For yours truly, an author's lament

November 26, 1998|By James H. Bready

FIVE people have lined up, expecting me to sign their copies of the book. Well, one is empty-handed; he probably just wants to talk baseball. The first two are a pair, mother with a child of about 6. Mom speaks:

"Inscribe this one to Rollo here. He'll like it later on."

The kid has other ideas: "I'm hungry, Mom. Let's go eat."

I sit there at a folding table provided by the bookstore, pen in hand, other hand receiving book from customer, third hand pounding my forehead. A funzy, maybe, about food for thought, and thought for food? No, no; play it straight. "For Rollo. May his team win the pennant."

I open to the title page, and bear down. It won't do to bollox up the penmanship, not on $34.95-plus-tax of pristine merchandise. Smoothly, I begin to write.

"Mom!" whines little Rollo. And he kicks the table.

Change has come to book publishing. Yesterday's proud author of a genuine book could relax and watch the mailbox for periodic royalty payments. But ours is the Age of Marketing. Authors are expected to go out there and help sell.

Stop thinking sequel, rush through dinner, dress up, desert the family, drive to some distant, unfamiliar mall and seek out the books, magazines, greeting cards, music, coffee and boy-meets-girl store. It gets better as the staff person who schedules these signings materializes, pointing you to the proper alcove. A printed sign proclaims your name and your book's title. A place to sit, too.

True, no fan club is milling about; no one at all awaits. But that's OK. In all Baltimore, where better to fill in a blank moment than in a bookstore? A pity, really, the first customer's arrival; now I must stop reading the book pulled from a nearby shelf, and go to work. "Kind of you, ma'am, and how is that name spelled?"

This year, a bevy of Sun bylines has appeared on dust jackets: Michael Olesker, Rob Kasper, Susan Reimer, Jon Morgan, Laura Lippman, Barry Rascovar, John Steadman, Rafael Alvarez, representing multiple publishers. But in their chatter with one another they come across as the synergy from SunSource, The Sun's publishing arm. "Which Bibelot are you speaking of?" "How many'd you sell at Greetings & Readings?" "Borders lets you what?" "Barnes and Noble says park where?"

"You mean to tell me, here in Bel Air, that New York publisher of yours is paying you mileage?"

If the name is big, it alone is enough. After his stroke (50 years ago this month), H. L. Mencken could still write his name. That old high German autograph, in printings through 1955, is genuine.

Here goes: "For Steve, the most enthusiastic Oriole fan yet." Also for Charlie, Bill, Joe, Mary, Alex, Anne, Chris, Karin, Richard, Bob, Martha, Carol, Mike, Greg, Marilyn." Just so one of them never shows that book to another of them. I wonder: how many s's have I been putting in "enthusiastic"?

There could be, yes, a book in this: small, inexpensive, maybe with some Mike Lane drawings. Baltimore now boasts many book publishers; dangle it before them: "For the New Author: 1,000 Sincere, Funny, Original, All-Different Book Inscriptions."

James H. Bready's byline is on "Baseball in Baltimore: the First 100 Years," just out from Johns Hopkins University Press.

Pub Date: 11/26/98

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