For those of you who think writing the book is the main work of a writer, think again. The true labor occurs when the book hits the stands some nine months to two years later. For the past several weeks writing copy for postcard mailers, press releases, and all the other sorts of marketing material needed to get a book launched has been my main priority. With my first signing for Divided Loyalties scheduled for tomorrow afternoon, Lawrence Block’s “Signature Collection” essay in the Village Voice earlier this year captured my attention.
With a booksigning, comes “the” signature. You would think that would be the easiest task to accomplish, I mean how hard is it? When my coauthor and I did our first round of signing for the travel book, Exploring Houston with Children, a few years ago, the subject of signatures came up. If you’re lucky and suddenly have several people mob your table, each clutching your book and clamoring for your signature, having a quick signature ready becomes a real asset. Many authors add a line or two that adds to the signature and my co-author spent some time coming up with hers. I, on the other hand, had developed a quick and easy signature that is quickly drawn and added a couple of words that expanded on the title. The result is that I would sign 3-4 books in the time it took her to sign one. By the next signing she had modified her signature. You would be surprised at the wear and tear on the hand that does the writing.
Signatures are interesting. During my time as an events coordinator for Borders Books, I stood by many authors and watched how they signed books. Ray Bradbury had a quick scrawl but occasionally he would sketch a cat onto the page for the lucky book buyer. President Carter worked a signing like an automated machine. He had developed what was essentially an initial stroke lengthened to include the rest of his name and he signed the books faster than his fans could keep up. They would still be standing in front of him not realizing their book had been signed and pushed toward the end of the table for pickup. President Carter signed hundreds of books in the hour or so allotted for his signing. Illustrators for children’s book often add a quick drawing to their signature. If a writer has a story appearing in an anthology, he or she is often asked to sign under their name on the first page of their story.
You can tell if the person standing in front of you is a collector because they only want your signature and do not want you to personalize the book with their name. For them it’s just the author’s signature, nothing else. For those who do want you to personalize the book, names yield another cautionary sign to the writer. You cannot assume you know how to spell anyone’s name. Many “big” authors do not personalize the signatures. It adds extra writing to the process and leads to the hand tiring even sooner. (We should all have that problem.)
New writers at conferences, especially mystery cons where fans and book collectors congregate, are often asked to sign their books with the signature-only phrase. The collectors are playing the book trade’s version of the stock market. Sometimes, when an author garners a well-spring of attention, they may suddenly find themselves without a copy of their first book and learn the price of a signed copy is up into the hundreds. This happened to a mystery author I met in the elevator during a mystery con. She had just learned the collector’s price of her book and realized she did not own one copy of her book. So, perhaps a smart writer would be one who keeps a few copies of their first book on hand in hopes that their name will increase in value and allow them to reap a few pennies more to the royalties they’ve received.
If you’re interested in learning more about the fine art of book collecting, you might want to read John Dunning’s mystery novel Booked to Die or Nicolas Brisbane’s nonfiction work, A Gentle Madness: Bibliophiles, Bibliomanes, and the Eternal Passion for Books . So, if you happen to be in the Sugar Land/Stafford area of Houston tomorrow afternoon, why not stop by Borders Books–The Fountains (281.240.6666) at 2:00 pm and help me practice my signature techniques?