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.