Image: Matthew Loffhagen
Let’s face it – an author photo is probably the last thing on your marketing to-do list, especially if you’re the kind of person who hides from group selfies or whose mouth just can’t seem to form anything close to a photogenic smile. (My mouth certainly falls into that unfortunate category, by the way.)
But, like it or not, an author photo can be an important element of your branding. Once your readers turn the final page, most of them – assuming they’ve finished satisfied – will be curious to learn more about the person who captured their attention for so many hours. Matching a written voice to a face is a nice personal touch and an important step towards building up an identifiable public persona.Matching a written voice to a face is important for building up a persona. Click To Tweet
But how can you achieve the elusive ‘perfect’ photo that does all this? Here are some handy tips and ideas to get you started.
Hire a professional photographer
That is, unless you happen to be one yourself (in which case, feel free to skip this section), person of many talents. I’m sure I don’t need to remind you to shop around and sniff out the best price, but I will suggest that you scour through portfolios and pick someone whose work you’re a fan of. Extra credit if they’ve done similar kinds of marketing portraiture before, as they’ll be able to point you in the right direction if you’re feeling stuck for ideas.
Pick a setting that you’re comfortable in
A stiff mood equals a stiff smile, and even the setting of your photo can say a lot about who you are as a writer. That said, in a studio setting, a good photographer should be able to relax you to get the best results.
Bring outfit changes with you to the shoot
Photo shoots are expensive, so you’ll want to get the most out of a single session. Taking multiple outfits is far preferable to having to do re-shoots because the bowler hat you thought would make you look like an adorable kook actually makes you look like a weirdo in a bowler hat.
Think about reflecting the mood or genre of your book
If you’re a romance writer, your photo might suit warm lighting and lots of color. If you’re a crime writer, contrasting lighting and monochrome might work better. If you want more of a situational shot than a simple portrait, think about setting too. The silhouette of a gothic castle in the background, for instance, wouldn’t look out of place for a series about supernatural perils or a brooding historical romance… or maybe just about how great castles are.
Consider black and white
I mentioned this earlier in reference to evoking a particular kind of mood or genre, but to be honest, black and white is pretty much standard across the board of every writing category. Just do an image search for ‘author photos’ and you’ll see what I mean. Clearly, this is the ‘done’ thing in the industry, but it’s entirely up to you whether you want to follow the crowd or go against the grain.
Bring out your unique character or distinctive features
George R.R. Martin is never seen without his winning beard + flat cap + glasses combo. Neil Gaiman has that messy-haired, leather-jacketed 80’s goth vibe perfected. Oscar Wilde was fond of a fabulous fur coat and dapper suit. Not all authors gravitate towards these kinds of aesthetic quirks, but if you’ve got them, flaunt them. And often. This is an effective way to establish a recognizable public persona.Your author photo tells a story – make sure it’s the right one. Click To Tweet
Consider an illustration rather than a photo
If you’re writing a comic book, manga, or illustrated book, ask your artist to draw both of you in the style of the book. You could do this even if your books don’t have pictures in them, if you think it would suit the book or your public persona. Not only is it different, but it might also be a welcome alternative for the camera shy. Mangakas (manga creators), for instance, are notorious for drawing themselves periodically in the margins of their own work.
Actual author photos are seldom seen in any manga I’ve ever come across, but I do know most creators’ favorite foods, their blood types, and the layout of their drawing desks. I’m not saying you have to volunteer this amount of in-depth, personal detail, but there is something endearing about this kind of hand-drawn, unedited self-expression.
Use a photo you’ve taken yourself, or that someone else has taken of you
No selfies, no Snapchats, no Instagrams, no Facebook profile pictures; nothing that’s been taken by a smartphone camera in lighting that either makes you look like a grainy blob or an illuminated ghost. I know, I know – phones have good cameras these days, and those ‘Shot on an iPhone’ billboards by Apple are impressive. ‘Too good to be true’ impressive. Nonetheless, most photos that look great on a small screen won’t print out as well in the sleeve of a book. If you’re a self-publishing author, don’t shell out for book design and printing only to have your readers’ first impression be a blurry picture of your ‘good’ angle.Amateur photos – no matter how good – send an amateur message. Spring for a professional.Click To Tweet
Try and look like something you’re not
Unless you’ve got an oh-so-clever Lemony Snicket thing going on, don’t be afraid of putting the real you out there in undiluted photographic glory. Your readers want to get to know the real you, and that’s what they’ll buy into. But what if I don’t have a distinctive ‘Neil Gaiman’ leather jacket that perfectly matches the spooky, Burton-esque modern fairy tales I write? I pretend to hear you fret. Fret not, imaginary fretter! Believe it or not, defying audience expectations in this way can be a pleasant surprise.
For example, if you bumped into Charlaine Harris, author of the Sookie Stackhouse novels (you may know them better as HBO’s True Blood), on the streets of her native Mississippi, you’d never suspect that such a sweet-looking, sixty-something-year-old Southern lady was capable of penning so many graphic scenes of vampire-themed smut, gore and depravity. Sometimes, it’s fun to see authors that look a million miles away from the kind of thing they write.
Go overboard on props and setting
If you’re a fantasy writer, you don’t have to dress up as a full-blown elf and stand atop the mountains of New Zealand pretending your photographer is Peter Jackson. I mean, unless you really think your target audience would be into that. The aim should be to evoke a genre or mood subtly, rather than visually screaming it at your readers.
Rely on old clichés
Beware of the overused props that haunt many a clichéd author photo: pen and paper, typewriters, computer keyboards, etc.If a reader is holding your book, they don’t need to see you at a typewriter. Click To Tweet
An author photo is worth a thousand words
Your author photo is unlikely to be the thing that makes or breaks your book sales (unless you’re doing something really offensive in it, like kicking a three-legged puppy) but that doesn’t mean it’s not hugely important in your marketing. A high-quality image that represents the kind of writer you are and/or your public persona is a stamp of quality, and it forges a bond that turns one-time readers into fans. It’s also an easy way to establish brand unity across different platforms, as it decorates the inside of your book jacket and sits proudly on your website.
For more great advice on creating effective marketing materials, check out 5 Crucial Tips To A Better ‘About The Author’ Page and Why You Need To Brand Yourself As An Author, And Exactly How To Do It. Or, if you want to know even more about author photos, try Here’s Why You Need A Fantastic Author Photo (And How You Can Get One). What ideas do you have for a great author photo? Let me know in the comments.