I have been asked to give some dos and don’ts for people coming to signings. And although I’ve written do’s and don’t’s and suggestions for stores before (and may possibly reprint them here, for contrast), I don’t think I’ve ever written any suggestions for the people who actually make the signings possible.
If you’ve never been to any kind of signing with me, the first thing you should know is, wherever possible it’ll start with a reading and a question and answer session. Then you’ll be herded into lines (or, the first 50 people will be called, just like at a deli counter) and I’ll start signing stuff for people. And that will go on until everyone’s done, and happy, and out the door.
So here you go... Some dos and don’ts in no particular order...
1) It can be a good idea to call the store first and find out if they have any specific ground rules. Some do, some don’t. Will they be handing out numbers? Will you have to buy a copy of American Gods from them in hardback to get prime place in the line or will it be first come first served? What about books you bought somewhere else? Can you bring your ferret?
2) Get there reasonably early if you can. I’ll always try and make sure that anyone in line during the posted signing times gets stuff signed. At evening signings I’ll always stay and make sure everyone goes away happy, but on this tour there will be several places where I’ll need to go from a signing to another signing, so don’t cut it fine.
3) You may own everything I’ve ever written. I’m very grateful. I’m probably not going to sign it all, so you had better simply pick out your favourite thing and bring that along.
4) As a rule, I tend to tell stores I’ll sign 3 things people bring with them – plus any copies of the new book you buy (if you have six brothers or sisters and buy one each, I’ll sign them all). But stores may have their own policies – and we may wind up changing the rules as we go in order to make sure that everyone gets stuff signed.
5) Eat first. I’m not kidding. If it’s a night-time signing of the kind that can go on for a long time, bring sandwiches or something to nibble (some signings with numbers handed out may make it possible for you to go out and eat and come back. Or you may be first in line. But plan for a worst case scenario of several hours of standing and shuffling your way slowly around a store). (If it’s a daytime signing somewhere that a line may snake out of a store into the hot sun, bring something to drink. I always feel guilty when people pass out.)
6) You may be in that line for a while, so talk to the people around you. You never know, you could make a new friend. I’ve signed books for kids whose parents met in signing lines (although to the best of my knowledge none of them were actually conceived there). And while we’re on the subject, bring something to read while waiting. Or buy something to read – you’ll be in a book shop, after all.
7) Don’t worry. You won’t say anything stupid. It’ll be fine. My heart tends to go out to people who’ve stood in line for hours trying to think of the single brilliant witty erudite thing that they can say when they get to the front of the line, and when it finally happens they put their books in front of me and go blank, or make a complete mess of whatever they were trying to say. If you have anything you want to ask or say, just ask, or say it, and if you get a blank look from me it’s probably because I’m slightly brain dead after signing several thousand things that day.
8) The only people who ever get short shrift from me are the people who turn up with tape recorders who try and tape interviews during signings. I won’t do them – it’s unfair on the other people in the line, and unfair on me (and I was as curt with the guy from the LA Times who tried it as I am to people who decide on the spur of the moment to try and tape something for their college paper). If you want to do an interview, ask the bookstore who you should talk to in order to set it up.
9) Take things out of plastic bags before you reach me. Firstly, it speeds things up. Secondly, I once ripped the back off a $200 comic taking it out of a plastic bag, when the back of the comic caught on the tape. The person who owned it was very sweet about it, but tears glistened in his eyes as I signed, and I could hear him wailing softly as he walked away.
10) Yes, I’ll happily personalize the stuff I sign, to you, or to friends. If it’s a birthday or wedding present, tell me.
11) Remember your name. Know how to spell it, even under pressure, such as being asked.
[If you have a nice simple name, like Bob or Dave or Jennifer, don't be surprised if I ask you how to spell it. I've encountered too many Bhob's, Daev's and even, once, a Jeniffer to take any spelling for granted.]
12) No, I probably won’t do a drawing for you, because there are 300 people behind you, and if I had to draw for everyone we’d be finishing at 4.00am – on the other hand, if you’re prepared to wait patiently until the end, I may do it then, if my hand still works.
13) If it means a lot to you, yes, I’ll sign your lunchbox/skin/guitar/leather jacket/wings – but if it’s something strange you may want to make sure you have a pen that writes on strange surfaces legibly. I'll have lots of pens, but they may not write on feathers.
14) At the start of the tour the answer to “Doesn’t your hand hurt?” Is “No.”
By the end of the tour, it’s probably going to be “Yes.”
15) Yes, you can take my picture, and yes, of course you can be in the photo, that’s the point isn’t it? There’s always someone near the front of the line who will take your photo.
16) I do my best to read all the letters I’m given and not lose all the presents I’m given. Sometimes I’ll read letters on the plane to the next place. But given the sheer volume of letters and gifts, you probably won’t get a reply, unless you do. (On one previous tour I tried to write postcards to everyone who gave me something at the last stop on postcards at the next hotel. Never again.) If you’re after a reply or to have me read something, you’re much better off not giving it to me on a tour. Post it to me care of DreamHaven books in Minneapolis.
(And although things people give me get posted back, on the last tour FedEx lost one box of notes and gifts, and on the tour before that hotel staff lost or stole another box. So smaller things I can put into a suitcase are going to be more popular than four-foot high paintings done on slabs of beechwood.)
17) No, I probably won’t have dinner/a beer/sushi with you after the signing. If it’s a daytime signing I’ll be on my way to the next signing; and if it’s an evening signing I’ll be heading back to my hotel room because I’ll be getting up at six a.m. to fly to the next city. If there actually is any spare time on the tour it’ll’ve been given to journalists, and if there’s any time on top of that old friends will have started e-mailing me two or three months before the tour started to say “You’ll be in the Paphlagonian Barnes and Noble on the 23rd. That’s just a short yak-hop from my yurt. We must get together,” and would have got themselves put on the schedule. (Still, it never hurts to ask.)
18) If you can’t read what I wrote, just ask me. After a couple of hours of signing my handwriting can get pretty weird.
19) If I sign it in silver or gold, give it a minute or so to dry before putting it back in its bag or closing the cover, otherwise you’ll soon have a gold or silver smudge and nothing more.