My Somewhat Labyrinthine Thoughts on the Topic of Autographed Books

Earlier this year esteemed YA author Sara Zarr (before she went on blog hiatus, that is) wrote an interesting post about the changes in her blogging habits. I am not even close to being on the same playing field as Sara Zarr, of course, but I was digging around in the big teetering stack of books on my desk this weekend, feebly attempting to impose some sort of order on them, and out of nowhere I remembered that old post of hers. I think it was because I was looking at a handful of my autographed books, which include some recent additions from signings, blog contests, and the scant handful of books I got signed at SCBWILA.

You got it, Maggie. (I hope, anyway.)

I’m feeling good about my prospects as a children’s author, you know? Not to be all braggy and stuff, but this feels like an exciting time, one during which I’m very aware how much I’m being lifted up by the aid and encouragement of the kidlit community as a whole. I actually don’t have a lot of trouble seeing a time when my blogging habits change in the way Sara Zarr’s have, because the possibility of an honest-to-gosh kidlit career feels more real than it ever has.

If I manage to attain the kind of career I want – writing productively, publishing regularly, developing a strong presence in both the inner workings of the industry and the outer workings of the marketplace – it’s very likely that I’ll experience changes in big stuff, like how I perceive myself, interact with colleagues and readers, and prioritize my resources. But I’m often a guy who looks through the micro lens, so I’m also aware that I may experience changes in the little stuff too. Like how I feel about the phenomenon of autographed books.

I’ve undergone a certain amount of change already! If I admired/respected/just-plain-liked someone’s work, that was enough. Getting the signature was never meaningful in any big way, even with books, which have always been more meaningful to me than most objects. This changed when I began to pursue a children’s writing career in earnest, however, because I started to meet people, in both the virtual and corporeal worlds. I went to Cindy Pon‘s SF Bay Area launch party for SILVER PHOENIX, and I now happily and appreciatively consider Cindy a friend. So when I won a signed copy of A CONSPIRACY OF KINGS on her blog, the prize carried an extra measure of oomph because Cindy went to the trouble of dragging Megan Whalen Turner into an ongoing inside joke about my participation in Cindy’s contests! Similarly, the signed copy of NEIL ARMSTRONG IS MY UNCLE that I won in Nan Marino’s contest really meant something to me because I think well of Nan, love her book, and had fun howling at the moon (and nearby lurking miscreants) late one night in an Oakland park in celebration of her book’s 1-year anniversary.

This was a SPECIALLY AWARDED PRIZE, yo. I AM SPECIAL.

Which I think is why I only came home with two signed books from SCBWILA – there were a ton of authors and illustrators there whose work enthralls me, but most of the faculty were people who I haven’t had some level of personal connection with, even if it’s as fleeting as a pleasant Twitter exchange. (Although I did miss out on Cynthia Liu and Tammi Sauer, which I regret, because I do think very highly of them both as writers AND people.)

I confess to a degree of questionable show-offiness in this endeavor, a tinge of “woohoo, look at me with all the famous writers and illustrators I know, wooo, I’m so awesome, look at aaaaaaall these personalized autographs!” You’ll forgive me, I hope – I do get quite starstruck, despite my nearly lifelong disinterest in autographs, and I’m no better than anyone else when it comes to self-administered ego inflation. Geez, is that a bigger problem than I realize? One of the things you see and hear a lot when trying to grab the brass ring of publication is “don’t be a pinhead and blog, tweet or otherwise publicize stuff you might regret.” I wonder how easy or hard it is to predict what those things will be? Maybe my new-found fondness for personalized autographs is one of those things! I don’t believe I blog about stuff in a naturally inflammatory or indiscreet way, but then again, I’m also kind of a putz in general. Time will tell, I suppose.

So what does all this portend for the future? If all goes well, I’m only going to get to know more and more children’s book creators as I pursue my own career. While I feel differently about getting autographs as I get to know more people? Will I grow jaded and cynical? Maybe it’ll become less meaningful as the novelty wears off, or as it becomes more commonplace. Or maybe it’ll become more meaningful as I develop more attachments to people in the industry! Wouldn’t that be great? Maybe I’ll continue to meet writers and illustrators, and I’ll get more and more signed books with the weight of personal connection behind them, and I’ll have to buy more shelves and get rid of other furniture and fill the second bathroom up with books and make it hard for overnight guests to go take a whizz, but wouldn’t it be worth it? I kinda hope that’s how it’ll go.

Yours in ever-changing splendor,
m.

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12 thoughts on “My Somewhat Labyrinthine Thoughts on the Topic of Autographed Books

  1. I never really saw the point of getting books signed until, like you, I started to make actual personal connections with authors. It feels much more special to have a book signed by someone who actually knows you exist, doesn’t it?

    1. It does, yes! I do have a couple of autographed books from authors who I’ve never otherwise communicated with in any way, and I dunno…not that I wouldn’t want to know them as people or anything, but without that element the autograph just doesn’t mean a whole lot. But if the author’s a genuine friend, or shares some professional affiliation with me (agency, for example, or – one day – editor or publisher), or is even just another blueboarder, there’s some DEPTH to the signature for me. Part of why I cherish my autographed copy of SACRED SCARS is because Kathleen Duey has made the effort to be encouraging to and supportive of me on Twitter. She didn’t have to do that, you know?

  2. mike, i hate to say it, but signed books pretty
    much mean nothing to me still. i give almost
    all of my books away, because i rarely read anything.
    but mwt’s (and a few other favorites) i keep.
    ironically, her books to me aren’t personalized
    like yours are, because i asked specifically for yours.
    ha! but it doesnt matter to me–it’s the real life
    and even online interactions that really matter
    to me the most. =)

    glad to count you as a writing friend.
    your future is bright, mike jung! who knew
    from that first signing back in may 09–a
    first for martha flynn too!!

    1. Ehh, I don’t know why you should hate saying it, Cindy – it’s a very personal thing, you know? I can totally understand feeling more strongly about the actual interactions with people – they’re really meaningful! I do take real pleasure in having these gorgeous word-filled objects that are the culmination of a friend/colleague/acquaintance’s creative efforts, but there’s no reason why anybody else has to feel the same way I do. And thanks for the compliment, I hope you’re right! Your signing was Martha’s first event too?? I had no idea…

      1. it makes me seem so unsentimental
        as a book lover! but you’re right, it’s
        very personal. and i thank god for all
        the readers who love to get books signed
        by authors. =D

  3. Yep, personal connection means everything. I wrote a letter to David Boreanaz once (Buffy fiend here; I worked for a Civic Light Opera and they were doing The King and I, which I read somewhere was the play that made David want to be an actor, so I thought I was being…clever by inviting him to a production) and I received an autographed (or stamped?) glossy 8×10.

    I threw it away. That wasn’t what I wanted, what I cared about at all. I wanted *David*. Course, I couldn’t have him, not even a handwritten note piece of him–so I didn’t want any (although don’t think I don’t love Bones, because I DO).

    Anyway. Mike. When you sign my copy of your book someday, THAT will mean something, because we are friends and you will undoubtedly be all clever and whatnot and I will also probably brag about knowing you, cause that’s how I roll.

    P.S. Cindy, thanks for clarifying. I thought you meant you never read, and that was really confusing.

    P.S. #2 Cindy again–I still have my autographed copy of SF, and it actually means something to me.

    1. Whenever it is that I end up having a book on the shelves I’ll be happy to sign one for you Amaris, because we ARE friends, which makes me happy, and I’ll apply an extra dose of witty strangeness to it because that’s how I roll.

      I’ve never actually watched BONES, but I respect Boreanaz’s work on both BUFFY and ANGEL, although I had progressively greater trouble watching ANGEL just because he kept aging, you know? And James Marsters had that Dick Clark thing where he DIDN’T appear to visibly age, which just made it more obvious in comparison…

      1. James Marsters. *sigh* I actually got to talk to him once, too, and it was SO WEIRD to hear him speak without a British accent. I even said that to him. I was a little bit freaking out, a little bit awkward and incoherent…but he was still really nice.

        Oh, and BONES is awesome. Let me tell you why: it’s a crime procedural, which I always find immensely satisfying (it’s the reason that no matter how antsy I am and don’t want to read any of the books on my TBR pile [I get weirdly restless sometimes], I can always pick up a Nero Wolfe or Agatha Christie and be fine). But I don’t watch all crime procedurals because not all of them have hilarious and compelling and sympathetic and likable and also hilarious characters who just keep getting better and better. Seriously, there’s some good writing on Bones. And just think; you have FIVE WHOLE SEASONS to catch up on! Woohoo!

        Oh man, me talking about the tv shows I like…I do NOT shut up.

  4. Although, not to confuse the issue, and probably this has nothing to do with anything but I just want to tell this story:

    One time I worked on the X-Files (I used to do background for tv and stuff) and some girl ran up to David Duchovny and got him to sign this movie program we all had (it was that episode where Garry Shandling and Tea Leoni star as Mulder and Scully in a movie) and I was like yeah, I’m totally doing that, and he was super nice, but I had him sign it for my friend Dave (wow that’s a lot of Daves today) because he was a huge fan and I DON’T CARE ABOUT AUTOGRAPHS. The mere fact that I spoke to him is pretty sweet.

    However, what I DO care about–what I still treasure and crow over–are the acorns I took from the living room set of Mulder’s apartment. Some crew guy gave me a tour and we were in the hallway where they almost kissed before the bee crawled out of Scully’s collar and stung her and then we went into his apartment and I was like hi, crew guy, I’m taking some of these acorns in this decorative jar on this table in Mulder’s living room. I’m taking them with me forever.

    Again, not sure that pertains so much to what you’re talking about, but…ACORNS FROM MULDER’S LIVING ROOM.

    1. This is an awesome story, btw, partly because purloining acorns from Mulder’s living room is just so incredibly random. Random, yet awesome. When did you work on the X-Files?? You actually worked on that episode? The one where Scully shows Tea Leoni how to run in those shoes??

      1. Yep. I was in the audience at the “premiere.” I had to wear a fancy and uncomfortable dress and watch Garry Shandling kiss Tea Leoni with a line of spittle stretching between their lips (I am not kidding) over and over and over…but it was totally worth it.

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