Signed books: why do authors cross their name out?
June 25, 2006 6:52 PM   Subscribe

Why do some authors cross out their own printed name when they sign their books?

I have many author-signed books, and I've noticed with a lot of them the author has struck a line through his or her own name printed on the title page before signing underneath.

Does anyone know why? Is this as common a practice as my experience leads me to believe?
posted by Ritchie to Writing & Language (23 answers total) 2 users marked this as a favorite
Perhaps he is not intentionally crossing it, but tried to pass a line over it to sign, like in documents, where there is a horizontal line over the printed name for the signature.

Or perhaps before widespread typography, title pages were signed by the author, and the name on the title page in printed books is actually a substitute for the signeture. So, it would mean something like "you don't need the fake one, you've now got a real signature"
posted by qvantamon at 7:37 PM on June 25, 2006

I don't have it in front of me right this minute, but I'm almost certain Michael Ondaatje did the same thing with one of my books. (Er, his book, my copy.)
posted by acoutu at 8:43 PM on June 25, 2006

Just a theory, but maybe so the page can't be scanned/added to a document and made to look like they are signing their name to a letter/contract?
posted by mhaw at 9:07 PM on June 25, 2006

I don't know why, and I don't have many signed books, but I looked to see if it happened at all in the books I've got. We can add Paul Muldoon to the list of authors who do this.

Sorry I don't have anything more for you than more confirmation of the practice. But it's there, and it's interesting.
posted by .kobayashi. at 9:35 PM on June 25, 2006

mhaw, they are striking through the actual printed (i.e. typed) name on the author page, not their own signature.

I always took it as qvantamon's "you don't need the fake one," though I never thought it came from pre-type tradition.
posted by rafter at 9:37 PM on June 25, 2006

DFW does it. Sort of makes sense, like at first a machine signed it, then scribble scribble a real person signed it instead.
posted by The Jesse Helms at 9:43 PM on June 25, 2006

David Mitchell does this as well.
posted by number9dream at 9:51 PM on June 25, 2006

Looks like Somerset Maugham did it too. Scroll down to item [002867] 'The Summing Up', SIGNED W. SOMERSET MAUGHAM below the printed name which has been crossed out on the title-page.
posted by tellurian at 10:20 PM on June 25, 2006

So does Joanna Trollope.
posted by tellurian at 10:26 PM on June 25, 2006

It does make a certain amount of sense. They're in effect replacing the mechanical signature with a real one. It might also be to remove any abiguity as to whose signature it is, so that they don't need to worry about being legible.
posted by Rhomboid at 10:45 PM on June 25, 2006

Vikram Seth doesn't do this.
posted by twirlypen at 11:09 PM on June 25, 2006

I also think the reasoning is to turn it into a book accredited by hand, which is cooler than just a standardly accredited book that happens to be also signed somehow.
posted by abcde at 4:25 AM on June 26, 2006

I've never heard of, or witnessed, this practice. A cursory examination of the household bookshelves reveals non-compliance on the parts of Peter S. Beagle, Neil Gaiman, Peter David and the late Octavia Butler. Could this be an Australian custom, or limited to a particular field?
posted by Faint of Butt at 4:56 AM on June 26, 2006

Important (political) people do something similar when they're signing letters where the initial salutation ("Dear Mr Smith") is typed. They'll put a line through the type and write it by hand. Dunno why the line.
posted by TrashyRambo at 5:22 AM on June 26, 2006

Like TrashyRambo said (kind of) -- It could be seen as a way to personalize the book -- as in when a politician or a business person crosses out the typed, often more formal version of a name (either his/hers or the person their writing to) and writes in a first name etc.
posted by nnk at 5:27 AM on June 26, 2006

I believe it's a personalization kind of thing. Many of my bosses have done this on letters. Meaning, they cross out the "Dear so and so" salutation and write "Bill" or whatever.
posted by misanthropicsarah at 6:15 AM on June 26, 2006

Perhaps to distinguish a real signature from an "auto-signed" one? When I worked at a used-book store the buyers were always declining auto-signed "autographed copies" of celebrity biographies.
posted by scratch at 6:32 AM on June 26, 2006

This may derive from (or be a part of the same tradition as) the custom of crossing out one's name on a visiting card when (for example) the card is left with flowers or a brief message.
posted by La Cieca at 7:51 AM on June 26, 2006

This is all explained in the instructions that come with one's election to Real Writers of the World; and the details can’t be revealed to those outside the ranks. Sorry.
posted by dpcoffin at 9:56 AM on June 26, 2006

Edward Gorey (and Ogdred Weary) did this too. I had thought it was just to be funny.
posted by oldtimey at 2:30 PM on June 26, 2006

I've only done it when I wrote the book under a pseudonym, and am signing with my real name.
posted by Hogshead at 5:26 PM on June 26, 2006

more random data points: Neal Stephenson (x2), Ruth Ozeki, Joseph Haldeman, Neil Gaiman, and Chuck Palanniuk, do not do this either.
posted by whatzit at 6:32 AM on June 28, 2006

Response by poster: Some intriguing answers here, but I'm not really convinced by any of them. I suppose I shall have to remember to ask the author him-or-herself at the next booksigning where this phenomenon occurs.

In the meantime, I've tagged the question as unresolved, and I'd like to thank everyone who contributed.
posted by Ritchie at 8:03 PM on July 3, 2006

« Older When it falls off, your wish will come true   |   What should I ask when I visit my dream condo? Newer »
This thread is closed to new comments.