Is there a right way and wrong way to sign a book?
Some authors claim you must sign the title page; others say you should sign the half-title page. Some authors cross out their printed name before signing; others consider it as defacing the book. Some authors only scrawl a signature; others personalize a message to the reader. Some authors include a date and location of the book signing; others don’t.
How can there be so much conflicting advice over signing a book?
I admit, I’d never heard of an author crossing out their name before conducting research for this post. I have more than a few shelves filled with signed editions, and none of the authors crossed out their printed name on the title page.
From where did this custom originate?
Authors seem split on the subject.
Some say the tradition started with personalized stationery. If you’re writing to a friend and your personalized stationery has your full name on it, crossing out the printed name suggests a more personal touch. Thus, an author crossing out their printed name on the title page suggests s/he is there in person to write his/her own name, so the signature supersedes the printed name.
Others say the historic tradition dates back to the days of a small press run, where the author would hand-sign each book as an authentication of the text.
Also makes sense.
After all the blood, sweat, and tears I pour into each story, I would never cross out my name. I worked too hard to get it there in the first place. 😉 But it’s a personal choice. If you’re fond of tradition, then by all means cross out your name. Next, you’ll need to decide between one quick slanted line, a squiggly line, or a horizontal line drawn straight through the entire name.
To help you decide, read the comment section of Writer’s Digest.
What about adding a date and/or location?
Some say adding a date and/or location adds value for book collectors. Others say the author’s signature is most important. I’ve never added a date or location, but I like the idea of making it easy for the reader to remember when and where s/he met the author.
I always ask if the reader wants the book personalized or just signed. I wish I could give you a definitive answer here, but the truth is, my audience is split on this issue. Half want a personalized message; the others are happy with a simple signature. As far as adding value, book collectors seem to agree that a lone signature is worth more than a personalization (aside from the date). That’s always been my impression, too, and one which I repeat to readers when I’m short on time.
“The book will be worth more with just a signature . . . when I’m dead.” 😉
When a line forms at the table, scrawling a lone signature makes life a lot simpler. Adding a date/location would only take a second, but that personalization can and will trip you up from time to time. Learned that lesson more than once. I donate the awkwardly signed paperbacks to my local library. It’s become a running joke.
“Hey, Sue. Book signing yesterday?”
“Messed up a few?”
“Excellent! See ya next time.”
Grumble, grumble. “See ya then.”
A few tips for personalization:
- Always ask readers to spell their name. Even common names can have unusual spellings. Example: Stacy, Stacie, Staci, Stacey. Last names? Forget about it. The possibilities are endless. Thankfully, most readers won’t ask you to include their last name.
- Before the event think of a few standard catch phrases for new readers. Bonus points if it relates to the book or series.
- Also jot down a few standard catch phrases for your dedicated fans. You don’t want to sign your tenth book with the same catch phrase you used for your debut. By creating a new one per event you’ll lessen the chances of disappointment. When in doubt, a simple “Thanks for your continued support” does the trick. It’s not all that creative, but it works in a pinch.
Sharpie, Colored Ink, or Classic Black?
Again, authors are split. Have you noticed a trend yet?
Some authors say they sign in colored ink to show the signature wasn’t preprinted in the book or done with a stamp. Others claim colored ink looks amateurish and an author should only sign in blue or black ink. And some authors always sign with a Sharpie.
I never sign with a Sharpie. When you’ve got a line at your table, it takes extra time to let the ink dry before closing the cover. Otherwise, the ink smudges. Blowing on the signature could speed up the process, but that’s never a good look. Sharpies also tend to bleed through to the next page.
If signing with a pen, bring more than one. At my last signing I ran through three. It’s a great problem to have, but a problem nonetheless if we forgot to pack more than one pen.
What Form of Payment to Accept?
At my first book signing, I wrongly assumed everyone would hand me dead presidents. Big mistake. I lost a lot of sales by only accepting cash and the occasional check from sweet ol’ cotton tops. Whether we like it or not, a whole generation uses cards or apps for everything they purchase. Including books.
Thankfully, we don’t need to lug around a manual credit card machine aka the “knuckle buster.” Nowadays all we need is a cell phone.
The top two easiest ways to accept cards are:
- Square Reader
- PayPal Zettle
The Square Reader is one of the best and most popular options. Compact, easy-to-use, and accepts all credit/debit card transactions. Either manually enter the credit/debit card, swipe the card through the reader attached to your cell phone, or hover the card over the reader for a contactless transaction. Square also accepts purchases via an app. Most purchases don’t require a signature. For those that do, the buyer scrawls a signature on your phone with their finger. Square has added benefits, too, like keeping a running tally of daily sales.
When you sign up for a Square account, you’ll be asked to link a bank account. Funds from the book signing will be deposited on the next business day. There’s also an option for instant transfer. The nice part about Square is the ability to set up your products in advance. When a reader purchases a book(s), tap the product(s) and Square automatically adds the price. Easy peasy. Square does offer a stand-alone terminal, but it’s pricey ($299. on Amazon).
PayPal Zettle is another great option. The Zettle 2 device is a stand-alone terminal. Connects wirelessly to PayPal’s Zettle Go App via Bluetooth and accepts all credit/debit cards, including Apple Pay, Venmo, Samsung Pay, Google Pay, and contactless transactions. The terminal costs $79, but new Zettle account holders only pay $29. Like Square, Zettle allows you to set up inventory and pricing. They also offer a mobile card reader.
I use both Square and the Zettle terminal. Dead zones abound in my area. Whichever device connects first is my favorite of the day. 😉
Group vs. Individual Signings
Group author events aren’t my favorite things to do. Some venues try to squeeze ten authors into a room that holds about five, and it’s a miserable experience for everyone. Aside from conferences, I don’t bother with group events anymore. That said, a signing with one or two other authors can be fun. Plus, if you’re new to book signings, having a fellow author to show you the ropes will help relieve some of the pressure. I will say, a solo signing is far more lucrative than a group event. Though it may depend on your area.
The Actual Signature
Early on in my career, I received top-notch advice from an author friend who had experience with book signings. She told me never to sign a book with my legal signature. By signing in the same way as, say, a check, you’re inviting trouble. For example, my legal name is Susan, but I prefer Sue (obviously). So, I sign my books as Sue Coletta, not Susan, and I changed the way I would write my first and last name on a legal document. This new signature became my author signature.
Why is this important? Because if you hand the wrong person a signed book with your legal signature, they could easily forge your name.
Venues: Think Outside the Box
All book signings don’t need to be held in bookstores or libraries. I’ve had some of my most successful signings at local fairs and Old Home Days, and I’ve sold out and scored numerous book club invites.
Readers love unique book signing venues.
I have a friend who held book signings in hospitals (pre-pandemic). Another friend held a book signing at a local brewery. Another friend has gained her local audience by hosting Florida wildlife cruises that end with a signing. See what I’m sayin’? Be creative!
A few years back, I held a signing at a murder site in one of my thrillers, which is also a popular tourist attraction. I’ve held a signing in a tattoo shop featured in the book. Some of my murder sites are places where I plan to hold signings once the book releases. And I’ve gained a supportive fanbase because of it. I’m lucky that my area is a popular tourist destination. Some fans literally run to my table, all excited to see me again. My husband, son, and daughter-in-law come just to watch readers’ reactions. My grandchildren (8 1/2, 7, and 4 y.o.) are far less impressed . . .
Nanna, why are all these people here to see you?
Because I’m cool.
Hahaha. No, really.
Out of the mouths of babes, right? Little rascals help to keep the ego in check.
Most importantly, book signings should be fun.
A book signing is a time when we get to meet the folks who love our characters, plot lines, twists and turns. Enjoy the day. Each time we sign a book it’s a personal experience between author and reader. The “right way” to sign a book is a personal choice. If it feels right to sign in crayon, go for it. The only part that’s a must is to adopt an author signature. Why invite trouble?
Over to you, TKZers. Did I miss anything? Do you cross out your name? Use colored ink? Doodle little hearts around the title? Please explain.
If you haven’t done a book signing yet, which of these tips might you adopt and why? Have you attended an unusual book event? Please explain.
I saw your suggestion for other venues just this past weekend at the First Annual Dallas 4X4 Truck Show in, well, Dallas – Georgia, that is. (My son entered his “hobby truck” on a lark and won – ugliest truck).
ANY WAY – there on Main Street was a tent from Northwest Georgia Writers’ Association with books and authors… and pens… not quite what I expected to find amongst the mudders and monsters and ATV’s and lift-kits and the like… and they did seem to get quite a few (other) folks stopping by – at least browsing…
Congrats to your son, George! A truck show is an unusual choice for a book signing, but hey, if that’s where their readers are… Those authors probably left with four figures, which is not unusual for outside events. Unlike traditional signings, outside venues have very few browsers, believe it or not. Most won’t approach the booth unless they intend to buy. At least, that’s been my experience.
Thanks for this, Sue. I love book signing stories.
My own practice has been to always ask what the reader wants, and where they want it (in the book, that is). I haven’t had much of a problem with lines forming. Maybe someday.
My favorite book signing story comes from James Patterson, early in his career. He showed up at a bookstore for a stock signing. He was led to the basement and sat at a table groaning under the weight of a few dozen copies of the new novel by Richard North Patterson. James, when telling the story, always pauses for a moment and says, deadpan, “I signed them.”
Have a great day, Sue. I would probably be out of line to tell you that I love the tat, so I won’t mention it.
You could never be out of line, my sweet friend. Thank you! I’m itching for a new one to add to the collection. 😉
Haha. Love the Patterson story!
Wishing you an amazing day, Joe!
I can barely remember the last time I did an ‘in person’ book signing. But I do sign copies of books I give as prizes, gifts, etc.
I always ask if they want it personalized. (If it’s personalized, it’s harder to sell on eBay.)
I’ve never heard of crossing out my name. Nobody’s ever told me I’ve signed in the wrong place. If it’s a conference, I’ll often put the name and year along with my signature.
I fall back to a basic “Enjoy!” with my signature most of the time, but given I have plenty of time to sign, sometimes it might be “Enjoy your time with Randy and Sarah.”
The best inscription I ever got was, “It was fun meeting you! I’ll never look at leaf blowers and duct tape the same way again.”
Haha. Love that inscription, Terry!
You’re so right about eBay. The first time I saw my signed books on the site it felt like a gut-punch. Now, most of them are there. *sigh*
Excellent! Thanks Sue. Haven’t done one of these in ages but smile, thank them, indulge in a bit of chitchat, and ALWAYS ask them how they spell their name. I mean including “Jane.” As Sue points out even the most common name can have various spellings: Jaine, Jayne, Jayen, Jain.
Thanks, Ruth! Re spelling of names: I’m shocked how many variations there are. Some mothers are so creative! When I get a reader with a really cool name I jot it down in my phone. Signings are excellent places to find unusual character names, and readers love knowing they might become a character some day. I always say, I can’t promise you’ll survive. 😉
Love your grandkids, Nanna! Little ones do keep us humble.
Two reasons to ask for the spelling of the name:
1. So you spell it right;
2. It’s a graceful way out if you know them but can’t remember their name.
Yes, yes, yes, Debbie! I ran into that problem at my last signing when a woman was gushing about my books to her friends, and I totally spaced her name. Since she was obviously a fan, I said, “Remind me how to spell your name.” 🙂
Thank you! A few years ago, the “other” grandmother told our eldest about my books. So, the next time we saw her she said, “Nanna, we need to talk.” All serious, she led me to the sofa. “You need to stop killing people, Nanna. It’s not nice.”
Try explaining the difference between fiction and real life to a five year old. Needless to say, it was a long conversation. I still think part of her believes I’m a serial killer. Geez…
Debbie, I used that ploy once when I couldn’t remember a church member’s name.
Me: “And how do you spell your name?”
As a reader I liked personalized signings. I’m not a collector, so I won’t be trying to sell signed books on ebay.
I would keep a messed-up signing from you, Sue. One time Leah Weiss was signing a book for me, and she was chatting with someone else; yep, she messed up when she wrote me a little note. The poor thing was red-faced, but I thought it was funny. Her signature now reminds me of the chuckle we all had around her signing table.
Another time Tina Glasneck wrote how it was nice to meet me and added a warning about clowns. I didn’t understand the clown reference until I read the book. Fabulous!
I bought a Christian romance book at a library signing, and the author wrote lovely things about me after our chat, and she signed the book with “love and prayers.” It was touching.
Aww, thanks, Priscilla. I figured they’re paying good money for perfection, but your signing mishap story makes so much sense. Maybe next time I’ll ask if they want to keep it.
Haha. Sounds like Tina! I try to relate the personalization to the book or series, too. This year for I Am Mayhem, I’m including a faux crow feather as a bookmark and sign with: Keep an eye out for Poe! 😉
When a line forms at the table
Hahahahahaha! Good one, Sue.
Back when there were actual bookstores, if I did a lone signing it was mostly to watch customers stroll by trying not to make eye contact. It was done mainly to establish a relationship with the store itself, like the legendary Mystery Bookstore in Westwood. I had some great experiences there. But now? For me, the ROI doesn’t quite work…
This is another reason to move to New Hampshire, Jim. I always have a line at my table at outdoor signings. Bookstores I do pretty well at, too. ‘Course, I’ve worked at building a following and I appear at the same venues year after year and weeded out the places that weren’t worth the ROI. Unlike California, I only did signings during the spring/summer…until Zoom events became the big thing. They’re ideal during the winter when New Englanders are stuck inside. 😀
One thing that’s vital when doing a signing at a bookstore (or Costco, etc.) is to know where the restrooms are. That’s what people stop and ask.
Thanks, Sue, for a very valuable post, as usual. I hadn’t heard of crossing out the printed name. I don’t think I will do that. I sign with a Pilot G-2 07. It looks and feels like writing with a fountain pen. I’ve been using black ink. Will change to blue. I like the idea of adding a date. Your most valuable advice (for me): use a different signature. I hadn’t thought of that. I’m now prepared. And my favorite that you suggested – unique locations. My mind is rolling with ideas. I’ll need to be careful to not add locations to my stories, just because it would be a neat book signing location. Hmm – I just realized that my WIP has a secret research facility buried below the county land fill. Book signing – bring your own fly swatter.
Have a great day!
Haha. I don’t know how many folks would be able to find a signing at a “secret” research facility, Steve. 😉 Why can’t you add a place to the story where you plan to hold a signing? I do it all the time in my Grafton County Series (where I also live). As long as the place fits the story, you’re golden. Plus, it’s fun for local readers.
Isn’t that great advice about the signature? It wouldn’t’ve occurred to me, either.
Very interesting topic, Susan 🙂 Changing signature style is a good point – both from a legal and marketing perspective. I have a writer friend from my hometown who is a fairly big name in TP (I won’t name drop, but you might know who I’m talking about – someone who I asked to do a testimonial for Marred but she couldn’t because her publishing contract wouldn’t allow her to endorse a competitor’s product). She uses her “official signing pen” which is a calligraphy stylus, and her personalized message and signature are a thing of beauty but, then, so is her work. Enjoy your day, Susan, er, ah, my best friend Sue.
Haha. The only ones who call me Susan are people who don’t know me, and you’re not on that list, Garry. 😉 Years back, I did a signing at a local library and the librarian kept calling me Susan.
At the end of the event I finally asked, “Why do you insist on calling me Susan?”
She said, “Because Sue isn’t a real name.”
Needless to say, I haven’t been back.
Strikes me there was a boy named Sue who did well in country music. Sue cashed-in, as I recall.
Exactly! I’ll tell ya what else this darling woman did and said during our Zoom call. Remind me. ?
Great information, Sue! I never heard of authors crossing out their names. I don’t think I’ll do that.
I’ve had a few book signings. The most memorable was at a library where I gave a talk, showed a video book trailer, and played a mystery game with the audience. There actually was a line after the event, made up mostly of friends of mine. I felt bad that they had to stand in line, but it was great fun for me.
Sounds like a fun event, Kay! Sadly, when we first start out it’s tough to get strangers to attend, but keep at it. One day, you won’t recognize the faces in line. And that’s where the real fun begins. You’re on the right track!
Here’s the most helpful tip I can offer: If readers won’t come to you, then go to them. Ask yourself: Where do my readers hang out? Once you figure that out, outline a fun event and approach the venue. If they think you’ll draw added foot traffic, many will advertise for you.
I don’t get the crossing out your name thing. If you want to give it a personal touch and hand sign it, you ARE still leaving a personal touch even without crossing out the printed name. Weird.
I had never thought about it before, but I LOVE the idea of including date/location. I confess I’m not big on worrying about signed editions of anything, but if I did, the one thing that would make me think even more fondly of that writer is to see not only their squiggled (usually unreadable) signature, but also to see the date/location—instant nostalgia for the book owner to take them back to that place and time. That’s awesome!
RE: The personalization thing—I mean realistically, how can an author who doesn’t know you personalize anything? I suppose if you and the author discover you have something in common. But this is not something I would be inclined to do as a writer or expect as a reader.
And I wouldn’t want an author using ink that will likely bleed through the page (aka sharpie).
Hadn’t thought about not signing with your legal signature. I hate that we have to constantly be on guard for twerps.
I do, too, Brenda. That’s the world we live in, though, and writers always seem to be easy targets. Sad.
I don’t understand crossing out the name, either. Nor would I want the author’s name crossed out in my signed edition.
Love the date/location idea, too! As you said, instant nostalgia.
I have a pretty good collection of signed books. This includes perhaps a complete signed Elaine Viets collection. I am always on the lookout for more signed books. A few years ago I picked up a used EV book. It was signed with a wonderful inscription, about a page. Then I realized whose book it was. A very dear friend of Elaine’s and my father’s had died about a year prior. It was her (now my copy).
Aw, that’s so touching, Alan. Sounds like the book ended up in the right hands.
I was looking for a copy of Night by Elie Wiesel for my daughters for school. I found a used copy of the complete trilogy at a used book sale. $2.00, picked it up.
When I got home I went to take the price tag off. Then I noticed a scribble on the title page. Autographed copies of Night go for a little more than $2.00. In the case with the expensive books it went.
Haha. Nice score!
I’d heard the thing about not using my legal signature before my debut came out a couple of years ago, thank goodness. Donating your oops personalized copies to the library is an idea I hadn’t considered. I think mine are stashed away in a closet somewhere.
I haven’t had many chances for in person book signings but I like the idea of doing them in unusual venues. I’ll have to be more open minded in the future about looking for those.
Glad I could help. Good luck, Kelly! Hope you sell truckloads. 🙂