On the Signing of Books

I’m getting an increasing number of requests for signed books, so I thought I would go ahead and make a quick post about it to refer people to later. So:

1. No, I don’t have any signed books for sale via my own Web site. I know some authors keep an inventory of signed books they’ll sell to folks, but I’m not one of them. The reason for this is very simple: I suck at order fulfillment. I mean, I am truly and extraordinarily bad at it. It is not a wise idea to send me money directly in the hopes I might get a signed book back to you. By turning you away now, I’m saving you from getting pissed at me later.

2. Likewise, I no longer sign books people mail to me to sign, even if they come with return postage/packing. Why? As above, I am extraordinarily bad at turning mail around. Yes, I know: open package, sign book, repack book, mail. How hard can it be? The question is not how hard it is, but how lazy I am. And the answer is: apparently very. Keep in mind this laziness is to my own detriment; there have been times where I’ve been delayed in getting paid for work I’ve done because I keep putting off mailing a W9 form. But this should put this in perspective: If I’m so lazy I can barely be bothered to get paid, you shouldn’t be surprised I’m lackadaisical with other mail-related issues. I’m sorry about this, really I am, but I’m 40 now, so it doesn’t seem likely this aspect of my personality is going to change at this late date.

3. There are ways of getting signed books from me regardless. Some examples:

a) I do a number of signed, limited editions via Subterranean Press, which in addition to be being signed, often have the added benefit of being quite pretty and well-made, so they’ll last. Upcoming signed editions (at the moment) include The Last Colony, METAtropolis, The God Engines and the chapbook “Judge Sn Goes Golfing.” More and different ones will come later. These signed editions are a bit more expensive than your average books, but they are worth it, I think.

b) I usually sign bookseller stock when I’m at conventions, so if you check with booksellers who attend conventions I go to, they often have extra signed copies of my books. One bookseller I know has some signed stock of mine is Larry Smith; he may be willing to accomodate you (note: if you do contact him, please do it by e-mail initially, okay?)

c) Last year at holiday time I did a thing with my local booksellers to come in and sign books that folks ordered from them; I’m very likely to do that again. I’ll post here and let you folks know of I do.

4. I do attend a good number of science fiction conventions and other literary events, and when I’m at them I’ll be delighted to sign your books. My general rule of thumb is that if I have a scheduled signing slot, I’ll ask you to wait until that point; if I don’t or if the scheduled signing has already happened, I’ll go ahead and sign then. Two requests: bring a pen (I often don’t have one on me), and if it’s obvious I’m in the middle of something, please catch me at another time. I really will be happy to sign your book then, I promise. I like signing books.

By the way, if I have already agreed to sign something for you, I will still do it; this is for going forward from here.

Any questions? Pop them into the comment thread.

33 Comments on “On the Signing of Books”

  1. Why don’t I believe you’re “lazy” at all?

    Lazy people don’t keeep up the quality and quantity of bloggage that is the Whatever.

    And while you’re not exactly George Simenon — who seemed to the the kind of writer of who’d go for a crap and come back with his next three books — you seem to pump out the books at a reasonable clip.

    Nothing wrong with saying that you’ve actually got more pleasant and productive things to do.

  2. What do you do when people send you books with return postage? Do you just throw them away? I ask because a couple of people have done this to me, and I’ve signed them and sent them back but it took a looooong time because I am crap at getting stuff to the post office. I don’t know why I am so bad at it, it isn’t exactly laziness, but man do I fail and then fail again at it. I hate it when people impose on me without asking first, but it feels evil to just chuck the book. What do you do?

  3. If they send a book without asking if it’s okay, I send it back if and when I get to it. Their expectation is not my obligation.

  4. Weren’t you thinking about getting an assistant a while back? If that materializes, do you think you’d revise this policy as you’d no longer have to be solely responsible for returning the signed books?

  5. If I wina Hugo, would you sign it? Not like it’ll happen anytime soon, but it’s good to know.

  6. Your next opportunity to get books signed at an SF convention is at Confluence 2009. Incidentally, Larry Smith is usually a dealer at Confluence.

    Personally, I don’t understand the whole requesting people to sign books and send them back outside of book tours and convention appearances. I want you to write more books, why would I ask you to do anything like that on your work time? The only reason I might do so is if I knew someone who was dying of some disease and time was running out. Then, I would consider it and probably contact the author via preferred method (e-mail, whatever) beforehand to see if it there was a chance that it would be done. But, frankly, this sort of appeal is probably common and I wouldn’t be surprised if the request was refused.

  7. Policy varies from author to author. Lawrence Watt-Evans has his books for sale on his site. He very, very well organized and is not a slacker like me.

  8. Hey John, what if I enclosed a $5 bill for Athena, and SHE could repack the item? Everyone wins!

  9. I agree with # 10, I want you writing books, not packing envelopes. I don’t get the autograph thing either, but if it sells more books and helps the industry, then great.

    I do encourage you to help out your local independent booksellers and appear at book signings when convenient. My mother owned two shops for about 30 years and really appreciated authors who particpated in book signings. The publicity was always a win win for everyone involved, although I know it’s hard for the author outside their hometown.

  10. Not to sound like a techno snob, but putting something in the mail is right up there with plumbing and yard work for me…possibly even hire on the ICK list, as I actually will deal with plumbing issues when I find myself standing in an unexpected puddle of water. But I’m certainly not beyond creating all kinds of administrative confusion by not mailing an insurance form somewhere.

    It isn’t even worth mentioning issues caused by not opening paper mail addressed to me for 2 weeks…4 weeks…and just recently one letter that stayed sealed for nearly 14 months, much to my own eventual dismay…

  11. I’m curious as to what people think about autographs in general, and about what it feels like to have your autograph requested. I’ve got a few books that are autographed, as well as a number of menus (food-nerd). The books, for the most part, are books I was going to buy anyway, and the fact that they were autographed was a pleasant surprise. There are a couple of books I have from authors I’ve met and know whose handwritten message is significant for that reason, too.

    I have the menus because after a memorable meal I like to request a copy of the menu, and usually the restaurant will oblige. Some restaurants have the chef sign the menu, which I’ve always thought was nice. In addition to the personal touch, of course, it also indicates that on the day/night you dined, the “named” chef was actually in the kitchen, which is not always the case.

    So that’s my first question: what do people see in the signature if it’s not accompanied by at least getting to meet the author? Is it just knowledge that the author physically touched the book you’re reading? Because that’s neat, but, well: I dig the Rolling Stones, but I don’t think I’d enjoy Sticky Fingers any more if I had a signed copy of the LP. It’s not like I have an actual connection to the band.

    Second question and specifically for John (or anyone else who gets requests for signatures) do you remember the first time someone asked for your signature on a book? What was that like?

  12. So, Robert @ 15…does the zipper in your copy of Sticky Fingers still work?

    Enquiring minds want to know!

    (and if you don’t have a clue what, well, more like when we’re talking about…ya had to be there then!)

  13. Wendy: I don’t actually have a copy of the LP. It was the first thing that came to my mind when I thought of the Stones, I guess. I do remember the zipper on the album sleeve though, one of the better gimmicks in a rich field of design, IMO.

  14. How big of a signing block will you have at Confluence? I’m thinking about heading down there to get some books signed.


  15. Since I want you to spend all your productive time (recognizing that you are inherently lazy) on writing books I have decided to help out.

    I will henceforth sign all of your books for you. I will sign it with flare and gusto. Something like, “Daley, are you sure you can read this book it seems kind of hard for you?” Signed by Scalzi light C.S. Daley.

  16. I suppose its time to place my first order with Subterranean Press . . . Scalzi On Writing, my first. For $35, I’m expecting it to bound in gold leaf and written by hand, preferably with a peacock quill. The scribe edition will suffice . . . but only by garden gnomes and leprechauns with sans serif-esque penmanship. Imps have the worst handwriting in the world, not even sure the scrivener print of Wright’s The Golden Transcendence was written in English. My blossom flower assured me I wouldn’t be able to tell the difference anyway, so all is well in my treehouse.

  17. To those asking why signing’s a big deal:

    It makes the book *yours* in a way that an off-the-shelf purchase can’t. I didn’t really “get it” until I got my first signed book. It’s like any other uniqueified item – there are many like it, but This One Is Mine.

    Kind of like underpants, really.

  18. I’m with @Keri. You’re not taking sufficient advantage of your potential in-house mailing agent, and I say this as the parent of a toy-starved 11 yo. Give them a path to earning what they want, and they’ll *run* down it. “Put these books in these envelopes, slap labels on them, here’s how you use the USPS postage site,” and you’ll have happy customers and a richer kid.

    Note that minimum wage laws and child labor laws always exempt family members. Chinese restaurants and family farms would be impossible otherwise.

  19. It’s more fun to interact with Scalzi in person than through the mail. Through the mail you don’t get to see the permanent sunshine glow that surrounds him. Also, the wicked California Ninja moves just don’t translate well through a padded, media-mail envelope.

  20. Whenever someone begins a sentence with “on the…” I read that sentence to the tune of “On The Turning Away” by Pink Floyd. “On The Signing of Books” fits really well into that.

    On the Signing of Books
    Both on sale and misbegotten
    Of the words I wrote
    Which you do understand
    Don’t expect that by sending in
    It’s not a case of entitlement
    Or you’ll find that your book is being
    Sent back today

  21. My girlfriend got me the hardcover versions of the “Incarnations of Immortality” series last Christmas. She wrote to Piers Anthony to see if he’d sign them. He told her that he doesn’t do that since he can’t guarantee that he’ll get them back in the mail in time for whatever they want them for and doesn’t want to take the blame for packages getting lost in the mail. What he DID do was autograph some stickers for me to slap in the book of my choice.

  22. If you do e-mail Larry, be aware that he and Sally are in the middle of peak con season. A quick run through the Locus website shows Inconjunction, Readercon and Confluence all within the next month. Since each of these requires packing the van, traveling to the con, unloading, selling, and then repeat in reverse, you should allow some time for acknowledgment of your request, let alone fulfillment. I’d hold off requests until after Confluence; they’ll definitely bring Scalzi stock since John is GOH, and there should be sufficient signed stock remaining after the con. (Note that if you were planning to do your annual purchasing binge at Worldcon, they will not be attending.)

  23. It’s a wise person who knows their strengths and weaknesses, their preferences and dislikes, and acts accordingly.

    It’s not anywhere near a blanket refusal to sign books so no big deal.

  24. as the proud owner of several Sub Press editions (signed) I can say there is sumething extra nice about having them.

    1) Sub Press signed editions usually made better, on acid free/ thicker paper – I like to KEEP my books an these both have a longer shelf life but have a nicer look/feel to them – plus often have illustrations etc.

    2) I feel like authors who offer limited/signed editions do so with their BEST work – work THEY think is worthy etc. (I am making no particular comment re that EVERYTHING scifi/ fantasy that John wrote is offered this way – he may thisk all of it is his best work – so far I like it all)

    3) resale value – I can justify to my spouse that I NEED books to read on my commute to work. As long as I am buying books anyway, I might as well get books that have some value – if I needed to sell off assets in case of dire emergency – signed copies go fo more on Ebay

    4) I’m old fashioned in this – you can’t autograph an eBook –

  25. Roxanne @ 24: Note that minimum wage laws and child labor laws always exempt family members. Chinese restaurants and family farms would be impossible otherwise.

    As well as every other family-run small business.

  26. Maybe one day you will be famous enough to charge $1000 for a framed hardcover copy like this one.

    It’s a book signed by Buzz Aldrin on Apollo 11. I have a friend who went to a convention where Aldrin was there and was charging $300 per autograph.