52 Pick-up 2.0, #40 – 10/20/2020
“I have noticed that in every signature of yours I have seen, there is a dot after the last “n’ in Johnson. Is that done to fight counterfeiting?”
You know, when I first started out doing signing events, I started putting the dot at the end to signify special events where the bookstore owner or librarian were very nice or where the venue was pleasant or the readers particularly responsive—then I came to the conclusion that I was doing it at every event. I guess I figured they were all special and still do.
I take pride in my signature, not so much for the artistry of my penmanship but just hoping that when I’ve finished a book it, like any other form of art, is worthy of being signed. Often, before a book comes out, Viking/Penguin will ask me to do tip-in sheets, singular blank pages that they send to me to be signed, that first batch they sent, years ago, being something like five thousand of them. In the beginnings of my writing career I was somewhat uninformed, especially concerning numbers and figured I’d crack open a beer after dinner and knock them all out in an evening. Have you ever signed your name five thousand times? It takes longer than you might imagine. Anyway, I’d made a template to place the sheets on and put a new cartridge in my old rollerball that I started my career with and had at it…
A moment to talk about my weapon of choice, the Faber-Castell Basic Rollerball with the cedar barrel, a gift from my good friend Marcus Red Thunder. Cedar has a special meaning to the Northern Cheyenne and Crow and I still remember him giving it to me when the first Walt Longmire novel, The Cold Dish, came out. “Here, it’s good luck.” As it turned out, it was. I’ve gotten a few replacement parts, but I still use the same pen, proudly whipping it out when all the other writers pull their Mont Blancs from their jackets.
Five nights it took for me to sign all those tip-in sheets, but I finally got them done and shipped them back to the publisher. Then something interesting happened. I got a message from the production manager, the person in charge of actually putting the pages together into some semblance of a book. He wrote and said he’d been doing the job for more than fifty years and that no author in his experience had as consistent a signature and that the signing at the beginning of the stacks was exactly the same as the one at the end.
Kind of stupid, but I take a great deal of pride in that and almost look forward to the tip-in sheets arriving with each book now. Well … Almost.
I guess I look at each book as a kind of contract between myself and the readers, a monetary agreement that I have to live up to on an annual basis. I feel that if I don’t come through on numerous levels, the reader shouldn’t feel compelled to continue reading my books. I push that contract just a bit in an attempt to do something different with each novel, but that’s just to continue providing the best, complete book that I can and not repeat myself. I think the way I sign my name is reflective of that, a conclusion, full-stop as the British say.
It’s become more obvious to me with the current situation that signing books for readers is a way of finishing the process of writing and publishing a novel, the personal contact that for me makes it all worthwhile. It’s like the email tab on my website or the messages I respond to the best I can on social media—it’s personal. Just like an autograph.
See you on the trail,