Does your author photo scare the reader away? Here are 5 tips you need to get it right.

This is a guest post by Angela Scott

[jcolumns model=”2,1″]I love the part in Diary of a Wimpy Kid where Greg talks about Shel Silverstein's author photo on the back of his book The Giving Tree (click here to see what I mean). It scared him as a kid. I'm certain that wasn't Silverstein's intention (but it does make me laugh.) Poor Shel. Did you know he was often asked NOT to include his author photo? That's gotta make you feel awesome. I mean, you can't help what your face looks like.

But, I will tell you, I have seen some pretty awful author pics over the years of talking and interacting with other authors on various social networking sites. Some of the worst have to be authors who hold their arms out away from themselves and snap a picture–I can see your arm. I can. You're not fooling anyone.

Another big no-no would have to be an author photo cropped from a family group photo such as a wedding or crazy party where you can see parts of other people in the photo. I don't care how great you think you look in that photo; if I can see parts of other people, it makes the whole picture look amateurish. Sorry, but it does.

Oh, and for the love all things good in the world, please, please don't do a glam shot. They were cool once (or were they?) but they are SO outdated now.

You definitely should want to look your very best in your picture because this is the picture that will be with you for years to come, but don't stray too far from your everyday look. You want to be recognizable. You don't want your readers to do a double take.

So, here are some tips to help you have an awesome photo:
[jcol/] I can see the problem. Can you?

 

Kinda cool back in the 80's. Not so much now. Don't do it. [/jcolumns] [jcolumns model=”1,2″] Anyone who knows me knows that I HATE feet–hate them. So what the heck, Shel?

 

Are you trying to scare me into buying your book, Terry Goodkind? [jcol/] 1. Don't glare at the camera. And try to do your very best not to look like a serial killer. If you do happen to look like a serial killer, consider not including your photo–anywhere. You don't want people turned off from reading your book because of your face–cruel statement, I know.

2. Please watch your lighting.Some photos have a harsh tone to them as if you're in a dark room and the flash blasts you in brightness. It'll make you appear vampirish. Not good–unless you write vampire books. Then it could possible work in your favor. The reverse is also true: Watch your shadows and make sure you're not hiding in darkness. This could make it difficult to see who you are.

3. Do not wear bright, bold, patterned clothing.You're an author. This isn't a vacation trip to Hawaii. Also, make sure the items you chose to wear can withstand the test of time–anything that is trendy will be outdated in a few years.

4. Be careful not to be a floating head (like Terry GoodKind).
Dark background + dark turtleneck = not good. And no glaring at the camera. It's scary.

5. NO, NO, NO cleavage. This applies to guys as well 🙂

I guess my biggest bit of advice would be to have a professional picture done. If you can afford it, do it. This is how people will be relating to you, the author, so you want your picture to be as good as it can be, don't ya? I would think so.

My husband just so happens to be a photographer, and though my author picture might not be the best out there, I love it. I think he did a very good job, especially with the subject he had to work with 🙂 Actually, this photo means a lot to me.[/jcolumns]

The day we went to find an ideal spot to take some pictures ended up turning into one I will always remember. We laughed together, we joked together, we had a blast together as I shyly stood and tried not to feel stupid as I posed for my husband. Why should I feel embarrassed posing for my husband–I have no idea. I guess it made me feel like the young girl who first fell for the guy behind the camera, all giddy and girlie-like.

I think he did a great job. Whenever I look at my author photo, I remember that day and smile a little on the outside and a whole lot on the inside.

[jbox color=”platinum”]So what do you think makes a scary, horrible author picture? Does an author picture affect how you view an author's work? Does it pull you toward it or turn you off? What say you? I'd love to know.[/jbox] angelascottTiny fictional people sit on Angela Scott's shoulders and whisper their stories in her ear. Instead of medicating herself, Angela decided to pick up a pen, write down everything those voices tell her, and turn it into a book. She's not crazy. She's an author. For the most part, she writes contemporary Young Adult novels. However, through a writing exercise that spiraled out of control, she found herself writing about zombies terrorizing the Wild Wild West—and loving it. Her zombies don’t sparkle, and they definitely don’t cuddle. At least, she wouldn’t suggest it. Connect with Angela on Facebook, Twitter, Goodreads, and her blog.

Gale Martin

Nice article! And I like your tips AND picture very much, Angela. Your husband did a good job. If you have time to check out my profile pic and let me know what you think, I’d welcome your first impression. My website is http://galemartin.me

    Angela Scott

    Your profile pic looks awesome! You have nothing to worry about–professional and pretty 🙂

      Gale Martin

      Thank you, Angela, for taking the time to check out my photo!!! Great post.

Yvonne Hertzberger

So true. I often have to steel myself to get past a bad pic. And I really dislike avatars. Why are you hiding from us? We want to know the real you.

    Angela Scott

    Oh, the avatars! I totally forgot about those! Yeah, don’t do that. I know some people have an issue with body image (points at self) but there is a lot that can be done to get the best picture possible–angles and such.

    Just say no to avatars.

Janice Lane Palko

Angela:

I laughed when I read your opening paragraph. I had twins 25 years ago, and a relative bought them The Giving Tree. My daughter used to terrorize her twin brother with that photo of Shel Silverstein on the back. I can still see her holding the book out as if it were a weapon and her brother screaming and running. I could never understand how such a scary photo made it onto the cover of a children’s book.

Thanks for some great advice.

    Angela Scott

    That’s terrible (but hilarious). Poor Shel!

    Rachel

    Hi! I just want to let you know that what your daughter did wasn’t one of a kind. My sister (who is 7 years older than me) used to chase me around holding his face up to hers. That was 7 or 8 years ago. I’m 14 now and came across this article in search of anyone else who is afraid of him too. I hope your son isn’t as scared as me. I get panic attacks if I look at him for too long and instantly start shaking upon seeing his face. Just know that little childhood games can last a lifetime.

      Janice Lane Palko

      Hi Rachel:

      My twins are now 25 and they laugh about it. I hope you get over your “Shel cover fear” too!

Kelvin M. Knight

Great picture, Angela, hubby has done you proud. The article is great, too – nice blend of humour and gentleness touched with with seriousness. Much like your photo. Funny that.

    Angela Scott

    That’s exactly who I am–mostly humor and only a touch of seriousness 🙂 You were right on the money.

R. E. Hunter

I love your examples of what not to do.

I’m still struggling with the whole picture thing. I understand why people want to see other people’s pictures on their blogs, books, etc. But I have personal reasons for not wanting to be recognized by certain people. I know the odds are remote on the vast internet, but I’m not a gambler.

    Angela Scott

    I think there are very good reasons NOT to have a photo. If you’re trying to write under a pen name and don’t want to be recognized (for a variety of reasons) or whatnot, then it is perfectly fine not to post a picture. Also, if you’re scary, then don’t use a picture 🙂

    It’s those people who WANT to be seen who do a poor job of picture taking that need to read this article.

Lilian

haha, I remember seeing Shel’s author photo on the back of The End of The Sidewalk for the first time when I was in 2nd or 3rd grade…thought he looked like Osama Bin Laden. (hey, I was a kid, you judge people)

    Angela Scott

    You’re right–he kinda does! I feel bad for the guy, but I’m not sure how to help him (his smile is scary and his big feet are even worse). Maybe a picture from behind, or a profile pic, maybe?

Connie

Angela I love your portrait AND your glam shot. How exciting to be married to a photographer who may also be excited by very small things. Best,Connie

SuzanneG

Oh, Angela! I never thought about searching for tattoed men pics. Another thing to check off my list. And I really do have to do something about getting a good photo.

Great mix of humor and very helpful info… especially for the serial killers on the best-seller list. Do. Not. Include. Your. Photo. Love it!

Surazeus Simon Seamount

I love your author photo. I posed mine with a specific intention in mind and use it on my books on lulu.com and on my blog and facebook page.

Julie Jansen

ha ha! This is wonderful! Great post!

Nadia Scrieva

Hey, I love Terry Goodkind! 🙂 Hehe, thanks for the tips.

Josh

Hi Angela,
Great posts and nice tips. I took notes on them. Hopefully one day you’ll see my picture on my book 🙂

mark

Such a great tips you share.Thanks for sharing those pics and for your knowledge.

Wodke Hawkinson

Great article! Your pic looks very professional. We went to a photographer to get ours. Haven’t seen the finals yet. Keeping our fingers crossed.

Tara Lazar

My friend, children’s author Sudipta Bardhan-Quallen, just had a professional shot done and she looked so GORGEOUS in it I said it looked like the cover of VOGUE magazine. So then I made it into a VOGUE cover, LOL! Plan to post it to my blog later this week.

I am definitely going to her photographer now!!!

KT Banks

Oh, I just love this. So funny and yet so true. I put a lot of thought into my pseudonym, because I write mostly thrillers. I even did a lot of research into what men readers want in a book. I didn’t want to seem like a Romance writer, because that is not what I write.

Finally I had a picture taken that I thought would be good for my author photo that everyone kept telling me I HAD to have. It wasn’t until after I had it printed on books and on all my social networking that I realized that I was wearing a pink and white blouse, sitting in front of pink flowers – looking just like a Romance author.

Harlow Coban

Hahahaha! I had a really good laugh on a couple of the author pics. I sure hope no one looks at my pic and thinks I have Charlie Manson eyes. Lol. Well done. I thoroughly enjoyed this post.

Christian Yorke

Really depressed now. I’ve just spent £5 on a ‘full’ chest wax and now you tell me cleavage is a no no? Bummer.

C.

Well, as creepy as bad photos can be, I have to admit that I’m also never fond of dry-no-personality-smiles. If someone writes fantasy or horror, I’d rather they put some of their genre into it. Personal preference, I suppose.

Mary

Great article! Shel’s picture made me a little nervous as a kid.

I think the purpose of an author photo is to show the “man behind the curtain,” if you will. Maybe authors of vampire novels want to look dark and mysterious and otherworldly, but I’d much rather see a picture of the real person. I’m sure my own sunny day, smiley author picture sort of goes against my dark fantasy genre, but I feel like it represents me pretty well.

Joel Arnold

Nice article, and I’m glad I ran across it. I need to get a more professional picture taken for a newspaper article this week.

Michael J MacMahon

Thanks: like the post!
I have a default headshot, which I love and use for all kinds of purposes. It was taken by a professional but it was outdoors on a sunny day; the glasses I always wear have photochromic lenses, so they had gone dark.
Recently, two friends (one’s an artist, one an architect) saw the headshot and said “that’s a no-no with the glasses: people need to be able to see your eyes properly.”
Please have a look at my site and tell me if you agree with them, i.e. if I should invest in some new headshots.
Thanks
Michael

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