It's such a small, trifling thing - that reflective circular gold sticker on the front of the book you got signed. But to bibliophiles, collectors and aspiring writers, it means something much more. It means that your copy has been marked (in a good way), and set apart from all the other copies ever printed in that it contains a message written specifically for you. Words of gratitude, a reference to some snippet of conversation that took place between you and the writer, a message of encouragement, perhaps. It means that this particular book is every bit as unique to you as your own fingerprints.
It's the reason that drives many of us stand in lines at ComiCons for hours on end to have an actor or icon like Stan Lee, lock eyes with us and affix their signature to our personal item. It documents our encounter with them, it's proof of an experience, an interaction, we had with someone we admire.
Having had the good fortune and privilege of knowing more than a few other published authors, you might think that when I receive a copy of their newest work with a personal message or a note in the acknowledgements, my giddiness would diminish over time. But it never does. It hasn't yet, anyhow, and seeing as I'm now smack in the middle of middle age, I'm not expecting it to change much in the second half of my journey.
Now I find myself on the other side of the table, and I get to be the one placing that magical seal on the cover of a signed book for someone else. I get to come up with some potentially meaningful or clever personalized message. As I do so, I think about that stack of autographed books on my own shelf, and it reminds me to take care with my words as the message I scribble in my marginally legible handwriting may very well mean more to the reader than any carefully planned, edited and properly typeset line in the book. Maybe I'm writing for a kindred spirit looking to uncover the secret face of their own hometown. Maybe it's a future creator, for whom just a little bit of support can be enough to change their trajectory towards the pursuit of their own visions.
Look, I'm not trying to overstate my own importance or impact. I'm just the latest guppy in a vast and unfathomable ocean. Every day before me and every day that comes after there have been and will continue to be others, trying to provide readers with the unique fulfillment that comes from gifting them with the right words at the right time. Peeling off those stickers and placing them on the glossy covers of their own books.
I know, I know, it's maybe the silliest, tiniest little thing that comes with being a published author. But as long as waiting in line or at the mailbox to receive a book with that little sticker on the cover matters to others, putting it there will matter to me.