Monday, February 6, 2012

Is Your Author Photo Sending the Right Message?

Last night, I finished reading Kameron Hurley’s “bugpunk” novel God’s War, and between the book itself and the compelling author’s bio (referring to her attempts to not die “spectacularly”), I was curious about the author. So I googled for images under her name and found several pix of her. In the old days, this would be unthinkable. How many of Charles Dickens’s or Jane Austen’s readers knew what they looked like? Nowadays, an author photo is a vital part of the promotional package. And, like it or not, your author’s photo is going to influence your reader’s opinions of both you as a person and you as an author.

In perusing a magazine a few weeks ago, I glanced through the front matter, which contained headshots and bios of some of the contributors. Two photos, side by side, offered a stark contrast of how and how not to have your author photo taken.

Photo by Sarah Ward
One the one hand, we had an obviously professional headshot of a smiling woman standing against a picturesque red barn. She was dressed casually but professionally, her neat hair and makeup highlighted beneath appropriate lighting.

One the other hand, we had what looked like a picture taken on the author’s web cam. This author looked like he had just gotten out of bed and had yet to find his way to the nearest Starbucks. He didn’t make eye contact with the camera, which resulted in a glazed, disoriented look. He was wearing a T-shirt. The setting behind him was a messy desk. And the faint lighting cast a shadowy and gloomy pall over the picture.

Two author headshots. Two totally different presentations.

So how can you ensure your author photo is sending the right message to your readers (and employers)?

Image by Michelle Leong
1. Choose a professional photographer. If at all possible, have your picture taken by a professional or at least a friend who knows cameras, knows lighting, and knows how to properly pose you.

2. Dress professionally. Dress like you would if you were going to a job interview—because, in a sense, that’s exactly what you’re doing. This picture is about to become your calling card. Add the fact that it’s going to be preserved to all eternity on the Internet, and consider how you want to be seen and remembered.

3. Focus on the head. I’ve had several author pictures taken that included full body shots, and depending on how you want to use them (website, etc.), you may want a few yourself. But your face is what people want to see. They want to be able to flip your book over, look into your eyes, and see you looking back.

4. Be creative. Depending on your personality and the type of books you write, you may want to think outside the box. A picture of science fiction author R.A. Salvatore holding a sword in front of his face has stuck with me for a long time. So be goofy, be daring, show off your personality. But do it cautiously and with forethought, since professionalism is still the name of the game.

If you haven’t looked objectively at your author photo for a while, take another peek. Does it still look like you? Does it look like an author you would want to read or even meet? Does it appropriately indicate your professional attitude? Of course, if you’ve yet to have an author picture taken, it’s time to get cracking!
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28 comments:

  1. Pictures! I do agree, professionalism, coupled with creativity will help your career immensely.(The older I get the more talented the pro needs to be!) Great advice!

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  2. Nowadays, a good photographer needs to not only be able to correctly take the photo to begin with, he also needs to be able to Photoshop it afterwards - although less is more in that department, IMO. I've seen some pix that ended up looking too airbrushed to be believable.

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    1. I am so fortunate to have a daughter who is also a professional photographer.

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  3. I've been working on the concept of branding recently so this post comes at the perfect time for me. Less is more in photoshop, I agree! Thanks so much Miss Weiland!

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  4. I'm glad you brought up branding. That's definitely not something to overlook in choosing a photo. We need to select one image that will work across all platforms (website, print, social media, etc.), so that we can establish immediate recognition with the reader.

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  5. I've been thinking of getting new pics taken for Blogger, FB, and for the hope that someday I'll be published. But I hate my teeth, so I don't like to smile for pictures. Most people recommend a toothy grin.

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  6. No need to grin with your teeth. Sometimes the close-mouthed approach is more professional and serious.

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    1. K.M.~ I'm and author, and I totally AGREE with you about the closed-mouth approach. I chose it for my profile photo on my FB page: www.ParkwayPress.com
      I think closed-mouth imbues confidence and professionalism. Also, while looking directly into the camera, it enhances that confidence and professionalism.

      Thanks for the post ~ YOU ROCK!
      Author David Brown

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  7. I *adore* my photographer. Somehow he always manages to make me look good. Even after we move back to Central Texas, I'll make the trip "back east" to have him take my pro shots.

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  8. Your author pix are great. I love all of them.

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  9. I am lucky enough to be a semi-professional photographer and took my own photo with the timer feature. Great Article.

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  10. It's a great pic! One of the best I've seen.

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  11. Good points to consider, thanks. For an introvert, selecting my own photo has been difficult. Finding one that conveys my current status (friendly, making cyber acquaintances, seeking an agent but still unpublished in fiction) was difficult. I had some shots done by a friend who is a photographer, but they didn't seem like me. So I web-cammed my own to use until the time seems right to get more professional.

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  12. An author photo isn't a necessity until we're published. But if we're creating any kind of a web presence *as* an author, I think it's valuable to get a professional shot as early as possible.

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  13. Thanks for this post. I am still getting a handle on all of this. When I decided to write, I was so focused on that that I never thought about needing pics. I have one for now that I feel fits with my YA genre and being a writer. I hate the location though--in front of a door. Eventually (before I publish my first book, I will get another pic done. Think I'm ok for now though?

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  14. Great Post. I know I need a good photo and have been thinking about for a while now. I just hate cameras and they seem to hate me! But I will have a go, and hopefully get a decent pic that I like.

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  16. (I removed my previous comment because I had used an old profile. One more thing on my todo list.)

    I keep taking pictures, in search of the perfect one for my profile, but they consistently end up looking too much like me. I'm not sure how to resolve it.

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  17. @Christine: Judging from the little thumbnail, I'd say it's definitely workable. The fact that it's a clear, well-lit shot of your face means it has all the right elements. I think, in time, you'll want to spend the money on a professional background and pose, but you look great for now!

    @Yvon7lee: A good photographer can do wonders even with people who consider themselves generally "unphotogenic." Yet another reason to hire a pro.

    @Carl: A pic that looks like you is just what you want. We often hear warnings about keeping photos up to date, so that we do indeed look like them. We want readers to be able to recognize us should they ever meet us as a book signing.

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  18. Congrats on a link over at Passive Voice. Some interesting feedback over there:
    http://www.thepassivevoice.com/02/2012/is-your-author-photo-sending-the-right-message/

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  19. I've been using a picture of my glasses as my author photo on my website because I have an androgynous name and would prefer to remain genderless to the larger world as long as I can. I recently messed this up by agreeing to be photographed for a neighborhood publication, but expect that will disappear eventually. I'm not sure how long I can remain genderless, but it does make me wonder about all of the people who publish psuedonymically. If you're doing so out of social, work or political concerns (I know a writer who fears if his congregation found out about his subject matter, he'd get booted), how do you get around the expectation of author photos?

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  20. Sadly not all of us look good in photos, no matter professionally taken. I'm very unphotogenic so I have refused to use an author photo. Society is so fixated on appearance it really wouldn't help the sales of my book.

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  21. @Anonymous#1: Thanks for sharing the link!

    @London: There's a lot of advantage to remaining genderless, particularly if you write subjects that appeal to both genders. That's the primary reason I decided to use my initials. However, the greatest advantage of social media is the interactivity and personality - both of which are hard to take advantage of without giving readers a face they can connect with. I, as you can see, use images of myself in my social networking, which, of course, negates any gender anonymity provided by my initials. However, I believe the advantages of further connecting with readers outweigh the lost benefits of maintaining gender neutrality.

    @Anonymous#2: That is absolutely your choice, and I understand it. As a reader, before the dawn of the social era, I never liked to know what authors looked like. After reading their tales of fantasy and imagination, I was always subtly disappointed by how prosaic they looked. But I don't think authors have to be beautiful to take advantage of author photos. Readers aren't looking for beautiful people so much as real people with whom they can connect.

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  22. I love my headshot, but worry a little that the gun could be off-putting for some. But my photo represents who I am and what I write about.

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  23. I think for some readers the 'anti-establishment' tousled web cam photo might be the right look.

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    1. Depends on the author and his intent, for sure. But very few people won't be better off with a professional look.

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