Sign this book

Sometime in the 1130s, the hugely influential English writer Geoffrey of Monmouth did a book signing. Geoffrey dedicated his History of the Kings of Britain to Robert of Gloucester, one of the most powerful English magnates.

It is not known whether Robert attended the book signing, but at least Geoffrey, unlike Margaret Atwood, Stephen King or Philippa Gregory, didn’t feel ‘discouraged and bummed‘.

Book signing sessions can indeed be a discouraging experience for authors who feel they are in control. But control on the page is not the same as control off the page. Knowing how the readership will react, and who will turn up for a book signing event, is a leap into the unknown. It might even turn out to be a learning point for the authors who think they have it all figured out.

Book-signing sessions can indeed be a discouraging experience for authors who feel they are in control. But control on the page is not the same as control off the page. Knowing how the readership will react, and who will turn up for a book signing event, is a leap into the unknown. It might even turn out to be a learning point for the authors who think they have it all figured out.

In his book R.E.M., the Romanian novelist Mircea Cartarescu describes an encounter one of the characters has with the author of the book, Cartarescu himself. It might be convenient for an author to circumvent the typical rules of engagement (the unity of plot-character-narrator) in narrative, but in the real world, reality comes biting back the authorial backside. In other words, writers are creatures of contingency, and no amount of popularity and grit can save an author from what one recent British writer has described as the ‘awful agony’ of not having anyone turn up for your book-signing.

The ancient, medieval and early modern system of patronage provides some comfort to those authors whose minds are haunted by the thought of spending an almost infinite number of hours writing a book, only to not have anyone turn up for the popular recognition that is the book-signing event. Geoffrey of Monmouth dedicated his book to a powerful patron, as did numerous other medieval authors, like the ancient Romans before them. Why wait for a reader to bring the volume for you to sign when you can sign the book to them from the get-go, thus avoiding the embarrassing prospect of not having anyone read your book or interested in getting your signature?

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