Wednesday, August 16, 2006

Sign Here!

A correspondent in one of the Sunday papers was bemoaning the fact that he had not realised that book signing was a competitive sport. Apparently, he had been invited to engage in one of these jamborees at a book festival and had found himself competing alongside a couple of other authors whose books had a more popular appeal – or so it seemed by the lack of customers in line for his autograph.

I sympathise. In fact the only time I can recall anybody standing line for me was on the odd occasion when I would be pressed into service as the duty officer on a pay parade.

There is a touch of the proverbial sour grapes here, of course. Deep down, I would love to have anxious purchasers of my book all agog to have my signature on the flyleaf. There are a couple of snags. Firstly, few people care whether their copy of my latest masterpiece is signed or not; and, secondly, it’s doubtful whether they would be able to decipher my appalling scribble.

Frankly, I never understand why anybody would wish to meet an author anyway. Most of us are a pretty unappealing lot in the flesh and tend to be anti-social by nature. Don’t believe the highly retouched photographs on the dust covers either, where the author looks out benignly or studiously (depending on the type of book) at his or her readers. These photos are all taken at least fifteen years ago under some unwritten law of the publishing world, and meeting the subject face to face can cause serious disillusionment.

If you are a struggling author, as almost all are, it is wise to turn down the idea of a book signing unless you have an enormous family who can be guaranteed to show up for the event. Even then you will have to donate the books, as no family member will cough up for one without a lot of arm twisting.

If you have no family, the likelihood is that you will sitting in splendid isolation surrounded only by a pile of unsigned volumes, an event that can cause serious damage to the ego.

J.K. Rowling draws immense crowds to her signings and presumably garners a lot of sales this way. But Richmal Crompton, who wrote the vastly more successful series of William books (successful, in terms of long-term popularity, I mean) and whose works are still sort after, never, to my knowledge, made a public appearance. Most readers thought she was a man, anyway!


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