Monday, 22 March 2010

Signing Bonus

How I feel about book signings depends on whether I'm approaching it as a writer or a reader. The writer in me loves the idea of meeting my public (especially as they mostly exist in my head at present). Signings are also a cost-effective way for publishers to support bookshops, sell books at full price and ensure that none of the signed copies can be sent back!

Speaking as a reader, a book is a book - whether it has a personalised scribble in the front, or not. I came out of a talk by Philip Pullman, Malorie Blackman and Frances Hardinge on Saturday, and my heart sank at the length of the signing queue. There were all these lovely piles of books and these brilliant authors waiting to sign them, but I couldn't conjure up the enthusiasm to connect the two halves. For the rest of the day, I wondered if I'd missed something, some shared social experience that was made all the more British by the fact it involved queuing.

I didn't help myself by compounding the sin. I can't believe I'm about to admit this, but I found and bought a copy of The Amber Spyglass for £2 in a remainders bookshop not ten minutes later! That's a 75% discount, but what price my self-esteem?

It was not ever thus. As a teenager, I became obsessed with a thrash metal band called "Dark Angel", because they were a) quite good and b) no-one else had heard of them. I got the back of my jacket signed by the band and drew a huge, slightly wonky logo in gold pen. I paraded around in this get-up with no little pride and to no little derision from my schoolmates, including the girl who was to remain the-great-unrequited-love-of my-life. Was it this experience that put me off signed items?

I returned to the literary festival yesterday with my daughter to hear Louisa Young (aka Zizou Corder), my mind made up to damn well get some stuff signed! The queue was much shorter, so I clutched a copy of Lionboy, the plastic foil cover making my hand sweat. My daughter had a copy of Halo, but sensibly she was reading it (in fact she didn't notice when we'd reached the front of the queue). The signing itself wasn't exactly an epiphany, but Louisa's a very nice lady with an extremely cool signature. If nothing else it suggested I need to start working on my own (very underwhelming) signature. I'm figuring the publishing industry might give me more time than I'd like for that little task.



  1. Very interesting, Nick. As a writer, I personally have a bit of problem with doing signings. Not just because my signiature's so awful, but that I somehow feel uncomfortable with the whole, "Hello, I'm an author and I'm only here for you to buy my books" thing. Somehow it seems to cheapen writing. But this is just my own diffficulty, I think. I possess three signed books - Ray Bradbury, Alice Oswald and Seamus Heaney. But I only queued for Seamus.

  2. Excellet post Nick. I've only done one signing as a writer and it was an anthology which means I was really only one fifteenth of a writer. It was pretty weird actually. The people came like London buses: all at once and then no-one for ages (and I mean ages - like 45 minutes!). The busy times were great but as for the rest - well suffice it to say that I could tell the bookshop staff that there was a little girl fairy book filed in with the YA horror! My recommendation based on this experience? Don't do more than 2 hours max, and preferably much less.

  3. I was once browsing in Waterstones and came across Alex James from Blur with a pile of books in front of him and no people. He looked very lonely and was trying his hardest to make conversation with the staff. No wonder he went back to making cheese!

  4. Hi Nick

    I shot out of the door and charged towards the signing table like a madwoman at that event. I really wanted to see Malorie Blackman because she's someone I've admired for a long time, and also because I wanted to ask her about endorsing other people's books.

    She said she gets sent lots of stuff to read, but if my book was published she'd look out for it. She probably forgot my name two seconds after I left, but I will be sure to remind her if the book ever does see the light of day! :-) I did the same at the William Nicholson event, and will probably do it again at Philip Reeve this afto.

    I think as a writer it would be wonderful to make connections with the people who read your books (just so you know they're not only in your head!). I also think that, if my book is published, I SERIOUSLY need to change my signature. It's an abomination. I hated signing the UV anthologies.