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how not to sign a book…

coming home from dancing* last thursday evening, mary suggested i blog about the awkwardness i’ve been experiencing with signing my book for people, having just done so for a couple in our dance group, and how i just don’t feel like i’m doing it right.

so, as i’ve started to tell people that i wrote a book, i’ve found myself in the great, but weird, situation of being given books to sign. don’t get me wrong, this is excellent stuff, and it makes the whole experience both more and less real, which is great! however, each time i am presented the opportunity, i find myself struck with utter blankness of mind. what am i supposed to write?

should i just sign my name? should i ask for suggestions? should i be long-winded or brief? generic or specific? in the end, though, what exactly should i write?

i’ve only ever had one book signed by the author, and that was Umberto Eco, signing his ‘The Island of the Day Before’, at a Waterstones on Tottenham Court Road in London. at my request (which was created while standing in line listening to other such requests), he signed it ‘to mary and bill, umberto eco’. what else? people were asking for ‘to my friend,’ ‘best wishes’, etc., but i felt awkward enough asking for this very famous author, a seemingly very nice man who was exceptionally patient with the very long line, to sign my book, that i couldn’t really think of anything else to ask for.

so that’s my only experience with book signings, really, so i was genuinely unprepared when my family started asking for me to sign the books. i shouldn’t have been, of course, but i was. obviously, i signed my parents’ copy with a personal note, mostly relating to the fact that i’d done it (which they hadn’t known a whit about until i presented the purchased copy to them). for the rest of my family, however, i found myself at a loss. i wasn’t ready.

as an example of just how poor my service was in this regard, my uncle Mark, the first person to finish the book (outside of those four people who’d read draft after draft over the last few years), received the following when he asked me to sign it:

To Mark,
I’m glad you enjoyed it!
Bill Blais

bill blais? blais? as if he doesn’t know who wrote it? what is my problem? i wanted to express how thankful i was that he read it, how thrilled i was to hear his questions and comments about the story and his expectation for book 2, not only to me, but to other folks; instead, i gave him this. i owe him another copy.

seriously, that’s what i wrote. i haven’t done much better in the few others, like the dancing couple and other family members. i mostly spend a half hour or more trying to come up with something thoughtful and personal and simple, only to blot the page with generic and distant and vague language like the above.

this has rattled me more than i expected, as i hope to get some book signings set up in the near future. perhaps it will be easier at a book signing. perhaps people will have their own requests. that would make things a lot easier.

* and by dancing, i mean our weekly ballroom dancing class, which is a lot of fun, with a great, small group of regulars and a wonderful teacher, but in which mary and i continually find ourselves re-learning everything all over again because we never practice enough (which is usually to say ‘at all’). still, we have a lot of fun, and it’s nice to be able to count on that most every thursday night.