When I was a new author, one of the more disorienting experiences was the first time someone came up to me with their copy of my book and asked me to sign it. I was happy to do it. I was also bemused–not that I wasn’t familiar with the behavior, but why would a person ask me to sign their copy of my book? I’m not famous. It seemed to be a habitual thing: people who have a hardcopy of the book with them when they encounter the author ask for a signature. I was curious about this decision. What was going on in that person’s mind? My curiosity grew when another fellow said sadly, “Oh. I bought an electronic copy. I guess I can’t have your signature.” (This point is probably part of the ongoing discussion out there about digital rights and value.)
Recently, I had a chance to find out why. I was at a presentation by Malcolm Gladwell, for his David and Goliath book tour. Everyone who bought a ticket was given a copy of the book. The organizers, a local book store called The Book Passage, promised we could queue up after the talk and get our books signed. (All 400 of us!) The organizer even made a quip about how the value of a signed copy is better than an investment in the stock market.
So, after Malcolm told an illustrative story about a domineering rich lady, Alva Vanderbuilt, becoming a leader for the womens’ right-to-vote movement, I had a whole theater-full of people to ask. “Why are you getting your copy of the book signed?”
(Note: The other related question is “Why get a copy of a signed book,” but that didn’t apply to this scenario, if you interpret that question to mean, “Why buy a signed copy?”)
Here are some of the answers I heard. I tried to ask people of all ages and genders and physical appearance. I even asked people who looked like the didn’t especially want to talk to me. I probably asked 12 people. Not a huge sample size, true. This subject deserves more in-depth attention. But here’s some of what I remember:
None of the people directly mentioned adding monetary value to their physical copy of the book. One of the comments obliquely reference it, as in “collection,” but that could be a collection for personal reasons. There might have been people in that theater who would have told me about the monetary value a signature adds to the book, but I didn’t happen to talk to them. So. This is not exhaustive research. It’s simply practice at being curious about what’s going on in other people’s minds.
I was talking with my companion, Rainey Straus, and she told me she’s gotten books signed in the past because:
I tried to briefly get inside people’s minds. I went back and forth with them for a minute or two. I didn’t have enough time to really ask for details, though, so any sort of translation I do is precarious. And this list is certainly not complete.
And surprisingly, as I was wandering up and down the line of people, I found myself in line. So I went along, got in front of the table, and had my book signed by Malcolm Gladwell. I asked him how his hand was holding up. “It’s getting there,” was that I remember him saying, implying that he was starting to feel some fatigue. Signing 400 books–that’s endurance!