Posted by Gary D. Robson
There are a lot of things that are different for an author who writes books for children — especially picture books. I’ve talked about some of these things before, but I’ve never specifically addressed how to actually sign the books. Most of the generic book signing tips and guidelines apply (see my 14 book signing tips for authors and 11 MORE book signing tips for authors, among others. Here are some specific things to keep in mind for children’s picture book authors:
- No cursive. I was born in 1958, so handwriting was a big thing in school. We learned to write beautiful cursive script, and that’s what our generation uses for formal occasions. Today’s children, however, are often not taught cursive. Schools in our area have dropped it, and many others around the country as well. If you handwrite a clever little note to the children, odds are they won’t be able to read it. This doesn’t apply to the signature itself, but…
- Use a clearer signature. When I’m signing a check or a legal document, my signature is a scrawl. If you didn’t already know my name, you’d never be able to decipher the signature. As grownups, we get this. An illegible scribble is the standard for signatures. Little kids don’t necessarily get it. If the family is plopping down $11.95 for a copy of my book, I figure the least I can do is make it readable. I know kids who don’t read cursive won’t be able to read a signature, but the letters are close enough to identify if you know what you’re looking for. Speaking of which…
- Sign on the title page near where your name appears. When the child is looking at the book, they see your name printed in the book and your name signed close by. The younger the child, the harder time they have grasping that you’re the person who created this book. That proximity of printed name and signature helps reinforce it.
- If you’re the illustrator, draw something. Nothing fancy. Even a little smiley face. What you drew doesn’t matter. What matters is that you drew it just for them (anecdote below).
- Always include the child’s name. You probably do this anyway, but it’s doubly important for little children. One of the first things they will learn to spell and recognize is their own name, and it’s infinitely cool to them when they see their own name in the book.
- Always ask the spelling. Again, you probably already do this, but it’s more important with children’s books. If you are signing a book for a 60-year-old named Ellen, it’s almost a sure bet that her name is spelled E-L-L-E-N. Young parents today are much more likely to use unique (strange, odd, phonetic…) spellings than their parents or grandparents. A six-year-old with that name is much more likely than previous generations to spell it Ellyn or Elin or Ellan or Ellin or Elhen or Elen.
- Talk directly to the child. I see far too many authors of children’s books that speak to the parents and barely make eye contact with the kids. The book is for the kids. The experience is for the kids. Ask children what their names are and how to spell them, and look to the parents for confirmation if you can’t understand. Children are used to being ignored by grownups. Be the exception.
I promised an anecdote:
At a Cheetah Conservation Fund event years ago, I met Tippi Hedren, the actress who became famous for the Alfred Hitchcock film, The Birds. She had written a book called The Cats of Shambala, and I bought a copy. When she signed it for me, she added three simple little birds around her signature (see the picture under the book cover at right). I told her the birds were really a cute touch.
“I wish I’d never started that,” she said.
When I asked why, she told me about when she first started drawing little birds. It was a random thing. Sometimes she’d draw two, sometimes three, sometimes four. Then, when she drew two birds by her signature in a book, a fan complained.
“How come my friend got three birds in her book and I only got two in mine?”
The little birds had stopped being a cute improvisation and became a part of her signature; an expectation rather than an extra.
Be prepared, as this could happen to you, too.
When I sign books I always write the same thing: “Watch where you step,” unless people ask me to do something else. That makes my life easier, as I’m not scrambling to think of something clever for each book I sign, and people really seem to like it.
I’ll add a little caveat to all of this. A really good book signing for me is a hundred books in three hours. Call it an average of 30 books per hour. With two minutes per customer, I have plenty of time to chat, write my little personalized greeting, and even get pictures with fans. If you are Mo Willems (Don’t Let the Pigeon Drive the Bus) or Eric Litwin (Pete the Cat), then you’ll have massive lines and no time for such frivolity. Of course, if you’re Mo Willems or Eric Litwin, you’re probably not reading my blog.