I’ve bought an awful lot of books over the years, but there’s only one I’m really attached to: Blood’s a Rover by James Ellroy. It’s not my favourite book – it’s not even my favourite Ellroy book – but it stands out from all the others because Ellroy signed it for me.
Last night, I got another keeper: Killer Move, the new thriller by Michael Marshall, aka Michael Marshall Smith.
There’s something about getting an autograph that’s really powerful, I think. It’s not the signature itself – I’ve no interest in the impersonal “signed by the author” piles in bookshops, and I wouldn’t think of buying a signed book on eBay – but the whole ritual of the signing, whether it’s an ego-fest like Ellroy’s or something more inclusive and thoughtful like Marshall’s event last night.
For me at least, getting a book signed is a weird way of saying thanks, of letting an author know that they’ve had an effect or influence on you in some way, that their work isn’t just something that’s picked up and read and then forgotten about. Whether authors see it that way I have no idea, of course. It may just annoy them.
I’m a fairly recent convert to book signings, but I suspect that for all the ebook hype they’ll continue to be an important thing for writers – or at least, those writers whose publishers still put out hardcovers. Ebooks are great, and cheap, and convenient, but a signed hardback is magical.