Wednesday, October 11, 2006

Author Photos Beware

I had to comment on what I have to say is a growing trend of authors who throw up an awful photo for all the world to see.

As a photographer, I simply can't stand silent anymore.

And even though, I will talk about this subject, I will not name names, or point out bad photos - that would just be mean! So our discussion will have to exist without the requisite examples.

So here it is: if you aim to have a career as an author, then there are certain investments that must be made. A good author photo is one of them. Typically, you don't need an author photo until you have a signed contract. But nowadays, we have pre-pubbed (an interesting dose of hopefulness in that term, isn't there?) authors posting websites to show editors who they are and sometimes, those websites include...well, less than flattering pictures.

I often persuse the websites of authors to get a sense of who they are, but after visitng yet another one yesterday, I simply have to say something!

People! Get a good photo!

And lest you think that I'm only talking to the pre-pubbed, I have seen multi published authors with terrible photos as well.

Yes, I know that many many women have a physiological aversion to having their picture taken. Eleven years being married and I still can't get my mother-in-law to smile for a photo. I get it, I really do. But you will simply have to get over it...or don't use a photo!

Repeat after me: No photo is better than bad photo!

And dear friends, if you know someone with one of these awful photos, then you've got to say something! I think christians try to be so nice that they let their friends walk around with their skirts tucked in their panties so they don't embarrass them. Sometimes, you just gotta be honest!

The first big mistake is perspective: Most people wrongly think that what they are using is an author photo, or...a picture of the author. NO! What you are putting up there is a publicity photo. There is an important difference. If we just need to know what you look like, well, any old photo would do. But when you hook your name, with the word author, and then put up a photo, Voila! You have a publicity photo. That means you are projecting an image about who you are to everyone who sees the photo.

Now don't get scared and run away on me. Seriously, take a look at your photo. What image are you projecting?

Dowdy or Stylish?
In or out?
Fashionista or Fashion victim?
Frumpy or fabulous?
Boring or Fascinating?

That image you project will also affect what people think of the books you write (whether you like or not). If you write prairie romance, you can probably get a way with a school marm look (though in good conscious I would never actually recommend the school marm look). But if you write suspense, your photo better be intriguing.

But wait Sarah! I'm not fashionable you say. I wear sweats and slippers to my computer! So do I. But when it's time to take that photo, you need to consider three very important things...


First off hair: You have to get a decent haircut! If you have had your hair style for more than five years (and I'm willing to bet money some have had their hairstyle for twenty years...) than it may be time for a change.

Take a risk and add color, highlights, a fresh cut, anything! You'd be surprised at what a good hairdresser can do with your hair. If you want to keep your old hairstyle and can't bear the thought of a change...consider the "No photo is better than a bad photo" rule.

Wardrobe - notice a didn't say clothes. Wardrobe is a word to show that you are dressing for your role as an author - not your role as a mom, a carpool driver or your ladies ministry leader. Your role as an author. Get a great outfit that fits you as an author (your brand!) and wear that!

Make-up. You must use make-up in a photo. You don't have to get dramatic - it can still be make-up that you are comfortable with. But you must wear it. Lights will wash you out and make you seem lethargic, older or sick if you don't put some on.

And if you're not great at this kind of stuff, then here is a solution: Look around your church, or your group of friends, and find someone who is stylish. Beg them for help. Tell them that you are projecting an image to the entire world!! Have them come with you to shop and get a haircut. Take risks!

Then - you must hire a professional photographer.

This means that:
you may not go to Sears
you may not have your son snap a digital photo
you may not dig through your albums and find the picture of you twenty pounds lighter at that Christmas party 4 years ago.
you may not throw up a picture on a whim just to "get one up there".

Go to a professional - that means you'll pay a couple of hundred. Tell them what the photos are for and let them know up front that you need the rights to them.

Then, here's the important part - you're dressed and ready to project your image - so make sure the photographer knows what you are going for. If you're writing romance, well, then a photo sitting on a vintage chair with a reading lamp in the background would be fine. But if you write suspense, then the photographer will want to play with shadows and light. Tell them exactly what image you want to project and they will be able to do it. That's why you're paying extra money to hire a professional! That's why you can't just go to Sears and smile for the camera. You are not just getting a photo taken. You are projecting an image.

Okay - so I'm opening this up. What are your questions? What else do you need to know? Got a photo you need an honest opinion of? Then send it to me, as long as you can take a critique. This is not about how you look as a person - it's about the image you are sending out there, so this isn't personal - it's business:-) Send your questions and we'll keep talking!