Thursday, August 1, 2013

10 Tips for Taking an Author Photo: Cleavage, Pets, and More

So I received an email from Goodreads the other day. I’m on some of their email lists; I think this one was a weekly “Look What’s New” kind of mailing. Lots of featured books, all linked up so you could buy, rate and discuss them. And I happened to notice a photo of an author, along with a blurb about her new book. In the photo, she’s leaning over in a low-cut blouse and I thought: “Wow. Cleavage. Really?” I mean, authors should aspire to some level of decorum, shouldn’t they? This was an author I had heard of, and I thought she wrote romance novels, which she does. Also, she dabbles in YA Paranormal and Middle Grade series. So I guess a little cleavage is OK, considering. I did spot another disturbing photo on her website, though, in which she wears a bit of a costume and is sprawled (SPRAWLED!) on a carpeted floor. Catlike.

The question of what is appropriate for an author photo probably ranges as far and wide as the types of humans populating the planet, but can’t we all agree on some criteria? The reason I haven’t mentioned the name of the décolletage-baring author is because, well, I’m not exactly in a position to start making enemies among the bestselling authors of the world. I’d like nothing better than to cut and paste some HILARIOUS author photos and riff on what makes each one horrific. But again…must make friends, not enemies. Besides, it’s been done. Here, and here. Instead, I offer some general, example-less suggestions if you’re considering having your photo taken for promotional materials. These are based on photos I’ve seen of authors who again, will remain nameless. And of course, all suggestions are my own and can be ignored. 

1)      Be modest. No bikini shots, no matter how your abs look. No short skirts. Men: no hairy chests.

2)      Don’t be too stylish. Wear something basic with perhaps a small flare to show your personality. That very-trendy-hot-pink-and-cheetah-print-wide-lapel-silk dress may be quite the thing this year, but chances are some day, you’ll think it silly or loud or just not what you’re into anymore.

3)      Do not include your pets in your author photo. Unless you write about animals. Even then, I wouldn't.
    4)      Do not use props in your photo. No guns, cigarettes or pens. Please, no pens. Also, no manual typewriters. You may very well use one, but it’s become a cliché.
    5)      Do not use a blurry photo. This would seem like a no-brainer, but there is a certain best-selling author who has a very low quality photo as her main author picture. I don’t know much about pixels or jpgs or whatever, but this one looks like it was taken with a Polaroid.

6)      Look at the camera in your photo, not off into the middle distance. You’ve seen these photos where the author is gazing away and we’re given his mug in profile. This always strikes me as aloof, as if the author had something better to do.
7)      Keep your author photo updated. I always thought vanity was the reason why many authors have photos many years outdated. Now I realize it may just be a matter of having the time and ambition to retake them. Still, it’s silly when a 70-year-old author has a book jacket photo decades old. Better to go without a photo at all, I say.

8)      Don’t let photographers talk you into silly nonsense. If she wants you to sprawl on the floor (sprawl!) and make a cat-like pose, tell her you’d rather not.

9)      If you’re sitting, sit up straight. I feel like your mother here but honestly, you’d be amazed how many slouchers I’ve seen in author photos. Square your shoulders. Inhale.

10)   Choose a location that means something to you. If you do, chances are you’ll be more comfortable, relaxed, and look like your true self.

When it comes right down to it, you have to go with your own instincts and personality and really, it’s only a photo. But in this virtual footprint, cyber-over-exposed world, it may stay with you for a very, very long time.


  1. I don't know who you are referring to, but cleavage seems not so okay for a middle grades author, even if she also writes romance (unless the pennames and pictures are different).

  2. True! Good point. I guess I was thinking in terms of the romance side of her and no...I believe same names! This just confirms my suspicions...cleavage probably not OK!

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