How To

Don’t Be the Worst at Book Signings

Leah Rachel von Essen

Senior Contributor

Leah Rachel von Essen reviews genre-bending fiction for Booklist, and writes regularly as a senior contributor at Book Riot. Her blog While Reading and Walking has over 10,000 dedicated followers over several social media outlets, including Instagram. She writes passionately about books in translation, chronic illness and bias in healthcare, queer books, twisty SFF, and magical realism and folklore. She was one of a select few bookstagrammers named to NewCity’s Chicago Lit50 in 2022. She is an avid traveler, a passionate fan of women’s basketball and soccer, and a lifelong learner. Twitter: @reading_while

I have seen a man pull out an apple and begin crunching away right as a Nobel winning author takes the stage for a lecture. I have seen a group of women ask the sign language interpreter to move out of the way, because they can’t quite see the speakers. I’ve seen an older couple tell two black women that there was no room for them in a row and immediately after, invite three white women in, because “there’s plenty of room.”

I’ve been to a lot of book signings, and along with all the incredible, lovely people I’ve met and friends I’ve made, I have also encountered a lot of very rude people. Here’s my etiquette guide for how to keep yourself out of my next set of bad examples…

Chill out.

You’re on the way to a signing. You see the door to the venue. There are twenty people in line. There are two people next to you. Suddenly, you’re all speeding up. You rush into line ahead of them with this strange sort of victory.

You will get two seats closer to the seat you want. I understand hurrying. Better seats often mean a better view, and that you get your book signed faster, which can be valuable if you live far away. But unless it’s a limited signing (“So-and-so will sign for 20 minutes and then leave.”) there’s no reason to make it the Kentucky derby.

We all want our books signed.

It’s time to make the line. Should you rush past the person next to you? Push aside others? Literally run to be first?

I’ve been bumped, pushed, crowded, in book lines. I’ve watched people rush a line and booksellers can’t fix it, and I joined the fray once it was clear order wouldn’t reign again. I watched organizers once ask everyone to remain seated so that the disabled and those who had trouble standing go go first, and a bunch of women had the gall to rush the stage.

Obviously, it sucks when an author has limited time, and you’re in the back rows. But you have to trust the bookseller. If you rush the stage, others will rush it too, and you’ll just ruin the days of the people two rows ahead of you who were being respectful. In addition, if the booksellers have to spend all their time telling you to sit back down, or asking people to please form an orderly line, they don’t have time to get you all prepared for the signing itself. When the line is organized and polite, more people get their books signed faster. Trust me.

Obey the rules.

Look. I’ve been there. You’ve carried a pile of three books for two hours to get to the bookstore, and the bookseller says, “I’m sorry, George Saunders is only signing copies of his newest tonight.” Or “I’m sorry, but Zadie Smith is only signing three books a person.” Or “Roxane Gay will sign as many as you have, but she can only personalize one.” You sigh. Are they sure? They nod. You sigh again.

Then you take a deep breath, and put away the books they can’t sign. Authors have limited time, and they have many good reasons to have to limit the number of books they can sign. Think, for a moment, about how your favorite author was in New York City yesterday, Chicago today, and Texas tomorrow. Look around at the line behind you and realize how cramped their hand will be at the end of the night, and how, if it’s 8 p.m. now, they won’t get back to their hotel until at least 11:30. Think about how much time and energy they are giving their readers already.

You do have options. One option is to use a friend to still respect the author’s time but get your books signed—if the limit is three, and your friend only brought one and you have four, that’s easy math.

What is not an option? Waiting until you get up to the table, then whipping out that extra book and begging. Don’t guilt-trip this poor author. Don’t treat your favorite authors like autograph-giving machines. And if the bookseller or author said no photos, don’t ask the author for that either.

Respect other people’s time.

The author will appreciate all of the thanks you have to give. But they have perhaps 500 more books to sign that night, and there are a bunch of people behind you in line. One idea: consider writing the author a letter or note that has the things you’d like to say at length, and say something short out loud to express your gratitude. This way you get both your speech and your in-person thank you.

Another tip here is to be prepared. Almost always, the booksellers in charge will have you first, turn each book to its title page, then stack them if there are multiple to keep them that way. If there are personalizations, they’ll stick the post-it to the title page or page opposite. Now that I’m used to these signings, I often do this myself. If there are photos allowed, have your camera out and turned on. It saves everyone time if you’re helping to be prepared.

Authors, booksellers, readers—what do you have to add?