Text Patterns - by Alan Jacobs

Wednesday, February 10, 2010

signing and sighing

Ian Jack writes,

Anyone who has ever attended a literary festival will know the form. First the reading by one author or a discussion among several authors; then 15 minutes of questions from the audience; finally a few closing remarks from the moderator, ending with the important fact that Poet X or Historian Y, whom we've just had the great pleasure of hearing, will be signing books at the adjacent stall. For an author, this next stage can be either gladdening or humbling. There might be a queue of people with newly bought books in their hands or there might be nobody other than a woman who wants to raise "a few points" about your talk. Worse, much worse, is the sight of a long queue at the signing table – impossibly long, out of the door and round the block, you never knew you had so many readers! – which turns out to be for Michael Palin or Alan Titchmarsh, whose pens and smiles never rest.

I know whereof he speaks. A couple of years ago I spoke at Calvin College’s always-fabulous Festival of Faith & Writing, and was asked to come to the bookstore later that day to sign books. I was pleased to be asked — until I walked in and saw that I was to be seated right next to Kathleen Norris. I don't know if the line of people waiting to get their Norris books signed went around the block, but it went around the bookstore and out the door. The line of people waiting for me to sign books was, um, . . . shorter. After half an hour of sparse and intermittent activity I gathered my things and slunk out the door. Norris was too busy signing to notice either my arrival or my departure.


  • Alan,
    I bought your book on conversion at the conference, but was too busy to get to signings.


    The only book signings I remember attending were Sue Grafton's (on purpose) and Leonard Nimoy's (accidentally), but I didn't buy the books. :-)

    I think Brett Lott had a funny chapter on this topic in his book on writing.

  • I mean Bret Lott, sorry.

  • Jon Acuff, a blogger with a book coming out next month has a good post about going to a conference where he was asked to be a session speaker. He printed up a bunch stickers, bought a bunch of candy and sat for an hour in a room without any people. He was humbled.

  • A big Ouch of sympathy for Jon Acuff.

  • Actually, we also heard Ralph McInerny speak at Hope and got two of his books signed, Cardinal Offense (me) and an intro to Aquinas (my husband). A good man.
    Maybe you could diversify, like he did, and get a longer line.

  • About 15 years ago I worked at literary festival, helping Allen Ginsberg at his book signing. As you would imagine, there were many memorable experiences, but what struck me most was how exhausted and lonely Allen looked afterward. I suspect it was as enjoyable as it was emptying. Much sound and fury. In the end, many fans or few fans, it's hard either way.

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