March 04, 2008

Writerly Ruminating: Will You Sign? Will You Not?

What's the good word? It's National Grammar Day! Now, off you go, diagram a sentence for fun...

After reading about Sara's most excellent news, I happened across the Guardian blog's Sarah Weinman's piece on the devolution of her love affair with book signings. After working at a bookstore, trying to control the line speed and limit the number of people only seeking signatures for resale value, it all fell apart for her, and now, she actually turns down offers of signatures from authors on the basis that it doesn't mean anything to her -- and pretends a connection between an author and reader that does not exist, and yes, she told an author his signature meant nothing to her, to his face. Ooh.
This morning I got a note from my publicist asking me if I'll be home to do a book event at a bookstore "in my neck of the woods" (an independent that I hadn't heard of until I did a quick Google) in August, and I hemmed and hawed and said of course I'd be available. (Saying "Yes" is part of the trick, right Sara?) But now that I've said yes, I'm (getting hives?) wondering... what it means to have a signed book. I bump this question to the well-traveled Robin Brande and to others of you who schmooze and meet/greet on a regular basis. Especially when you're first starting out, what's the point of signing books? What does it mean? Does it really confer value? Booksellers, book event people, what do you think? Would a writer's time be better spent doing something else when meeting the public? I'd like to hear from the book-signing junkies, too. What does this mean to you?

Meanwhile, the the AP seems shocked that children's book art is... big news. Um. Could've asked Jules and Eisha that one. Have you seen that they're now interviewing up and coming picture book people now? How cool is that?

This is a Freebie I found via the mental_floss blog: Story Online -- children's books read by actors and the occasional ex vice president. Also check out ten of the top chemistry videos of all time. Watch things blow up, melt down, and transmute into amazing colors while you have your coffee.



Sara said...

Seems like there are two issues here. The value to the reader of a signed book, and the value to the author of signing books.

As to the first, I own plenty of signed books---the result of going to so many SCBWI conferences and standing in massive lines for the authors who just inspired me (and everyone else) with their fabulous speeches. It's not so much the signature itself; it's the moment of connection with the author when they sign it. And if I don't lose my nerve, I can tell them how their book or their speech affected me. And then I put that book in my office where I can see it, and it continues to inspire me.

As to the value for the author, well--I know there are horror stories about bookstore signings. The ones I did were okay--enough people came that I didn't feel that they were a waste. I do think they work much, much better when tied to a specific school group. For my first one at Politics and Prose, the store invited three fifth grade classes to hear me speak, and I signed books after the kids had left. (To be sent to the school later.) I liked that.

I definitely think you don't want to be doing random signings at big-box stores. But indies in your neck of the woods? Absolutely! Make it a party.

C. K. Kelly Martin said...

I can't believe she actually told him his signature had no meaning. Yikes! I feel the same but would've politely accepted anyway, then put the book on my shelf and probably never have looked at the signature again.

Having said that, I do have some Billy Bragg (Mr. Love & Justice himself) signed stuff from a couple years ago and am glad for it because of that moment Sara talks about (as opposed to the actual autographs themselves).

Most of the time though, while I feel a connection to art I enjoy - whether it be an album, novel or film - that feels entirely different to me than feeling a connection to the creator of the work, who I usually don't have a strong desire to meet.

I'm sure I'm in the minority on this though and I'm curious, how do you feel about it yourself, Tad?

Looking forward to reading your book by the way! I pre-ordered it a couple weeks ago.

tanita✿davis said...


You're actually *not* a minority on this. I rarely want to meet the person who has created something which has inspired me. Well, maybe I should amend that to say that I rarely want to meet them enough to have that desire sustained into action. I can think of too many things that will go wrong, too many people who won't care what their work has meant to me, too many ways to make an idiot of myself, blah blah blah, and by the time all is said and done, I just sort of look at them from afar and think, "Geez, they're SO cool," and never speak to them.

Connection is everything. Signatures aren't really anything. But it takes courage to make those connections -- from both ends. I'm actually wondering how I'm going to do meeting readers. Are you looking forward to that, C.? I know Sara is good with that, but I - am sort of terrified. I think my publicist sort of despairs of me...

Sara, you've made a good point about making these connections have meaning for everyone. Definitely indie, definitely small, definitely people who are actually interested...

C. K. Kelly Martin said...

For me, it's more that there's not that many people I admire enough to want to meet them (unless you have 11 albums and an unfailing sense of social justice, I guess!).

But to answer your question, I have to confess I'm looking forward to hearing from people who have read my book but not so much to meeting them. I'm a bigtime introvert and even too much social contact with friends and family make me cranky and claustrophobic (and oh how I hate parties).

I'm hoping I can be the curmudgeonly, recluse type writer. Do those still exist?

Sarah Stevenson said...

C.K., you can join our curmudgeonly recluse writer's club. We never hold meetings. ;)

I rarely--okay, never--feel the need to get a book specifically signed by an author, and usually I don't necessarily want to meet them because I start to feel like a mortified 13-year-old, especially because I'm a yet-to-be-published writer.

There's one notable exception to this, which is the time I went to a Madeleine L'Engle book signing when I was about 12. She was signing books at an independent children's bookstore near my house, and I went to get one of my favorite books by her signed (A Ring of Endless Light)--but mainly, I went for that moment of contact Sara mentioned. Part of me just wanted to prove that she was REAL, a human being; and to see the person who wrote so many books I adored and read over and over. And to tell her, even if it was in awkward words and a squeaking voice, how much her books meant to me.

I'm sure she heard it a million times that day (judging from the length of the line), but she was courteous and kind and it really meant a lot.

Of course, I've never gotten a book signed again since then, so...

tanita✿davis said...

Hardly anybody ever writes anything nice about introverts. Extroverts rule. This is rather odd when you realise that about nineteen writers out of twenty are introverts. We are being taught to be ashamed of not being 'outgoing'. But a writer's job is ingoing. --Ursula K. LeGuin

(C.K., I'm very much looking forward to reading your book, too! We're collecting Canadians authors around here this month as well, so stay tuned!)

Introvert: Oh, yes. There's that word again. It's hard, when I can be sanguine and pleasant for people to believe that I prefer to observe and vanish when it begins to exhaust me. I'm reading Shrinking Violets frantically to get ideas on how to do all of this!

I do want to hear what young people think; I do want to listen hard for that person whose voice is shaking and who says why my book meant something to them. That's who I'm listening for... that connection. It will be good for me to hush about my own insecurities and just listen... and remember it's all about the book and not me.

Sarah, mainly the reason I want to sign books is from your story... I hope the book can be that meaningful to someone else...

C. K. Kelly Martin said...

C.K., you can join our curmudgeonly recluse writer's club. We never hold meetings. ;)

I would be honoured to be part of your curmudgeonly recluse writer's club. {bowing to a. fortis}

I so know what you mean about the squeaking voice too. The same thing happened to me when I met BB and I didn't have the excuse of being 12 either - this was only 2 years ago!

No wonder you didn't get a book signed since then though, who could top Madeleine L'Engle!

That's who I'm listening for... that connection. It will be good for me to hush about my own insecurities and just listen... and remember it's all about the book and not me.

That's so true, Tad. And such a very cool thought. The books are bigger than us.

Anonymous said...

As someone who has done her share of new writer on the block book signings, it's more of an exercise in humility than a true connection with readers. Speaking to readers about writing is where I find satisfaction. Signing (especially with my scribbly handwriting!) is just an excuse to make contact.

I once did a signing for my first book at the front of a large bookstore. The manager mispronounced my name repeatedly over the loud speaker, and people would stop at the table only to ask me where the magazines were located. The two books I sold that day were to an older couple who took pity on me and convinced themselves that their 20-something daughter would love to read my YA book. Not an ego boost, that's for sure!

On the other side of the table, I've had my share of fangirl moments where I've tried to blurt ten years of emotion into two coherent sentences. I'd rather admire my heroes from afar... but I'm glad I blurted when I did! I guess it helps to be an established writer, first.

Robin Brande said...

Here's my take on it: Doing signings at book stores kind of sort of . . . suck. I didn't realize that until I'd done several. Sherri's experience is much like my own: lots of people avoiding eye contact, a few requests for directions to the bathroom, maybe one person taking pity, etc.

But book signings in connection with school visits are AWESOME. Because kids and teens actually do care about meeting real live authors, and actually do think it's cool to have a signature in a book or on a piece of paper or in their school calendar (several kids at my last school visit had me sign on the dates of their birthdays in the calendar. I wrote each of them a "Happy Birthday" along with my name and the title of my book, in case they will have forgotten who I am by then).

But if you're going to do book signings, doing them at stores near you, and especially independents, is the way to go. Even if no one comes to the signing--and I'm not saying that will happen to you, but just in case--you can at least make friends with your local bookseller, and show how gracious and kind you are, and let them sell your book for you later. I've done signings where the best thing was leaving 30 signed copies of my book in the store, knowing the booksellers would move those after I was gone.

And remember, some people get all flustered in front of authors (as some of you have attested), and would affirmatively NOT like to meet the person who wrote the book they admire. But they might want to buy a signed copy later, when the author has left the building.

Bottom line (for me at least): the movie version of bookstore signings is not real life--not when it's your first book (generally). But if you stay home and write the next book and the one after that, people will actually know your name and show up to meet you.

All just my opinion. Hope it helps.

Unknown said...

For children's and YA authors, what's important is not how other adults feel about signings and signed books, it's how the young people feel about them. And in my experience with the teens and preteens on my message boards, middle-grade and YA readers love signed books. Yes, the connection with meeting the author is part of it, but for many of them, just having the signed book is magic - it's like a relic that they can keep that somehow captures a piece of the magic of an author that they admire. It's easy for us older, curmudgeonly types to say that a signed book has no meaning other than its monetary value, but for many young people, it does have meaning and value.

Saints and Spinners said...

I like going to book signings as long as the lines aren't that long. The reason I like to get books signed is that it's a chance to say "Thank you" to the author who wrote the book and who came out to read/talk to the audience. I don't attempt to make deep connections because that's not what it's about-- though I admit I got a kick out of handing Mo Willems my doctored-up picture of "Aquamo."

Saints and Spinners said...

P.S. I didn't mean to imply that other people were trying to make deep connections! I do relate to that moment of connection, but I also know that I've been stuck behind a person who decided to go on a 10 minute anecdotal ramble while the line behind was trailing behind the door.