The art of a good book signing
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.