[Path to Publication] On Signing Books
Written by
Elizabeth Enslin
September 2014
Written by
Elizabeth Enslin
September 2014

My first book releases from Seal Press in exactly two weeks, and once again I start the day by scanning my to-do list, adding more items than I cross out: reserve a keg for my book launch, decide on room arrangement, respond to emails, set up Facebook events, make a hair trim appointment, answer questions for three different online interviews, upgrade wardrobe, order bookplates, clean the book tour mobile (my Subaru Forester), update blog…and so much more.  And then there are the chores I need to do before leaving our farm for several weeks in October: plant garlic, trim yak hooves (yes, really), dig up potatoes….

I try to prioritize, but no matter how I rearrange, one item keeps floating to the top, still undone: work on signature for book signing.

I have terrible handwriting. As much as I like the idea of beautiful handwritten notes and cards, I don’t like sending them because my hand wielding a pen ruins the charm. I’ve tried colored pens––purple, metallics, deeper blues–but nothing hides the cramped, childish, illegibility. If I write in all-caps very slowly, I can manage a better look, but it’s slow-going and wears out my finger muscles.

I don’t seek out signatures of other authors either. I’ll get them if it’s easy. But if lines are too long or the room is too suffocating, I slink away, happy enough that I have a new book. The signatures that mean the most to me are ones that come from authors I’ve gotten to know at workshops and elsewhere.

But I know that author signatures mean a lot to most people, and I like to please. So I lay awake some nights wondering how I will avoid defacing the books I spent so many years writing and that others will spend hard-earned cash on.

I turn to Google and find “Tips for Improving Your Handwriting” at PaperPenalia. The trick is this, I learn: “if you use the right muscle groups, your writing will have a smooth, easy flow and not look tortured.” And what are the right muscle groups? Arms and shoulders rather than fingers. I try the strokes I’ve been using for years on my signature and find I am, indeed, working only my fingers. I try again, consciously engaging my right arm and shoulder. I’ve forgotten how to make some letters in cursive, but the writing does look less tortured and a little more grown-up and authorial. I see hope for improvement.

Here are a few other tips for book signings I've come across:

  • Make copies of the title page to practice on ahead of time.
  • Carry a good stock of ballpoint pens in quick drying, indelible ink (black or blue).
  • At the book signing, have a paper pad handy so people can write out the correct spelling of their names.

I realize this post is not a great endorsement for a signed copy of my book. But if you do want one, join me at a reading in the Pacific Northwest in October. Signed copies will also available for shipping from my local, independent bookstore in Enterprise, Oregon: The Bookloft (you can indicate you want a signed copy in the comments section on checkout). Meanwhile, I’ll be working a little each day on improving my signature for you.

And if you’d rather have a clean, unsigned copy, I’ll understand. You can pre-order those from any bookseller in the US and Canada. The book will also be available soon for pre-orders in Europe, South Asia, and elsewhere.

What odd worries surface in your to-do list in the weeks before launching a book (or any big project)? How do you like to sign books? What do you like to see when an author signs your books? Any recommendations on good pens for a debut author?

Elizabeth Enslin is the author of While the Gods Were Sleeping: A Journey Through Love and Rebellion in Nepal (Seal Press, October 2014) which won the 2013 She Writes to Seal Press Publishing Contract Contest.

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  • Elizabeth Enslin

    Congratulations on your book, Janet. At some point, I think it will be important to just relax and enjoy the ride.

    Lily - I'm thinking about that very thing this morning as I get ready to sign some pre-ordered books at my local bookstore. Beyond "Enjoy," I'm not coming up with much. If I find any good advice, I'll share here soon.

  • Signing my name isn't the problem for me. It's finding appropriate words to accompany my name. Suggestions?


  • Janet Singer

    These are great tips for a book signing...thank you!! Mine will be in late February 2015, so I have several months to worry about it :). Good luck with your book launch!

  • Elizabeth Enslin

    Thanks, all. And Jeannine, that is exactly the kind of insight I need. I'm not great at multitasking (especially in social situations) and will need to be particularly mindful during that signing moment. Thanks so much for directing me to think about all that. : )

  • Jeannine Atkins

    Congratulations! And thank you for sharing the tip about arm and shoulder, which I will try. 

    I don't want to give you more to worry about, because really this should be fun! But I'd only remind you of the signing context, which can be tricky. People not only often want a signature, but a bit of connection with you. I try to look them in the eye as I thank them, but people will often talk as you write, and it can be distracting if you're trying to get the spelling of their names right and attend to your handwriting. Unless you're good at multi tasking, you may have to take your attention from the person, so be prepared for that. It may help if someone is beside you doing the smiling. Really, enjoy!

  • Loraine Van Tuyl

    How exciting! Best of luck with it.
    Your book sounds fascinating.