Signing that book … Lea Wait

Tonight I’ll be speaking at the library in Brunswick Maine (7 pm, if you’re in the area) and then signing my books.

Before my first book was published I thought of a book signing as a somewhat mystical event. I went to quite a few of the NYC YMHA readings by literary figures and sat in awe of my own personal gods and goddesses (Toni Morrison! Louise Erdrich! Michael Dorris! Alice Walker!) I owned all their books. But I never dared bother them by joining the lines to have those books signed. It seemed so – presumptuous. 

Luckily, most readers are not as intimidated as I was.

And when first faced with a real, actual, book of my own, I was suddenly overwhelmed by decisions. Does one sign on the title page? The dedication page? The blank page at the front of the book? I asked other authors, and found they had very strong – and different – opinions. (I decided to sign on the title page.) 

On last week’s episode of CASTLE I was horrified to see “Richard Castle” sign his latest best seller on the cover. “No!” I wanted to shriek. “It will smear! No one signs on the cover!”  

Since some of my books are for children, I frequently sign books for young readers. At my first children’s book fair I became incredibly jealous when I saw author/illustrators drawing creative little pictures next to their signatures. The first time a child asked me to sign a book and then examined my signature to see whether I’d drawn a roller-skating dinosaur or a teddy bear or, best of all, a portrait of HER — and found I’d just signed my name … it was sad. “I just write books,” I had to explain lamely. “I don’t draw.”

There was also that name itself. Some authors, I was advised, develop a special signing signature — different from their real signature — for legal reasons. (So no one can forge their name.) Since my legal name is not Lea Wait (didn’t know that, did you?) luckily, I didn’t have that problem.  

L'Art d'Ecrire, c. 1750

Which brings up the all-important choice of pen. Ball point looks so … common. But nothing that smears … And ink color. Black? Blue? And width of point …

And of course you must write a memorable phrase in addition to your name. “Happy reading!” is not sizzling. “We must have been lovers in another life” would attract attention .. but possibly not the attention you’d always want. I settled, in my first book, for “May you have a lifetime filled with happy endings.” It worked for almost anyone, and took a while to write — which was great when you didn’t have a lot of people waiting in line for your signature. (My publicist had told me it was good to slow down the line so you always looked busy.)

I’ve had 9 books published now. I’ve had short lines and long lines. I’ve written memorable notes and had people come back ten minutes later and say, hesitantly, “Excuse me, but … what did you write? I can’t read your handwriting.”

I figure I’m an expert.

So, tonight, I’m going to speak at a library and do a signing. I have my special pens ready, and my useful words in mind. I know what page to sign on.

Now… all I have to do is sell some books! If you buy one, please ask me to sign it. No author will ever feel it’s a bother. Trust me. Now I know.

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9 Responses to Signing that book … Lea Wait

  1. Sarah Graves says:

    Oh, I’ve been to the Brunswick library — it’s lovely, and they’re so kind to writers, there. I wish you lots of sales — and signatures, too.

    Have you ever had a nightmare signing? I have had a few. Once in a mall in Lewiston I sat for hours…no one. Lots of people came near the store, but no one came in. Then I saw why: there was a man just outside with some very large mechanical animals that sort of walked around on their own, and people were buying rides on them. I guess after that experience they just weren’t in the mood for a book?

    • MCWriTers says:

      I love your nightmare signing! I once did a signing at a store that advertised the event with a large sign outside that read: “TODAY! An author — and a MULE!” Guess which one of us got the biggest crowd??? And then there was the signing (in a far western state, not exactly close to Maine, which involved flying, hotels, and then driving 3 hours, and which had been scheduled for months — and then the subject of a number of reminder e-mails) in which I arrived — to find that the store had not only forgotten to advertise the event — they had forgotten to order my books! (Needless to say, I’ve never been back to that store.) Love those signings! Lea

  2. Barb Ross says:

    Lea, I love your post about signings. I just had a book signed by Ruth Rendell, who is one of my heroes. I gave her a signed copy of my book and told her what an inspiration she was to me and blithered like an idiot. She was very gracious.

    At my first Malice Domestic there was a Big Name author signing next to me whose line stretched out of the signing area and down through the lobby. Three of my friends got in my line, even though they all already had my book. Then they politely let a few “real people” through my line and went to the back and got in line again. I was so enormously grateful and touched.

    I’ve been to Brunswick, too. They are great people–librarians and audience. Good luck!


  3. Gigi Pandian says:

    I was equally horrified to see that part of Castle last week where he signed his book on the cover!

    For a pen, I like those new thin Sharpie pens.

  4. If I go to a lot of trouble for a signing — take cookies I’ve made myself, for example — I can count on a lonely experience. If I just show up with a pen, I’ll probably do a little better. Libraries are definitely a better venue than bookstores for me, but I’ve had some miserable library experiences too. I once drove a couple hundred miles with two other authors, one of them quite well-known, to appear at a “mystery festival” at a library. The event was widely publicized, a local writers’ group had expressed enthusiasm, a dozen authors were appearing, the weather was good. Five people showed up. Almost three times as many writers as audience members! I felt sorry for the librarians who had knocked themselves out to arrange it.

  5. Great post! I’m sure you are right. I nearly can’t wait to try my hand at this myself 🙂

  6. MCWriTers says:

    My first advice about “signing” was at a library in Seattle, and it came from Sue Grafton. Later that same day came my second piece of advice…I was at one of those conference cocktail parties, standing three feet from Tony Hillerman. So I reminded myself that I was a mystery author, too (my first book was coming out the next week) so I introduced myself and we talked. Mostly we talked about having books made into movies..but we also talked about signing, and how many copies of our first book to keep…and he said to sign and date ten copies of my first book and put them away. Who does not follow advice from Tony Hillerman? Over the years, I’ve acquired and lost many special pens. I sign all the Theas with “Yours in Crime.” Nothing special for Joe Burgess…but it still feels special whenever I do it. Hope Brunswick was fun. That is a wonderful library.

  7. I’m so glad you had the same reaction to the scene in CASTLE! Via the magic of Skype, I was watching it with my Smithie (who has been seeing her mother sign books since she was nine years old.) When Castle scrawled his name across the cover she shrieked, “Book signing fail! Couldn’t they have consulted with an author?”

    My guess is, like any smart publisher, Hyperion wanted to get as much on-air time for that book cover as possible… 😉

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