A thousand books an hour

That’s the rate I was able to sign books.  I had no idea I was that fast.

A few days, I blogged about getting stuck in an airport en route to Chicago.  The reason I flew to Chicago was to visit the warehouse of Levy, a national book distributor in Romeoville, IL, that supplies mass market books to a huge number of retail outlets.  But because of storms in the Chicago area, my flight was cancelled (after an 8-hour delay) and I ended up stuck overnight in Portland Maine.  But the next day, by some miracle, I managed to fly out and got to my destination about nineteen hours late.  I went straight from O’Hare to the Levy warehouse, where I was greeted with this sign:

levy welcome

I was then ushered into the cafeteria, where I was confronted with a table covered with books to be autographed.

table of books

1500 copies of a single title.  That’s what you’re seeing in this photo.  And that was just a quarter of the books waiting to be signed. The man in the photo is Jerry Wujcik from Random House sales. I’m sorry he’s so hard to see in this photo because he looks exactly like Harrison Ford.  Trust me, he does.

I sat down and got to work.  With the assistance of some great guys from Levy, who kept the books moving, we got a mini-assembly line going.  (The guys kept muttering under their breath, in Spanish: “Wow, she’s fast.”)  In about six hours, I was able to sign 6,000 paperback copies of four of my backlist titles: THE SINNER, BODY DOUBLE, VANISH, and THE MEPHISTO CLUB.  These will be distributed to varous retailers.

People always ask me if I ever get writer’s cramp, and the truth is, I never have.  Not even during this marathon signing session.  I managed to keep going, at a rate of one book every 3.8 seconds, but I admit that my signature began to deteriorate.  By the end of it, it was looking pretty wormy.  But I guarantee that if you pick up a paperback with an autograph sticker on it, I did indeed sign it.  Even if it’s the sloppiest signature you ever saw.

When the signing was all over, here’s what the finished product looked like in the warehouse: 6,000 copies boxed for shipment.  And that’s my super-efficient team standing with me:


Why fly all the way to Chicago to sign books?  The answer is clear: readers love signed books.

I don’t have the hard facts here, but one person in the book industry told me that an autographed book sells five times faster than an unsigned book.  That alone makes a trip to a distributor a very worthwhile visit indeed!

13 replies
  1. bob k
    bob k says:

    You know, it is one thing to sign books at a local bookstore while you chat with your readers – but 6,000 books in 6 hours??

    We only have 3 or 4 books signed by the author (one of yours, thank you) – and 2 of them we did pick up in a bookstore already signed by the author. One, I would have bought anyway…and was surprised to find a signed copy.

    The other, was an author who lived in Maine whose books I wasn’t wild about…but it was on sale AND signed…so I picked it up.

  2. john lovell
    john lovell says:

    But the main thing is that you spent a night in Portland, my home town. I’m sure it was better than Chicago, even without a warehouse full of novels.

  3. therese
    therese says:

    I am in awe! That’s an amazing amount of signatures! The trick I’ve heard is to set your hand on a book so it isn’t at an angle. Or do you hold the pen a special way?

    Your interview/article in “The Writer” was great, as insightful as your blogs.

  4. WJS
    WJS says:

    This is why I love Terry and the personality about herself! I have an old book of yours, Gravity, that I like you to sign it when you get here at Atlantic Beach, FL in October.

    You are a hard worker and take pride in your effort! ^_^

    -Josh S.

  5. margaret
    margaret says:

    That’s very impressive! I can’t imagine how you must have felt seeing all those boxes ready for shipment.

    How long had you been signing before you wished you had a slightly shorter surname?

    The backlist mass market editions, do they have different/new covers?

  6. GerritsenFever10
    GerritsenFever10 says:

    It’s true Dr. G. I’d much rather buy a signed copy than a non-signed one. It’s just for the bragging rights, though. As in “I have a signed copy of X author and you don’t hahaha.” Guess that’s the competitiveness in me showing through. Glad you got to sign a lot, now what happens when the new book comes out? Do you sign some of those, too?

  7. lwidmer
    lwidmer says:

    That’s a lot of books to sign! I would certainly prefer a signed book myself. It gives a bit more personality to the book, and it makes you feel that much closer to the author (even if she sat in a conference room for hours doing it).

    You’re more of a woman than I, Tess. I’d have cramped up two minutes into it.

  8. Abe
    Abe says:

    Hi Tess,

    I guess that noise I heard after you sined your last book was a gigantic “Whewwwww!!!” Congrats. Thank God you have a somewhat short name. Think of what Fyodor Mikhailovich Dostoyevsky would feel like after a book signing.

  9. Tess
    Tess says:

    Hi Margaret,
    yes, a few of the backlist titles have been re-designed with new covers (The surgeon and The apprentice.)

    And after signing all those books, I did wish I had a name like “Jane Doe.”

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