The art of a good book sign­ing

The Sunday Telegraph - Sunday - - Column -

are un­likely to com­mand such hefty sums. Per­haps I am more in the league of Sir Ed­ward Heath, whose books on sail­ing and mu­sic were in­scribed in such quan­tity (and even in­volved train jour­neys on a kind of Grand Tour) that the un­signed copies were said to be worth more than those bear­ing his au­to­graph. Un­kind, I know, but there are times, when sit­ting in front of a large queue in Wa­ter­stones or, small in­de­pen­dent book­shops who man­age to pro­duce the largest queues, when one feels like sug­gest­ing that an un­sul­lied copy might have greater rar­ity (and, there­fore, value) than one ded­i­cated to Aunt Maud. Sto­ries of book sign­ings are le­gion. Ask any au­thor and they will re­gale you with a tale or two, of­ten at their own ex­pense. The most fa­mous is prob­a­bly that of Mon­ica Dick­ens who, when sign­ing a copy in Australia asked the ques­tion all au­thor’s in­quire of the next per­son in the queue, “Who is it for?” The re­ply was brief: “Emma Chiswick.” Oblig­ingly Mon­ica wrote, “For Emma Chiswick with best wishes”, only for the woman to re­it­er­ate in a loud voice, “I said, ‘Ow much izzit?’” Alan Bennett tells the story of a man who asked him to write, “For Christine, sorry about last night. Yours sin­cerely, Alan Bennett”. It is to Alan’s credit that he did as he was asked. He has won­dered, ever since, what was his trans­gres­sion. Good book­shops will make sure that each per­son in the queue is fur­nished with a Post-it note bear­ing the spell­ing of the ded­i­ca­tee. This is very help­ful. Night­mares en­sue when a vaguely familiar face ap­pears and in an­swer The real deal: the late Sir Terry Pratch­ett to the ques­tion, “Who for?” replies, “Me”. If the face is very vague then it is fine to say, “Re­mind me”, with­out one’s in­ter­locu­tor look­ing too crest­fallen. When some­thing in­side tells you that you re­ally should have re­mem­bered, there is the use­ful re­quest, “Re­mind me of the spell­ing.” Un­for­tu­nately, on one oc­ca­sion when I used this ruse the lady replied, “P-A-T” with rather a frosty stare. I sus­pect it was the last of my books that she bought. Then there is the tricky ques­tion of “best wishes” or “love”. Is the lat­ter too familiar, the for­mer too for­mal? Con­sid­er­ing the var­i­ous trau­mas in the world to­day I have no com­punc­tion in sign­ing “love” to any woman who looks as though she would ap­pre­ci­ate it. Men usu­ally get “Ev­ery best wish” which seems, to me, rather more gen­er­ous than “Best wishes” alone. As I get older, and my hear­ing is per­haps not what it was, there are oc­ca­sional lapses. I wrote “For Laura” in one book, only to be told by the pur­chaser that they had said “Flora”. I could not change the ded­i­ca­tion with­out it look­ing as though I had messed it up and so I signed an­other one with the cor­rect name and kept back the wrongly in­scribed copy. Three days later, in a shop in Leeds, a Laura turned up and it made her day when I pulled the ready-signed book from un­der the ta­ble and said, “I’ve been wait­ing for you.” She was happy, I was happy, and that’s what book sign­ings are all about – as well as say­ing a heart­felt “thank you” to your loyal read­ers.

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