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Author Photographs

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This is the second in a three part series about the author as a consumable part of the book. It’s a look at how readers respond to current marketing tecniques and why.   This series is more a reflection of the reader and the reader’s mindset and not meant to be a criticism of the authors themselves.   (As an aside, I find it interesting that no matter how many times I say this, some authors still take this as a personal attack.   It’s not, I swear.)

Off the top of my head, I can think of three authors whose publicity photos differ according to their pen name:


In these six publicity photos, a reader is being sent a different message. Essentially, in the first set, the authors are warm and friendly. In the second set, they all have an edge to them. Presumably the message here is that Bird, Roberts, and Silver write warm and friendly books. Their alter egos, Ward, Robb, Kenin all write books with an edge. The Shomi Girls’, by their dress, must write about women catering to the schoolgirl fantasy.

Which then begs the question–if an author is writing about sexy books, do we expect a sexy photograph? If they are writing women’s fiction about knitting, do we expect them to be sitting in a rocking chair with knitting needles?   Wasn’t it a huge comedown when you saw the ladies from AuthorTalk in their pajamas? Where’s the sexy in that?

Asked another way, do looks really matter in the publishing field?   Ron Hogan published an article in Writer’s Digest earlier this year that explored the anxiety of authors and their bio photos.   There is some suggestion that female authors in the lit fic section are more likely to get a book contract.    Lisa Selin Davis, author of Belly, suggested that  “Most of us, as we’re reading, flip back and forth between the text and the picture, trying to imagine the person in the photo in the midst of writing,” she says. “And most of us are drawn to beauty-‘more interested in folks who are attractive.”

I don’t know that I’ve ever bought a book because of an author’s publicity photo.   Photos are sometimes placed on the back covers instead of blurbs and then I’m just irritated by author photos because I love the back cover blurb.   (I actually think that in terms of ranking the attention getting nature of items within the book it goes 1) cover, 2) back blurb, and 3) first chapter).

So why are there author photos? Why are their author bios if so many people find them to be non influential in making a buying decision? Are author photos/ author bios a relic of marketing passed by or is it about creating brand/image? If it is the latter (and I suspect it is the latter), then what is the brand/image of a paranormal romance author? or an erotic romance author? Or a romantic suspense author? (I would laugh my head off if Roxanne St. Claire’s next author picture features her holding a gun).   Is the author photo just there to humanize the book?   I can’t tell actually.   Is it so that we can imagine that person, the author, sitting next to us telling the story?   

Katherine Taylor, author of Rules for Saying Goodbye, told Galley Cat this:   

“I haven’t had a very long career as a writer, but while I was publishing stories, and when I got this book contract [for RULES FOR SAYING GOODBYE, published last spring by  FSG] nobody knew what I looked like or who I was at all. My appearance had nothing to do with anything,” Taylor says. “But I’m not terribly concerned…The book is there, the book is always going to be there…I think the book stands on its own. All the noise surrounding it is just noise. I feel like whatever you have to do to get your book in the cultural conversation is all fair,” Taylor continues. “Because the bottom line is, you’ve put so much of yourself and so many years of your life into what you’re doing. The greatest tragedy would be if nobody noticed.”

I’m interested in hearing others’ opinions.   Do you like the author photo (some last week did not like the coy over the shoulder look or butterfly hands)?   If it was gone, would you miss it?   Why do you think it is there?   Would you buy a book based on what the author looked like?   If you were to rank the marketing items on a book, what are the biggest influences of purchase from 1 to whatever?   

If you are an author, how do you feel about the author photo?   If you could design the perfect author photo, what would it be?   I’m thinking if the point is to get noticed, I would pose provactively in the nude with my “naughty bits” hidden no matter what the topic would be and my titles would be things like “Copyright Law Stripped Down” and “No Shirt, No Shoes, No Problem: The eBook Reading Advantage.”

Jane Litte is the founder of Dear Author, a lawyer, and a lover of pencil skirts. She self publishes NA and contemporaries (and publishes with Berkley and Montlake) and spends her downtime reading romances and writing about them. Her TBR pile is much larger than the one shown in the picture and not as pretty. You can reach Jane by email at jane @ dearauthor dot com


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