Creating and improving the dreaded Author Photo: Part 2


This is a toughie, because we would prefer to be attractive naturally (‘attractive’ here meaning strictly to find more readers who will like your writing), and then any picture would do.

So you have to instead suss out what those readers expect to see, and trust to produce the kind of writing they like to read.

You can go with mysterious, and skip all forms of visual presence. Your choice. Which will be destroyed if you ever get interviewed, do a book signing, go to a convention – and someone takes a photo of the ‘mysterious author’ and makes it public.

“But,” you say, “I never go out in public.” Like me. Okay, not never, just rarely. Maybe then it’s even MORE important to have a photo you like be your representative out in the world.

I’m sure it varies widely by genre, and a fresh-faced young beautiful blonde girl would lack the picture creds to write a really nasty military thriller conspiracy. We trust Stephen King to write horror – he LOOKS like he writes horror. We have these ideas in our head…

If you don’t look like the stereotype, can you modify yourself to look like the stereotype? No.

Can you modify your PHOTO to look like the stereotype? Yes.

Determining the stereotype requires a bit of detective work

Pride’s Children: PURGATORY is a mainstream contemporary literary love story.

Here’s my analysis:

  • The author of such doesn’t have to be as pretty as the author of a Romance (who should at least look a bit like her (usually young and beautiful) heroine).
  • She should be older than the ‘pretty young thing,’ but maybe not ‘old.’
  • She should be smiling. Love, after all, makes us happy. But not grinning.
  • She should NOT look like a business person, yet she should look competent. She will be your guide on an adventure.
  • She should be slightly soft, rather than hard.
  • She should not look deeply worried.
  • She should definitely not look realistic, warts and all.
  • She should be dressed in something that does NOT signal Romance or Romance writer (think of Meryl Streep in She-Devil with Rosanne Barr – go look; I’ll wait). Nor should she dress like Roseanne Barr on that poster (which is a parody of the Romance-reading suburban housewife). Roseanne Barr is a beautiful woman, and so is Kathy Bates, but they have made a career out of allowing themselves to be portrayed as ugly or frumpy – I’ve been startled by how well they clean up!

How does this translate to what I hope to aim for in the Author Photo?

Plan to ‘airbrush’ or ‘retouch’ the heck out of anything I choose. This is not the time to be starkly realistic.

Plan to pick a background to enhance the person; here’s the Kristin Hannah photo on Amazon – if I looked like her… but older? A really good makeup session, and a really good photographer would do that for me. The choice of clothing and the background combination bring out her eyes beautifully.

A forward-facing but slightly un-centered and three-quarter body position is better than one squarely facing the camera, like a mug shot or a photo for a job application.

Look directly at the reader. Readers need to be able to trust the writer of an improbable tale.

Smiling, but not grinning.

No plastic hair for this – enough said? Soft, flowing, but tidy, a frame for the face. This part is me: no bangs/fringe. Not too much hair obscuring the face. No hint of hiding.

And, of course, the EXPRESSION – the overall ‘feel’ of the image – has to be right. And no, I can’t define ‘right’ in this context; I hope I’ll know it if I see it. It’s not just ‘pretty’ or ‘confident’ or ‘competent.’

It’s the same reason I licensed the photo for the cover that I chose: I could not find another that had the right ‘expression’ as a whole – and that one worked for me, though in that case the face is not visible – it’s the whole body and body position that expresses the longing.

Okay now – skillset? Acquire or farm out?


*** This is how a PWC* is doing this, not how you should if you want a beautiful photo. ***

I thought about going to fiverr for the retouching after I picked out a photo with a suitable expression. There are a lot of people there who will retouch for a very reasonable fee, and the portfolios I saw were impressive.

Maybe I’ll go there later, if Richard Avedon still doesn’t live in Hamilton, NJ.

For me, it’s always the balance between how much energy it takes to set up and work with another person, usually a healthy, energetic person. But more importantly, people with their own ideas and opinions, whom you hire because of those, are not going to get exactly what you want without a good deal of back and forth over a suitable period of time. And it would take a lot of time to vet the portfolios, and go through the whole process with several people. I might be surprised and pleased – the same way I might be surprised and pleased with some of our local photographers – but I don’t have a history of success in that department.

Maybe I’ll just send the picture I choose, pay three or four people, tell them ‘glamorous,’ and see what comes back. Still sounds like a lot of work.

I don’t have a friend who just had a gorgeous head shot taken.

I don’t live near my sisters, or their hairdressers.

Pixelmator and Youtube to the rescue!

With the caveat that the best way to get a great picture by retouching is to start with a very good picture that is almost what you want, but needs a little enhancing and cleanup – and I lack said good picture – I located online, free, available any time (my kind of energy saving), a series of videos giving me exactly the tools and instruction I need, and which I am learning, taking notes on, and starting to follow.

As usual, I talk/write too much, so I’m going to cut the ‘goal’ post off here, and write the rest as I try to achieve my goal: to look like me as you should see me, not as the cold harsh light of day does.

Your place to dump the insecurities that make this dreaded – from the Author Bio post comments, I assume many other authors (and normal people) have the same problem, or I wouldn’t be posting this!

*PWC: Person with CFS (chronic fatigue syndrome).

Also, thanks to Stencil for the free account I’m using to do the images at the beginnings of my posts. They have paid accounts if you need more than an occasional image.


35 thoughts on “Creating and improving the dreaded Author Photo: Part 2

  1. Pearl Kirkby

    These two posts on author photos (and ALL of the wonderful comments!) have been great fun and so informative. As a matter of fact, I visit your blog nearly every day😊

    Have a fabulous upcoming weekend!


      1. Pearl Kirkby

        Getting cable and/or internet is on my to-do list so I can download and try some of the programs I’ve heard about.

        Isn’t Danielle a beauty, though?! I do envy her energy. I’ve not been able to get on her vids yet because of slow data speed, but am looking forward to checking out her “tutorials’ about research and photo editing.

        I hadn’t thought about the channel perhaps being too busy. Sorry about that.


        1. Alicia Butcher Ehrhardt Post author

          That explains it – she is lovely and very energetic. I didn’t realize you didn’t have internet! Not everyone spends as much time as I do on the computer.

          I thought I kept up with the digital world, in my small way. Several things lately tell me it’s moving away from me faster than I expected.

          Getting older isn’t for sissies, I tell you. It’s a job in itself.

          Liked by 1 person

        2. Pearl Kirkby

          Well, in a sense, I do have internet, but only intermittently. At the start of my monthly, full 5G data period, I open up a hotspot on my phone, strictly for my laptop. I usually get about 5 days of high enough speed to “run” my access, then for the remaining 3 weeks, I use just my phone browser to keep up with email, social media and research. I try to schedule WP posts ahead of time so that all I have to do is edit for updates; of course, I’ve always tried to do that even when I do have regular access.

          Pre-retirement, I stayed online for business (I was a writer for the company I worked for) and to maintain my other 4 blogs, only now that I’m between retirement and the onset of benefits, I had to cut costs wherever I could. But come August, it’s ON!


        3. Alicia Butcher Ehrhardt Post author

          I understand – you aren’t the only one to more or less live on her phone.

          I have a smart phone (not very smart, and rather slow), but don’t use it. My daughter’s iPhone is her life.

          Mostly I’m in the desk chair, at the computer.

          Liked by 1 person

        4. Pearl Kirkby

          I MUCH prefer working on the computer. I like to ‘tweak’ my blog/websites and trying to add code from the ph can be brutal. And my computer is my library when I can’t get to the physical building.

          Liked by 1 person

    1. Alicia Butcher Ehrhardt Post author

      Nobody has to do this. It’s just that I’m trying to show as few differences from other writers of books which might be liked by the same readers – and they’re used to seeing a picture of the author on the Amazon Author page, and mine is, shall we say, a little dowdy?

      It’s more on the, “I think I should do this, so I should get a blog post out of it,” line.

      You can borrow any picture you want – just credit it.

      Liked by 1 person

      1. Pearl Kirkby

        😁 I was kind of making fun of my own poor quality picture…hence all of the “ermm…ummm….uhhh”s!!

        I think your picture is very nice; “glam shots” are fine but when I look at an author’s pr photo, I often wonder what the author is really like. I know I’m in the minority, but I like everyday action shots!

        Regarding your created pictures, though…you did a lovely job. It would be nice if that program was mobile friendly, though. It’s very slow going downloading programs on my computer….low data speed, you see😠!


        1. Alicia Butcher Ehrhardt Post author

          I like your picture, Pearl. It is whimsical.

          If you’re referring to my current picture, it is interesting in that the software programs can’t pick out the face from the background. Humans, 1; software, 0.

          I’m TRYING to get my act in gear to work on the ‘glam’ shot – or rather the ‘doesn’t turn everyone off’ shot. For a serious writer, a whimsical snapshot shows non-seriousness – and I have enough marks against me by being older, indie, and non-photogenic to want to improve the snapshot. For most people, the author photo is irrelevant. For a few, it matters. Maybe I don’t want those few in my readership, or maybe there are a lot of people on the fence who would slide down on my side if they thought I was serious about writing. Dunno.

          I like your picture – the black and white gives it a nice feel.

          Liked by 1 person

        2. Pearl Kirkby

          Oh believe me, I’m non-photogenic to the max, but in my youth I was pretty vain…vain enough to find my “good side”, best lighting and ideal angle! If you saw my Amazon, blog or basically almost ALL photos, you’d notice my chin/jawline is usually obscured by either a cupped hand, a book or even a laptop lid!!

          HORRID, cockeyed jawline!!😄😄

          By the way, I don’t think your picture portrays you as dowdy…only that you seem comfortable in your own skin. To be sure, I wouldn’t complain if I still cut the appearance of the sensual young woman I once was (who would?!), and yes, I want to look my best (who doesn’t), but I’m old! (And I LIKE being old, decrepit, wrinkled and grey…such FREEDOM!!!!) But yeah – I’m still vain enough that I hide a lot in my author photos😄😄😄


        3. Alicia Butcher Ehrhardt Post author

          Someone said, about actor head shots, retouch the hell out of them.

          I will retouch my chosen photo to within a millimeter of credibility. No if about that.

          If all I see of someone is a superbrief glance at their author photo, I will notice many things, and wonder why they didn’t care enough to do something else in about half the cases. Maybe 5% are really good.

          I will schedule the good one when I’m selling well enough to afford it.

          Liked by 1 person

        4. Pearl Kirkby

          Oh! I meant to mention: Danielle Esplin (“Give It Back”) has added a YouTube channel to her author sites. One of her most recent videos is about photo-editing, which she has done on some of her own photos. She has links to her video posts in her web/blog site:

          Maybe it can provide a temporary solution until you find a photographer?!


        5. Alicia Butcher Ehrhardt Post author

          Thanks for the link – I have several, and I’m trying not to let this one thing take up the rest of my natural life, but it’s better to have a recommendation than to go wandering forever around the web.

          Liked by 1 person

        6. Alicia Butcher Ehrhardt Post author

          DEAR Pearl,

          That beautiful young lady with cheekbones/model/dancer/cheerleader with the peppy music and the video blog is a bit more than I can handle.

          I don’t work with music – which I love – because I can’t. Anything that diverts energy, takes that energy away from whatever I’m trying to do. One of the many inconveniences of CFS.

          She doesn’t need retouching. Wish her much success with her writing.

          Liked by 1 person

        7. Pearl Kirkby

          I just like your WP ‘About’ photo, although I can see how it might be difficult to ‘recognize’ facial features (it’s a fairly bright picture). You simply have a lovely smile and wonderful bearing in it.

          My own grey hair always looks best against the old oak tree trunk or the dark green of the plants in my yard, under the canopy of the trees (the dappled shade of which also disguises my wrinkles!).

          (s i g h…) if I’m honest, I’d love to have a professional one made, but it will be quite some time before my wallet will bear it either. So in the meantime, I’ll continue to hide my chin, smile with my mouth closed, dab on some shadow and mascara, perch my glasses on the end of my nose – a la’ “School-marm” – and hope my kids will catch me in a decent light and an acceptable pose now and then!

          Or use one of my crazy-old-lady shots that my kids get a kick out of😁


        8. Alicia Butcher Ehrhardt Post author

          It’s close enough to what I look like on a random day when I’ve been out and around and someone points a camera at my daughter, whom I’ve cut out of the picture. My face is in shadow in an odd way. At high resolution it’s not too bad, but at low resolution the lack of initial quality really shows – is that a shadow? Or my nose?

          I’ve given up depending on other people – they never seem to be available when I have the energy – and all the photos they’ve ever taken do not show off my good side! I’m sure I have one somewhere.

          See, if I don’t actually get an expensive pro to do this, I can hold that illusion. And I’m going to. As long as I can.

          Thank you for the compliments – much appreciated. At least it’s not helmet hair. At my age, a lot of women have succumbed to helmet hair. I think it’s because the quality of hair changes. I use Ultimate 10 by Pantene, which makes my hair soft and hair-like. LOTS of their conditioner, and my hair feels like the hair I had as a teen. I hate old-lady hair.

          Liked by 1 person

        9. Pearl Kirkby

          “Old lady hair”…that’s why I don’t cut mine anymore! The white grey is straight and cottony fluff, the tint-ish grey is wavy and feels like hair and I still have 8 or 9 dark locks which actually curl, but are as coarse as in my youth…I try to mingle them but sometimes the effort is an epic fail! The only stuff that really helps is so costly, I’d have to start working at the post office again to afford it 😄

          Ahhh, but the solids from coconut milk…good for about 6 hrs!


        10. Alicia Butcher Ehrhardt Post author

          A lot of women cut their hair very short at this stage, but that requires a lot of maintenance. I can cut my own short, and then keep it under some kind of control, during the non-humid months. I end up with a head of curls more appropriate to a toddler (and VERY comfortable) if I don’t blow it dry when short – who knew it would go from completely straight to curly when it went gray. But in the summer – aargh!

          Maybe there’s something to the hijab idea.

          Liked by 1 person

    1. Alicia Butcher Ehrhardt Post author

      The goal is, at every step, ‘better’ and no more than that. Better than the previous photo. Better than the one that makes my neck look like… Better than the one that doesn’t bring out my eyes because of the horrible background. Better than the picture with the too-shiny forehead.

      And it is how I see myself if I stand in front of the mirror, twist my head a bit, and then smile – because that’s me – as opposed to how someone catches me in a candid or posed shot.

      I am not defining perfection, nor aiming for it. The world gets along perfectly well when we each decide how we look and what we can manage with the time and resources available to us.

      But I can look at my own photos objectively, and see they could use a little improvement – and think that it might have the same effect on a reader as other authors’ photos have on me. There is many a woman whose book I haven’t read not because she has ‘helmet hair’ in her picture, but because it is a particularly egregious form of helmet hair, and in real life I don’t usually like the people who haven’t changed their hairstyle in twenty years. It indicates a certain lack of flexibility – I expect their prose to have the same lack.

      And there’s many a male author whose work I don’t read because his whole online persona doesn’t work for me – he’s projecting something I don’t like, and I’m not going to read his work because I’m sure, from checking these things out for years, I won’t like the underlying principles.

      I can and am wrong. But I have limited amount of time and energy to push away the whole message someone is sending, to see if they reveal their softer side in their fiction, and I like it. Things were a bit better in the past for the authors who didn’t have their pictures out there. I have no idea what John D. MacDonald looks like – and I still love Travis McGee.

      Am I prejudiced? Yes. So are all the readers in the world. If I can use that to encourage the readers who ultimately like my fiction, I’m doing no more than every advertiser on the planet. I use what I have available. And laugh, and say, “You got me!” to those who penetrate the facade.

      Gak! So wordy!

      Liked by 2 people

        1. Alicia Butcher Ehrhardt Post author

          Thank you, my dear. I always forget that everyone has the option of NOT READING. Hehe.

          Thoughts come to me with layers and ramifications and tendrils and threads and complex relationships – maybe that’s why it’s so hard to let go and get them out of my mind.

          Writing the posts here clears a lot of that out – so I can write other stuff, notably fiction, where my constraints are the opposite: every word left in must somehow count, do multiple tasks such as advance the plot and provide characterization and show the theme and at least not give a lie to the literary quality… And that tightness can tighten up the writing muscles so much that nothing can emerge.

          Some people free-write for a while each morning. That has never appealed much to me, writing in a journal that will then not see the light of day much. I was made for digital.

          Francis Bacon said, ‘Writing maketh an EXACT man.’ The practice of writing non-fiction (MOST of my blog posts) requires attention and awareness (whether I stop and tighten it there or not).

          Liked by 2 people

    1. Alicia Butcher Ehrhardt Post author

      Ack! ‘nice, rather scholarly lady’ Ack!

      Hope I can do better for places other than my blog. I may BE that, but that’s not how I SEE myself. Darn this disconnect.

      In front of a cathedral, by a park, by the river? Touristy area. SO many windows. Near a trolley. And a place where you could buy souvenirs. Brain fails me. NOLA, yes. Police station, no.

      Liked by 1 person

  2. Janna G. Noelle

    You’ve put a lot of thought into your author photo (my favourite part was “She should not look deeply worried.”)

    I don’t have such a photo yet since, as mentioned previous, I’m not yet an author. But since I’m blessed with an abundance of energy, I foresee no problems arranging for hair, makeup, photographer, and retouching when the time comes. I even know some people who would probably give me the friend discount to snap and retouch the picture. But even if they don’t, I’ll pony up for everything because, regardless of whether it helps sales or not, I want to look good in that picture. It will be immortalizing an important moment in time for me.

    For now, I just need to focus on not turning ugly over the next couple of years. 🙂 Luckily, I seem to be getting more photogenic with age. I think I have a better sense now of how my facial features naturally hang and how to better compose them without needing to see in a mirror.

    Liked by 1 person

    1. Alicia Butcher Ehrhardt Post author

      Sometimes I put the thought in, write it all out, and can’t finish the deed – I know what to do, but can summon the will or the energy. Maybe tomorrow I will have the energy for the Youtube video – so I don’t have to figure out the pieces of the retouching process.

      How do you do it? Eyes first – or last? Do you cut the pieces out – ears, nose, eyes, mouth, and polish each one and then put it back on the face which meanwhile has had the skin smoothed and the blemishes removed and the shine on the forehead dulled? Does it look like a clown face if you do it? Can I add eyelashes? I wish I HAD eyelashes or could tolerate fake ones – mine are stubby and blonde. I am going to try different lip colors, since I never use lipstick, and wonder what I’d look like with it!

      The video guy removed the red-eye and the blemishes and then made a copy of the photo and used a Gaussian blur. Sounds yummy! I think I’ve seen some of these steps before, on a Photoshop tutorial; Pixelmator is similar, but not the same, and with fewer tools and filter and effect.

      Liked by 1 person

  3. Catana

    Honestly, just reading this makes me tired. For someone with so little energy, you manage to make me feel like a real slacker. But I can understand your reasoning, and I’m also guessing that you enjoy the challenge of learning to do something brand new. As I do when I have the energy and I’m not running in all directions at once. You are a much more self-disciplined person than I am, but I’ve never been pushed as hard as you have.


    1. Alicia Butcher Ehrhardt Post author

      I push myself – wherever and whenever I can – and pay for it if I go too far.

      But these post aren’t THAT hard – they are part of my process of getting that stuff OUT of my head, and down on the page in a semi-organized fashion, so I can think about something else, and so I can have a record of what I did.

      Readers get a whiff of all the time and work that goes in, I get a blog post and meet nice people like you, and there is a record. I often look up my own posts to remember how to do something.

      Rereading what I wrote brings back a lot of the part I didn’t write – serving as a way to get back in a mindset.

      It’s literally necessary – you can probably do most of this kind of thing in your head, but I can’t.

      The alternative is to learn something – and forget it.

      Non-fiction forces me to be organized about a piece of writing/publishing.

      And I can do everything in little pieces, here and there, after figuring out a little piece, rather than in some really organized way. The blog format makes it LOOK better than it is.

      Liked by 1 person

      1. Catana

        I wish I could do that stuff in my head, but I have a memory like a sieve. Writing has become my memory, and even then it’s useless unless I categorize or tag it somehow so it’s searchable. Blog posts are usually easy to toss off unless my head wants to go into silent mode. It’s your decision to do things like learn to tweak a photo that impresses me. I don’t do nearly as much of that kind of thing as I used to. I’d like to start publishing to print as well as digital, and I know darn well, I’m going to do the formatting, etc., myself, but I dread it. At one time it would have been an interesting challenge; now that kind of things exhausts my patience and ability to focus.


        1. Alicia Butcher Ehrhardt Post author

          If you already produced the ebook, your source is clean.

          Then use whatever bits you need to change from whatever you normally use to create a pdf – and you’re halfway there.

          I like doing the pdf to go to CreateSpace, but you can even upload Word, and then just check what they did to you. I like doing the pdf myself (I go Scrivener to Word to pdf), because the pdf is ‘camera-ready’ – and the changes don’t get added after I’m satisfied requiring a complete other proofing.

          I wrote a bunch of posts about print and formatting; maybe something in there will be useful.

          As to the attitude, remember, if I don’t do it myself, I have to find, pay, and supervise someone – and they will have trouble with my slowness. It’s become sort of fun – I never thought I’d get to decide how a book should look on paper.

          I’m also doing this to keep kicking new neurons into the production lines as the old ones die off: when I find myself slacking off, I’m terrified it’s the beginning of the decline, so I push myself a bit. So far, so good.

          Liked by 2 people

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