Is the artist in the way of the art?

IS THE WRITER’S APPEARANCE A DETRIMENT TO HER OWN WRITING SUCCESS?

When I was growing up, books had plain covers (no representative art), and the only means of interaction between reader and writer were the words on the page.

I usually skipped things like Forewords, and if I read the author’s bio, it was a quick pass, more destined to reinforce his name than anything else, so if I liked the work I could find more by him.

To this day, I have no idea what Robert Heinlein looked like, and only know what Asimov looked like because he was a bit of a media hound (and I had him confused with Einstein, which would have tickled his fancy. I think.).

There are statues of Marcus Aurelius, in stone or bronze, I assume – never even thought to look.

Modern digital life has changed all that

It is almost annoying when an author goes to a great deal of trouble not to let readers know what she looks like.

I prefer actual current photographs for avatars.

It is a problem for those with multiple pen names.

And I wonder just how much it influences the readers, especially in some genres.

Should Romance writers be pretty?

Humans who have sight are very visual creatures. It is estimated (somewhere) that 80% of our energy goes to dealing with visual input.

We react negatively to ugly things – after millenia of evolution that correlated ugly things with things that were often bad for us, such as rotted animals or toxic snakes.

Other things, such as the thickness of the ankles of young women in countries where sunlight was insufficient part of the year – which is an indication of ricketts, a disease which might also have affected her other bones, and make her more likely to have problems in childbirth, have gotten folded into our standards of beauty: thick ankles = not attractive.

I notice the way authors present themselves (check out Kristin Hannah’s Amazon author page) – and wonder how much that affects her sales (she’s gorgeous, and that’s a great photo). Wonder how any others can compete.

Do readers wonder if any of what’s in the stories is based on experience?

What about opinionated authors?

What do you think of authors whose claim to fame includes a very solid amount of in-your-face-ness? Are you more likely to read their books?

I loved Rudyard Kipling stories; reading about his attitudes has put a bit of a damper on reading his books, and would make me think hard about gifting them to a grandchild if I had one.

I make judgments about people based on their appearance

All the time.

I also immediately catch myself at it now, and look at those judgments dispassionately to see how much might be true. I have managed to change my own opinions quite a bit by a continued practice, and no longer automatically make some judgments which used to bother me a lot because they were so automatic, and couldn’t possibly be true.

But I’m wondering if, in the race for sales, those who look good have an unfair advantage. Again.

At least in getting started in the race.

Choose how you present yourself online

Not suggesting this should change, but I can’t quite stop making those automatic judgments about the photos that people choose to represent themselves with on their author page. Or avatar. Or book cover.

The good thing is that it is usually just at a few places, say Amazon, FB, your blog, and they don’t get to see what you look like first thing in the morning.

I need to work on that.

Do you ever think about how you are influenced by what you ‘know’ about an author?

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10 thoughts on “Is the artist in the way of the art?

  1. joey

    I’ve lived long enough to know you can’t judge a book by its cover BUT I STILL DO IT, both figuratively and literally. It really is the insides that matter, so no, I don’t care what the writer, the musician, the painter looks like. Just make me think, feel, believe, dream.
    You’re an attractive woman, at least in the photo here. There’s an earth mother, hinting at something exotic, but can’t quite put my finger on it… Somewhat formidable, but the pink cheeks, the bright blue eyes, also friendly and familiar.
    Have you ever read a blogger for a REALLY long time and then found out what they look like? Shocking! No matter though.
    I don’t think until the social media age, I ever really looked at authors. What does Judy Blume look like? I dunno. Can’t picture her face, but I’ve read ALL her books, starting at age 7!
    I read 90% or higher women authors, half of which are non-white. But it’s not them, it’s the writing.
    These are good questions. I shall ponder more. And look at some back covers.

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    1. Alicia Butcher Ehrhardt Post author

      There’s only one problem: you don’t know about the WRITING when you are offered a new book or a new author.

      You get a few pieces of copywriting – ads – and a cover and a description. They may not even have been written by the author of the book, but you have to decide whether to try the book. If you even find out it exists in the first place.

      A list of genre details and tropes does NOT indicate the quality of the writing, or how YOU will like it.

      And all this is subjective. So the guidance in choosing also has to be evaluated.

      Try any category. Put a few keywords in – you will rarely find just one book popping up as a result of your search.

      And that’s where i get lost. Haven’t figured it out yet, except to try a whole bunch of things which supposedly work, and which didn’t work for me.

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      1. joey

        All valid points. Still, covers… not writers’ photos. Never chosen a book based on the writer’s appearance.

        There are few people who influence my reading choices — my mother, my dear friends Reta and HME, and a blogger here called Evelyne Holingue. I do occasionally pay attention to recommendations from the librarian 🙂

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  2. marianallen

    I AM influenced by what I know about a writer. Instance one: I’m especially blown away by your work because I know what the writing cost you AND because I know Kary’s struggles and triumphs are written from personal experience and I can trust them. Instance two: I won’t read anything by Anne Perry; I KNOW it’s unfair and that I’m probably missing some good writing, but I just can’t bring myself to it. Sometimes I can avoid knowing much about an author, and sometimes I can know something distasteful about the writer but still love the writing. Sometimes, it DOES affect me. Great question.

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    1. Alicia Butcher Ehrhardt Post author

      We are all affected. Some of us examine how much, and whether it’s a good thing, and how to change stereotypes if we want to.

      There are good people, and good readers in both groups – but the choices we make may turn away some readers who might have liked the actual writing, if they’d tried it.

      I’m sure there’s even a small group who react badly to liking the author.

      Marketing means appealing to different groups of people, unless you can afford to target a narrow group and still achieve your objectives (not everybody wants fame and money, etc.).

      I’ve gotten some interesting responses from my questions lately. Didn’t even realize I’m polling my blog readers this way; I thought I was just getting things off my chest!

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      1. marianallen

        I know many writers who say their family never reads their work. My mother, my husband, and #4 Daughter are the only family who read mine. It’s weird — The whole big family read #4 Daughter’s, but not mine. Me, I’ve hesitated to read work by people I like out of fear I’d think less of them if I didn’t like the work. I’m always wrong; I always think MORE HIGHLY of them.

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        1. Alicia Butcher Ehrhardt Post author

          To tell the truth, I expected a little more enthusiasm from the family and friends group; maybe that comes later, maybe it never does. How do J.K. Rowling’s relatives feel about Harry Potter? Or James Patterson’s about his system of designing books?

          But if someone doesn’t start the ball rolling, it’s a little hard on the ‘crazy’ author who has put a good deal of work into even a mediocre book.

          There is something about having written a book that cuts down to the primal level. I guess it puts people on notice that you have the power to put things into words, and that’s a dangerous power. And there will be the inevitable little bit here and there that only a sister might recognize as coming from (your shared) life.

          We can’t be deep and mysterious and sexy to people who also know we changed their diapers. ‘Too close for comfort.’

          It would be nice to find some enthusiastic support in some places, but the human dynamics are fraught: the artist is too closely identified with the art for the necessary detachment.

          Liked by 1 person

  3. Catana

    The only thing that influences me about reading or not reading a book is the book itself. I might not even remember the author’s name, much less care what they look like, or what their current reputation is. Maybe it’s because I tend to take a long view. 50 years or less from now, no one is going to remember the hysteria over sexual abuse (not that it isn’t an important issue) or who did what. The books that are worth remembering will be remembered — the sins of their authors will be pretty much forgotten unless someone drags them into the light. Just how long does it make sense to judge a work of art on its creator’s personal life? If that was the standard for judgment, probably most art of the past would have to be dumped in the trash or burned on bonfires.

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    1. Alicia Butcher Ehrhardt Post author

      I hope the subject of adult consent becomes a constant. It’s an area fraught with all kinds of fake signals and playacting, but it is also one in which force (many kinds) is often used by predators, and there need to be severe consequences to that kind of behavior. Sorry. That one I can’t budge on. Powerful men and women don’t get to use that power that way.

      As for the rest, some will remember, and others won’t. I will not read Marion Zimmer Bradley, for example – my reading time is limited anyway, and there is less tainted material I would read first.

      I have a long memory. I don’t particularlly hold grudges (I tell myself – I’m probably not that pure), but I can’t forget much of what I’ve heard, seen, or read.

      You’re right about the past art.

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