Most book lovers are collectors of books, and nothing makes a book special quite like having it signed by the author. Thanks to the internet and the collective strength and awesome-ness of indie bookstores, there are more opportunities than ever to procure signed books for your shelves, even if you never leave your house! Keep reading to learn about the different types of signed books, get a ton of ideas of how to procure books signed by your favorites, and hopefully come away with a few ideas on how to support authors and add to the value of your book collection!
The Anatomy of a Signed Book
First, let’s talk about the different ways that books can be signed. You might think that a signed book is a signed book, but there are a few different methods that authors sign books.
Physical Book Signed by the Author
The most basic, straightforward method of signing books involve the author physically opening up the book and signing the title page (with the copyright page printed on the back). Depending on the event and purpose, the author might simply sign their name, or they might write an inscription. Dated signatures tend to increase the book’s longterm value, but not every author will date their signature.
Signing tip-in sheets, more commonly referred to as tip sheets, is a process of signing copies of books in large quantities and happens in the production stage of a book’s printing. An author is usually shipped thousands of sheets of loose paper that they sign, and then ship back to the printer. The printer then binds the signed sheet into the final copy of the book. Because of the binding process, the signed sheet usually isn’t the title page, but either the endpaper or the first page after the endpaper. The first instance of this done on a massive scale was when John Green signed every copy in the first print run of his 2012 release The Fault in Our Stars, and since then many authors have signed special editions or first print runs of their books in the same manner.
By far the easiest and most economical way for authors to offer signed copies of their books is to offer bookplates! Bookplates are small stickers that authors sign and sometimes personalize that can then be given or mailed out, and then the reader can stick them inside their copy of the book.
Independent bookstores are the number one source for collecting signed books, and that’s because indie bookstores care about cultivating relationships with authors and readers. Many indies ship (although not all ship internationally, but it doesn’t hurt to ask), so you can take advantage no matter where you live!
The best way to pick up signed and personalized copies of your favorite books is to attend an event at a bookstore with the author. Most authors will sign any number of books you purchase at the store, and a limited number you bring from home. You can ask for personalization, to make the signed book even more special.
Can’t attend the event in person, or live too far away from the indie hosting the event? Many bookstores will be more than happy to sell you a signed preorder. Simply pay for the book in advance, and ask them to have the author sign and personalize it while they’re there. The bookstore can then hold it for you to pick up, or ship it to you!
Many indies not only carry signed stock in their stores, but they also have a signed section on their websites, so even if you can’t make it into their brick and mortar locations, you can see what they offer! Many of these books are from when an author signs stock while passing through on tour, or from local authors who stop in and provide signed stock on a regular basis. I love checking out the signed books sections on the websites of bigger indie bookstores in urban areas that host a lot of events, because you never know what gems you might find!
Occasionally authors will send bookplates to indie bookstores to slip into their stock, so don’t be surprised if the signature is on a bookplate and not the actual page of the book. If it matters to you whether the book is signed on the page or on a bookplate, you can usually clarify with the bookseller.
Signed First Edition Clubs
If you love collecting signed books in general, then consider signing up for a signed first edition subscription service from an indie! Bookstores such as Literati Bookstore, Parnassus Books, and The Strand each have their own versions of these clubs, and many more exist!
Follow the Authors You Love
If you have a particular author you love and would like a signed copy from, the good news is that many if not most authors these days have ways to make that happen! The options here are best if you’re looking for signed copies from an author who is living, and actively writing and releasing new books.
Check Author Websites
Many authors partner with a local indie to offer signed stock of their books all the time. If so, they usually have a link to their local indie website, with instructions on how to get a signed copy. Many offer just signatures, but some may offer personalization. Be aware that if you are requesting personalization, your order might not ship right away. The author will need time to come into the store and sign. Some may need a few days or weeks, and some might only personalize books at certain times of the year.
Many authors will offer preorder campaigns when they have a new book releasing, and offering ways to get signed copies is usually the essential part of any preorder campaign. Sometimes you can buy the book from a specific indie, and sometimes the signature comes in the form of a signed bookplate. If an author you love has a new book releasing soon, check their website and social media about a month before release to get the details. Just be aware that some authors have limits on their preorder campaigns, as they usually fund these campaigns themselves!
Many author offer free signed bookplates, either as part of a preorder campaign, or year-round. This is a great option especially for international readers, as it costs a lot less to mail a flat bookplate than it does an entire book. Some international authors might even send stacks of bookplates to certain indies in your country, and you can get one by purchasing the book from said bookstore.
Barnes & Noble
Barnes & Noble (BN) is a chain store, but they have been really elevating their exclusive content game in recent years. While many BN stores do welcome and encourage authors to come in and sign stock for their shelves, unlike indies those books aren’t then available online for anyone in the country to purchase — they function as in-store exclusives for that particular store.
However, certain BN exclusive editions are signed, and Barnes and Noble does carry a limited number of signed stock on their website and in all of their stores. This isn’t the case with every BN exclusive edition, but BN is usually pretty great about carrying a certain number of signed editions of the season’s biggest releases. They are usually tip sheets that the author signs in advance, and “signed by the author” is prominently displayed in the book’s listing and on the cover. You can check out their signed books landing page and browse their current (and ever changing!) selection.
Subscription Services and Exclusive Editions
Offering signed editions and exclusive signed editions of books tends to be more trendy in the YA world, but there are a number of great companies and subscription services who partner with authors and publishers to offer signed copies. The Bookish Box is a subscription service that offers exclusive signed editions (via tip sheets) of books each month, and FairyLoot is a subscription service that also offers one-off signed exclusive editions of popular books, usually YA fantasy, that you can buy without a subscription. Following services like these on social media and signing up for their newsletters is usually the best way to find out about their signed books offerings.
Other Online Retailers
Most of the options that I have laid out apply to authors who are actively releasing books and engaging with readers. But what do you do when you want a signed book by someone who is no longer publishing, someone who is extra famous and doesn’t offer new opportunities for signed book, or by someone who has passed away? It might be trickier.
You’ll have to turn to used and vintage book outlets, and you’ll often pay more for signed books, as books signed by the author tend to be more valuable. Of course eBay is a popular source for signed classics, as are Alibris, AbeBooks, and Biblio. Then, there are the outlets that you might not have thought about: Etsy sellers sometimes offer signed editions of old books (they count as vintage!) and Poshmark has a surprisingly robust signed book section. If you want a rare or hard-to-find signed book, it might cost more and take a bit more patience to track down, but it’s usually worth the wait! And who knows, if you hold on to some of your books signed today, they might become valuable collector’s items in the future!