Thursday, October 07, 2004

Nearly out of date topics (1)

I keep a file of press cuttings and jottings -- notes about stuff which could in principle form the topic of a post on this blog; and, as you would expect, I have more items in the file than I have time to deal with. So today and tomorrow I will mention a couple of things which are likely to disappear from the web soon if I'm not careful.

First, a piece by Lawrence Block which appeared in the Village Voice back in May. Block is the author of a great many crime novels, and he reports on his experiences in signing copies for fans -- a process which seems to take him just as long as writing the book did.

Block makes the point that signed books are now all the rage. Customers much prefer to buy a signed copy, not least because they can sometimes immediately sell it to a collector for a premium. A customer turns up at the bookshop, gets the author to sign three copies -- 'just the signature please', because if the author writes a dedication 'To Jane', in addition to signing, that will reduce the value of the book. And then the 'fans' flog the three copies on ebay or whatever.

In 1998, Block was sitting in a bookshop, signing copies of his latest, when he was faced with a couple of dealers who brought in several cartons of his old books and asked him to sign them. Free of charge. So now he has a policy: for every copy of the new novel that you buy on the day, he will sign three old ones. In 1999, says Block, one man cheerfully paid for 18 (signed) copies of The Burglar in the Rye and in return Block signed 53 copies of his old stuff. Everybody was happy: dealer, author, and bookseller.

There is at least one UK bookseller, Post Mortem Books, which specialises in signed copies and not much else as far as I can see. And I learn from their site that Waterstones are selling a limited (and signed) slipcased edition of Susanna Clarke's Jonathan Strange and Mr Norrell.

And finally, I have a scribbled note in my file which tells me that James Ellroy signed 65,000 copies of the UK hardback edition of The Cold Six Thousand. Can this be true? It very well may be, because not so long ago I bought a copy of that novel, at a remaindered price, and that one was certainly signed.

Oh, and one other thing. This is a story which works better when told orally, with the appropriate Australian accent, but I'll tell it anyway.

It is said that, many years ago, Daphne Du Maurier was signing books in an Australian shop. Business was not brisk, but occasionally someone would wander over and say, 'Could you sign it to Jenny Smith, please?' And then, naturally, the long-suffering Daphne would dedicate the book appropriately.

Late in the afternoon one woman approached and without any preliminaries said firmly, 'Emma Chisett.'

So Daphne wrote on the title page: 'To Emma Chisett', and signed.

The woman looked at what she had written and frowned darkly.

'Nao, nao,' she said (in a thick Australian accent, remember). 'Not Emma Chisett. How much is it?'

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