The Delicate Art of the Author Photo

December 20, 2010 § 14 Comments

So you’ve spent the past year locked up in your tower with the door firmly barred, pouring your tortured soul forth onto the page. Your plot is perfect, your characters delectable and your prose is positively the most delicious collection of sentences ever to grace the literate world. You’ve consumed approximately a billion cups of coffee/tea during your anguished artist’s process, and your teeth are of a colour to match. Your hair or beard has grown down to the floor and it feels like a decade since you last had a manicure. (Maybe it even is).

But it’s finished! The glowing manuscript of gloriousness lies before you, ready to submit to your publisher. Your work is done. There are a few details like editing, typesetting and so on to be done, but you have an editor and a publishing team to help you with that, right? You can relax a bit. Maybe even have a conversation or two with real people instead of your characters.

But no. Think not so, because a grave ordeal yet lies before you. There is the final trial, the last hurdle before Mount Olympus, Home of the Gods, is yours. It is called: The Author Photo.

It seems to be a quirk of relatively modern publishing that we all need to know what the writer looks like. And since we are all mortal, and therefore shallow, it really helps if the author happens to be a babe, doesn’t it? Even more so if there’s even the vaguest possibility that they might be appearing on TV.

Sadly not many authors are blessed with boundless imagination, limitless literary talent, inexhaustible determination, advantageously masochistic tendencies and unearthly beauty. A pity. So what do publishers do about this?

Why, ship that author off to an empty airbase somewhere with a small army of beauticians, stylists, make-up artists, lighting technicians and photographers, that’s what (…or the low-budget equivalent). And smile to themselves as they hear the screams of authorly anguish drifting by on the breeze.

It will be worth the pain, because eventually you will emerge like a butterfly from the cocoon. Positively shimmering. Like this:

Not bad, hm? Here are some examples.

Elizabeth Kostova wrote a rather brilliant literary thriller. It is about scholars and vampires. Hence the expression of mysterious knowingness and the elegant posture. It manages to say ‘I’m an intelligent, educated woman of taste. I’ve written stuff. I’ve published books. And I know where the vampires live’. All at the same time. (And it really helps if you manage to have an exotic-sounding foreign surname to go with it).

Mr. Grisham’s photos always seem to feature the same super-cool, squinty-eyed look. It suggests sophistication, knowingness – again, because all authors are Knowing – and above all, coolness. More coolness than most of us will see in a lifetime.

J. V. Jones, author of fantasy books. Sleek blonde hair, large eyes heavily emphasised and a cunningly displayed dimple. This one says ‘wicked knowingness’ through and through.

Stephanie Meyer’s pictures always play up the wholesomeness. All understated make-up and natural curls. It’s that ‘girl next door, I’d-never-ever-have-sex-before-marriage’ look.

Freda Warrington is an excellent dark fantasy author. Her books are full of vampires, black magic and, er, dark stuff. In which case it’s absolutely advisable to be suitably black-gloved and eye-linered. Oh, and with a mane of dark, dark hair.

Be warned, would-be writers. The day your manuscript is accepted for publication is the day the nightmare begins to loom. You’d better start preparing now. How will your author photo look?

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§ 14 Responses to The Delicate Art of the Author Photo

  • Kit says:

    You missed the David Eddings picture. That one has always been my favourite! He looks so smug you just want to paste him one.

  • Andy says:

    Haha I loved this post! What a good point. I admit that I like to turn to the back of the book immediately to know who the author is, but that has never persuaded me to buy (or not buy) a book. It’s always so interesting. The photos you’ve picked up really demonstrate the kind of writing the author does, especially the last one heh.
    I am curious what your ‘author photo’ would look like!
    PS I’ve been checking out the links on writing that you’ve put up, they are really good writing resources and places of inspiration.
    PPS You should really continue with this humourous streak that you’ve got going on

  • Charlotte says:

    Ah – it might not persuade you to buy, but does it influence how you feel about the book? Are you maybe, just a tiny bit, more impressed with the book if you think the author’s a dish? Maybe. Just a little bit.

    As for my author photo. Ingredient one: I write fantasy, mostly. Ingredient two: note my pic. Add long, elegantly pointed ears and a sparkly diadem, and make sure that most of the photo is of my hair – which by that time probably will be down to the floor, Rapunzel-like. See my drift? It’s a shoo-in.

    PS Hm, noted. Maybe I’ll do a post on that sometime. I have collected quite a lot of writing paraphernalia.

    PPS Glad you like it… so do I, so on I shall go. Whimsy is good for the soul, especially with an occasional dose of bitchy sarcasm added for good measure.

  • timkeen40 says:

    The author bio is important and one with a picture is even better. Thanks for the excellent post.

    http://timkeen40.wordpress.com

    • Charlotte says:

      Hi! You’re right about the bio – I’ve been flippant about it here, but I always appreciate those author details as well if I’ve enjoyed a book. It seems to round out the reading experience somehow, to know a little bit about the person whose imagination produced the story. Glad you enjoyed the post and thanks for visiting.

  • Jan says:

    A very enjoyable piece to read Charlie, and gives the amateur writers something to work on.

    You have a great way with words I felt as if I was reading a book already published.

    Keep up the good work, I will gain confidence from you along the way with my writing.
    Hugs Jan xxxxxxx

    • Charlotte says:

      Hi Jan! Thanks for the kind comments. It’s always much more worth the time writing blog posts when I know people are reading and enjoying them. Hope the writing is going well for you this week.

  • Amala says:

    If a book doesn’t have an author photo, I only look it up on a website after I’ve read the book.

    They always take me by surprise. After reading a fantasy book, I look at the author and often think, “What? They look human!”

    I expected Brent Weeks to look like an assassin, and Patrick Rothfuss to look like a red-haired bard. I didn’t even know I expected that until I saw their pictures!

    • Charlotte says:

      Haha, good point. We do somehow expect authors to match the book. I suppose it is a subconscious thing – your image of the author is inevitably hugely influenced by what you’re reading. In which case, maybe the publishers have it right with the contrived author pics…

      Speaking of Patrick Rothfuss, I wonder if there will ever be a sequel to The Name of the Wind? There was an original piece of fantasy fiction. I still feel like I really want to know what happens next and I read it about two years ago. Hero.

      • Amala says:

        I love The Name of the Wind. He’s spent ages working on the sequel, so I expect it’s going to be amazing when it’s finally here.

        It’s coming out in March 1st 2011. The second book, A Wise Man’s Fear, has already been sent for reviews and blurbs.

        It’s been a really long wait!

  • Link exchange is nothing else however it is just placing the other person’s website link on your page at appropriate place and other person will also do similar in support of you.

  • Hi! Do you use Twitter? I’d like to follow you if that would be ok.

    I’m undoubtedly enjoying your blog and look forward to new posts.

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