If you’re like me, you’re sort of dreading the author photo thing.
You want your words on display, not your face.
But unless you’re seriously intent on remaining anonymous (you don’t want to do author signings, for example), even if you use a pen name, a good author photo of the real you is a must.
After using random snap shots of myself at author events for a year, I broke down and had a friend who’s also a professional photographer shoot me (haha) outside at my house.
It wasn’t awkward at all and I totally enjoyed it!
Sorry… That’s a lie.
It was actually pretty horrible having a camera right up in my face. “Back up,” I kept telling her, positive that every wrinkle, gray hair, and zit I’ve had since 7th grade would be plainly visible. Every pose felt weird, every smile felt fake, every neighbor honked at me as they drove by.
After about 45 minutes of torture, I’d had enough, and we went inside to look at the raw photos.
There was blinking.
And inappropriate fondling of pipes.
But I managed to choose one.
“Promise me you will edit out all of the bad stuff,” I said when she was leaving. “Get rid of all my wrinkles and gray hairs. Make my skin look like I didn’t put baby oil on my face in 7th grade and go out in the sun. Make me look like I got a good night’s sleep at least once in the last ten years.”
And she did.
But when I saw the results, I wasn’t sure I liked them.
My friend Kayti scrutinized it and said, “That’s not your chin.” I looked closer and realized the dimple on my chin had been retouched along with my crows’ feet, under-eye circles, and crazy flyaway hairs. My skin looked smooth…but it didn’t look like mine. I looked plastic. And weird. And frankly, a bit ghoulish.
In the end, I went with the un-retouched photo. It isn’t perfect, but at least it looks like me, and I think that is what readers are looking for. They don’t care if I have wrinkles and grays; they just want a connection. And we are always our own worst critics.
So now for some tips!
- Hire a pro. No selfies. No pics of you from ten years ago. You can have a friend who’s good with a camera take some, but be sure they look professional. You work hard to put out the best books possible; don’t let an amateur photo turn readers off.
- Do your research. Find examples of author photos you like and don’t like. What do you think works and what doesn’t? PRACTICE in the mirror. Lift your chin. Open your eyes. Relax and smile–a smirk never comes off right.
- Wear a flattering color that makes you feel good–avoid loud prints and patterns. Plan on changing outfits once or twice.
- Have your hair and makeup done if you can. You don’t need a glam squad, but if you’re not good with a blow dryer or eyeliner, it might make you more confident if you have a pro to help you out–or even a friend who’s great with hair and makeup! I bet she’d be flattered you asked, and maybe she’ll even work for wine.
- Avoid props, cutesy ideas and attempting to be artsy. Your author photo should make sense for your brand, but I’d stay away from props and settings that look obviously staged. Gillian Flynn writes some pretty dark stuff, but look at her photo.
- Invite the photographer to your house. You’re likely to be more comfortable there than at the studio.
- Go outside for the most flattering, natural light.
- Don’t be impatient–it takes time to get a good shot. Let the photographer make suggestions about angles and perspective, and take her/his advice.
- Be prepared to see a lot of bad photos of yourself–it’s OK! We write and delete a lot of crappy words to get the perfect sentence, don’t we? Don’t be too hard on yourself.
- Avoid the temptation to go bananas with edits and retouching. You can sometimes disguise things you’re uncomfortable in sneaky ways–a hand under your chin, body angled away from the camera, sit behind a table. Because believe me when I say that no one is fooled by Photo Shop edits…I have seen some really scary things (Exhibit A, Plastic Mel).
I hope this helps! Now go be awesome.