Tuesday, April 5, 2016

Author Photos

The Good, the bad, and the Ugly

On the Kidlit chat boards the question arises periodically: should I have a photo of self on my website, and should it be a formal author photo, or would any snapshot do?

This is not a question about the photo that goes on your published book. The publisher will determine this, and they will specify what they require. House-style varies, and a writer receives guidance when the time comes.
This is also not a question for the famous among us. Their faces are known, many times known, and their websites (if they have such) may not include an image of the author’s face anywhere.

The question of putting one’s face out there in virtual land was one I struggled with six years ago. Once I succumbed and accepted it, I must admit that I gave it little thought. But when I saw others who wiggled about whether and how, I realized there is what to consider.
Some are on the verge of their debut release, which prompted me to make a website in the first place. Others just wanted to have a web-presence where, unlike the social networks, they had full control. Their reasoning? Just in case an agent or editor they were writing to wanted to make sure they were not scary and, in fact, rather pleasant and thoughtful folks.

I asked myself if I must have a photo at all, and the answer was a resounding YES. I have to confess that when I look up someone’s book or Internet musings, I am sorely disappointed if I can’t see his or her face. I suspect they don’t really want to be published, (literally, be made public) or they are in deep hiding in the witness protection plan. Better to swallow the squeamishness and just put our faces out there.

This brings us back to the beginning. What makes a good author photo, and should a professional take it?
{Disclosure: my daughter always took mine. I suppose she is a professional of sorts, as she has taken publicity photos for her colleagues at Juilliard. But she and the IRS know I never paid her for mine.}

If you take into account that author and bio photos are not all-important, will not be decisive deal makers, and that professional photographers charge as little as $100 and as much as $3,500 a session—It becomes a matter of your financial situation. It was never in my budget, but everyone is different. You will be fine if you know a talented friend, at least until you begin to make enough money to take this expense as deductible from your taxes. Only you know the answer to that.

What makes a good author/writer photo is, to my mind, a photo that truly represents you. It looks like you, not you after a radical makeover. The setting tells the story of what you do, (Write? Illustrate? Edit?) and the facial expression says what you want to communicate. If a wide-tooth smile isn’t right for you, don’t. If wearing a professional blazer makes you look like a corporate attorney, not an artist, then don’t wear one. The photograph should say this is me, and, again, only you know the answer to that.

It is a good idea to have people who know you chime in. Things that matter not a bit for a bio picture bog us down. (Are my eyes green enough? Was I having a less that perfect hair-day? Is that a double-chin? A pimple?) Another pair of eyes will take in the overall feel, the “vibe” if you will, and help your choice.
But the right choice is the authentic you on a good day.

Articles of interest—

 Two snarky rants about clichés

And two that take it seriously and attempt how-to advice—


  1. Ummm. The photo request from my present editor (I have a pb to coming out in the fall) is for a 'recent' photo. I'm trying to decide if ten years ago can still be considered 'recent.'

    1. So long as you are recognizable, same hair etc., I say yes. One of the links says that it shouldn't be more than five years old, but the poster must be a young'un ;)

    2. P.S.
      My current photo is but three months old, but I may stick with it for the next ten years...

  2. I hate having to update my author photo. I really need to. :(

  3. I once asked to use a photo of ten-year-old me for my author pic in a novel, but the publisher declined, saying it might make readers think the novel was autobiographical (which it sort of is). I like when authors include pictures of themselves as kids in books.

    1. " I like when authors include pictures of themselves as kids in books"--

      Does younger and prettier count? ;D

  4. I am always disappointed if I cannot put a face to the name. I like faces, all of them :) and I esp. like photos of authors as kids.

  5. Great post, Mirka! I've wished I had a nice author photo. Some day!

  6. I like the authors as kids idea, too. Even though it hasn't been five years yet, I'm feeling funny about my author photo, like it's time for a change. I'll probably wait until I hopefully someday have a new book come out. Yours looks great, Mirka.

  7. I don't like taking pictures. And I always manage to find flaws in those I've been 'pressured' to take with family and friends. But when relaxed, they tend to turn out better than expected. You're right, too, Mirka, on that if I can't find a picture of an author or illustrator I like, I'd be slightly disappointed.

  8. If I HAD to use a pic of myself, I'd prefer using a headshot of Halle Berry. But I don't think that would go over too well in the legal arena.