I personally have never been an autograph collector, but I do have a few autographed books on my shelves which I got by accident. Lots of people like autographs, apparently to prove or imply that they were once in the same place as a famous person. If readers put you in the same category as Mickey Mantle, Marilyn Monroe or John Lennon, play along with it—no matter how much your wrist hurts.
If you are selling your books from your own website, competing with other booksellers that underprice you, you may be able to justify your price by including your signature and maybe an inscription.
Autographs (just your name) and inscriptions (a comment plus your name) can go on the flyleaf (a thicker-than-normal blank right page just inside the front cover in a hardcover book) or on the half title ("bastard title") or title page; so always leave adequate “white space” up front.
I've never done a formal signing, but I do sell (and sometimes give away) books with inscriptions. I try to write something that relates to the book and/or the recipient.
- For my books on telecommunications, I often write "I hope you never get a wrong number."
- When a humorous book goes to a doctor, I write "Laughter is the best medicine."
- When my memoir Stories I'd Tell My Children (but maybe not until they're adults) goes to people I know nothing about, I often write "It's never too late to have a happy childhood."
- For Do As I Say, Not As I Did, I often write "Please be careful. Don't do what I did!"
- For my new Internet Hell, I sometimes say "Be very cautious. Computers can be dangerous!"
- When a person or business is mentioned in my books, I can say something like "Congratulations! You're on page 147."
- If your inscription is more than about six words, practice it first on plain paper so you know how big your letters should be and if you should use more than one line for the text.
- I always include a date with an autograph or inscription. Some other authors don't. Make your own rule.
Long inscriptions are probably wrong if you have 200 people lined up in a bookstore, but are fine if you are sending out one or two copies with no time pressure.
Here's some good advice about book signings from publishing expert Dick Margulis:
- Find a black-ink pen that you really like to write with. It should not be such a fine point that you risk snagging on the surface of the paper and ripping it. It should not be an ink that bleeds through the page. It should allow for a smooth, fluid, comfortable motion with little pressure. Buy a box of them. (Note from Michael: I like Sarasa 0.7 and Pilot Precise V7 pens.)
- You do not need to use your real, legal signature. Devise a brief, casual signature (just your first name is usually fine, and legibility is not necessary) that you can turn out consistently and quickly while looking at the person for whom you are signing (rather than at the page). Bigger is better than smaller. Practice until it's comfortable.
- Keep your wrist straight (to prevent injury). Move your arm from your shoulder, not from your elbow (larger muscles in your upper arm than in your forearm).
- Warm up beforehand. Stand up. Do whatever stretches and rotations you would normally do to relax your neck and shoulders. Let your arms hang loosely for your shoulders and wiggle them, paying particular attention to keeping your hands loose.
- Take breaks. Stand up and shake out your arms again.
- After the session, go to your hotel room and ice your elbow and shoulder for twenty minutes before you agree to meet anyone for dinner.
- If only five people show up, ignore everything above, because it's overkill in that situation.
(Back to Michael:) any time you sign or send a book, stick in three to six business cards that show the book cover and maybe "at Amazon and B&N" or your website address if you prefer to sell directly. Make it easy for happy customers to recommend the book to others. While some of the cards may be used as bookmarks, crumb sweepers or be thrown away, I assume that some will be passed on to potential purchasers.
In addition to cards promoting the books they're inserted in, I also insert cards for some of my other books.
I get my cards from VistaPrint, a major maker of business cards and other printed products for businesses which I've been buying from for many years. For the cards shown here, I uploaded a TIF image copied from the PDF of my cover. The paperback books measure 6 x 9 inches, and fit fine on the business card with a little white space above and below the cover image for promotional copy.
The price was just $25 for 1500 cards—less than two cents each with rush shipping. If you spend a little more, you can have VistaPrint use the space on the back to print some blurbs from readers or reviewers who like the book.
My wife and I carry the cards around to give to possible "customers." Marilyn has turned out to be an excellent salesperson. She motivated our dentist to order a copy from Amazon and I signed it for him when I had my teeth cleaned. My podiatrist, however, asked for a freebie. I gave it to him and he displays it in his office. So does my urologist. Nice.
(Gingrich photo from WashingtonPost.com. Thanks.)