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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