Trudi Canavan

bestselling author of The Black Magician Trilogy

Book Signing Etiquette

I’ve been getting a few questions about signings, so I figured it was time to write a post about signing etiquette. The dos and don’ts of book signings vary from place to place, shop to shop and author to author, but most are logical once you a apply a bit of common sense.

Time vs Number of Books:
I am happy to sign all of the books you bring to a signing so long as there’s time for me to sign them. If you have a lot of books I may sign a few and then ask you to go back to the end of the queue. Now, what constitutes a “lot of books” depends on the size of the queue. If the queue is short I will sign one of each of my books (and entire ‘set’ so to speak). If the queue is really long, I may sign a trilogy and then invite you to rejoin the queue. This is so that everyone gets at least a few books signed by me.

However, it’s also important to note that the shop hosting the signing may have their own rules and it’s best to contact them to find out. You won’t want to lug ten or eleven books to a shop only to find you can only get one signed. They have their own reasons for setting rules, based on plenty of experience with book signings at their particular location, which I respect and you should too. Don’t panic if they have a one book rule. You can always rejoin the queue. If the queue is short then there’s a good chance I can bend the rules and sign, say, a trilogy at a time. Also, if you hang about and the queue finishes before the end of the signing session, we might be able to have a little chat.

The Author is a Human Being:
Based on everything I’ve read and been told, signing tours are pretty gruelling. Writing already makes authors prone to problems with chronic back and wrist/hand pain (I have both, and the latter has forced me to give up my favourite hobby: knitting). While we want to sign everything, we may physically not be able to. Remember, we aren’t just signing books when we visit bookstores or go to events, but doing a whole lot of pre-orders and stock signings as well.

Stock signing from my 2005 visit to the UK

One thing I love about signings is the chance to chat, even if briefly, to people who have actually read my book (and liked it). Try as I might, I find it very hard to write and talk at the same time. The fewer books you bring, the more likely it is that I’ll be able to juggle the chatting and signing.

Also, the longer I’ve been signing for, the more likely I will lose the ability to speak coherently. Please be understanding if I make no sense at all after signing for a couple of hours or when it’s the third signing of the day.

Occasionally I’ve signed books for people who are very shy or too nervous to speak. Sometimes if I chat to them they relax, sometimes it makes them more uncomfortable. I understand completely. Only two years ago I discovered, at Worldcon in Montreal, that I’m still capable of turning into a gushing fangirl when finally confronted by a favourite author at the end of a signing queue (which is the opposite reaction, but has the same cause). I think we should have a code word or phrase for these occasions. If you find you’re too nervous to speak, just say “ugg boots” and I’ll know not to pester you.

Like most authors, I’m happy to sign things other than books so long as it’s legal, doesn’t involve charges of indecent behaviour being laid, won’t make a mess of me or the shop, and won’t take a long time. I’ve signed a quilting square, various human (living) body parts and a giant tentacle before. Bring an appropriate pen.

The giant tentacle at Aussiecon4

General Good Manners:
You don’t usually have to buy a book at the shop to get a books signed, but it is polite to do so. (Again, check with the shop.) If you already have all of my books, buy someone else’s (but don’t ask me to sign it!). If you find nothing you want, or can’t afford to buy a book, try to spend a few minutes having a look around while you’re there. Bricks and mortar bookshops have a hard time competing with online stores, and the more of them that go out of business the fewer venues there’ll be for signings. If you like being able to meet an author and get your books signed, support the shops that provide you with that opportunity.

Be considerate of others in the queue. This should go without saying.

Remember that I’m on a tight schedule. A signing is not a good time to be telling an author the idea for that book you’re writing, or your ideas for a book they should write, or attempt to interview them, or listing all the typos you found in their books.

Gifts are wonderful but can be awkward. The fact you came along to a signing is, honestly, a tremendous gift in itself. If you do really, really want to give me a gift I will be very flattered, but make sure it is small, light, won’t melt and can be taken on board a plane (no liquids or sharp objects). Due to my back problems I’ll be travelling with carry-on luggage only, and will be posting what I can’t fit into it home. If you give me a two metre tall statue of Akkarin I’m not going to have room in my bag, and postage to Australia is very, very expensive. Also, Australian customs is strict, barring things like plant and animal material, including wood, and some food items.

Oh, and please include your name somewhere so I can thank you later on my blog. There’s just no time during signings to write it down, and I see too many people to remember everyone’s names.

Going on tour takes time out of my writing schedule so when I get home I’ll be launching straight back into writing the next book. Definitely do not attempt to leave your manuscript for me to read. I can’t read it on tour or at home, and you’ll have wasted a lot of good paper and trees. As with emails, I read all letters but don’t have time to answer them.

(You can probably tell the last paragraphs is based on some horror stories I’ve read and been told.)

I’m always happy to pose for a photo with someone. Or their garden gnome. Or giant tentacles. So long as it’s not dangerous or likely to make a mess of me and the shop. I have no objection to holding your handknit sock in progress.

I think that’s it, though I may add to this if I’m asked questions I haven’t answered or something else occurs to me. Here are two signing etiquette links you may enjoy. Obviously I’m not as famous as these two authors and hope not to have to set some of the rules they have, but there’s some good advice here:

Neil Gaiman has a very good So You’re Going To A Signing post (scroll down to the section in italics). Great tips include opening anything covered in plastic first, and spelling out your name (which I usually have a notebook on hand for).

And this web page about signing tour etiquette at Terry Pratchett events is funny and has good advice about the number of books to bring.

28 Responses »

  1. Hi Trudi,

    I thought I’d send a brief update if you’re interested. I am almost always curious as to the end of the story so to speak. 🙂

    After some hesitation I brought the egg earrings with me along with a copy of her book to sign. I figured if it didn’t feel comfortable I wouldn’t have to give her the earrings. As it turned out, it was really a presentation about graphic novels not a regular book signing. She was very open and candid about her experiences. I was the only person that bought a book to sign and did feel a little goofy about that but was glad I had it. She was so touched by the gift and that I drove 90 miles round trip to meet and talk to her. She sent me a beautiful thank you card – apparently my present was her first fan prizzie as she put it.

    It all worked out great but I think that was partially me getting lucky and meeting such a wonderful woman. I also got a preview of her next two novels which was exciting.

    Thanks again!


  2. hi,
    what do you think of getting a bouquet of flowers? i’m going to a local author signing and i know she live a short distance away. if that’s too cumbersome i was thinking of giving her a nice bookmark.
    thank you

    • Flowers are impossible to carry from place to place on a tour. But if she’s local and going home afterwards it would be nice. However, I’m allergic to a lot of flowers, which can make it an awkward present. A bookmark is better, actually. It’s small and light – and useful!

      • very good point trudi! thanks for answering so quickly with good advice.

        this is my first author signing / possibly reading and i’m so excited. it’s at a public library; not sure how that will effect it, if at all.


      • hi again,

        i’ve thought of a great gift idea. her first book was called ‘good eggs’ a funny, cartoon book of her struggle with infertility. it changed the whole trejectory of my emotions on dealing with it and i thought a pair of egg earrings, drop style, would be a sweet gift. not sure if i should go with robin egg blue or brown with tiny dark brown specks.

        sound silly to you?


        • I have no idea, not knowing the author. It’s a sensitive subject, and maybe she wouldn’t want to wear something that reminded her of it. Remember, that you came to the signing and said you loved their books is a huge gift to authors.

          • good point trudi – thanks again for your insight for my situation and all you’ve posted before. it is really appreciated.


  3. Hello Trudi!
    I just want to know if you think to come un France for book signing?
    I hope you do it one day, I want to meet you! I like a lot your books.

  4. Any chance you’d fanny a trip to Denmark? (it’s a h… of a long Way from Melbourne, but we have a Mermaid!)

  5. Great!! Thank you for the advice.

    I really intend to go to the Hamburg signing… sadly I have to work that day, I can just hope I won’t have to stay at work longer that day.

    Can’t wait to hold The Rogue in my hands!!

    Best regards

  6. Hi Trudi!

    Cant wait for your book signing in Dublin on Friday, it’ll be my first signing so I’m all geared up! Ive read nearly all your books and cant wait for your new installment! See you Friday!

  7. Hmm, I’d bring one book from each series I have, but won’t 4-5 be too many? 😛 I can’t wait to go there, hope the queue won’t be too long (on the other hand, It’d be great to see Trudi has really many fans here :D.

    Plus, a little funny fact: official English release is 5th May. Official Polish release is 4th May. I know we generally translate books here really fast, but wow, this one’s sweet :D.

  8. Really really hope I will get to see you in Dublin I have to work that night and was wondering if I cant get it off could i possibly send a friend and would you sign the book for me ? really really hope I can come see you or Im going to be crushed anyways enjoy Ireland have a great tour and Go n-éirí an bóthar leat ( may you have a successful trip). Emma

  9. Really looking forward to seeing you in Dublin. I was working in Melbourne a few years ago when you were doing a signing but couldn’t get out of work on time. So coming to Dublin now is perfect. Plus its my birthday so this is my present to me lol. I’ll try not to be a gushy 28 year old fanboy(man)…

  10. Hi Trudi 😀

    I hope to meet you at the Dublin book signing, if I can manage to skip college for the day. I’d love to bring along some friends and we’d all dress up as characters, but I’m sure we’d only get weird looks from everyone 😛

    I have loads of questions I’d love to ask you on the day, (mostly revolving around Dannyl and Tayend!) so I hope there’ll be time for me to pester you (just a little bit!).

    Hopefully you’ll enjoy Ireland, and come back for a longer visit in the future 😀

  11. Hi Trudie,

    I read your previous post/comments, and as an Aussie Ex-pat, I wouldn’t mind try to make you feel more at home and offer you booze in London. I noticed that you did not mention it in your “Book Signing Etiquette”. Any preferences that you would like me to get for you? Don’t tell me it’s Foster, because we all know we don’t drink that back at home hehe. Along with saying nice things to you and the book, buying the book and getting it signed 🙂

    • That’s very considerate! However, I probably won’t be drinking on the job, especially as booze when I’m tired makes me very sleepy. I’m sure hearing another Aussie accent will give me the same ‘feeling at home’ feeling.

      • Hehe well I can get you the booze and I’ll leave it to your discretion when you want to drink it. I can hang around and even drink them afterwards if you like. Just let me know what you want prefer, and I can get them after work and head straight to Forbidden Planet. Hopefully it would still be cold enough!

        Unfortunately I am not a true born Aussie and don’t have the accent and even the looks. But I consider myself an Aussie, so might not have the Aussie accents but same like minded for that ‘feeling at home’ feeling :).

        • That’s very sweet of you, but you really shouldn’t. It’s kind of complicated, but I’m a bit allergic to the sulphites in wine (and I don’t like beer!). I can have a little every few days, otherwise it accumulates in my body and I start to get symptoms. I’m going to be wanting to save up my wine drinking for bookseller and publisher dinners.

  12. Note to self, leave life size painting of Mischief at home. :p

    This is such a helpful blog! Thanks Trudi! I’ve never actually gone to a book signing before so this has been quite useful! In the stores where I work, we never get queues of people and the Authors who do come in (although few and far between) usually just stop to sign a few copies on the shelves before jumping on a plane.
    Really cant wait to meet you!

  13. Hi Trudi!

    Oh, those tips are really both amusing and of much value for the very first signing I’ll ever attend. =)
    Maybe I’ll bring a pack of frozen peas to cool your wrist, as suggested at the Terry Pratchet website… ok, rather not. But I sure do hope you won’t have any problems with all that signing.

    “[…]give me a two metre tall statue of Akkarin[…]”
    What the… has anyone done that already? Hm, I wonder if somebody might try it now just because you said it 😉

    I hope I’ll see you on June 10th!
    All the best,

  14. Hi Trudi,

    Thanks for the tips- maybe I’ll just bring the one book (the multiple battered but well-loved sets might just have to stay at home). Can’t wait to book my tickets and hope you have a lovely tour!

    Thank you for the lovely books,

  15. Thank you so much, Trudi. This post answered all of my questions I had. Right now I can be sure I’m not going to mess anything up.
    I hope we could have a short chat but a photo of me and you will do! 🙂
    Trudi, I also hope you will like Poland so much that in the future you will visit us again 🙂

  16. Hi Trudi,

    I really enjoyed this blog post! Thanks for all the invaluable tips (both for a writer and for a reader) and the smile you put on my face at some paragraphs 🙂