I was thinking the other day about signed books. I’ve collected autographs now and again, and one of the best ways to do that with authors is to have them sign your copy of one of their books. First of all, it shows you’re supporting them by having purchased one of their books in the first place, and second, it’s a small boost to the ego to have someone want you to sign your book for them.
I’ve had a bunch of books and a few other items — mostly cards from collectable card games — autographed over the years at conventions. The books I’ve had autographed have nearly all been personalized to me in some way. I prefer that, as it’s a more personal experience, and I treasure several of those books in particular. One of my favorite stories is about Tim Powers, who autographed my hardcover copy of his book, Last Call for me at a convention. Tim is left-handed, so he flipped the book upside down to sign it more comfortably, explaining that this was his habit when signing his books. That was the same con where he and his wife were talking about — oddly enough — Oscar Meyer wiener whistles. For clarification, a wiener whistle is just that, though to avoid choking hazards, it’s shaped more like the famous Oscar Meyer Wienermobile rather than just a plain, old sausage. At the time, there was an Oscar Meyer plant in town, and I knew of their factory outlet store. I gathered a couple of things I’d bought at that store –including wiener whistles–and gave these things to them as a wacky gift to better remember their visit. They seemed pleased.
Bookstores tend to have stock signed by authors after they’ve visited for readings, book tours, and other promotional events, and while some people are attracted by generically autographed copies like this, I’m not. In fact, those few times I’ve accidentally bought a generically autographed book, the urge to get rid of it pops up. I simply have no connection to it because of the mere signature; it’s nothing special without having been there and talked to (or listened to) the author speak with me or talk about things.
I was thinking about this subject because of the recent death Of Barry Hughart, who wrote another of my favorite books The Bridge of Birds. I never got to meet Mr. Hughart, nor have him autograph my hardcover copy. I kept an eye out for him to appear at conventions, but it was something he didn’t do much, if at all.
One thing I’ve done for the few anthologies with which I’ve been involved is to try to collect the autographs of everyone else who either wrote a story, created illustrations or the cover, or edited the book. It’s a fun way to connect with your fellow creatives after everyone’s hard work. Sometimes – living in a digital world as we do, the authors are far flung, and hail from all over the world, which makes getting autographs on the actual book challenging at best. Still, it’s entertaining enough for me that I still try, and when traveling to conventions, I check to see which authors are attending and bring an appropriate selection of books to have autographed.
I wonder sometimes: Is there a market for signed books? Are books more valuable if they’re personalized, or generic autographs? I’ve never checked sites like eBay to see, and to be honest, I’m not sure I want to know that badly. I’m not really interested in parting with any of the books I’ve had signed, regardless exactly because they have meaning to me. I’ve signed a couple of autographs on my books from time to time, and I sometimes wonder if the recipient feels the same way about autographed books as I do.