It must be a dull week in Trollsville. I went by the Poisoned Pen (that’s my local independent bookstore, for those unfamiliar) yesterday afternoon to sign the latest pile of backlist titles (the Pen handles all my autographed books, and has done so for the last twenty-odd years) and while chatting with Patrick, the manager, was surprised (and displeased) to hear that some folk with too much time on their hands were posting intemperate messages on tumblr, claiming that the Poisoned Pen is a scam outfit, that they don’t really provide signed books, and that people who have pre-ordered BEES won’t get their copies signed.
This is a shot of my small office tonight (above image). I’m up in Flagstaff, in my old family house, just for the day. And what am I doing, in the middle of the night?
Signing tip-sheets. A tip-sheet (see image at left) is a loose sheet of paper, which will eventually be bound into a book as it’s produced. It’s a method of dealing with huge numbers of books, where shipping the actual books to and fro would be both expensive and laborious. I do this now and then—on request—for some of my publishers (in the US, the UK (including Australia and New Zealand(, and Canada, on this go) when a new book is coming out.
Normally, I might sign something like a thousand tip-sheets for a publisher. This time…
The UK asked for 8,000 tip-sheets.
Canada asked for a modest 2,000.
The US asked for 17,000.
(That’s 27,000 signatures, for those who are adding them up.)
This is NOT what I do for the Poisoned Pen. The Pen is an old-fashioned bookstore, that caters to people who truly love books, and to whom it makes a substantial difference as to whether a book was personally handled and signed by the author, rather than having a tip-sheet bound in ex post facto, so to speak.
I generally go by the Pen once or twice a month, and sign (and personalize, if requested) their orders. This usually amounts to 4-500 books at a time.
When I have a new book out, it’s all hands on deck, because I’m signing several thousand copies, and doing that requires a team of five people helping me:
Person 1 opens the cartons of books, dumps them and stacks the books at one end of the table.
Person 2 takes a book from the stack, opens it and finds the second title page (the one with both the book’s title and my printed name and a small, evocative photo). They then fold the dust jacket over the copyright and first title pages, so the jacket serves as a book-mark, allowing
Person 3 to open a book immediately to the right page. (This is called “flapping.” ) The flapped books are restacked next to—
Person 3. This person grabs a flapped book, opens it, turns it at a ninety-degree angle (because I sign uphill, not side to side) and sets the open book in front of me.
I sign it (fast), shut it and shove it toward—
Person 4, who grabs the hurtling book (you want a smooth surface for this, preferably wood, because plastic-topped tables build up a terrific charge of static electricity if you send books whizzing across them in large quantities, and people get shocked) and places it neatly on a growing stack.
Person 5 takes the stacks and puts them back into the original cartons (having run down to the other end of the table every other minute in order to retrieve said cartons), tapes the cartons shut and stacks them. There’s limited room in the backroom of a bookstore, and if you’re dealing with huge quantities, it’s lots easier to move the cartons from place to place than it is to load the books onto a cart and drive them to distant shelving, unload and come back. (This is also how you move a lot of books to an offsite signing/event venue.)
I can sign roughly 500 books per hour, doing this with help.
Awright. That’s how it works. Now—thanks to you all who’ve been ordering the book!—BEES is going to be kind of a big thing, apparently, in terms of copies needing to be signed, moved, etc.
I don’t know how many copies of of BEES have so far been ordered from the Poisoned Pen (let alone how many they’ll eventually sell), but they had 20,000 pre-orders by August (thank you!!), and at that point, the Pen’s owner put out word that while I will sign all the books people want signed, there’s a limit (physically) to how many I can sign by December 10th— that being the latest shipping date on which you might reasonably expect the book to be delivered by Christmas 2021. That limit is 20,000. (See, I can’t sign books until they arrive at the bookstore, which won’t be until November.) Ergo, if you want a signed book, handled by me personally <g>, you can certainly have it—but if you order it now, I might not be able to sign it in time for it to be shipped for Christmas delivery (especially not this year, when shipping and delivery is a lot bigger and more complex in every area of business). And I can’t personalize them, sorry. (If you really want a personalized book, just wait until January or February, when we’re not working under a shipping deadline.)
As for the tip-sheets… those are sent back to the publisher when they’re done [after I sign them]. The publisher decides which bookstore accounts will get the books with signed tipsheets; I have no control over that and no idea where the books may end up.
But if you see a dump (that’s what the cardboard stands set up by the cashier’s desk are called) or other display of BEES in a chain bookstore that says, “Signed Books”—that’s what they are. Books with a signed tipsheet bound in.
Now, to some people, it won’t make the slightest difference whether their signed book has a tipsheet (signed by me en masse), or was signed by me on the second title page (if you want to tell the difference easily, that’s how; the tip-sheets are blank, aside from my signature), as a complete book. To some people, it does make a substantial difference, and these are the Poisoned Pen’s book-loving customers.
I’ve known the Pen and its proprietor and managers for more than thirty-five years; I’ve been coming by to sign books for them for more than twenty of those years. (And no, there’s no extra charge for an autographed book.)
So, if you should happen to see any nasty little trolls grumping away to each other under some dank bridge… don’t bother dropping garbage on them; they make plenty of their own.
P.S. If you were keeping track…. 27,000 tip-sheets, plus 20,000 books is 47,000 signatures. Just for fun, try signing your name 25 times on a sheet of paper and see what it feels like… <g>
P.P.S. In the photos above with me in them, I am signing DRAGONFLY IN AMBER in hardcover and WRITTEN IN MY OWN HEART’S BLOOD when they came out in hardcover in the past. As I say, I do it pretty much all the time.
The image at left shows many copies of my books waiting to be signed by me in the storeroom at the Poisoned Pen.
I am just beginning to read the series. I found Outlander on my husband’s beside bookcase, although he doesn’t know how it got there and hasn’t read it. I’m reading it for the second (some of it third, maybe more) and have resisted going on because I didn’t want to leave Scotland. I grew up in Virginia and had more badly taught American history than I can describe. Then I saw the pictures from the TV version and that put me off, as movies from books I like always do. Yes, he does look very Scotch, but not like “my” Jamie! But I have gone on now and prepared to read more. Thanks to a Companion, I know more or less what to expect.
Diana: I’ve been around for a long time…born in Europe of a D-Day Normandy-landing GI during WWll, and a European mother, (Claire’s contemporary) never has a series of books affected my life as the Outlander collection. Rarely one to re-read a novel, I find myself going back and revisiting the entire series as a source of comfort nightly. I join the ranks of the admiring public, realizing that my contribution is most assuredly lost in the tidal wave of accolades showered in your direction. As a writer myself, I appreciate the heights of the craft that you reach, the depth of research that you undertake, and the all-encompassing world-view you convey. Because of these attributes—especially your meticulous attention to detail—I find it all the more astonishing that you did not hire better help when it came to writing the French sentences/expressions peppered throughout the work. While the first book and a half in the series is relatively free of errors (except the chapter entitled “Une Mauvais Quart-D’heure;” it should be “Un” ) correct expressions, spelling, syntax, and idiomatic speech take a precipitous dive from then on. (I think Fergus would spin in his grave if he could read his own quotes.) I find it hard to believe that an accomplished author of your caliber and experience could not engage consultants that would be fluent in French and German. Granted, ninety-nine percent of your readers are not affected by this, because they don’t know or care, but I cannot repress the feeling that you must. [I did notice that after naming Fergus' son "Germaine" (feminine version) in one volume, you did correct it to "Germain" in the following one. That leads me to believe that someone was looking out, at least part of the time.] While this aspect of your work does constitute a bit of a pebble in my shoe, the body of your work reaches such heights that its impact is hardly diminished. I remain an unabashed fan. Thank you for your unforgettable, far-reaching and hugely successful literary contribution.
You are a true beacon of hope, love, and kindness….as always. The fact that you give yourself writers cramp so often to please your fans is just one of the many things we love about you. While I realize you are not the only author that does such things, you do so much more for us all the time and I wanted to make sure you new that it was recognized. You and your staff’s (of which I am sure there are many) efforts do not go unnoticed and are deeply appreciated. I hope that you can get some rest soon and enjoy a more leisurely holiday season with your family and close friends. I wish you a joyous Thanksgiving and a very merry Christmas.
PS. Please be sure to convey my appreciation and good wishes to your family as well. I know they sacrifice time with you for the sake of your loving fans, and that doesn’t go unnoticed either.
I completely understand your workload, and i’m so happy that you’re able to do what you do (for selfish reasons!). I have been reading your books since 1994; I was pregnant with my first daughter. I had book 1 & 2, but had to wait for Voyager to be released (torture). I was able to get signed book plates from you; I sent a self-addressed, stamped envelope and you sent me signed bookplates. They are very dear to me. Do you do anything like that now? Post-purchase so to speak?
Reading Bees is truly a treat. I do not re-read books, but I’ve read most of the books more than once, usually waiting for the next book’s release. Each time I notice something different. I have grown to truly love the characters; Young Ian is my favorite. Thank you for your wonderful story, your humor and historical insight.
Diana has signed at least 40,000 new hardcover copies of BEES this time around. As her popularity has grown since OUTLANDER was published in 1991, she has always tried to be as accessible to readers as possible, doing book signings at events for readers (new and previously purchased books) and signing new books for her publishers and independent bookstores to sell, such as the Poisoned Pen (http://store.poisonedpen.com).
Diana used to offer free signed bookplates for many years for readers but the requests became so numerous (hundreds to thousands a week at least) that she just has no time for that now. Nor does her assistant have time to mail all of those out. Diana has a husband, kids, and grandkids, and a life. Plus she works hard daily at writing and background research. There are only so many hours in the day.
Hopefully, the pandemic will be over soon and Diana can go to events and book signings again, where she will sign as many pre-purchased books as the event or book signing organizer will allow per person. She loves meeting with her readers at those, too.