cut for brevity. If that brings with it, as Gaiman puts it, “a headache for bibliographers,” then so be it. The limited first release of Neverwhere’s “preferred text,” in which only 1,000 copies were printed, sold for 200 bucks a pop.