Kathleen Purvis: Preparations of a Book-Signing Novice

Pecans: A Savor the South(R) Cookbook, by Kathleen PurvisIn Pecans: A Savor the South® Cookbook, Kathleen Purvis teaches readers how to find, store, cook, and enjoy pecans, the great American nut. Pecans includes fifty-two recipes, ranging from traditional to inventive, from uniquely southern to distinctly international, including Bourbon-Orange Pecans, Buttermilk-Pecan Chicken, Pecan Pralines, and Leche Quemada. In addition to the recipes, Purvis delights readers with the pecan’s culinary history and its intimate connections with southern culture and foodways.

Don’t miss Purvis’s previous guest blog post, “The Test Kitchen Summers.” In today’s post, the seasoned food writer talks about something at which she is not yet seasoned: the book signing.


I have to learn how to sign my name.

Not how to spell it, or which one to use, the professional name or the married one. I have to learn how to write my name in people’s cookbooks.

As a first-time book author facing book-signing events, I’m going to have to sign my name in books that people are buying. (At least I hope so. Otherwise, I’ll get a lot of practice sitting at little tables and smiling cheerfully while people ignore me.)

Will anyone care that my signature is illegible? After 30-some years scribbling in a reporter’s notebook, I have handwriting that would take a team of cryptographers to interpret. But when I think about practicing how to sign a book, all I can imagine is some mooning high school girl signing her dream name over and over on Blue Horse notebook paper.

How do I do this? What kind of pen? What happens if I misspell someone’s name—do I have to eat the book? And do I need to come up with a goofy stock phrase? (My book is on pecans. The nut puns could get out of hand.)

To get advice, I turned to three friends who have done the book-signing routine before: Debbie Moose, whose Savor the South® cookbook on buttermilk comes out at the same time as mine; Grace Young, the well-respected author of books on woks and Asian cooking; and Lee Svitak Dean, the food editor of the Minneapolis Star-Tribune, whose book Come One Come All came out in 2008.

Their advice:

Which pen? I got a split decision on this one. Grace Young prefers a Sharpie because she says it doesn’t smear. But both Moose and Dean are anti-Sharpie. Debbie has been using her lucky ballpoint since 2004; when it sprung a leak, she had to buy one just like it. Lee Dean also avoids Sharpies because she thinks they smear and they leave a line that’s too thin. “I prefer a heftier signature, one with some oomph.”

Dean uses a regular ink pen that doesn’t smear.

“The ‘doesn’t smear’ factor is very important because if you’re signing a lot of books at one time, such as for a bookseller who wants to have them on hand, you don’t want to wait for the ink to dry between each signature.”

Take scrap paper. All three advise having scrap paper at your side to write down the names of the people who are having books signed before you sign the book.

“Carry a piece of paper (or grab a napkin or paper towel if you forget) to write people’s names down on before signing books,” Moose says. “Ask how they spell even simple names (Ann, Anne, Kathi, Cathy, Cathie, Karen, Karin, you get the idea). Often people with odd spellings of their names won’t tell you, darn it. But I have never screwed up. I take a deep breath and write slowly, and try not to talk while signing because I can’t multitask.”

Lee Dean suggests using scrap paper not only to doublecheck the names, but to make sure the ink is flowing, “if I haven’t used it in a stretch of time (those long, dark minutes when no one is waiting in a line for you to sign your book and there’s no indication that anyone will ever show up).”

What if you mess up? Yes, that is a danger, and yes, you may have to consider discarding a book. Lee Dean had it happen early on and grabbed another copy to sign. “Then I feel even worse, realizing I just ‘wasted’ a book and essentially bought one for someone I didn’t know. These days, I don’t replace the book.”

Yes, use a stock phrase. For her book Deviled Eggs, Moose used “Keep thinking outside the shell.”

Grace Young likes using a phrase, but she tries to be spontaneous and react to what the recipient is saying to her when she signs the book.

Dean thought about it advance, considering what she liked best in the books people have signed for her.

“It was definitely the signatures that were more than the author’s name, or even more than my name and the author’s name. Even something as simple as ‘To Lee, bon appetit!’ by a cookbook author made it feel more personal, and I liked that.” She signs her entertaining book with “To xxxx, it’s time to entertain!”

“I should note that I found my phrase to be a rather long inscription when there are many people waiting for my John Hancock. Best advice: be brief, but personal.”

“Go Nuts, Love Kathleen”? Maybe it will grow on me.


Kathleen Purvis is food editor of the Charlotte Observer and a member of the Southern Foodways Alliance, the Association of Food Journalists, and the James Beard Foundation. You can read her Observer food blog I’ll Bite and follow her on Twitter @KathleenPurvis.

Editor’s note: Purvis survived her first book signing this weekend and was a real hit at the Southern Independent Booksellers Association annual trade show! See the UNC Press website for a list of upcoming events where she can sign a book for you.