by Tess Gerritsen
When I'm sitting in a bookstore, autographing a book for a customer, I dread hearing these words:
"You're the author. Why don't you sign it and write something clever?"
There's nothing that kills my creativity faster than having a fan staring over my shoulder, waiting for me to spontaneously write "something clever" on the title page. I've heard that many men are unable to pee in public restrooms while other people are around. They stand at the urinal and strain and strain, but just can't get things flowing. I have the literary equivalent of shy bladder syndrome. I just can't seem to produce the expected stream of clever words while anyone else is watching.
In the privacy of my own office, I do a lot of hair-pulling and pacing and muttering and grimacing when I write. It is not a pretty thing to see. In fact, I think writing is sometimes a grotesque affair, and one that should remain out of sight of the public. But when you're sitting at a signing table in a bookstore, you're performing in public, and you're expected to smile, not grimace, while you try to come up with something clever to write in every book. It's always a relief when a customer says,"Just sign and date it, please."
I've learned to come prepared with stock phrases to accompany my autographs. On my first book tour, for HARVEST, I wrote "thrills and chills" on just about every book I signed. It was my fallback phrase, pithy and appropriate and somewhat clever. It allowed me to face a line of customers without panicking that my brain would suddenly go blank.
On later tours, I began to vary it a little, just so I wouldn't write the same thing for every customer standing in line. I wrote "Enjoy the thrills!" Or: "Many thrills!" or "Great to meet you!" If the book was for a special occasion — say, a birthday — I"d write :"Happy Birthday! May it be thrilling." But I still fall back on tried and true phrases that don't require me to wrack my brain for something spontaneously clever.
Every so often, a customer will ask me to write something specific, and will even have the words written out on a sticky. I'm usually delighted to comply because it means I don't have to think up something myself. A few have asked me to simply quote a sentence from the book.
Then there was the naughty man who asked me to write "Thanks for the great night!" And I did.
Over the years, I've paid attention to how other writers sign their books. Most, like me, seem to fall back on the tried and true: "Warmest wishes," or "Enjoy!", or "Happy reading!" Every so often, I hear about one that's a little different, and memorable. One reader told me how delighted she was when Dave Barry signed a book to her, and wrote, "This one is for you." Now, I suspect that he probably wrote that phrase many times, to many customers. But for that particular reader, those words seemed directly personal, and she was thrilled.
A media escort told me about a signature phrase that's one of the sweetest I've ever heard about. I'm sorry I can't remember which author came up with it. Whoever it was, I hope you don't mind that I've "borrowed" it a few times:
"Every reader is an author's best friend."
I'd love to hear what other authors have used to accompany their autographs. What's the cleverest phrase you've ever written? (And can I borrow it?)