Tuesday, August 2, 2011

Signed by Author: The Pen Is Sloppier

The day I got The Call, there was a distant cry of distress somewhere in the back of my mind as I faintly realized that sooner or later, I was going to have to sign my book for someone.

This prospect might delight some; who wouldn’t want to put their John Hancock on the book they slaved months or possibly years over? Who wouldn’t want to brand their masterwork with their autograph?

Here’s my confession: I can’t sign my name for nuts. Not even my real name. In fact, the government office that issues my driver’s license and health card commanded me to return twice to re-sign my name because my signature was “too easy to forge.” I ended up scribbling something that looked nothing like my original signature, and now I can’t reproduce it. If a police officer ever pulls me over and asks me to walk a painted line, touch my nose, then sign my name, there’s a 33% chance I might end up in the slammer.

So now I face the challenge of signing my pen name a dozen, or a hundred, or maybe—if I’m lucky enough—a thousand times over. And a big fat X isn’t going to cut it.

Like any good researcher, I went to that most reliable of internet forums, Yahoo! Answers, seeking a solution to my dilemma. Legibility, style, character and an inability to forge the signature were the top discussed attributes. I thought a happy face might suffice—apparently not.

I took one responder’s advice and started by practicing my name in cursive. I quickly realized that after decades of being glued to my keyboard, I’ve forgotten how to do curly script. (Lowercase B continues to be my least favourite letter.)

I tried to write my name out fast and with my eyes closed. I figured I should be able to do it by feel rather than by sight. Besides, if I have hundreds of people lined up to see me, I’m going to have to do things fast, right?

Wrong. I ended up with a page that looked like something from a college notebook at auctioneer school. And it was pretty clear with every ill-placed stroke that I couldn’t remember what my name was.

No matter how many times I tried, I couldn’t reproduce the same signature twice in a row. I tried giving it more style, with big letters and squigglies. Then no letters, and just random peaks and curves, as if my hand were a seismograph measuring a tremor in Los Angeles beneath a highway underpass. Nothing worked for me.

So I sought the guidance of the pros, and started laying out all the signed books I owned. The signatures ranged from simple (Tamora Pierce) to deluxe flourished (Heather Graham). Both seemed natural, and I assumed they were consistent, too. I had to be confident that my autograph would come with the same organic ease. Practice--even if it's of a scribble--would make perfect, right?

And then I realized that in order to make up for my terrible penmanship, I would have to personalize every signing in some way. My spirits sank to a new low.

In my signed book collection, some variation of “All the Best” seemed to be popular, but I wanted something that said “This is Vicki, and she’s sorry her handwriting looks like chicken scratch.” I looked up other celebrity autographs: Tina Fey signed her book, Bossypants, with “Help, I’m stuck in a Korean Tina Fey autograph factory.” In a friend’s account, author Neil Gaiman signed The Graveyard Book for each of his fans by drawing a little tombstone with their name on it.

So special! So memorable! So perfectly suited to their personalities and books! I wanted to do the same. I wanted to wow. Or at least make sure people were walking away with some kind of impression apart from “I can’t read her name at all. And how come your autograph looks totally different from mine?”

I started coming up with a rotating list of endearments, but it soon became apparent that, despite being a writer, I was no good with succinct platitudes. Thinking back, most of my high school yearbook epigraphs described my morning routine. And those inscriptions were to my closest friends.

Since my book is about mixed martial arts, I tried to go with that theme. Unfortunately, “I hope this book is like Superman punch to your heart!” and “Enjoy this book like a kick to the head!” aren’t quite the sentiments I wanted to convey.

Maybe I should forget about signing books and just stick to just writing them.

Vicki Essex will be signing her debut book, Her Son’s Hero, alongside author Mary Sullivan July 16 at Coles Bookstore at Cloverdale Mall (Etobicoke, Ontario, Canada), and at the World’s Biggest Bookstore (Toronto, Canada) on July 23. Check out www.vickiessex.com/events for more details.

Leave a comment below for your chance to win a signed copy of Her Son’s Hero. I might even sign it with something legible! Draw will take place on Saturday, June 11, 9 p.m. EST.


Kaelee said...

Hi Vicki ~ I laughed my way through your blog. When I first went to work at a bank I was told I had to change my signature as it was to easy to forge. I tried and tried to change it but just could not do it. I think my first name can be traced back to when I first started writing cursive and my last name to when I got married.

I wish Etobicoke and or Toronto were closer to Calgary as I would come to your signing. I'm really curious about what you came up with. My mom had some Lynn Johnson's For Better or Worse books that were autographed. Lynn always used ones of her comic characters in her signature.

Kirsten said...

You won't believe the number of times I had to prove my person because the autograph didn't match.

Mary Preston said...

I feel for you because my signature is atrocious. If I want it to be legible , for the bank for example, it takes me about 5 painstaking minutes to do it slowly & carefully. A forger would be faster, which is what I always feel like. It's an illegible scrawl all other times.

Anonymous said...

Hi Vicki!

Congrats on HER SON'S HERO! That's quite an accomplishment!

I read your blurb and was enticed to read your book, even more so when I read RT Book Reviews' comment of "the sexual tension is instantly apparent." Wow. 'Nuf said!

As for your signature endings, how about "I hope you have a hero too" or "May we all have heroes in life" or "I hope you enjoy my hero" or something along that vein. There's always the generic "Thanks for your support" or "Thanks for being there for my very first book!" or "Great seeing you!" or "May YOU have a SuperRomance too!"


Helen Brenna said...

Chicken scratch is cool, isn't it? lol

That's what my dd tells me, anyway. She works to get a messy signature!

Anonymous said...

LOL! How about "Karate chop!" LOL. Sorry,my sense of humor is weird.

Mine is easy to sign. Liz. Easy peasy. And I tried to give it a fun little phrase. For my first one I wrote "Enjoy the dance." It worked for Vegas Two Step. For The Way to Texas I put "Enjoy the journey." Couldn't think of anything clever for A Little Texas. And now for A Taste of Texas, I'm thinking of writing "mmmmm!" LOL. I really think I'm coming across as dorky.

My actual signature is very sloppy, something that disgusts my mother who writes painfully neat and tidy. I just pretend I'm a doctor and let it rip.

Fun post, Vicki :)

Liz Talley (who is SO done with Blogger!)

mary sullivan said...

Fun post, Vicki! My signature is going downhill with age. In fact, my handwriting is. When I sign a book, I have to PRINT the sentiment and then sign in cursive.

Our booksignings should be interesting! I wonder how many strange looks we'll get ;-)


Mary Brady said...

Vicky, I'm always amazed at people who can make their signature look the same every time they sign. I never know what I'm going to get.

Liz, I know from where you come about Blogger! I had to change browsers to be able to sign in.

Julie Hilton Steele said...

My signature is horrible. Nuff said.

Your book is already ordered. Can't wait to read it so don't put me in the drawing. I will just imagine a legible scrawl on the front!

Best wishes as you move forward with book signings AND writing more books for readers to look forward to devouring.

Peace, Julie

Piya said...

May I suggest a stamp? :D

But actually, I like the MMA themed sign-offs. I wouldn't mind what your name looked like if you wrote something like "Hope you enjoy the book. Hi-YAH! Vicki"

Ellen Hartman said...

Hi Vicki!

Your post was too funny. Poor baby. This is what my husband calls a high class problem. (How to sign hundreds of copies of your own fantastic novel!)

I like Liz's suggestion. Maybe a Batman phrase, "Bam! Pow!"

My problem is worse...I can't spell my own name. I leave out the 'r' and sometimes the 't.' Sometimes I can fudge it, but sometimes it's really obvious.

When I was doing the big Harlequin signing at RWA, I spelled it wrong yet again and had to start over. I apologized to the woman who was waiting. She said, "I have that same problem with my pen name. It's hard to keep straight."

I hated to tell her Hartman is my real name. ;-)

I figure the ones I do with the misspelled name will be collector's items someday. Maybe?

Kristina Mathews said...

Great. Something else to worry about and keep me from finishing my book.
Your blogs crack me up. I can't wait for your book.

jcp said...

My handweiting is nad too.

Ellen Hartman said...

JCP--Good one. :-)

Vicki Essex said...

Thanks for your suggestions, everyone! BTW, I'll announce the winner at my blog on Saturday night. Visit me at www.vickiessex.com/blog!

Anonymous said...

Hi Vicki,

Your post made me laugh. I have horrible handwriting. My husband and daughter have beautiful handwriting and the always tease me. Good luck with finding the right signature and congrats on your first book with Super Romance.

Tammy Yenalavitch

Cathy (Corbin) Keevill said...

Funny thing about computers, they make some things so much easier and some more difficult. I cannot spell without spell check anymore and my handwriting is illegible. (I think that started as a way to cope with the spelling issues!)

As a huge fan or romance and martial arts, I am looking forward to your book.

On behalf of all us romance junkies, thanks for the effort you put into your writing!

Marcie said...

As long as I can make out part of it - like the first letters of your first and last name - I'm good. I get a lot of "Enjoy" in my signed books - keep it simple apparently is best especially if there are people waiting.

Anonymous said...

Vicki, I would just write "enjoy" and sign my name! My handwriting is very legible until I start trying to sign things quickly, then I start missing letters!!!


JV said...

LOL, Vicki! I enjoyed your blog so much!

Don't feel alone, though. While my husband's signature, for the most part, is legible and my daughter's is really pretty good, both of them have decided independently to write their signatures leaving off the last 3 letters of our mutual last name with which both of them were born. What's up with that?

I told my husband that he needed to fix that because the man I married had an "ard" after the "t" in his last name, and I didn't want people thinking I was the one who didn't know how to spell her name properly. Sheesh!

Jackie S. said...

My handwriting is horrible!! Have been teased about it a lot, too! Would love to read your book, Vickie!

Unknown said...

When I sign my name its readable but that's about it. It gets worse the older I get. Sometimes I can't even make out what I wrote on my grocery list. I feel bad about it and then I look at my sons signature and I don't feel so bad because you can't read a thing he writes and he is in college.

Your books sounds really good and I can't wait to read it.

Anonymous said...

Fab post, Vicki, but now I don't know whether to hope you get loads of people to your signing or just a handful!

And just in case I do get published someday, I'm wishing I'd chosen a shorter name. My real name may be one I share will around a million other people, far too many of them already authors, but it does have two virtues.

It's short, and I can already sign it.

Joan Kilby said...

Great post, Vicki. I'm glad to see I'm not the only one with problems signing their own name. I have trouble with lower case 'b,' too. In my case a 'y' follows the 'b' and it's like the pen runs away with my hand. Suddenly the letters are sprawling all over the page. It's embarrassing at a signing to have to scribble out your own name and start again. But good luck! I hope you sell a ton of books.

Joan Kilby said...

Just read Autumn's post. You could call yourself 'Fall.'

Anonymous said...

I cannot make the same signature twice for the life of me! I honestly have no idea why it's supposed to be such a clear proof of anything. :P

Congratulations on your first book! :)

chey said...

My signature just keeps getting worse. The other day I noticed I missed a letter! So far, no one's told me to change it.

Debra Salonen said...

What a hoot! Vicki, you crack me up. I love your sense of humor.

How 'bout: Live long and prosper.

Just a thought.

Good luck! And most important--have fun!


linda s said...

Congratulations on your new book. I look forward to reading it.
It took me years to make a reasonable cursive upper case E and every one in dh's family has a first name starting with it.

ClaudiaGC said...

I always envy people who have such a flowing, elegant and kind of "soft" handwriting. My own one looks more like chicken scratch. But be assured that no reader will care what it actually looks like as long as it is signed by the author. :)

Sherry Isaac said...


Great post, and true. I practised signing my new name from months before my wedding, now I practise signing min pseudonym.

Love the nugget about signing with a personal note that pertains to the book. Gave me a fun idea on how to sign my book, Storyteller, which releases in July. Thank you!

So many comments I couldn't read them all, so someone may have mentioned this, or you may have thought of it yourself, but what about signing yours, 'Be somebody's hero' or 'Embrace your inner hero'?

Vicki Essex said...

Kristina Matthews: You've won the draw for a copy of Her Son's Hero! Please email me at vicki@vickiessex.com with your address. Congrats!

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