Author Photos – Get Ready For Your Close-Up

Source:  Photopin
Source: Photopin

Man, I hate getting photos taken.  I never seem to look like myself, or at least the self I see in the mirror.  But it’s not that important, because if photos are being taken, it usually means something fun is happening like holidays or a party, so who cares how you look, right?  Not so when it comes to the all-important author photo.  On the torture scale, it’s right up there with writing a blurb.  You’re trying to condense everything you ever wanted to say about yourself as an author into one awkward shot and the results inevitably fall short of the goal.

Luckily, when it comes to self-publishing and eBooks, there’s no real need for an author photo because there is no dust jacket.  So it begs the question, do readers really care what the author looks like?  Publishing companies and agents have always considered author photos an important marketing tool for selling books and we always hear how the readers aren’t just buying your book, they’re buying into you as a writer.  Personally, I would have to say that an author’s image is really unimportant to me as a reader.  I’m currently reading Wonder by RJ Palacio and I have no clue what she looks like.  I didn’t even know if the author was male or female when I bought the book.  So it really doesn’t make a difference to me if she is young or old, black or white, serious and intelligent or fun and intelligent.  I’m loving the book, so as far as I am concerned, her work is done!

I had this discussion with my sister and she said she actually found it off-putting to have an author’s photo on the back of a fiction book – that it somehow breaks the spell, or that magical contract between writer and reader that doesn’t concern itself with reality.  I have also found this to be true, depending on my perception of the author photo.  If I feel I can identify with the author and the photo fits the style of writing, I feel an even greater connection to the work.  But if the photo is ridiculously staged and contrived, it can be a bit of a turn off.

For example, when I bought Kate Morton’s ‘The House At Riverton’, I flicked to the back cover and saw a pleasant photograph of a woman sitting happily on the ground in a stable of some sort.  To me, the image said “This is me, no fuss, just down to earth.”  Literally!

Source: Amazon - Kate Morton's Author Page
Source: Amazon – Kate Morton’s Author Page

Maybe it’s the duck-egg blue paint peeling off the distressed wood, her casual outfit or her warm smile, but I instantly felt comfortable with this author.  There was no black and white artsy stuff, or that patronizing ‘high brow’ stance with the hand contemplatively touching the chin (you know the one).  It just feels natural.

However, when I began reading Jojo Moyes’ ‘Me Before You’ and saw the following image on the cover, my response was completely different.

Source:  Marie Claire UK
Source: Marie Claire UK

Confusion reigns on this one – I mean what is she doing in the middle of a field, propped up on an old land rover with a type-writer on her lap?  Barefoot??  It makes absolutely no sense.  Maybe for a magazine shoot (maybe!) but for a book, this seems ridiculous to me and over the top.  I can understand the desire to get the author’s personality across to the reader, but this just comes across as smug and it actually made me wish I hadn’t seen the photo before reading the book.  I see that Ms (Miss, Mrs?) Moyes has another photo on her Twitter page, which gives a remarkably similar feel to that of Missus Morton and I have to say, I much prefer it.  It’s warm, it’s easy and it’s almost as if we’ve caught her in the middle of an autumnal stroll in the countryside.  Simples.

jojo moyes

But then again, it’s easy to critique other authors’ photos, and my interpretation is of course completely subjective.  Someone else might be wholly enamoured by the vision of an author straddling a clapped-out jeep and find these ‘smiling in the barn’ photos twee.  It’s impossible to gauge how readers will react to the image, no matter how hard they try to be all things to all readers.  And let’s face it, these famous authors have had help – expensive help, like professional photographers and hair and make-up people.  So what chance do us self-published authors have?  Is it just a matter of taking a rather grainy selfie and sticking that up on our social media platform, or should we consider taking the whole author photograph thing more seriously?

If you’ve done any kind of marketing for your book, you will undoubtedly have been asked for your author photo, so it’s something we’ll all have to do at some point.  I decided to have my photo taken in my garden with very little preparation on my part or the photographer’s.  It went a bit like this:

Me:  “Oh listen, can you take my author photo?”

Friend:  “Sure.”

Me:  “Great, it won’t take a minute!”

Followed by an hour of terse remarks like, ‘What are you doing with your mouth?’  ‘You look like you need the loo!’  I thought I was smirking, as opposed to outright smiling, suggesting that I’m a content writer, but also deep and thoughtful.  In the end, we just started talking about why I write and what I enjoy about it and we finally got our shot.  It’s not exactly perfect, but I wanted an authentic image and I think we achieved that.

Author photo
“This writing lark is so easy, I have all the time in the world to just relax in my arbour and dream up new stories!”

I think the main thing is to avoid selfies or cutting and pasting yourself out of a wedding photo (especially if you were the bride!).  Whether readers care what we look like or not, I suppose it is like a business card in a way and so it deserves a little bit of consideration.

As self-publishers, we’re used to thinking independently and creating our own rules and Mel Sherratt is a prime example of this when it comes to her author photo. Traditionally, crime writers have to look mean and moody to suit their genre, but not Mel.  She just looks so damn happy to be a successful author with a large and loyal readership, who wouldn’t want to buy her book?!


At the end of the day, I think it’s important to be yourself and satisfy your own needs, without trying to guess what people want.  (A good motto for life there, methinks.)

You can get my books here.

Why Readers Should Go Indie

small__5599873685   I recently read a piece by Richard Lea in The Guardian Books Blog about how self-publishing may well be a revolution for writers, but that the same might not be true for readers.  It wasn’t so much the article itself, as the comments that inspired me to make the following points:-

Readers, please don’t make the erroneous assumption that just because a book has been traditionally published, it is somehow ‘better’ than a self-published book.  

Phew, glad that’s out there.  Now I have to be honest and admit that I’ve also been under the same illusion – if it’s published, it’s a safer bet.  But how true is that?  The whole self-published -vs- traditionally published argument has been flogged to death at this point, but it doesn’t always consider the readers point of view.  As a reader myself, I’ve read many ‘lemons’ in my time and wondered  how the hell they ever got published.  But to know that, you would have to understand the inner processes of a publishing house, which I don’t pretend to know, but suffice it to say, it all comes down to sales.  ‘Will they sell?’ is the question at the heart of every publication decision and that’s only natural.  At least, that’s the only reason I can see why The Random House Group have published no less than five novels by Katie Price.  Five.  NOVELS.

There are lots of reasons why really good authors get rejected by traditional publishers, everything ranging from (a) the length of the novel (b) they might already have a similar book on their lists (c) they might already have a similar author on their lists (d) they don’t have money to invest in new writing.  Of course we all know the story of how JK Rowling was rejected by no less than 12 publishing houses, despite having the representation of a good agent.  Imagine if she had just given up?  Or decided to self-publish Harry Potter?  Would people still be looking down their noses?  The gatekeepers, as they are known, therefore control what the public reads.  They decide whether or not this year’s craze will be vampires or wizards.  But readers have had the most recent laugh, because with the revolution of self-publishing, readers can pick and choose what they want to read, not what the publishers have decided they should.  A recent example of self-publishing success is Mel Sherratt, who had her novels rejected for reasons varying from not fitting into a genre to being too generic!  No such rejection from Kindle readers however, who sent her debut novel onto the bestsellers list.

Sometimes authors actually choose to self-publish.

Imagine that!  Readers might not be aware, but a lot of  authors actually choose to self-publish rather than sign a contract with a publisher.  Polly Courtney is the perfect  example – she ditched her publishers HarperCollins because they insisted on creating ‘chick lit’ style covers for her novels, despite the fact that her novels did not fit that genre.  And frankly, I don’t think the move has done her any harm either.  There are lots of examples of authors feeling pressured by publishers to ‘fit in’ and compromise on their creative output.  Equally, there’s the time it takes to get your book out there that can make self-publishing more appealing.  For a newbie such as myself, if I sent a submission to a publisher, it could take the best part of six months before receiving a response.  Only then do you send the entire manuscript, give that another few months.  Then there is the whole acquisitions process, give or take another few months.  Only then will the actual production begin, editing, layout, cover design etc.  It would take at least a year or more to see your book on the shelves.  Then there are the royalties.  I think the standard rate for new authors is 10% of net.  Yikes!

Where’s the risk?

People have commented that they don’t want to take the risk on an Indie Author that they don’t know, but I ask you, where’s the risk?  On both Amazon and Smashwords, you can read a free sample of the book before you buy.  If you’re still not sure, most of us Indies have websites and blogs, so you can get a good sense of our writing style.  And if you’re still unsure, check out the reviews on Goodreads and other sites.  That’s about as much information (if not more) as you will get in a bookstore about a traditionally published book, only eBooks are cheaper so you’ve risked even less!  Not to mention all the promotions and giveaways that self-published authors run on a continual basis, you’re bound to get a bargain.

Are there a lot of crap self-published books out there?  Of course there are, just as there are a lot of crap traditionally published books.  Writers who are serious about producing good quality books will do their best to create a great book.  Those of us who are in this for the long haul want to build a readership that can trust our ‘brand’, so we are not going to release anything that would fall below our own self-imposed standards.  Self-published authors now  have easy access to book designers and editors, creating a new and exciting space for other freelance experts to create outside of the traditional constraints.

Being self-published is challenging and don’t get me wrong, I would welcome the support and backing of a publishing house to help get my books out there.  It’s hard being a one-woman show and I know that when I launch my second novel next month, I will be doing the equivalent of standing on the Cliffs Of Moher and trying to shout across to America!  It would be fantastic to have the marketing and promotional services that a publisher can offer.  So I don’t want this to be a publisher-bashing exercise.  In my opinion, I think the industry is adapting to what readers are demanding and we now have ‘digital imprints’ and ‘digital first’ arms to many of the traditional houses, which is great to see .  My point is that self-publishing can be (and is) a revolution for readers too and I think we are reaching a stage where the reader doesn’t care who published the book – as long as it’s good.