August 2015 | Rebecca Rego Barry

Guest Post: Meeting the Authors as They Sign Books

Meeting the Authors as They Sign Books
by Terry George

IMG_1112 copy.jpgIt was a dark and stormy, not really. Actually it was a sunny summer day at a book show when my wife, Helen, former children's librarian, explored an antiquarian book show in Minneapolis.
     You can imagine what developed. She decided to get into the market with her personal books and knowledge and I came along as the muscle for the  book racks and boxes. Deciding that H.M. George Books could use some modern adult literature I joined forces. As a one-time budding journalist I was quickly disenchanted. My first buy for market was nice but it had no dust jacket and was soon recognized as a book club edition. It also was distressing to find there were two Winston Churchills who wrote books. I had so much to learn.
    My penchant for photography in newspaper work and public relations worked its way into the agenda and as the market became more competitive in the 90s the need for an upgrade to signed books was recognized. Thus I was buying books and photographing the authors at the signings which led to a display of my growing photo collection at book shows in Florida, Michigan, and Minnesota. It was a nice way to set off our booth and be remembered by potential buyers. We met and heard a good number of authors. Occasionally we got a book signed but forgot the camera. We find Nicholas Basbanes in that limited group.
    Listening to author presentations at signings was often revealing and, sadly, I regret not gathering more of their words of wisdom which were given in personal conversations with them. Authors such as Vince Flynn, John Sandford, Jon Hassler, Norman Mailer were helpful on one or more occasions. Mailer, for example, applied a personal drawing of the Rhinehart logo along with his signature, adding a nice value to an early printing of his first book and later signed my 8x10 glossy for the booth display. Judith Guest has also been free with art to enhance her signature. Some Hassler fans also own paintings by the author I found that authors often have an artistic side in addition to their talent for writing.
     Signatures of authors vary from one to another. And they vary with the number of books they sign. As collectors are well aware, the first books by an author may contain an easily recognizable collection of letters but speed follows success in most cases. The exception being female writers who take more time. Even Hillary Clinton's signature looks good despite her rate of 500 an hour. Authors such as Sandford who signs an unbelievable number of his books are best read under his name on the title page.
    Authors at presentations can be humorous even when their books are not. Sandford certainly sees the funny side of life, which can be found in his current mysteries. Early on I asked Sandford how he avoids "writer's block." His answer was direct and to the point: "It just means that you don't know where you're going," he said.
    Some writers have a serious approach in their appearances. Sara Paretsky, for example, has an impressive scholarly delivery on occasion. Vince Flynn's approach was just as conservative in nature as you might expect from his thrillers. He provided some personal writing advice along with an easy method of protecting your writing efforts: "Put your work in a sealed envelope and mail it to yourself...and don't open it," was his recommendation. I'm sure his many readers felt he was a great young author who died too soon.
    Like any collector/seller it is difficult to draw the line between the personal and the salable. It is painful when a copy is gone that could have been retained. So far we have managed to hold on to all of Jon Hassler's novels which are encased in clam shell cases. John Sandford's numbers increase each year to the point where it occupies a shelf and a half. Emphasizing the signed book has been a great approach for me but the personal inscription makes it difficult to part with some of these books.
    There seems to be a division among collectors concerning signed books and inscribed. Many prefer a signature only on the title page but there are those who appreciate the author's effort to personalize a book which, incidentally, often shows an improved Palmer method.
    It was most interesting and educational in the early years traveling to some of the big book shows on both East and West Coasts. But we have noted a decline (sometimes 50% and more) in the number of booths at these shows. Some new faces have replaced the familiar in the booths but not enough to bring back the old numbers as we knew them. However, it is interesting to read the news about the United Kingdom book shows. They appear to be surviving very well.
       Time also has taken its toll on H.M. George Books. We no longer do book shows except as collectors and we are limiting our intake as we wind down our activities after more than two decades of the good and occasionally bad but never ugly. --Terry George is a bookseller at H.M. George in Minneapolis, Minnesota.

Image: Courtesy of Terry George.