Do You Need an Author Photo?

Wednesday, August 24, 2011
Are you one of those people? You're in a book store, randomly grabbing hard covers and paperbacks off a shelf, based on the book cover, and then you either flip to the back cover or crack open the back of the book to sneak a peek at the author's photo?

Truth is, if you answered yes, you're probably not alone.

In today's publishing world, the author photo can be one of the most important pieces of the marketing equation. A 2009 NPR report claims a distinct relationship exists between an author and an author's photograph.

Or maybe not. In a Christian Science Monitor piece from the same year, book blogger Jessa Crispin says it's jarring to meet an author and realize they look nothing like their author photo.

Whether you plan to use a photo on your book's cover, with a freelance piece, or as promotional material, writers have plenty to consider:
  1. Dress for success: Think about the type of material you write. If you're reading a book about investing in today's market, would you trust a photo of a woman in business attire or will the blue-jeans-and-T-shirt gal draw your attention. A photo tells a story in one frame. What story are you attempting to tell?
  2. Black and white vs. Color: Which is most effective? I pulled books off one bookshelf, and came to a split decision. Thirty books showed black and white photos; the other thirty displayed author's in full color.
  3. Professional photo session: More than likely, an author will end of covering the cost of author photos. Do you need a professional photo session? Can a friend or significant other point and shoot your digital camera? Most computers come with digital photo editing
    software, which makes creating, cropping, and perfecting an author photo a click!
Let's dissect an author photo, pointing out the good - and bad - elements. Meet LuAnn. (That's me.)

Two positive elements of this photo exist. I chose to stand next to a noiseless background. It's an accentuating color and offers minimal distraction. Also, I selected to wear a solid color, which again, keeps the photo's noise level to a minimum.

Any negatives? If I could reselect a shirt, I'd choose something besides cream, especially since I'm fair-skinned and blonde. I'd also double check the room's lighting to make sure the shadow doesn't cause problems with the photo.

This was not a professional shoot. A friend snapped the picture with my digital camera and I sent the file to my editor, who worked her magic!

Once you've had your photos taken, ask for digital files in both low-res (72 DPI) and high-res (300 DPI). Low-res works best for online; high-res is used in printed formats.

Also think about updating your photo every few years. It will cut down on those awkward moments Crispin described. This photo is four years old and I've changed - just a bit - since then.

Do you use an author's photo? What tips can you offer?

by LuAnn Schindler


Beth MacKinney said...

Here are a few suggestions that will work even if you're using a point and shoot camera, since most people don't have or aren't quite sure how to use a more elaborate camera.

• Get the help of a friend who is into photography, even if he or she is not a professional. Take a look at some of their people photos in advance to see if you like them.

• Shoot your picture outside on a cloudy or slightly overcast day. This will help you avoid harsh shadows.
• For an outdoor shoot, bring a piece of white tagboard or foam board which can be angled toward your face to help reduce the contrast of shadows.
• During inclement weather, try shooting by a well-lit window without using a flash.
• Don't stand facing the camera directly. Turn to one side or the other at about 45 degrees and then turn your head to look toward the camera.
• Take a few shots in which you aren't looking directly the camera.
• Don't be timid about experimenting with sharing the limelight with a favorite pet.
• For more formal shots, if you're a business writer, think about what is going to be in your background. City buildings? A library? An office? Make the background work with you to communicate more about you.

Hope these help. : )

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