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The Nuances of Signed Books

Updated: Mar 19, 2022


Ah, signed books. They were once a unicorn in the book world. Now, it’s practically the industry standard for an author to sign at least a small amount of new released books for the public to clamor over before a book releases. But what counts for a signed book? I’ve had places like Barnes & Noble sell me a pre-release book described as “signed,” only for me to open up the package and find a sticker on the title page. A bookplate. It’s a quick fix for the signed book of an author across continents, but should it really be advertised as “signed”? Let’s spill some bookish tea.

A while back, September 2020 to be exact, I ordered myself the book by everyone’s favorite highlander, Sam Heughan, along with the manly Graham McTavish. As you can see, Barnes & Noble listed it as a “signed book.”


When I opened it up, I expected, at the very least, a signature of both authors on a piece of paper in the book. It wasn’t so. It was a sticker (which had already been stuck on the page, no less) with the signatures of both authors on it.

I’ve heard others in discussion, whether on social media or in person, not only insist that a bookplate does not make a book “signed” but also whinge (It's I, I whinge) about the bookplate being stuck in the book upon arrival. Some may not mind, but there have been instances of the stickers’ glue ruining pages or not being stuck in right and causing warping or creasing in the title page—or whatever page the thing’s been stuck on.

I am of the opinion that I do not like bookplates. Not really. I don’t consider a book signed at all if it comes with a bookplate. I don’t snub my nose at a bookplate, as some authors, such as those who live in far away lands from the places their books are being sold, can’t sign in person, but I’m only happy with a bookplate in a pinch.

Even worse than a bookplate is a digital signature, which is, in my opinion, not to be even remotely hinted at being “signed,” nor should it be considered a feature in a special feature. The author doesn’t sign anything, and many times the digital “signature” doesn’t even look like the proper signature of the author.

The next category for “signed” books falls in the range of the tip-in. Whether it’s a blank page, a specially printed title page, or a beautifully designed page with no title on it, the tip-in is not really a signed book, either. It’s a glued-in page with an author signature on it that is mailed in a box to the author, who then takes the pages, signs them en masse, and ships them back to the publisher to be glued in by the book binders and sent to purchasers. Most specialty book companies or book box companies who describe their books as “signed” send a book with a tip-in glued into their special edition books. This is actually what I thought I would get when I ordered Clanlands.

The true signed book, the book that an author actually holds, opens, puts pen or marker to title page, and signs, is a little bit more rare.

I have a range of books with signed tip-ins. The most interesting tip-in signed book I’ve gotten is from Goldsboro books; it is the title page of Son of the Storm. The signature page that was glued in was actually the title page! The back of it has all of the publication information and the copyright on it that are normally bound in with the other pages.

Many book boxes have stepped up their games and started offering signed tip-ins that are designed with beautiful art and lettering showing it’s an edition that’s exclusive to that specific company, but some still resort to the plain tip-in.

The true signed book, the book that an author actually holds, opens, puts pen or marker to title page, and signs, is a little bit more rare. Not necessarily exceptionally rare, as the internet has connected buyers to bookstores where they can sell these editions. In today’s market, with extra support for indie bookstores growing, many authors offer to sign (and personalize!) a number of books that book lovers preorder from specific small bookstores. Signed, personalized books are quite collectible, though they are usually the regular published edition of a book with no special features except the wonderful addition of the author’s handling and signing of them.

Even better is the hand-signed special edition of a book. Special editions of books with exclusive covers, sprayed edges, and reverse dust jacket art are usually never handled and signed by an author. I have only begun to see more recently authors hand signing these editions of books. Notably, Book(ish) Box had the lovely Elise Kova in their office to hand sign the exclusive editions of the first two books in their special editions of the Married to Magic series. While I don’t have copies of these (dang it), I know they were hand signed because Book(ish) Box uploaded a video to their Instagram stories showing Kova signing these editions.

The super special unicorn rainbow surprise of a book is the special edition that is signed and personalized. I’ve only ever seen one of these: a beautiful, custom edition of Camille Longley’s Firefrost from Fae Crate. I was able to snag a photo of the title page. This edition only came with a signed bookplate, so the signature on the title page is a little bit extra beautiful book nerd yumminess.

So what do you think? I’d love to hear about your stories of signed books. Do you have any special editions put out by authors that you’ve been able to have signed (or been able to see signed from a photo)? Drop a comment below!

656 views7 comments


As an author who's had to sign a bunch of tip-in sheets, I have to disagree. That's my signature. I wrote it. Lots of times, even. I think what you're saying is that you want a book the author has personally touched and personalized. And that's totally fine! But signing our name is still signing our name. :)

Replying to

Also, what la the title of your book? I’d love to purchase a copy to support you!


Basically I agree with everything you wrote as far as what should actually count as “signed”. Also, thank you for explaining what a tip-in is!! I see it advertised on all the book boxes and I never actually knew what it meant!

So in regards to unsigned books masquerading as unicorns I will say this : typically I think bookplates are the lowest and they absolutely should not contribute towards unicorn-book street cred…. on the other hand, I kinda sorta LOVE it when the signed book plates are also designed to go with the theme of the book! For example, I received the Belladonna preorder swag which included a beautiful purple flowered signed sticker that looked so freaking pretty …

Story Eater
Story Eater
Mar 09, 2023
Replying to

I agree. If an author is offering a book plate as a preorder incentive, I go for it. I’ve received several book plates from indie authors along with my purchases of their regular release edition and I treasure those immensely.


Apr 14, 2022

So true! Honestly when all these book boxes boast about a signature page it doesn’t even give me any excitement because the majority of the time it’s these quick fix signatures.

I was incredibly happy to see a post last year from one of my favorite authors, Scott Westerfeld, that he walked in to an indie shop to physically sign some books - and I found that shop was able to mail out orders!!! Definitely a memorable and favorite signed book for me.

Story Eater
Story Eater
Apr 23, 2022
Replying to

I love when indie shops do this! I like getting Naomi Novik books, and there’s a shop called Book Culture where she goes in and signs books just like how you describe.