What Will Happen to Booksignings?

HemingwayLast week when we were discussing e-books, someone brought up an interesting question.

In the age of e-books… what will happen to booksignings?

Well first of all, with marketing budgets having dropped over the last few years, there are already fewer booksignings than there used to be. But autographed books are one of the enduring traditions in the literary world, so I have a feeling that somehow, some way, they’re going to continue.

Even though the trend is shifting toward e-books, many print books are still sold and that will continue to be the case for quite some time. So for awhile anyway, we’ll still be able to get our print books signed.

I can envision a future in which some books are published in e-versions except for small, exclusive and highly touted print runs of printed books for special events — book launch parties, speaking engagements… and booksignings. Won’t it be great when it’s a “status symbol” to own a limited-edition PRINTED version of your favorite author’s book? AND have it autographed?

But we should never underestimate technology — because of course, there are now ways to get your e-books autographed. Companies like Autography and Kindlegraph have come up with ways for authors to digitally sign electronic books. In the case of Autography, it’s pretty neat the way it works…they’ve actually come up with a way to add a page to your digital book that contains the author’s inscription. (Read about it – it’s pretty impressive.)

You could always bring your iPad down the to booksigning with a Sharpie and have your favorite author sign the back. But you’d better really like that author!

As a reader, has the difficulty of getting books signed played into your decision about whether to  go electronic? Are author autographs important to you?





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Rachelle Gardner

Literary agent at Books & Such Literary Agency. Coffee & wine enthusiast (not at the same time) and dark chocolate connoisseur. I've worked in publishing since 1995 and I love talking about books!


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  2. Vaughn Ripley on February 14, 2012 at 10:54 AM

    At the book signings I’ve done, I always had lots of fun banter and lively conversations with fans. The signing was really just something that everyone felt was a necessary evil (of sorts). I must say that I’ve joked with folks about signing their kindle or other device. How about a graphic JPG of your autograph? HA! Great post … Thanks for sharing!!!

  3. Beda on February 11, 2012 at 4:55 PM

    Kindle is how I read now for the most part. The “take away” from a book signing is not so much the signed book, but that you’ve seen the author in person. Why can’t that still happen and with more interaction in a different format? And yes, there are other things to sign. I have a signed bumper sticker with one of Kurt Vonnegut’s quotes. A book could not be more precious.

  4. Rashad Pharaon on February 3, 2012 at 8:51 PM

    I’m as likely to want an author’s autograph as I am to have my iPad engraved with their name. It plays no decision in my buying their book–if it’s a good novel I’ll buy it.
    Who knows, maybe book signings will turn into appearances for fan photo ops. If that’s the case I’m investing in Botox stock,



  5. Erica Lucke Dean on February 2, 2012 at 8:54 PM

    I think it would be really cool in this digital age to have author’s signing “book covers” you know…the paper thingy with the cover art on it? It would be relatively inexpensive and you could sign one for everyone who buys a digital copy.

  6. Mental Mosaic on February 1, 2012 at 9:29 PM

    I like that there are ways to autograph ebooks, but what really matters to me is being able to go to book readings. I love hearing authors read from their works.


  7. Kristin Laughtin on January 31, 2012 at 8:49 PM

    I had this thought when I first got my Kindle, but since print books are still widely available, I haven’t been too affected. I just buy the few things I want signed in print, and treat them as collectibles. I have seen many people getting their e-readers signed, though, and think this will become more popular. I also think the signing of associated merchandise will rise. When people meet actors or other non-author celebrities, what do they get signed? A poster, an album, an autograph book, etc. If nothing else, I’m sure there will be book-related swag for those with ebooks.

  8. Heather Webb on January 31, 2012 at 8:10 PM

    I agree with what a couple of the others have said here already– e-signatures are so impersonal. I prefer to meet the author and talk with them in person 100 times more than to order a signed book online. I might even go out of my way to meet an author I admire as well as purchase an extra copy or two as gifts. I certainly wouldn’t do this for an e-book.

  9. Charles Specht on January 31, 2012 at 7:37 PM

    Very interesting. I wondered about that. Will have to check out the Kindlegraph tonight!

  10. Stephen King on January 31, 2012 at 3:28 PM

    As a reader, yeah, I’m another of those in the category of “signed copies aren’t all that important.” As an e-book writer, I miss not being able to sign my book. I’ve done a few Kindlegraphs, but those feel like cheating to me.

  11. Flower Patch Farmgirl on January 31, 2012 at 2:57 PM

    I had the same thought earlier this week, as I prepared for my friend Courtney Walsh’s signing while my MIL bought the book on her Kindle. My humble collection of autographed books is one of my prized possessions. Long live the signings!

  12. Evan Jacobs on January 31, 2012 at 2:14 PM

    Hi! I’m the creator of Kindlegraph.

    Thanks for the blog post and the mention of Kindlegraph. I just wanted to mention a couple of things about digital signings.

    In my opinion, the connection between authors and readers that is the important thing and the signed book is simply a memento of that connection.

    The move toward digital books doesn’t that these connections will no longer exist or no longer be important. On the contrary, I believe that authors and readers have even more opportunities to connect. I created Kindlegraph as an acknowledgment of the power of personal connections even while people become more anonymous because of technology.

  13. HopefulLeigh on January 31, 2012 at 1:41 PM

    One of my most treasured possessions is my copy of A Wrinkle in Time signed by the author herself. I was 9 years old when I met L’Engle and I’ll never forget it. I don’t buy books based on whether I’d want them autographed but there are certainly a few that I know I’d like to meet the author- A Prayer for Owen Meany comes to mind.

  14. Ross Lampert on January 31, 2012 at 1:07 PM

    Interesting how few commenters here care about signed copies. Still, there are those who really like having that connection with an author. For them, and for authors, something like these tools needed to happen. I was wondering how long it would take. Now I know. I think this is pretty cool–and a lot better than scribbling all over somebody’s e-reader screen! 😉

  15. fakesteph on January 31, 2012 at 1:05 PM

    I’ve been to a number of book signings where there were people getting their Kindles or covers signed. One event in particular, there was a 14 year old girl in line behind me who had obviously been doing it for a while. She had a ton of signatures on her Kindle cover and was just as excited as everyone else in line with printed books.

  16. kate scott on January 31, 2012 at 12:45 PM

    I go to a lot of author events and signings, and usually by paper books to have signed at these events. I prefer ebooks to paper books though and never buy paper books unless I know that I’m meeting the author.

    Sometimes I have authors dedicate books to other people and give signed books away as gifts because I know I’d rather just read the ebook myself.

  17. Michelle DeRusha on January 31, 2012 at 12:40 PM

    I personally don’t care that much about signed copies. What I care more about is the option to make marginal notes and underline sections of text. I know you can do this with a Kindle, etc., but to me, it doesn’t feel the same as dog-earing and underlining with a good old-fashioned pen.

  18. joan Cimyotte on January 31, 2012 at 11:31 AM

    I can’t remember when an autograph mattered. One’s and zeros are taking over. Soon, my husbands’ need to collect dusty rotting books on a bookshelves will be replaced with old hard drives that can store all our ones and zeros. In an age when signatures have become “Accept” boxes to click, who needs signatures anymore? There is even talk in some school districts to stop teaching cursive writing.

  19. Nancy on January 31, 2012 at 11:15 AM

    Thanks for turning my question into a blog post Rachelle! Before falling into magazine and now, fiction writing, I was a career PR practitioner (still have my APR accreditation). So the marketing/PR aspect is always swimming in my head. The book signing/meet-the-author strategy is a useful tool in an author’s marketing process, from my PR POV. It’s terrifying from my writer’s POV, though! E-books are convenient and the future of publishing, but technology can not fully satisfy the public’s desire to personally connect. That’s why rock concerts and personal appearances by celebrities still draw large crowds.

    I love the e-book era, but I can’t completely let go of the concept of the printed book…or the book signing. (Thinking of my young daughter hugging her Kindle tight after reading a good bedtime story doesn’t hold the same charm for me either.) I like the concept of an exclusive print run for special events and book signings for the more traditional public (It actually creates value), along with the Kindlegraphs for the techo-readers.

    The bookmark thing? I don’t know. From my PR/ad side again, it seems there could be a better option than signing an obsolete item that is obsolete for the very reason that the e-book they bought has no real pages. I understand the symbolism, but to me it’s like giving a rotary dial away with the sale of an i-phone. Plus, you’d have to autograph and inscribe pretty small on a bookmark! I’d personally go with something more current, like a limited availability booklet (which an author could have done inexpensively at a good print shop) with photos and an interview with the author about how he/she wrote the book, background details for a nonfiction, Q&A, etc. Added value for the customer. Possible added value for the author, as some readers would even pay a few bucks extra for something like that. Just my 2 cents from sitting on both sides of the fence.

    Thanks for the great posts Rachelle. I look forward to reading your blog every week. I don’t comment often, but I’m here. Lurking. 😉

  20. Megan B. on January 31, 2012 at 10:54 AM

    This really speaks to my love for printed books. As a reader, I like them because I won’t lose them to file corruption or format changes. And I get to have them all sitting nicely on my shelf. As a would-be author, I know I’d be so let down if my book got published and I couldn’t hold a printed copy in my hands.

    I think this issue of signed copies really brings home the reason I feel that way. A physical copy doesn’t just feel more real, it also allows for things that can’t quite be replicated in electronic format. Sure you can “bookmark” a page or even make notes on your electronic reader, but it’s not the same.

    Also (sorry, I’m just going off on a tangent now) I like buying used books and finding other people’s notes and whatnot inside. Sometimes they even leave postcards or other items between the pages. When everyone who owned it has written their name in the cover, I get to see the various people who had the book before me. Oh, and joy of going into a used bookstore and browsing the treasures!

  21. Colin Smith on January 31, 2012 at 10:45 AM

    I like the idea of special print runs of e-books specially for book signings. But, as someone else pointed out, books signings are only one aspect of in-person author-reader interaction. Authors could still do readings and Q&A sessions–these would be just as valuable (and to some more valuable) than a book signing. Also, the opportunity to shake the author’s hand, thank them for writing the book, and even get a picture with them can still exist in an e-book world.

  22. Juturna F. on January 31, 2012 at 10:02 AM

    TV/Movie celebrities? I don’t care in the least. But I’ll go the extra mile for a favorite author’s autograph. Or the 7am lineup for the 10am book-signing.

    As much as I like my e-reader, my inner dragon will never relinquish her hoard of signed books. She’ll even continue to purchase physical books just for the purpose of getting them signed. Incidentally, my inner dragon has no real concept of the term ‘I’m running out of shelf space.’

    But I’ll still continue buying real books and getting them signed. An eReader is only a convenience for me, and an eBook will always remain less intrinsically valuable to me than a physical book. Even if the book isn’t signed.

  23. David Todd on January 31, 2012 at 10:01 AM

    The loss of book signings won’t bother me as a reader. I’ve only ever had two books signed: one at a writers conference, the other a book I’d had 20 years and the author just happened to be coming through for a lecture. I guess that wasn’t a “book signing” by definition.

    As a writer, all my writer acquaintances say book signings are generally disappointing. So I guess I won’t miss them as a writer either.

  24. BK Jackson on January 31, 2012 at 9:06 AM

    While I do have one or two author signatures (the one I intentionally sought out was for a non-fiction work), it’s not important to me.

    I just want them to WOW me by writing good powerful books. And in this day and age, I far rather my fiction be electronic. What’s more personal to me than an autograph is that author giving back by sharing what he/she has learned–through online articles, teaching at conferences, contributing magazine articles to well-known publications and the like.

  25. Richard Mabry on January 31, 2012 at 8:55 AM

    Rachelle, Interesting discussion. Even before I thought about being a writer, I valued signed books, mainly because of the personal contact with the author that went with them. Now when I’m asked to sign, I try to give the same kind of personal attention that the reader will remember.
    I’ve signed up with Kindlegraph and get regular requests for signatures, but it’s hard to be “personal” with such signings. The Autography site doesn’t really tell me much about how they work, except it appears they’re more into promotion and events.
    At ACFW last year, Suzy Q encouraged me to sign bookmarks and leave them at the book store for her to give out, and since then I’ve used the idea when I encounter fans. Even the eBook crowd seem to appreciate them.
    Will eBooks kill the concept of signed copies? Maybe. Or maybe tastes will change. Time will tell.
    Thanks for bringing up the subject.

  26. Kalinda on January 31, 2012 at 8:44 AM

    Among my most prized possessions: numerous books signed and drawn in (with monsters and dandelions) by Ray Bradbury, after various talks I attended, armed with a note from my mentor–who, saints be praised, was his friend, determined to keep me drunk on writing and craft. I remember the electric thrill and butterflies as he opened the covers and turned each one even more special. Would it be the same on an ereader? No way.

  27. marion on January 31, 2012 at 5:31 AM

    Gwen mentioned bookmarks, y’all. Didn’t mean to totally rip off her idea. Duh!

  28. marion on January 31, 2012 at 5:25 AM

    Someone suggested the author could sign a page of a notebook or something.

    Couldn’t the author sign something relevant to your book? For example, for a book set in ancient Egypt, a really good reproduction of a piece of ancient Egyptian art.

    Or sign the blank back of a pretty bookmark which could then be opened out & framed with front & back visible. A novelty–I mean oldity.

  29. Sally Hepworth on January 31, 2012 at 4:10 AM


    Given your recent move, I wonder if you could shed some light on the following for me:

    What happens when an agent moves agencies, in terms of clients? Are your clients yours, or do they stay with the agency? Perhaps you could devote a blog to this topic? I’ve always wondered.

    Thanks so much!

    • Rachelle Gardner on January 31, 2012 at 8:41 AM

      It varies. I addressed it in my January 3 post.

  30. Gwen on January 31, 2012 at 3:20 AM

    Considering I haven’t even thought of book signings, no, not having a physical copy to be signed does not affect my choice of what form to buy. Plus, authors can sign other things, like custom bookmarks, or just pages in a notebook. To be honest, the only autographed books I have are those I’ve won in contests…and they’re not excatly books I enjoyed to the point where I want to keep them on my self. I’d rather have something more personable, like a conversation to remember or a picture, than a quick John Hancock.

    • marion on January 31, 2012 at 5:29 AM

      Sorry Gwen. You mentioned bookmarks in your comment. And then I mentioned it, like it was my idea.

      Obviously, my subconscious mind registered it, but not my conscious mind.

      My bad!

  31. Kathy on January 31, 2012 at 2:55 AM

    I’m an author who is about to go on tour and do book signings. Can’t imagine that not existing anymore. There is something that seems so impersonal about having everything become electronic. If that’s where we are headed, I’m glad I got to be a published author while it’s still possible to meet people face to face and autograph their books in person!

  32. Linda on January 31, 2012 at 2:23 AM

    Some of us collect autographed print books from real author visits (just like some people collect antiques – get it?) and think Autography and Kindlegraph are cheating. I mean, you didn’t even get to see or talk to the author. If Amazon gets rid of bookstores, where will we go for author visits? Our city has a lot of great author visits thanks to indie bookstores.

  33. Charise on January 31, 2012 at 2:09 AM

    It varies. I’m not slutty about it. But I’m totally getting Joshilyn Jackson’s autograph on her new book…;)

  34. Brian on January 31, 2012 at 1:55 AM

    Honestly, I’d rather sit through a Q&A panel with an author, rather than wait in line for a signature in one more book that will fill up my already full library.