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 it’s 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 didn’t 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 you’re 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.