Tuesday, November 30, 2010

A Thousand Words

by G.M. Malliet

The other day on a writers' listserve the question was asked: Does a writer really need an author photo for the jacket of his/her book? As I recall, the poser of the question (no pun intended) was reluctant to provide her publisher with a photo--either out of modesty or privacy concerns, not because she had two heads or something. I didn't participate in the discussion because, frankly, my immediate thought was, Yes, of course an author needs a photo! It wasn't until I thought about it later, though, that I wondered if that were really true.

I have bought hundreds of books without knowing or caring what the author looked like.  I tend to buy books based on reviews, and the occasional recommendation of a friend with similar tastes to mine. Unless its a self-help book (Lose ten pounds and ten years!) what the author looks like seems hugely irrelevant.

Having picked up a book while bookstore browsing, I will probably idly flip to the photo on the back. I don't recall ever buying a book on the basis of the photo, however. I may have been turned off if I'm wavering over the purchase and the author looks just a tad too pleased with him/herself, or certifiable, or vaguely illiterate.

I had a lot of fun with author photos in my second book, Death and the Lit Chick, so I may just be asking for it here in asking you to help me decide on mine. But my new editor has asked for a black-and-white for my first book in a new series, and I'm just plain tired of the color photo I've been using. (What was I thinking, with the pearls, anyway? Yikes!) This time, I didnt want to go for a studio portrait. I just wanted to be, well, myself, wearing pretty much what I wear when I write. No pearls.

This posing business is all much trickier than it appears. First requirement, I would say, is that the author somehow look like a writer rather than a professional ice skater, for example. Many authors fulfill this need by holding a pen or sitting at a computer, although I would maintain that holding a Starbucks cup would be more authentic. Second, the photo should be appropriate for the type of writing the person does--a children's author should probably not scowl, for example. A thriller writer should look thrilling.

And again, while the photo may not cause someone to buy a novel, it should not actively discourage a sale, either. This is someone in whose company youre going to be spending at least a few hours, after all.

Here are the results of my photo shoot. Please cast your vote for 1, 2, 3, or 4 below.







23 comments:

Julia Buckley said...

I'm fond of close-ups, but I think you look very pretty in all of them, and the background is great. But I vote for the close-up shot.

Cecile said...

The second one, closer with the trees. Very good.

EP said...

I vote for the close-up, too. I like the background with the tree limbs and the expression on your face.

Lois Winston said...

Definitely go with the trees background. The brick wall reminds me too much of a mug shot background for some reason. Although...given that you write mysteries, that might not be such a bad idea.

And BTW, I have a sneaking suspicion that only other authors and would-be authors bother looking at author photos or reading dedications and acknowledgements in books. I can't remember ever doing so until I started writing. It would be an interesting exercise to go into a bookstore and poll the customers about this.

Barbara Monajem said...

My vote goes for the close-up, too.

Lisa Bork said...

I agree, the second one.

The only author photo I recall noticing was John Grisham's, and he did look pretty pleased, for good reason, no doubt.

Janet Rudolph said...

I would go with the first one, but crop it, so you only have the wall behind you.

They're all good, though

Brenda B. said...

I like the second one. Your smile is warm and the background is lovely.

Elizabeth Spann Craig/Riley Adams said...

The 2nd one! But they're all good. :)

queenie said...

Close-up; trees. If you want, we can do some more when you're here next week - lots of trees, and/or maybe a fireplace? There is always that picture of you and you-know-who with the rose. . . . [grin]

G.M. Malliet said...

Queenie - was that the one where he had the rose between his teeth? Oh, my. Possibly not the sophisticated look I was aiming for ;-)

Alan Orloff said...

Number two, with tree.

Keith Raffel said...

Where is Cecil Beaton when you need him? Anyway, unlike anyone else so far, I cast my vote for #3. Good luck.

Darrell James said...

Call me a "traditionalist" but I like to see author's photos. It may not close the sale, but it makes me feel like there was actually a real person behind the writing.

I like #3 best.

Sue Ann Jaffarian said...

The second one, Gin.

Sandee said...

Yeah, the close up.

G.M. Malliet said...

I kind of prefer 2 (close-up) or 3, myself. My husband prefers 3. But I might just say to hell with it and email them Tasha Alexander's photo.

Cricket McRae said...

I like #3 -- feels casual and smart. The close-up is great, but I find the background a bit busy.

Diana said...

Gin - you have the more natural smile in #2 and #4 (more warm and friendly). Hopefully you'll crop whichever shot you go with (the crossed arms are a bit off-putting).
Good luck with the decision!

Alice Loweecey said...

Another vote for the trees. And your smile is indeed lovely.

Jess Lourey said...

I love photo number two, but I write that as someone who looked like Dorothy Hamill in her first author photo. So much for not looking like professional skaters.

Kathleen Ernst said...

I like number 2.

And BTW, I always like more natural shots than studio portraits! Makes an author seem more accessible, somehow.

G.M. Malliet said...

The second one is looking like the winner, hands down. Sorry there's no prize ;-) But thanks to you all for your input. Much appreciated.