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Remote Writing

There was a brief report in yesterday's Guardian about a technology Margaret "I don't write SF" Atwood is developing.

"Atwood is developing a remote book-signing machine that will allow readers to get their novels autographed without the author having to traipse to bookshops across the globe. "
This strikes me as missing part of the point of book-signings, and not the part about jolly drinkies with people on the publisher's expense account. Why do people get books signed? Why bother queueing up to get someone to scribble what will probably be a standard inscription with your name on the top?

Well, it's not just about value. There's a long running joke that an unsigned Terry Pratchett novel is worth more than a signed one, so prolific was he in signings back in the 1990s. Although getting a copy of Good Omens signed by both Terry and Neil Gaiman is considered rather special. The value improves after the author either dies or retires from public life simply because there are going to be no more signed copies but that's not the prime motivation of the queue straggling through Waterstones. It's about contact: it's that author taking the book, physically marking it and giving it back. Maybe you get to talk to them for a moment as well, or look hopelessly smitten. Pyschologically, bunging it in a machine and waiting for the author to get around to signing it during their coffee break is not the same thing. For example, I have no interest in getting my Lemony Snicket's signed, even if his "literary, legal, and social representative" Daniel Handler happens to be signing some of his own books, because he's Mr Snicket (if you see what I mean).
Far from estranging author and audience, Atwood said, the machine was "a democratising device" which could help authors who were not stars, and often missed out on signing tours.
We want the tours! We want hotels and expenses! It's a sign of fame, glorious fame! Ahem.

This machine is looking at things entirely from the writer's POV, not from the audience. From the writer's perspective, this machine would allow them to be in contact with the fans, even if the fanbase is rather tiny, but for the fans it takes away that sense of physical connection. The thrill of speaking, getting the inscription, etc. And the social side: the joy of the signing queue is meeting other people who share your reading loves. To chat about the author's work with others as keen as yourself. The internet does make fan interaction easier, but it also subtracts the speed at which two strangers can become friends through excited chatter. I suspect one reason for the rise in reading groups in the UK is that sense of spoken dialogue.

Er...I need to get back to writing....

Updated to add: Neil Gaiman has also written about why remote signing machines are A Poor Susbstitute for a) tired feet in a queue and b) RSI.
Update to the update: Neal Pollock is underwhelmed too.

Posted @ 11:42 am on Sunday, January 09, 2005
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