Why I spent $300 to go to a Neil Gaiman book signing and didn’t get anything signed

Neil Gaiman brought “The Last Signing Tour” to Toronto Tuesday night.

On Tuesday night, I spent $300 to go to the Neil Gaiman book signing at the Danforth Music Hall in Toronto. I left without getting a book signed.

To be fair, tickets didn’t cost $300. Tickets were originally $22 – but I found out about the event long after it had completely sold out. So I swallowed hard, visited Stubhub, and paid some lucky bastard about six times face value for two tickets.

Gaiman is my favourite author (yeah, I have a key to hell tattoo) and he’d never visited anywhere remotely close to where I was living, so I figured the expense was worth it. This is also, reportedly, his last signing tour.

I came with the first volume of Absolute Sandman, looking to get it signed. I picked up Gaiman’s new book, The Ocean at the End of the Lane, too.

Once the event started, it became immediately clear that almost no one can so quietly and so completely take control of an audience as Neil Gaiman. He is very charming, very witty, and extremely British. I’m not sure if the first two correlate with the second.
Gaiman read from Ocean at the End of the Lane, as well as the soon to be released Fortunately, the Milk. Hearing the man read his own work is to really hear it for the first time, with a conviction and an intonation that is unparalleled. Milk is extremely funny. You should probably buy it when it’s released.
Gaiman also took audience questions, which ranged from:
  • Will you ever write another Dr. Who? (Yes, if the BBC can pay in extra months in which to work.)
  • What’s the best cure for loneliness? (Snakes in your hair a la Medusa. You’ll always have someone to talk to.)
  • If you could be best friends with any character you’ve written, who would it be? (Merv Pumpkinhead from Sandman, purely to keep him in line.)
  • It also turns out he gave up journalism because an editor wanted him to write a shoddy exposé on the perils of playing Dungeons and Dragons. Who knew.

As the questions wrapped, the organizers moved to the main event – the signing. About 1,200 people were crammed into the hall, and each of them had two books for him to sign.

As people shuffled to the front, row by row – I realized I had absolutely no interest in getting my book signed.

To be clear – this is not a knock on Neil Gaiman, nor a knock on anyone who stayed for hours to get their books signed. If it makes you happy, that is fantastic.

But as I sat there watching, I simply didn’t feel the need. I came to hear Neil Gaiman speak – to hear his work from his own lips, to gain some glimmer of insight into his thoughts and feelings.

And I got that. I laughed intensely with this charming, scraggly-haired British guy and felt like I knew him just a smidge better afterwards. I paid $300 to hear him speak, and I totally got my money’s worth in just over an hour.

A writer’s worth and power comes from the weight of his words and the depth of his imagination. Not from an initial scrawled on the inside of a book. Sure, a signature would be nice to have – but the man has given me all I need in writing already. Anything else is just superfluous.

So Instead of waiting in that line to get a book signed, I buggered off and started reading Ocean at the End of the Lane, because I hadn’t gotten to it yet. It’s good. Really good.

(As a disclaimer, they were selling pre-signed copies of the book at the front, and I got one. But that’s not the same as meeting him at a signing, and I think you know that.)

So Neil – sorry I didn’t get to meet you. Your work was a big part of shaping my love affair with the written word, and pointed me towards journalism as a career.

But instead of waiting in that line, I wanted to get somewhere quiet and read, while your voice was still fresh in my mind.

Hope you understand.

14 comments

  1. Miranda Moth

    Mine were signed around 1am, and he was still cheerfully and wittily interacting with every single person he signed for. I’m sure the interchange was far more valuable to me than the signature :) Just happy to have met him.

  2. Lavender Blume

    Wow. I’m now fully appreciating how lucky I was. We were disappointed when we found out about the lottery because we were in row B near the front – but we fully understood that it was the fair way to do it. As it turns out, we were called as the first row up. We had set ourselves a wait limit of an hour and a half. I certainly don’t think whether or not you stuck around to get your book signed is a measure of how much of a fan you are. While I’m thrilled to have a signed copy and to have had him smile right at me (yay!!!), what I will always remember is hearing his voice reading his own story to me, and finding out first hand just how brilliant and funny Gaiman is. What a legend. I’m still awestruck. Thanks for the post.

  3. Steve

    didn’t get a personal autograph, but you did get a RT … fair enough! Oh, and all that lovely stuff you mentioned above too :)

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  5. tamaracks

    Thanks for making me feel like I’m not the only one who doesn’t quite get book signings. ;) I would have gone to the signing near me just to hear him talk (I wasn’t able to get tickets), but I’m not sure I would have waited for a signing. The personal interaction could be awesome, I’m sure, but knowing myself, I probably wouldn’t know what to say.

    I was lucky enough to get tickets to a different event recently where he and Chip Kidd talked about the Make Good Art book, and Neil was pretty interesting to listen to.

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