A brief commercial to start: FOR WHOM THE MINIVAN ROLLS, the first Aaron Tucker mystery, is now available for the first time on audiobook! The good folks at BooksInMotion have released MINIVAN unabridged, with a terrific reading by Damon Abdallah. You can download it here or buy a CD copy here! Please take a look (and a listen) and let me know what you think.
Now, for the business at hand: People like to get their books signed, most often by the author (having them signed by, say, a plumber would be a trifle odd, but to each his/her own). Authors like nothing better than signing books, because 1. It means the person with the book enjoys your work and 2. They have to buy the book to get it signed. Win/win.
The difficult part, from the author's point of view, is when the reader, in particular one who is not a personal acquaintance of the author, wants it inscribed. The reader will hand me the book, with a look of (you should pardon the expression) great expectations on her (it is inevitably a her) face, and ask for it to be personally inscribed.
Now, believe me--I have no problem with that, and am tickled pink that a reader cares enough to ask for a personal message to be written into a book I actually wrote. Hell, I'm thrilled a book that I wrote is out there on real paper, between actual covers, in an honest-to-goodness bookstore, for that person to buy and read.
I mean, think about it: Someone you've never before laid eyes upon, who walked into your line of sight seconds ago, offers up a copy of something you spent months creating, and not only spends some of her actual cash money on it, but asks you to write her a small personal note to act as a commemoration of the moment you met. Just a little something this person will see every time they open the book for the rest of forever.
But hey, no pressure.
Compound this question with the idea that one's work is intended to be, as the trade calls it, "humorous." So now, this total stranger is not only expecting a note personalized to her, she wants it to be witty. And in a warm and ingratiating way that is specific to the reader. Go ahead, say something funny. Right now.
To be totally honest, I do have a few stock phrases at my disposal to use when I really can't extemporaneously conjure up a reader-specific phrase that perfectly fits the occasion. For the Double Feature Mystery series, I could write "Comedy Tonight!" and sign the book. The theater in the series was called Comedy Tonight, and it showed only comedies, which was the hook on which the series was hung. So that could work in a pinch.
It's not a trick, but it is useful to size up the reader as much as possible. I'll ask her how she came to hear about the book (if she hasn't told me herself). This is, to give away a trade secret, not really because I want to find that out, although it doesn't hurt to see where readers hear about your work. It's really to gauge the reader's attitude. If she's bubbly and fun--as many of my readers seem to be--an inscription like "Keep smiling!" might work well. If she mentions her own work, something on the order of "Best of luck with your book" can be appropriate.
Some readers seem to think you know their names. They'll ask you to inscribe it and look at you. You ask what name the reader would like in the book, and get an answer like, "Hecuba." Ask the reader how to spell that, and you usually get a look that indicates you should know. Don't ask, and someone named "Pat" will invariably spell the name "Paqt" just to be contrary.
The flip side of this is that some readers will hand you the book and then tell you what you should write in it. This is a puzzling tactic, (although admittedly sometimes welcome if you're dry on funny inscriptions) essentially telling the writer, "I love your work and the way you express a thought--here are exactly the words I want you to write." I don't mind it at all, but it's an interesting idea.
If you ever see me at a book signing (or anywhere else that isn't the men's room) and want me to sign a book for you, please don't hesitate a second to ask. I'll be happy to do so. If you want it inscribed, it will be my honor to inscribe it. If you want me to write something specific, sure. I'll do that happily. Just a few rules:
2. You have to buy the book. Don't ask me to sign the one you took out of the library.
3. Tell me your name and how to spell it. I don't care if your name is Al; tell me how to spell it.
4. Don't look at me and say, "Write something funny." Every witty impulse in my brain shuts off when people say that.
5. Don't say, "Please just sign it. You can get more on e-Bay if it's not inscribed."
6. Don't you dare walk away until you get exactly what you want. That's what I'm there for.