Ever pick up an old hardback book and marvel at the intricate label on the inside of the front cover? Maybe it had an inscription, a name or title. The label is a bookplate, also known as ex-librīs, Latin for ‘from the library of.'
Bookplates are nearly as old as printing itself. Dating as far back as the late 1400’s, they were used to identify the owner. Books were rare. Only the affluent families of the era could afford to own personal libraries, and books were treated as valuable possessions. Affixing a label to the inside cover with the owner’s name was a means of assuring the book would be returned if lent. The designs were based on the culture of the time and influenced by the decorative art of the era. They ranged from a simple name to elaborate motifs and engravings.
As books became less expensive through improved printing methods, bookplates fell into relative obscurity. While they continue to be an object of interest to collectors and historians, in today’s modern era of mass-market paperbacks, they would seem of little value.
For an author, however, bookplates represent an innovative and unique opportunity to personalize a book. Promotions and giveaways are a staple in every independent author’s bag of tricks. Whether it is free books, bookmarks, contributions to swag bags or gift cards for blog hosts, there are a plethora of enticements to garner a reader’s attention.
The bookplate is relatively inexpensive as designs are printed on peel and stick labels. A variety of sizes and types are available including labels with a writeable surface. Pre-made or custom designed bookplates can be ordered on line or there is the do-it-yourself option. Companies such as Vistaprint or Avery provide templates. The process is easy, just upload your design, review the final product, and place the order.
Bookplates can be used in a variety of ways. Book signing events can get hectic. When people are lined up waiting to get their book autographed, an author's time is limited. Since bookplates can be added before the event, the author can provide that extra touch with an additional message to the reader. If the label has a writeable surface, the bookplate can be autographed.
How about the times when it is not possible to personally autograph a book? I recently provided several copies of my book, Sentinels of the Night, to a promotion event in the U.K. The books were shipped overseas from the printer, and I had no opportunity to autograph them. Instead, I mailed bookplates to the event coordinator.
Offer an autographed bookplate as an incentive to order a book in pre-order promotions for a new release. Book giveaways are another opportunity. In many instances, shipping the book direct from the print company is less expensive than paying shipping costs twice, once to buy the book from the printer and a second to reship it. To add a distinctive flair, slip a bookplate in an envelope, and then mail it to the recipient.
Moreover, what an excellent way to add a personalized message to the books we give to family and friends. For a 4” x 3” label there are four labels to a page. It is possible to order one page of labels. The small order size allows for unique designs for different individuals and events.
The bookplate is that tiny mouse in the publishing world that can indeed send a roar of appreciation to our audience—The Readers.