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Pro Tips for Inscribing Books

If you are ever lucky enough to find yourself in the position to be signing books, you may ask yourself the question, "What in the world am I supposed to write?" Now that I am faced with this question myself, I wanted some answers. After a little bit of research into what some famous authors have inscribed on the title pages of their books, I discovered the following patterns:

1. Less is More

If you can’t think of anything witty to say, then don’t. No one will mind. Scribble your signature on the page and leave it at that. Or, if you must inscribe it to a particular person, you can keep it as minimal as possible. Basically, if it works for a gift tag, it will work for a book signing.

2. Locate and Date

Add the city and date to your signature. In a hundred years when you’re dead and your book is worth a billion dollars (adjusted for inflation, of course), then the recipient will be very glad for some additional identifying information that adds to the book’s value. Also, this will help time travelers locate you so they can take you on a wild adventure.

3. Trite is Fine

If you absolutely must add some extra words, they don’t have to be earthshattering. Let the thousands of words you wrote in the book speak for themselves. Some common phrases from the great bastions of Western literature include:

  • To my friend,
  • Best wishes,
  • All my love,
  • Affectionately,
  • With the writer’s compliments,
  • With admiration and affection,
  • Warmest regards,

4. Draw a Picture

You could draw a self-portrait or a character from the book or some random squiggles with your signature. Drawing skills are a plus, but not necessary. A picture is a worth a thousand words, so doodle away and save the words for your next book. Bonus points for incorporating your publisher's logo in your design.

5. Apologize (Medium-Level Difficulty)

Self-deprecation is usually charming. You'll probably be feeling like a fraud during your book signing anyway, so why not use that emotion?

Some examples:

  • To Herb Yellin - I've been reading this over. It's not such a terrific book, is it? Thomas Pynchon
  • E.G. Eliot from T.E. Lawrence with apologies for the troubles it is going to bring you

6. Personalize (Expert-Level Difficulty)

If you are feeling confident and bold, then add some personal details particular to your reader. Show off your razor-sharp wit! However, this will take more time and attention than a simpler inscription, which your poor brain may not be capable of doing on the fly. But, it will make your readers feel quite special.

F. Scott Fitzgerald is the master of personalization. Behold some of his best work:

  • For the unknown, unmet parents of Clare. Knowing her, I hope you will find something to like in this present. Best wishes, F. Scott Fitzgerald
  • For Jim Hurley, adhesive tape expert ('May every tape-writer ribbon prove to be an adhesive tape' Dorothy Dix) From his friend F. Scott Fitzgerald Ashville 1936
  • For Edward Everett Horton, Page 74 et sequitor may interest you to dip into if you like cathedral tours – and my daughter's evidence is that you do. F. Scott Fitzgerald. Encino, 1939
  • For Isabel Owens Hoping we'll both be able to look back to this winter as a bleak exception, in a business way from F. Scott ("Old Scrooge") Fitzgerald.
  • For Alec McCaig, who once wrote a ▲ show and now writes short stories. Gawd help him – from F. Scott Fitzgerald April 1920 New York.

7. Ask for Favors or Reviews (Not Advised)

When all else fails, do something radical. You are an author. Live it up. Big risk = big reward. Ask for a five-star review on Amazon or Goodreads, propose marriage, or request a baked good. I personally think that asking for a favor is a terrible idea for an inscription, but it has been done. AA Milne asked artist E.H. Shepherd to decorate his tomb in a book inscription. Maybe save this one for people you know well so they don't think it's creepy.

A.M. Morgen