I found out recently that book signings are a recent innovation. Their heyday began after World War II when a combination of cheap railroad fares and a plethora of newspapers meant that publishers could send their authors touring around the country, making be interviewed-sign books-get on the train whistle stops.
Signings were not popular with readers. There are stories of lines of book buyers forming across the street from a bookstore where the author was scheduled to appear. From time to time they sent one of their number into the bookstore to see if the author had left the building so they could come in and purchase books unimpeded by the prospect of actually having to meet the author.
Last week I was in a sewing store. A couple came in to sign up for classes. The owner introduced us and said, “Sharon is an author.” “Oh, what do you write?” “Mysteries.” “We love mysteries. Can we have your autograph?”
Since they didn’t look the type to sell my signature on-line or riffle my bank account, I took out one of the postcards for my latest book, wrote a short message, signed it, and handed it to them. “This is so exciting,” the woman said, clutching the card to her chest. “We’ve never met an author before.”
A friend of mine received an e-mail from a widow, who wrote that her health and reduced circumstances prevented her from having many treats, but that she so enjoyed reading every one of my friend’s books, which she borrowed from her local library. If my friend would only send her an autographed photo, she would treasure it forever.
The message arrived on a bad day—or a good day, depending on your sense of humor. My friend wrote back that she was thrilled to hear from one of her fans, and that since she hadn’t actually had a book published yet, she was delighted to know that some would be and that time travel, at least for e-mails, had been perfected. In exchange for the photo, would the woman please send back a list of all of her published works, and the dates of publication, so that she could share the joyous news with her agent? End of messages.
The most helpful piece of advice I’ve received about signings is to
1. Ask the person to spell their name. (How do you spell Marie?)
2. Confirm the spelling. (That’s M-A-R-I-E, right?)
3. Ask them if they want the book signed to them, at which point they will likely respond, “Oh, no, this is for Uncle Harold.” At which point you go back to step one. (How does Uncle Harold spell his name?”)
At a successful book signing, you can while away an afternoon doing this.
Here are other pieces of advice I’ve received from various sources:
1. Never sign your first name.
2. Never sign your last name.
3. Never sign anything but your full name. Collectors don’t want anything else.
4. Signature only, never a personalized message.
5. Always include a personalized message.
6. Always sign the fly leaf.
7. Never sign the fly leaf.
8. Develop a special penmanship to use for signatures. Never use the same signature you use on your legal documents.
9. Make your signature such a scrawl that no one can read it.
10. Always sign every copy in the store because a signed book can’t be returned as a remainder. (Yes, it can.)
You get the drift.
In the never ending discussion of electronic formats, the question comes up periodically, how do you sign an electronic reader, or a downloaded copy?
Since I’ve been playing around with the basics of book-binding recently, I’ve got an answer for this one. I can see a whole industry springing up to provide signature quartos for e-authors. A quarto is a large sheet of paper folded twice to make four pages. So the author would go to a signing with a stack of quartos made from elegant, hand-made papers, with a bit of text—maybe the first three paragraphs—printed on one of the pages, a artistic rendition of the cover, and perhaps the artist’s photo. When someone presents their e-reader to show that they’ve actually downloaded the book, they get a signed quarto.
Or for another electronic version, take a look at Long Pen and Margaret Atwood’s Unochit, which are not science fiction, but real machines in use today that permit an author to sign books in distant places, as long as both the author and the book purchaser have access to one of the machines.
Quote for the week:
Is signing a book for a reader the same as kissing? If so, don't the two people have to be in the same room? (A concern raised on a popular blog, by a cute-looking author.)
Margaret Atwood answers:
No, actually, book signing is not the same as kissing. In fact it's not remotely like it, though DNA and germs may be shared in both cases. Anyone who thinks these two things are the same is doing one of them improperly.
For such, professional help is available.