Saturday, July 19, 2008

Signed by Author

This Guardian article about the speed record for signing books in a one-hour period being claimed now by Salmon Rushdie got me to thinking about signed books, in general. I do enjoy adding them to my collection but I much prefer getting a book signed in person or via direct mail contact with the author. I also own a few signed first editions that I've picked up from various bookstores over the years but, since they don't come attached to any personal memories, they don't mean as much to me as the others (although I'm still tickled to have found a personalized copy of one of Isaac Bashevis Singer's books for $2.98 on a bargain shelf, the inscription being dated November 9,1974).
Rushdie said he had signed 1,000 copies, on his most recent tour promoting the Enchantress of Florence, in a books warehouse in Nashville in 57 minutes.

Rushdie insisted: "Let me be clear: I did not initial the books, but signed my full name." The Best of Booker winner agreed that a crack team of book-handlers is essential.

"I did have the support of experienced staff at Ingrams book distributors in Nashville, (and at many other US bookstores), who will confirm that among the fastest present-day signers of books are President Jimmy Carter, the novelist Amy Tan, and myself," he said.
So Mr. Rushdie signed the books at the rate of one every 3 1/2 seconds. I have to admit that I'm impressed with his stamina and speed but would someone please tell me why I should add special value to something that the man held in his hands for less than four seconds, a book that obviously spent more time in the hands of the helpers who were shoving them at him one after the other than in Rushdie's? (Actually I would be willing to bet that he probably just raised his hand after each signature, allowing one helper to move the signed book away from him as a second helper was pushing a fresh copy under his raised hand).

Sorry, Mr. R., but I don't "get it" because I don't collect books as an investment; I collect them for their content and whatever memories get attached to them along the way. This whole process of mass producing signed books just seems ludicrous to me...and a bit seedy.

13 comments:

  1. Sam, I'm of the exact same mindset. I don't have a huge collection of signed books, but the ones I do have are special to me because of the memories that connect to getting them signed. I love having the chance to meet the authors, maybe chit chat with them a bit while they are signing. That's what makes the current situation of reduced book tours so sad. I understand the costs of traveling have skyrocketed, but it sure is fun to have the chance to meet these folks!

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  2. I don't know how true it is nor do I know quite how it works, but I was told that in the modern bookselling world, once a store has signed copies they can't send them back to the wholesalers on the 'sale or return' system. Therefore the more signatures an author does, the more sales will be credited to him.
    Have you heard this?

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  3. herschelian - that's what i've heard too.

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  4. It's not as ridiculous as Margaret Atwood's longpen, but still annoying. When an autographer signs a book, does the autographee sit behind them and inflate their ego or something?

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  5. Well, that's a decent reason for signing them with that kind of speed but I don't set much truck by signatures myself unless it's personally made out to me. Since my acquaintances don't include many authors and the authors I'd love most to have signed books from are dead....

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  6. I agree - I'd rather have a bit more personal attention. I know the author needs to get through everyone, and their time is limited, but at least take the time to ask a name and personalize it. Anybody who stands in line deserves at least that.

    I remember I once stood in line for 4 hours for a midnight release CD signing. When I finally got to the table, an employee was putting the CD insert on the table, the artist was signing it and then sliding it down the table. He was going faster than people could move, so you just got to pick a cover out of the pile collecting at the end of the table. He didn't even look at the people, and when one person said something to him, he grunted and kept signing.

    I wasted my time for that?!!

    Authors and artists can only go so far without fans. Who cares if he signs 1,000 books so they're considered sold. If 900 of them sit on the shelf, his next book will have a much smaller release. He'd be better focused on quanlity than quantity.

    Sorry this is long.

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  7. Jen, I agree that the cutback on book tours is a sad thing, especially for those of us who enjoyed a brief chat with our favorite writers. I suppose it's a trend that will not be reversed any time soon, though, if ever, so I try to take advantage of the two or three opportunities a year that I have to meet someone I enjoy reading.

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  8. That's an interesting point,herschelian, and one I hadn't thought of before. I do recall seeing signed books on discount tables on more than one occasion and I suppose that explains why they were there.

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  9. John, is a "longpen" the same as an autopen that reproduces a signature over and over again yet appears to be an original? I detest those things.

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  10. Carrie, I don't have many signed books but some of them mean a lot to me because of the memories they bring back...like talking Red Sox baseball with Stephen King in London for three or four minutes...or meeting Joyce Carol Oates at Rice University here in Houston, great memories that come back to me every time I pick up one of the signed books from those two meetings.

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  11. I totally agree, Annie. Nothing ticks me off than to have a singer, author, or politician so disrespect to someone who has stood in line for hours just to say hello to them. I immediately write them off as the losers they really are and have nothing to do with them or their product ever again.

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  12. Not quite... http://www.engadget.com/2006/02/20/margaret-atwoods-longpen-for-remote-signatures/

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  13. Well, that's pretty disgusting...and lazy. The autopen is terrible but the longpen is even seedier in some ways. Thanks for the link.

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