Wednesday, October 24, 2018

Picture Perfect?

By Kristin Owens

Last year, I attended a writing conference where I met a lot of authors in person. Everyone ditched their yoga pants and wore clothes with zippers and buttons. I recognized a few from their dust jackets or social media icons. Others . . . not at all. 

The author at one keynote session spoke, and I had to refer back to the program to make sure I was in the correct room. It took several glances. The photo wasn't current. Not even from this decade.

This repetitive motion hurt my neck, and while licking a Motrin, I missed her presentation.

Author photos. Talk about fiction.

This got me wondering. Do authors prefer to be unrecognizable? In writing genre fiction, do you need to look the part? Do certain looks help sell books? 

David Sedaris, an author always on fire.

When I wonder, I research. I took a well-deserved procrastination break from my writing (you’re welcome) and developed some conclusions. I looked at genres and the corresponding author photos. 

The statistical analysis took an hour -- take it or leave it. 

Women’s Fiction

Women showcase broad, painful smiles. Photos show evidence of cropped out kids clawing at their legs. They usually wear something flowery or with ruffles. And a wedding band.


Men in leather jackets lean on something. Usually a brick wall. No smiles. Arms crossed. The entire expression says, “Dare me.”

Lawrence Sanders wrote mysteries, but you'd never know it from the death grip on his cat.


Again, all women. Mostly middle-age. Softly lit, boudoir beauty shots from the 80s abound, no shortage of updos and ringlets. I hope it wasn't the last time they felt beautiful.


Bald men with robust beards. Women with dyed black hair and usually a piercing. The camera captured them looking away. Into space? 

Literary Fiction

Pale, ethereal people. Wrinkled brows. Facial expressions show disbelief. Because they finally completed their book?

Children’s Picture Books

The author holds a puppy. Or a baby goat. Or a lamb. With a bow.

Writers should have an up-to-date recognizable photo. Use this photo in all of your marketing and social media. And let's be honest. You do want fans to recognize you dining at Red Lobster’s all-you-can-eat crab fest while wearing a plastic bib. 

An autograph? Sure! Let me drop this crab leg. 

Jenny Lawson don't give a damn, and it's brilliant.

No excuses.

1. Include your head. Don’t try to impress us with other skills like riding a bike or climbing a mountain. Full body shots are not welcome, because no one cares how thin you are. 

2. It’s just you. We want to see YOU, not those dependent on you for meals. Plus, let’s face it – they didn’t help and probably created more obstacles. 

3. Wear classic clothing. That leopard skin blazer with shoulder pads will haunt you. Can you say, “Jackie Collins?” 

Jackie looking hungry like a wolf.

4. Retake your photo every three years. Even if it’s the best photo ever. Period.

5. Smile like someone bought your book and left a positive review. Everywhere. 

Hey writers, your photo may be the only time readers ever SEE you. Show us who you are, and not a cliché of your genre. Because like you, most of us already recognize fiction.

A full-time writer in Colorado, Kristin is a member of the Northern Colorado Writers Association, the Lighthouse Writers, and a weekly critique group. 

She has published dozens of articles for the Coloradoan and The Pint. Her personal essays have appeared in Writer's Digest, Outpost, Mind+Body Magazine, and Regenerate Magazine.

Her first manuscript, ELIZABETH SAILS, was selected as a Judges' Favorite in the 2017 Ink & Insights contest. She is currently writing her second manuscript, VICTORIA FLOATS.


Deborah Nielsen said...

I can relate. The author promo pictures that my local community college used for its recent annual Literary Connection had me doing a double take of one of the authors. Her headshot showed this glorious creature that could pass for a Revlon model. In reality, she's a very pretty woman who may be the same one in the photo. I'm still wondering if they're one and the same. They had the same name . . .

Eleanor Shelton said...

Love this blog! But...does that mean I need to change my LinkedIn photo from about 10 years ago? Or my Facebook profile photo also from back in the days when I didn't need fortuitous lighting? If/when I need a photo for my book jacket, trust me I'll be smiling form ear to ear. But I will still want the fortuitous lighting!

JC Lynne said...

Eleanor, I don't think anyone should forgo complimentary lighting. Period.

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