Saturday, April 28, 2012

Hey Mister! Can I Have Your Kindlegraph?

If you're an avid lover of the written word like I am, your prized possessions may include a few books autographed by their authors. Many signed books adorn my bookcase, personally inscribed in unique scrawls by authors ranging from Stephen King to Hunter S. Thompson to Lisa Scottoline to Raymond Khoury to Shaquille O'Neal, to name just a few. There's something very cool about having a book like that. A signed book is a physical extension of its author, in that she personally handled it and wrote a few words in the particular copy that rests now in some prime spot on your bookshelf.

As an author, I've cramped up my writing hand and gone through lots of pens signing copies of my books for readers. It's a fun way to meet and connect with my audience, as well as to give readers something of myself beyond what's between the covers of the standard hardcover or paperback book. My inscription policy is fairly liberal -- I'll write just about anything in a reader's book that she asks me to, unless it's illegal, immoral, or could be interpreted by an objective third party as my confession to some high crime or misdemeanor (minor traffic infractions excluded). My signed books have become more popular than I ever imagined they would; so much so that we had to build a "store" on my personal website where readers can order personally inscribed copies of Blood of the Moon.

Despite my aforementioned liberal inscription policy, the vast majority of what I'm requested to include in an inscription is the routine, "Hope you enjoy the book" type of thing. A lot of the other requests have been funny. Some have been cryptic. A few have been just plain strange. The inscription weirdness award, however, doesn't go to some phrase I was asked to inscribe, but to what I was asked to sign. Not so long ago, a young woman recognized me in a Starbucks. After confirming my identity, she asked if I would sign her copy of Blood of the Moon. I told her I'd be happy to, and asked for her copy. She replied by inquiring if there was a Staples or Office Depot nearby, so she could get a pen. I told her I had a pen, but she said it wasn't the right type for what she had in mind. I told her there was a Staples close by, and off she went. A few minutes later she returned, thrusting her iPhone and a Sharpie at me. "Your book's in my phone. Make it out to Marcie," she said. After receiving her assurance that she was serious, I shrugged and made it out to Marcie.

I recall that episode often as ever more book sales by all authors in all genres migrate from physical copies to e-books read on Kindles, Nooks, and the other e-readers we all know. When Blood of the Moon was first published, out of every dozen or so copies sold only one was an e-book edition in any format. Presently, that ratio has completely reversed itself.

No, I've not been asked to grab a Sharpie and sign anyone's Kindle or Nook.


In some small way, the rising prevalence of e-books makes me a little sad in that regard. I like signing copies of my books for my readers, at least as much as my readers like having me sign their copies. And as I said, signing someone's book is a bonding experience between author and reader. It seemed to me that this time-honored element of the author-reader relationship would be driven all but extinct by e-books.

I'm happy to report that my sadness may be misplaced.

As in all the other ways that technology's incessant march is fundamentally impacting the business of writing, making, promoting and selling books, the art of the author's personal inscription is also being transformed by a new form of electronic wizardry. Short of physically signing a reader's e-reader (or iPhone, as the case may be), there's now another method for an author to autograph e-books for her readers. Created by a former Amazon programmer named Evan Jacobs and available at the moment only for Kindle e-books, this new platform is called Kindlegraph.

The company's website says Kindlegraph is a digital inscription service that "lets authors send personalized inscriptions and signatures directly to the electronic reading devices of their fans." In its recent review of the service, explained Kindlegraph this way: "To personalize their e-book, users log in with their Twitter credentials and select from a list of popular e-books... After selecting an e-book, a request is then sent to the author who, after logging in, will see a list of current requests. There is space to type a personalized message, and clicking 'Kindlegraph it' will send the message to Docusign APIs which embed the signed message and sends a PDF back to the reader's Kindle." Requesting, sending and receiving Kindlegraphs are free (though if a reader uses Amazon's Personal Document Service to receive the Kindlegraph on her Kindle, Amazon may charge a nominal delivery fee per Amazon's applicable Terms of Service). Interestingly, readers don't have to own or buy an author's book to request her Kindlegraph, nor do readers even need to own a Kindle to receive her Kindlegraph, and virtually any book (even hardcovers and paperbacks) can be Kindlegraphed. As of this writing, over 15,000 e-books by 3,500 authors participate in the Kindlegraph service.

I'm one of those authors. If you have a Kindle edition of Blood of the Moon, and/or Trust and Other Nightmares (or even if you don't) and you'd like my Kindlegraph, get my virtual ballpoint rolling by clicking here, logging in via your Twitter account, and giving Kindlegraph a try.

Currently, an author's Kindlegraph inscription is rendered by default in either a "typewriter" or a "handwriting" font. Authors with access to appropriate technology may elect to hand write their signatures, but not their inscriptions. Jacobs is considering developments permitting authors to write both their inscriptions and their autographs by hand. Until then, you'll have to pardon Kindlegraph authors if their inscriptions or signatures look a bit robotic.

Perhaps I was mistaken thinking the young lady who asked me to sign her iPhone was a little batty. It appears she might just have been a step or two ahead of her time.

"Yesterday's weirdness is tomorrow's reason why."
~~Hunter S. Thompson~~

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