Oliver Pritchard on the etiquette of book-signing
‘Funny, really, there were masses of people here at lunchtime, but you never can tell, can you?’ From Posy Simmonds, Literary Life (2003)

A Matter of Dedication

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In the first of an occasional series on literary do’s and don’ts, Oliver Pritchett takes up his pen (or ballpoint?) to ponder the pitfalls of book-signing.

Before this book-signing craze gets completely out of hand, we must establish some rules. After all, what may be considered correct in Waterstone’s could be frowned upon in Hatchards and be beyond the pale in Hay-on-Wye. Is it ever acceptable to ask an author to sign another author’s book? Fountain pen or ballpoint? What if the author mis-spells the recipient’s name? These are some of the questions I intend to tackle.

The first topic I must address is Queue Envy. Now that the straightforward and dignified process of the author signing his book for admirers has become entangled with the celebrity industry, the Queue Envy problem is more acute. Proper authors find themselves competing with chefs, gardeners and persons who are famous for appearing on television.

Imagine yourself, as the author of a number of admired and fairly successful novels, seated at the table all alone, waiting to sign your latest, and next to you there’s a glamorous TV historian with his spin-off coffee-table book and a long queue snaking out of the bookshop and along the pavement past two Costas and a Starbucks.

How do you handle this situation? At all costs you must avoid looking like a victim, because this makes people uneasy. They go and hide among the dictionaries at the far end of the shop to avoid you. So put your feet up on the desk and very obviously read the book of the popular TV historian. Chuckle indulgently from time to time and jot notes in the margin.

People often ask me: is it bad form to swap authors in mid-queue? Certainly not, this is perfectly acceptable, provided you don’t give the impression that you are doing this out of pity. By all means, take your celebrity book and get the novelist to sign it. He or she will enjoy the

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About the contributor

Many people have led very successful and happy lives after pointedly ignoring Oliver Pritchett’s advice. He continues to offer it freely.

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