If you’ve read my Business of Writing column in Writing Magazine (and I hope you have), you’ll know that from time to time I chat to other writers to gather their thoughts and expertise on a subject. Right from the start of the column (and for those of you who are counting, I’m just putting the finishing touches to the 52nd article), the editor asked me to obtain head-and-shoulder photos of the writers from whom I obtained quotes. (Perhaps he wanted to check that I wasn’t just making up the quotes, or the people 😝.)
Anyway, at times, that has been an interesting exercise. While some authors, who’ve had the benefit of being traditionally published and the luxury of having an official author photo taken, have supplied not only a relatively decent photo, but also one of a high enough quality for reproduction purposes in a magazine, others have been a little more challenging.
And it doesn’t matter whether you’re traditionally published, or self-published, an author photo is a necessity these days. You don’t even need to be an author – many writers need photos these days. I regularly have to supply a head-and-shoulders photo to accompany my articles (check out my latest piece in BBC Countryfile magazine). And if you regularly read some of the fiction-containing women’s magazines, you’ll see some writers being spotlighted in those with a photo, too.
So it doesn’t matter what you write, somebody, somewhere, will want to know what you look like.
To Pose, Or Not To Pose?
What makes a great author photo is up for debate. Should you dress up? Should you pose awkwardly? Should you ignore your background so readers think you have a Victorian streetlamp growing out of the top of your head? The choice is yours. A good idea is to relax, smile and try not to look like a criminal suspect who’s about to be interrogated by the police. Act natural. (Oh, if only writers knew how to act natural.)
Professional, or Artisan?
If you want to hire a professional photographer, that’s fine. If you want your next door neighbour’s cat to take your photo on your smartphone, that’s fine too. Having an author photo is better than having no photo at all.
Do some research. Look at other authors’ photos. Open books and turn to the inside flaps of jackets where photos often hide. Browse authors’ websites to see what they do. Check out the This Month’s Contributor sections of magazines. Often what you’ll see is a head and shoulders shot. Well, who’s interested in an writer’s feet, anyway? It’s not as if we write with them, is it? (Although, if you do write with your feet then perhaps you should include them in your photo.)
A head and shoulders shot is generally all that is required, because all readers want to see is your face. Some even want to see you smile.
The great thing about today’s cameras and smartphones is that they’re all capable of taking a decent, high quality, publishable photo. So if you want to get a friend or relative to take your photo on their smartphone, or their compact camera, you can. I took my own photo. I set up my camera’s ten-second timer delay, pressed the button and then hurried into position and waited … and waited … and waited. Ten seconds can be a flipping long time when you’re waiting. But it captured something half decent. (I’m talking about the photo itself, rather than the subject model.) You might recognise it from seeing it elsewhere on this website. (Well, once you’ve endured the pain of having a photo taken, why do it any more than you have to?)
Avoid Specific Book Promotion
Avoid photos promoting specific books. If you hate having your photo taken, a simple head and shoulders pose has longevity and works for many different projects.
Think about your environment. Plain backgrounds work best. There may be skill in balancing a hanging basket of daffodils on top of your head, but it won’t sell books.
Avoid awkward poses. Less is more. Don’t know what to do with your hands? Don’t have them in your photo. A head and shoulders pose works best.
Avoid Authorial Props
Postbox eats author’s hand? Steer clear of authorial props, such as keyboards, notepads and pens, or wine glasses. Author photos are about you, not your props.
Holiday Faux Pas
Blurred holiday snaps are unprofessional (it was a good night, though), as are cropped photos with a stranger’s arm wrapped round your neck. Author photos are a professional business tool.
Look The Reader In The Eye
Engage with your reader. Gazing straight down the camera lens conveys confidence and respect. Looking elsewhere suggests you’re more interested in something else and not the reader.
Avoid Low Resolution Images
Magazines need high resolution images to print at 300 dots per inch. Internet images (72dpi) become pixelated and completely unusable. A file size of at least 1Mb offers editors flexibility.
Don’t Forget To Smile
A simple high resolution head and shoulders photo, with no hands, props or poses, creates an engaging and professional image. And if you can manage a smile, even better!
For more advice about author photos and understanding the difference between low resolution and high resolution images, download my free factsheet here.