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The vexed question of book signing

I’ve just read Oliver Pritchett’s highly amusing article on book signing etiquette in the current issue of Slightly Foxed – he has lots of good advice, including what to do when your author friend finds a copy of the book he signed for you in the local charity shop and whether it is permissible to sign another author’s book.  If you think these are dilemmas you might face, you would do well to read the article…

It got me thinking about the whole vexed question of book signing.  Until very recently, I never used to bother about getting books signed.  I’d go to a reading, buy the book and then head on home without joining the signing queue.  It’s really my children who have changed my tune on this – they are so keen to have their books signed, largely, I think, to have a chance to speak directly to their favourite authors.

And since March, of course, I’ve been asked to sign books of my own, so the whole question has taken on a new meaning.  I have seen authors in the past sitting sadly at a signing table, with nobody in their queue, just waiting all alone, because, presumably, they have been told to sit there for a specific length of time. Before my book was even out, I was practising how to deal with this in my head.  How to look nonchalant and unconcerned. How to stop blushing and getting twitchy.  How to pass the time.   Could I take my knitting along, I wondered.  Or perhaps I could write erudite thoughts in my notebook and look like I was working.  (By the way, Oliver Pritchett has some splendid advice on how to deal with such a situation.)

So far, I’ve not had to face that hurdle.  I’ve only done a family and friends launch and some school events so the situation has not arisen.  (Perhaps this is a good time to mention that I am, of course,  happy to do book festivals, bookshop readings, or any other events which might require some kind of writerly presence…) 

But I have come across other challenges in my book signing so far.  Such as, what to write.  Just my name seems a bit stingy, but “best wishes” seems awfully formal and “love” is definitely too much the other way.  One friend (she knows who she is!) asked me to write something suitably insulting.  You can imagine how hard that was, to come up with something acceptably acerbic on the spur of the moment.  You might not be surprised to find that I was judged not to have come up to the mark.  I’ve not quite solved the “what to write” question yet.  All suggestions would be gratefully received. 

Another issue is where, exactly, to write.  I’ve been writing on the first inside page, the one that only has the title on it (there’s probably a technical publishing term for it, but I’m afraid I don’t know what it is).  I’ve been writing there, because it’s the first page I come to and because there’s more room there – and my writing, particularly after signing for a while, is quite big.  A scientific survey of books in my collection signed by other authors seems to point this up as an unusual practice.  Everyone else seems to sign on the next page, the one with the title and author name and usually the publisher’s name as well.   That put me in a bit of a panic – is that something that “proper authors” just know is the right thing to do?  Is there some kind of rule that nobody has told me?  Am I getting it all wrong?  Who knows.  And really, once I’d calmed down, do I really care?  I’ll stick to my page, unless someone gives me a good reason not to, and keep on happily signing whenever I’m asked.

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  1. October 8, 2011 at 6:44 am

    I got good advice about book signing at my first launch – apparently you are meant to sign on the SECOND inside page, because it’s the page with your name on it. (This works with novels, but not always with picture books, which may be laid out differently – I just look for the first page with my name on it and sign there.) If there is a very long queue (please, let there always be very long queues…) then I just ask the child’s name, write To X and then sign my name with a flourish. If there is more time with each child (which is the silver lining of shorter queues) then I ask if they want me to write anything else (if they can’t think of anything, I’m likely to suggest something which refers to their participation in whatever event we’ve just done.) Worst thing about book signings – being asked to sign books other people wrote. (Don’t!) Best thing? No longer having to use baby names books for character names, because there are some weird and wonderful names out there in real life!

  2. October 9, 2011 at 6:59 pm

    See! I knew it was something a proper author would know 🙂

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