Put Your Name on the Line

The Women’s Club of Larchmont held a large and friendly luncheon at Orienta Beach Club in Mamaroneck, where we put away butternut squash soup and baked chicken before the show began… the show being myself, Dan Zevin (Dan Gets a Minivan) and Richard Zacks (Island of Vice: Theodore Roosevelt’s Doomed Quest to Clean Up Sin-Loving New York). A different kettle of fish in each case, as you can imagine (united by Z’s). Yet these literature-loving, Christmas outfit-wearing ladies came to all our tables afterward, often to pick up the entire trio of books, the whole hat trick, imagining they’d find some grateful recipient for one or another over the holidays.

When you’re autographing books, people sometimes seem apologetic if they only want a signature, not an inscription. “Oh, I’ll be passing it along (to my daughter, or my mother, or my son-in-law) so just sign,” they say. But I love the idea of someone liking my book enough that they want to pass it along. I’m fine with just signing my name.

A fellow writer talked to me today about signing, how with her own first novel she didn’t “know how” to sign and she had to buttonhole the person in charge of the event, anxiously, to find out. And it’s true that there can be a technique to signing. It’s good to practice, and it’s possible to be rusty. What face is your signature going to wear? And where are you going to post it? The title page, or the blank page inside the front cover? Where, exactly, on the title page? Sharpie, gel pen, ballpoint? Black or blue? If it should ever happen that you sign a lot of copies at once – this year I signed dozens on occasion, and that’s nothing compared with many writers – you want to have a system.

And what else will you employ besides your signature? I’m always impressed when authors manage to squeeze out a couple of sentences – difficult, with a clumsy Sharpie, if you’re lucky enough to have a line of people waiting. If you have one of my books you know that I often write, “Enjoy!” While that is indeed my hope, the exhortation strikes me sometimes as a ridiculously insipid.

I’ve come across wonderful twists on the conventional author’s signature as I’ve travelled around the country and met a lot of authors with just-published books.

Da Chen (My Last Empress) with his dramatic calligraphy and red seal.

Chen's signature

Richard Zacks (Island of Vice) includes a quote from early Chief of Police Big Bill Devery: “Hear, see, say nuthin! Eat, drink, pay nuthin!”


The cartoonist Derf Backderf (My Friend Dahmer) draws a self portrait.


Axel Vervoordit (Wabi Inspirations), the eccentric Belgian interior designer, autographs his illustrated books by actually jabbing his thumb through the first page. It’s somehow just right for his bare but expressive sensibility.


Makes me want to come up with something more personal than this, my own mark.

jz sig

A bit minimal, a bit manic. Maybe that makes perfect sense.

Just one thing. Never call it a John Hancock.


Filed under Jean Zimmerman, Writers, Writing

3 responses to “Put Your Name on the Line

  1. Lori

    I am on Facebook. My name is … wait. If you’re on Facebook, I’ll friend you and we can proceed from there.

  2. Absolutely! Are you on Facebook? I’ll message you my address.

  3. Lori

    If I were to buy a book of yours over here on the ‘left’ coast, could I send it to you to have you sign it?

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