Tuesday, August 19, 2008

The Etiquette of Book Signing

FYI: I'm over at Jungle Red today. Check it out!

By Amy MacKinnon

So I went into Boston over the weekend with a friend to visit area bookstores. Yes, of course I went to see if Tethered was out and if I could possibly, maybe, sign what was in stock. If you're like me -- and you're writers so I can safely assume you are -- it's a bit awkward to present yourself to the manager of a bookstore and say hi, I wrote this book, mind if I sign it? Luckily, for us, they're used to this sort thing, it happens on a fairly regular basis. In fact, it was happening while I stood in line at the customer service desk at the Downtown Crossing Borders.

To my left was an unassuming man in t-shirt and shorts, a backpack slung over his shoulder, stacks of books in front of him and he's waiting patiently, calmly. To my right, being helped by Dave the manager, was an older gentleman. Now while I should have been paying attention to the man on my left, I was in fact futzing with my outfit, smoothing my wayward hair, and standing there holding tight to my book, grinning like a game show contestant, angling it so anyone walking by might see the lovely cover. Waiting, waiting, fidget, futz, wait. It is lovely, though.

Then the man to my left says to the manager, "Are there more in back?" At which point I look to the stacks of books on the counter, look to the man, who is already heading in the direction the manager is pointing, and then I grab Dave the manager's hand (yes, I did) and say, "Is that Richard Russo?"

"Can you believe it? He just walked in!" I ran after him. No, this isn't the dorky part yet, close, but it gets worse. You may need to stop reading now because it's too painful, but imagine how excruciating it is to write. Here goes:

"Mr. Russo?"


"I'm a big fan, I love your work, like..." At this point, I'm so excited, I can't remember a single title. Not Bridge of Sighs or Empire Falls, not Ship of Fools or The Whore's Child. Not one. His smile is beginning to wane. "I loved that article you wrote for that Maine magazine, I can't remember the name of it, on Alzheimer's, it meant so much to me..."

He starts to back away, his smile waning. "Oh, I'm sorry. Thank you."

There was more, luckily I can't remember it all. Then I really did it. "Could you sign my book?"

You see I'm still holding my copy of Tethered I'd hoped Dave the manager would want me to sign so he could slap that shiny sticker on it: autographed. But I was waiting my turn and hadn't asked yet and it was the only book I had on hand. It didn't occur to me that we were standing in the Richard Russo Aisle (can you imagine having your own section in a bookstore?) and I should have plucked one of his off the shelf.

Now Richard Russo's smile truly falters. He gestures to Tethered. "You want me to sign this book?"

"Yes, it's mine, I wrote it." I'm beaming, from nerves not pride. Even I can see how this is going, but I can't stop the train wreck.

"Oh, congratulations." He's so very nice. "But I don't think I should..." He's shaking his head, looking from me to the book.

"Of course, that would be silly." I may have stopped beaming here. I may have even gulped and developed a nervous tic.

"Hey," he said, angling my book so he could see it better. "Tethered, huh? And you're Amy MacKinnon?"

I nod. Futz, twitch, tic.

"I'll have to get that. The cover is really great."

I thank him, I leave, and Dave the kind manager, leads me over to my own -- much smaller -- stack of books on the front table and I begin to them. A man passes, he stops and turns to regard me. It's him, Richard Russo. He calls out across the floor.

"Is this your first one?" He's walking backward, toward the exit, that face I know so well smiling, for me.

"Yes." I'm beaming again.

"Good luck with it. I'll be looking out for it!"

And then he was gone and in an instant, he made me feel like I wasn't quite the big dork I knew myself to be.


Anonymous said...

Priceless story, Amy. One you will, no doubt, never forget--and I mean that in the best possible way!!

Therese said...

Oh my, I am laughing out loud...

Kristen said it: priceless. And also very sweet.

I love Russo--and love that he, too, stops into stores to sign stock.

Judy Merrill Larsen said...

Oh, Amy, I'm chuckling all the way out here in Oregon--I love this story. And it's absolutely something I would do.

Maybe we need to set up a "dork" tour?

Glad you're having wonderful adventures.

Larramie said...

How adorable that -- 5 days after the launch -- you were still the same Amy. Not only will you remember that "event," so will Richard Russo. ;)

Amy MacKinnon said...

Isn't he adorable, though? I probably would have turned heel, afraid there was a stalker in my midst. And, Larramie, I'll always be the same Amy -- for better or worse.

Gail said...

great story, Amy!! Hilarious not dorky just human.

Carleen Brice said...

:) Good to know even writers like Russo do drive-by signings!

Amy MacKinnon said...

Gail, if you could have seen me in my red jacket with matching bustier (tasteful not scandalous), suitcaed-sized bag and painful shoes, trying far too hard and then this guy, this Pulitzer winning author totally casual in shorts and tee...you would have been rolling.

Carleen, you will too when there's a Carleen Brice aisle.

Anonymous said...

So weird. I was in the same Borders on Sunday, looking for Tethered, and was so happy when, not only did I find it, but it was signed!

Amy MacKinnon said...

Thank you, Dylan! What a pleasant surprise to receive your comment. Perhaps we passed each other, I was the tall blond, stuttering and stammering about the place.

Creative A said...

Oh, yuck. I'm cringing for you. The good news is, maybe he'll remember you, lol.

The cover does look amazing.


mohanley5 said...

Funny, Amy...sorry to take so long to post to you how much I loved Tethered...it took me longer than expected to read, only because I was painting my dining room, and would reward myself after a 1/2 hr of painting with a chapter of Tethered, then 1/2 hr of painting, and 2 chapters of Tethered...so hard to put it down. Compelling, so well written...and do you mind if I tell you how much my scalp hurt? Poor Clara...when I knew it was coming, I would just cringe...hope to go to the Grub Launch at porter Square Books...have you been to the Brookline Booksmith in Coolidge Corner? Newtonville Book or the the Hallmark Store in West Roxbury? (Nice little Bookstore!)

Anonymous said...


I read yesterday that one of the most embarrassing moments for a kid is to accidentally call his or her teacher "mom". Your Russo story has this same kind of feel!

Thanks for sharing all of your moments, both the mortifying and the marvelous.


Amy MacKinnon said...

Creative, how could he forget?

Mo, thanks so much for reading! Sorry about your head. I'm getting to as many bookstores as I can. You know how it is with kids & summer.

Tara, what a perfect analogy. Hopefully I won't have too many more humiliating moments to share.