If you ask an author to sign a book, you have to tell him/her what to write

If you happen to catch me, say by stopping by my office if you happen to work at Microsoft, I'd be happy to sign your copy of my book. (There's no need to set up a formal book signing appearance in building 9; just stop by my office any time.) One of the things you don't realize as a fan waiting in line at a book signing is that when you get to the front of the line, you have to tell the author what to write.

It's obvious once you think about it. The author doesn't know anything about you. You're just one person out of hundreds they're going to sign for today. How should they know what to write?

So don't make the same mistake Michael Kaplan did. (I'm just teasing, Michael!) When you stop by to ask me to sign your copy of the book, give me some idea what you want me to write. I'm happy to do it, but you have to give me something to work with.

In other book news: The publishers are working on getting the bonus chapters onto the book web site. Your patience is appreciated. And I'm seeing book reviews coming from all over, like this one from Tom Duff (who even posted the review to the book's Amazon page), and a surprise one from Martin Heller. (The surprise that Martin Heller wrote a review of my book at all, not that the review is full of surprises. I don't know if that makes sense.)

Comments (17)
  1. David Walker says:

    What mistake did Michael Kaplan make?  The entry you point to is about your book, but I don’t see a mistake that HE made in relation to getting a book signed.

    I’m confused…

    [I explained in the very next sentence. “When you stop by to ask me to sign your copy of the book, give me some idea what you want me to write.” He didn’t do that. -Raymond]
  2. David Walker says:

    Oh… maybe "feeling silly" is the mistake…

  3. Rick says:


    Thank you for saving my life all those times.



  4. JamesNT says:

    Mr. Chen,

    Since I live way out in North Carolina, what may I do to get a signed copy of your book?  I could mail you the copy I already have with return postage, for example.


  5. JenK says:


    You taught me everything about wdeb.



    Of course, it’s probably only hysterical to me.

  6. The write stuff says:

    you have to tell the author what to write

    Next thing you know, you’ll have to tell the computer what to compute, tell the programmer what to program, tell the driver what to drive (why not where to drive?), tell the manager what to manage, and tell the commenter what to comment.

  7. Puckdropper says:

    say by stopping by my office if you happen to work at Microsoft

    "Mr. Puckdropper, could you tell us why you wish to work at Microsoft?"

    Raymond Chen works here.  I’d like to be able to stop by his office and get my book signed.

    "Oh, and since you’re already here why can’t you do that now?"

    He’ll probably accuse me of not reading the full text of his blog before commenting/taking action.

    "I appreciate the honesty, what position were you looking at again?"

    Well, you know a temporary position would be great.  You know, long enough to speak with Raymond and convince him I’m a real employee so he’ll sign my book.

    (Just a note:  I’m only quoting the part that inspired such a silly interview in the first place.  I wouldn’t actually do this.)

  8. David Larsen says:

    I’ve seen dozens, perhaps hundreds, of authors sign books while managing a couple very large book stores.  Usually the author just signs his name, unless the person handing him the book speaks up in time, haha.  Biggest signings: Tom Landry & Anne Rice (on different occasions).

  9. required says:

    "Pay Mr. Required the sum of 1 million dollars.

    R. Chen"

  10. DavidE says:

    The default should probably be "Thanks for buying this book on ebay".

  11. I won’t ask you to sign a book, but I’m tagging you for the silly but amusing Blog-Tagging game[1]. I’m probably not the first to tag you, but it seems you didn’t get into the circle yet.

    [1] http://pulverblog.pulver.com/archives/006087.html

  12. A. Nonymous says:

    "Mr. Nonymous,

    I concede that you are the champian speller.


    Sign is just like that ;)

  13. Gwyn says:

    To Gwyn,

    I made it all up,


  14. Andrew says:

    I don’t think you have quite grasped the nature of the implicit contract between author and book owner when it comes to book signings. By signing the book you are personalizing that book for the owner, if you require the owner to tell you what to write you have quite considerably diluted that personalization.

  15. Dewi Morgan says:

    Yep – I’m with Andrew, and the others who use humour to make the same point. Sure, a fan can ask for a name for the dedication ("for Trudy") but anything more is putting words into your mouth ("for my good friend Trudy" if they’re a stranger, "thank you for buying" if you are not thankful).

    They can’t ask you to misrepresent yourself. They can *suggest*, but as Andrew points out, even that dilutes it. The very idea of suggesting to an author what to write in their book is anathema, unless you actually ASK them to edit it…

    If someone signed a book and put an in-joke quip that you suggested, that’s them recording your humour for you. They may as well get their secretary to do it and get you to sign it.

    Most authors just ask "who should I make it out to?" Some don’t even do that (it makes for trouble if you get the name wrong). From that they either write boilerplate (a thanks for buying, one of a short list of jokes relevant to the book they sign, or just "For [recipient]. [author]"), or they ad-lib.

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