A Sign of the Times
by Diane A.S. Stuckart

With each new novel, it gets harder and harder to come up with just the right few words. No, I’m not talking about writing the book’s opening paragraph—that all-important “hook”. I don’t even mean the novel’s final line that puts a neat bow on the 80,000 words that came before it. Rather, I’m referring to the inscription I pen to a reader when they purchase or win a signed copy of my book.

I’m not sure why, but that is something I’ve struggled with over the course of my writing career. As an author, I’m supposed to be creative. After a while, however, it’s hard to come up with something new and punchy, particularly when I’m fortunate enough to be at an event where I sell quite a few copies. Of course there’s always the default Best Wishes or Happy Reading, or even the succinct Enjoy, followed by my signature. I do like to be a bit more personal, however, and so I usually try to add a little something more to the inscription.

Most readers seem to appreciate a specific connection to them. For example, To Jane — Great meeting you at the Tons o’ Books Festival or To Bob — Congratulations on winning my Big Giant Book Raffle. And, over time, I have come up with a couple of standard phrases for each series. Enjoy Hamlet’s “tail”! for my Black Cat Bookshop mysteries is a goodie, while Enjoy your stay at Fleet House! is one I sometimes use for my Georgia B&B mysteries. But I must say I’m jealous of my writing friends who possess artistic talent and so can add a sketch or fancy flourish to their inscriptions. Best I can manage is a smiley face that, despite my best efforts, inevitably ends up lopsided and vaguely sneering.

Yes, I’ve made it something of a project to see how other authors inscribe their books. I once spent a couple of hours in Barnes and Noble looking for books with the “Signed by the Author” stickers hoping for pointers. I found that the more prominent the author, the less they tended to personalize their inscriptions. The big boys and girls mostly penned a plain old signature. But has that always been the trend? For this blog post, I did an internet search for some examples. Hat tip to the Sotheby’s site for these first few…

Unsurprisingly, Ernest Hemingway was a minimalist even when it came to signing his work. A copy of Three Stories and Ten Poems was inscribed to a friend as follows: To Frank Curtin / with all best wishes / from Ernest Hemingway / November 1, 1927 / Paris. Ernie did get a bit more personal, however, in another inscription written in a copy of The Old Man and the Sea presented to his goddaughter: For Alden / this strange book which / I had the un-believable / luck to write / E.H. Similarly, T.S. Eliot succinctly inscribed a copy of The Waste Land this way: For Viscountess Rothermere with the homage of the author. Makes me want to use the word homage like that some day!

AbeBooks also listed some cool inscriptions. This one was written on a photo, not a book, but I quite like it: To Steve from Muhammad Ali. Love is the net, where the hearts are caught like fish. But the one that most warmed my little author’s soul was found in a copy of Casino Royale. It was inscribed by Ian Fleming to his publisher: To Ralph. We have now both reduced our remainders by one copy! Ian.

If you’re a reader, do you prefer an inscription over a signature in your books? And, authors, do you have a favorite inscription you use?

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