by Marcia Talley
Since my first book signing event in 1999, I’ve been asked to autograph any number of things. The books I was there to promote, of course, but also conference programs, book bags, t-shirts, blank books with “Autographs” embossed in gold on the cover, notebook pages, Starbucks napkins, a copy of Dead Midnight by Marcia Muller, even the plaster cast encasing one fan’s broken leg. I’d rather be signing books they’d actually purchased, of course, but, hey, at least they showed up for the event, right, and haven’t mistaken me for the staffer who knows where the restroom is, or where the Harry Potter books are shelved.
When authors gather around the bar at conferences these days, the topic of booksignings often comes up. From their heyday in the 1980s – this fan girl once took the train from Washington, DC to New York City’s late, lamented Murder Ink to meet Dick Francis and purchase a personally inscribed copy of Proof – attendance at book signings seems to be down. Way down. Fewer authors are being toured by their publishers, and the ten-day, ten-city whistle-stop U.S. tour is being cut to five cities within a hundred mile radius of the author’s home.
For those of us who are still touring, either on our own or at publisher expense, we often ask, is it worth it? Margaret Atwood didn’t think so. In 2006 she wrote, “You don't have to be in the same room as someone to have a meaningful exchange. As I was whizzing around the United States on yet another demented book tour, getting up at four in the morning to catch planes, doing two cities a day, eating the Pringle food object out of the mini-bar at night as I crawled around on the hotel room floor, too tired even to phone room service, I thought, 'There must be a better way of doing this.'"
And so at that year’s London Bookfair, Ms Atwood introduced LongPen, her famous remote control autograph-signing device. Fans still showed up at the bookstore to buy their copies of Oryk and Crake, but she appeared via two-way video from her home--dressed in what appears to be a pair of fleecy blue pajamas--and produced a personalized inscription for the book buyer by writing on an electronic screen. In a distant mall, in real time, the robotic pen replicated the message on the title page of the fan's propped-up book.
While LongPen has valuable government, banking and legal applications, the device failed to catch on in the retail book world. I suspect this is because the company failed to anticipate the meteoric rise of eBooks.
Not so Open Road Media. At Bouchercon in St Louis last fall, Open Road partnered with Autography, an eBook autographing service, and author Jonathon King who was there to sign free eBook copies of his Edgar Award winning novel, The Blue Edge of Midnight. Using an iPad app and a stylus, Jonathon wrote a personal note on the iPad and then signed it. When I “bought” a copy of the ebook, it arrived on my iPad with his inscription embedded.
Predictably, the folks at Amazon are on top of this technology, too. Check out KindleGraph where a fan can request a personalized digital inscription from an author for a specific book. The request gets sent to the author via Twitter and the fan receives a PDF file with the book cover image, the message, and the signature sent directly to his Kindle or his email account. With Kindlegraph, though, there’s nothing to prove that the author, not a bot or their fiften-year-old niece, is actually doing the signing, nor anything to prevent people requesting Kindlegraphs for books they don’t actually own — something which might discourage busy authors from taking part.
Nevertheless, a number of Big Name authors are already participating, and Indie authors, who often have neither the time nor the funds to tour, appear to be well-represented among the 3500 currently registered.
If you’re a card-carrying member of the I Hate Amazon Club, however, internet guru Brett Kelly has an alternative for you. As reported in Cult of Mac, Brett used the following kit to procure an author’s scrawl:
- An iPad with the Kindle app or iBooks installed
- The author’s eBook downloaded to the app
- Skitch (a free app) installed on your iPad
- The author physically present, ideally of his or her own free will.
Thus equipped, Brett opened the eBook to the title page, snapped a screenshot using the easy home-button-plus-power-button shortcut, opened the result in Skitch and had the author sign his iPad using a stylus, although signing with a finger might do just as well.
For me, though, there are aspects of meeting a fan face-to-face that an eBook event will never replicate. I appreciate the opportunity to meet (and thank) the people who enable me to keep doing the job I love. For readers, too, I suspect that the opportunity to interact with their favorite authors and complain about holes in the plot or admonish them for killing off a favorite character, is, well, priceless.
Over to you, Femmes, authors and readers … how do you feel about real vs. virtual book signings? Are you ready for a brave new world where nobody has to leave the comfort of the chair in front of their computers to have a book signed?