Sign(ature) of the Times

The Second Lives of Signed Books

Whenever I need to ratchet up the day’s anxiety (and I’m out of espresso pods), I visit Amazon and read reviews of my own books. The exercise is like a Google vanity search but with more fear and loathing. Occasionally, I’ll discover that a used paperback of mine has re-entered the market – wonderful – I love the sense of cycle. However, when said book is “signed by the author” or boasts a “personal inscription,” I buy it immediately.

This isn’t to buttress the value of my autograph by making it one-book-less-available. It’s because I don’t know what I wrote or to whom I wrote it and I don’t want whatever it was being read by the kind of weirdos who buy such things. It’s like having a note confiscated by the teacher in class – embarrassment inevitably ensues.

I recently purchased a copy of my late 90s Lumaville Labyrinth prelude, The Late Projectionist, which was signed “For Murray – the shooter!” I’m pretty sure Murray is a local photographer, hence the slang, but on the off-chance that he’s an assassin I’ll refrain from shaming him further. Suffice it to say, Murray, I’ve got your book if you ever need it for target practice or whatever.


Sometimes, a stranger will have me sign a book at a reading as a gift for someone. This seemed to be the case with a copy of I Heart Sonoma: How to Live & Drink in Wine Country, which was subsequently inscribed “Happy Birthday, Monkey!” The giftee, so moved by the gift (and being called a lower primate), re-gifted the book to Amazon. Now, it festers on my Shelf of Shame.


I once bought a book of mine with a rather long inscription written to my then brother-in-law on the occasion of his 40th birthday. How did it end up back in my hands? I was told that the book was so enjoyable that it should be shared with the world (personal inscription and all) via a Silicon Valley school books sale. The book was apparently purchased and then later donated to a Goodwill in San Francisco where it languished until some canny salesperson posted it on Amazon. $10 later it was mine – again.

I considered returning the book to the former bro as a re-gifted re-gift but decided the book had endured enough abuse and abandonment. So, I “put it down,” as they say.

What this amounts to is that we authors should be cautious about what we write in people’s books. This is why I’ll refrain from writing personal notes to all but my most ardent fans and besties lest I have to break out the credit card when all that sentiment surfaces online.

If you cajole me into inscribing your book with something personal (wine helps) and you decide you no longer want it (because I later killed your favorite character, or you prefer my older funny stuff) you can send it to me, no questions asked, and I’ll retire it to the Shelf of Shame.

Moving forward, I might provide a stock inscription printed in the book itself, ready for easy customization on the part of the purchaser:

Dear ______________, I thought you would enjoy this amazing book, which you will see is signed by the author:



Signed: [Your Name Here]

P.S.: Don’t put this book on Amazon or eBay. Daedalus is watching you.

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