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The Life Authorial: How to take a great author photo

The Life Authorial is a series of posts sharing firsthand tips learned on the journey toward publication. 

 
Image by Annafur. See license here.
New Camera by Annafur. CC by 2.0.

Nervewracking… Anxiety-provoking… Self-esteem depleting… Fun?

As they say on Sesame Street, one of these things is not like the other ones. In fact, for many people, having a photo taken is so uncomfortable, it rises almost to the level of a phobia*. But for those of us who aspire to literary greatness, there can be no yielding to our fear of getting out from behind our word processors. After all, as we’ve been told time and time again, image  and online presence matter in this business.

So we might as well make the experience as fun and fulfilling as possible, right?

At least, that’s what I told myself when I was contemplating having a professional author photo taken…and oh man, am I glad that I did. Not only do I now have a photo that’s about a million times better than anything I could have come up with on my own – I have a photo I’m not embarrassed for the world to see. Sure, I still haven’t achieved Danielle-Steele-posing-in-a-ball-gown glamour (if that’s your thing), but I do look Nicola-R.-White-fabulous (which is totally a real adjective). And trust me, when your default pose is a grimace of pained awkwardness, that’s saying something.

So how did I achieve such – dare I say it – miraculous results?

First of all, I did what any researcher would do – I Googled. I found this awesome post by author Mary Robinette Kowal, which explains not just why you need an author photo, but how to find a photographer, how often to update your headshot, and what to bring to the shoot itself. I also liked this satirical article on 10 ways to take a bad author photo, from Salt Publishing.

Finally, I Googled a few authors I admire, and compared their photos to how I wanted to appear to my readers. Based on this highly scientific research, I knew enough to take a couple of different outfits to my photo shoot so I could try out different looks and personas.

For the shoot itself, I chose a photographer I had worked with previously, so we had a good rapport and the whole thing was both laid-back and professional. Knowing how poorly I photograph most of the time, this was the most important thing to me, even more than the setting, hair, makeup, or outfit. If I had gone with a photographer I wasn’t comfortable with, I know I wouldn’t have been able to show off my genuine, authentic self, and the whole thing would have been a waste of time and money.

Once arrangements had been made with the photographer, I took a good, hard look in the mirror and in my closet to assess what I had to work with, and what I could use some help with. Since I’m pretty happy with my wardrobe most of the time, and have only an average amount of skill at doing my hair and makeup, I opted to wear clothing I already owned and  invest in having my hair and makeup done professionally on the day of the photos.

As I mentioned in my last post, a lot of us struggle with ‘outing ourselves’ as writers, and having my photo taken really helped with this. Not only did it force me to tell the photographer what the photos were for, I had to explain it all to my hairdresser and the woman who did my makeup. Aside from that, there were also a few random passers-by who stopped to watch the photo shoot itself. The whole thing was a little awkward, but it did make me feel more legitimate. It was also the first step toward creating my website, as I didn’t want to put anything online before I had some half-decent content to share.

All told, the whole experience cost me a few hours of time and a few hundred dollars, and the value I got in return was huge. While I recognize that not everyone is able to spend that much money on non-essentials, I highly recommend asking a professional photographer to take your author photo. If costs are a concern, you can probably brainstorm a few ways to keep them in check. For example, you could schedule your photo for the same day as your regular trim to avoid an extra, expensive trip to a hair stylist.  If a professional photographer is definitely out of reach, you could also try a photography student, who may be willing to work with you for free in exchange for a chance to build his/her portfolio.

Last but not least, you should also keep in mind the possibility of any intellectual property issues that could arise as a result of your use of the photos. If you plan to post them online or use them commercially, you should make sure you and the photographer are both clear on what rights are held by whom, and whether licensing or attribution should be discussed*.

Intellectual property rights for authors is a topic I plan to discuss in another post(s), so stay tuned for more info.

*In a world where decidophobia and triskaidekaphobia exist, I find it hard to believe there’s no specific term for this fear, but there you have it. The internet wouldn’t lie, right?
 
*Because I’m a lawyer in real life, I need to be extra careful not to lead anyone to believe I’m giving out free legal advice. When I say you should be careful about intellectual property rights, I mean it only as a piece of common-sense information, like “you should be careful not to get run over when crossing the street”. I do not, in any way, shape, or form mean to advise anyone about the specifics of any agreement they have with their own photographer.
 
 
 
 
 
 
 

To Write Is An Act of Courage

Image by Julie Rybarczyk
“Sometimes even to live is an act of courage. – Seneca, 1st century AD.”
Courage by Julie Rybarczyk. CC by 2.0.

I recently came across an entry on style and body image blog Already Pretty that resonated with me. Entitled “What Could You Accomplish?”, the post discusses a conversation the author had with a female friend, who said that she would never run for office because of the scrutiny and criticism she would receive for her appearance. Apparently, the friend had worked in politics for years, loved public speaking, and was passionate about her beliefs.

But she still hesitated to put herself ‘out there’ in public, in case she was dismissed for not being [attractive/stylish/fill in the blank] enough to be a politician.

The author went on to mention a talented musician friend who keeps her music in the background for similar reasons, and I was reminded of the fears I have about putting myself ‘out there’ as an author – particularly of romance novels. Although the author of the Already Pretty post discusses fear of judgment in the context of body image, I, like many authors, sometimes find myself thinking similar thoughts about my writing.

I wonder if I’m fooling myself, if my writing is any good, if anyone could possibly be interested in what I have to say. If the people who know me in my ‘real life’ – my family and friends, my coworkers and colleagues – will think less of me for following this dream. (After all, in many people’s minds, my dream is associated with an image of Fabio standing against a dramatic, full-color backdrop, hair flowing in the wind).

That image is a good reminder not to take myself too seriously, but when I have doubts, I also tell myself that my goals and dreams are not made ridiculous by their packaging. It helps to think about what might have happened if all the other writers I love had been too afraid to declare publicly that yes, they are authors – and no, they’re not ashamed.

What if Stephen King, for example, hadn’t listened to his wife’s encouragement when she famously fished the first draft of Carrie out of the trash bin? Or what if Nora Roberts had given up after her first rejection?

As Terry Pratchett says in his book Moving Pictures:

“You know what the greatest tragedy is in the whole world?…It’s all the people who never find out what it is they really want to do or what it is they’re really good at…It’s all the people with talents who never even find out. Maybe they are never even born in a time when it’s even possible to find out. It’s all the people who never get to know what it is that they can really be. It’s all the wasted chances.

I’m determined not to waste mine.