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.
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.
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.