The Life Authorial: Using photos on your blog

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

Blog Girl, after Norman Rockwell (detail) by Mike Licht. See license here.
Blog Girl, after Norman Rockwell (detail) by Mike Licht. CC by 2.0.

So, that girl with the computer? The one stuck in the olden days with the confused look on her face? That’s me, trying to figure out ‘the internet’.

Or to put it more specifically, trying to figure out ‘the blogging’.

As far as surfing, browsing, researching, and other basics go, I’m as web savvy as the next person. In fact, I actually capital-letters LOVE research. But to create something and put it online? That’s a whole ‘nother ball game. One that involves really hard things like…hacker-level HTML coding (or, y’know, cut and paste)…figuring out what blog ‘tags’ do (still not totally sure)…and most importantly, not ripping off other people’s work.

So what’s a poor, hair-bow-adorned, Victorian lass to do?

1. Never, ever assume that because “everyone else does it”, improper photo attribution is ok.

As blogger Roni Loren discovered, you CAN get sued for using photos you don’t own on your blog, even when you have the best of intentions. In this blog post, she recounts her experience of being sued after using a photo from Google Images with a disclaimerBecause she had seen many other blogs – some of them really ‘big’ blogs – using improperly attributed images this way, she assumed it was ok. Unfortunately for Loren, it wasn’t, and she ended up having to pay “money she didn’t have for a photo she didn’t need”.

Roni Loren’s blog post about her experience is not only helpful, but honest and really brave, and I highly recommend it.

2. Use images that you own, or which are licensed through Creative Commons.

The most obvious, simplest way to avoid copyright infringement and improper use of someone else’s work is to use your own. If you are not photograpically inclined, however, you can use work that has been shared with the world under a Creative Commons license.

Creative Commons is a “global nonprofit organization that enables sharing and reuse of creativity and knowledge through the provision of free legal tools“. What it is best known for is sharing copyright agreements with the public free of charge. These licenses can then be applied to artists’ work (by the artists holding copyright themselves – you can’t unilaterally license someone else’s work) to allow other people to use the work according to specific, defined circumstances.

One of the most well-known “hubs” for works available through Creative Commons licenses is photo-sharing site Flickr. The site offers artists different “levels” of licensing options for their work, and it groups images into easily navigated categories by license type.

3. Take the time to understand your rights and obligations.

Using Flickr as an example, let’s take a look at the different types of Creative Commons licenses out there:

Attribution license – this means that you may copy, distribute, and display an image provided under this license, so long as you give the author credit. You may also create derivative works from the originals, meaning you create something new using elements of the image. In this instance, you must still give the original author credit for use of their work.

Attribution-NoDerivs license – this means that you may copy, distribute, and display an image with proper credit, but you may not alter it or use it to create something new.

Attribution-NonCommercial-NoDerivs license – see above, with the added caveat that your use must be non-commercial.

ShareAlike license – if you create a derivative work from the original, you must distribute your work under the same license as the original.

You should also remember that while summaries and articles of your rights and obligations (like this one) might be helpful, they are not legal advice and are not a substitute for reading licenses yourself to determine what you can and cannot legally do with an image.

4. Respect the formal requirements of proper attribution (giving credit).

When using an image licensed under Creative Commons, it is not sufficient just to say it is subject to a CC license. To comply with the license, you need to provide more detailed information, including:

  • the title of the image;
  • the author’s name (a best practice is to link to the author’s profile page);
  • a link to the original source (for example, the Flickr site where the image can be found); and
  • a link to the license.

Creative Commons provides a handy, detailed guide (with examples!) on best practices for attribution here. And in case all of this seems overwhelming and stressful, try to keep in mind that CC stresses that there’s no need to make things overly complicated. As they say in their guide to best practices, “there is no one right way; just make sure your attribution is reasonable and suited to the medium you’re working with”.

5. Feel free to use work that is in the public domain or is being used for the purposes of “fair dealing” or “fair use”.

While you should always be sure to confirm your right to use an image before you post it on your blog, there are some circumstances in which no license is required. Some works exist in the public domain, meaning that they are not subject to copyright and can be used freely. Some artists choose to offer their work for free, and some older images (think decades, not years) have been in existence long enough that their copyright has expired. According to Wikipedia, the image of the Mona Lisa, for example, has been reproduced on everything from postcards and t-shirts to seaweed and computer chips.

Other images may be used without permission from their creator if they are being shared for purposes of “fair dealing” or “fair use” such as study, criticism, review, or news reporting. One frequent example of this is book bloggers’ use of unattributed cover images of books they are reviewing. In her FAQ, The Librarian Who Doesn’t Say Shhh! does a great job of explaining that this is ok because the images she uses fall under “useful article” criteria, and are copies of an inferior quality to the originals.

As always, you should be sure to confirm the copyright status of an image before using it. What constitutes “fair use” or “fair dealing” varies from country to country, and copyright laws may provide for differing lengths of copyright terms.

*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. The above discussion is a summary of information found online, and does not speak to specifics of circumstance or jurisdiction. This post should not, in any way, shape, or form be taken as legal advice.

Retro Reads: Hardboiled Fiction

Retro Reads is a series of posts highlighting the best, most interesting, and most hilarious trends of the fiction of yesteryear.

Image by Joel Kramer. See license here.
shells by Joel Kramer. CC by 2.0.

“I don’t mind if you don’t like my manners. They’re pretty bad. I grieve over them during the long winter evenings.”
                                                      ― Raymond Chandler, The Big Sleep

Raymond Chandler and Dashiell Hammett, arguably the two biggest names in hardboiled fiction, ushered in the golden age of a new type of detective story when they introduced the world to their cynical, sarcastic antiheroes. More often than not down-at-the-heel, and always hard drinking, the ‘private dicks’ they created were men (and occasionally women) who had seen enough of the world to know they couldn’t change it. Unlike Sir Arthur Conan Doyle’s Sherlock Holmes, the detectives who populate Chandler and Hammett’s worlds are possessed of no particular genius or skill. When they are able to solve their cases, it is because they are persistent, or they are pissed off, or sometimes they just need the money.

Sometimes, they even do the right thing just because it is right.

In hardboiled fiction, the characters – good and bad – indulge in wholesale violence, and the heroes are prone to casual sex and strong language. They are insightful, yet sardonic narrators, and aren’t shy about voicing their observations to crime bosses, crooked cops, and dizzy dames. And just in case we doubted their toughness – their ‘hardboiled’ essence – there’s almost always a femme fatale waiting in the wings to be tangled with.

The genesis of the genre is relatively straightforward – in the beginning, there was Carroll John Daly. Daly’s work was published in Black Mask magazine in the 1920s, and often featured recurring character Race Williams. Though Daly is the lesser-known predecessor of Hammett and Chandler, he has been credited with producing the first-ever hardboiled private eye story, published in 1923 to beat out Hammett by a matter of months. At, Stephen Mertz argues In Defense of Carroll John Daly that Daly’s Race Williams was no less influential than Hammett’s Contintental Op, and was a staple of pulp magazines well into the 50s.

Fast on Daly’s heels came Hammett in the 1930s with his beloved Sam Spade, star of The Maltese Falcon, and Nick and Nora Charles in The Thin Man. Spade was immortalized on screen by Humphrey Bogart in 1941, and Nick and Nora became the foundation of the recurring literary and cinematic trope of romantically involved partners-in-crime (detection). Though Hammett never wrote another novel starring the couple, he did pen two of the five sequels starring the duo that were adapted to film.

Raymond Chandler styled himself a detective writer in the late 30s, after losing his job to the Depression, and his first novel, The Big Sleep, was published in 1939. His iconic private eye, Philip Marlowe, was a “lonely, honest, wisecracking, poetic, worldweary modern knight” (see Mertz, above), who, along with the others, advanced the modern archetype of the troubled, solitary avenger. Their influence is seen in characters such as the Shadow of the 30s, who asked “Who knows what evil lurks in the hearts of men?”, to Rorschack of Watchmen fame in the 80s and 00s.

The Last Cop Out by Brendan Riley. See license here.
The Last Cop Out by Brendan Riley. See license here.

Though the heyday of hardboiled fiction is considered to have been the 30s to 50s, authors in every subsequent decade have imitated and paid homage to the early masters of the style, and modern incarnations of the hardboiled P.I. can be found under the imprint of Hard Case Crime, founded in 2004. Though the imprint’s covers are substantially more tame than Mickey Spillane’s 1973 The Last Cop Out, they stay true to the tough-guy, underworld feel of the ‘originals’, and have graced the work of mega best-seller Stephen King and one of my own personal favorites, Donald E. Westlake.

The modern hardboiled canon has also shifted to create room for female-authored work like Sue Grafton‘s ‘alphabet’ series, starring female P.I. Kinsey Millhone. Unfortunately, women authors of hardboiled fiction tend not to be as well known as their male counterparts. Though I haven’t read most of the authors on this list (embarrassingly, I haven’t actually heard of most of them), it looks like a good place to start.

Retro Reads: Vintage romance – the evolution of a genre

Retro Reads is a series of posts highlighting the best, most interesting, and most hilarious trends of the fiction of yesteryear.

Message From A Stranger by Marya Mannes (Dell 515, 1951) by Joseph Bremson. See license here.
Message From A Stranger by Marya Mannes (Dell 515, 1951) by Joseph Bremson. CC by 2.0.

Most of us have probably seen this sort of watercolor-foggy, beautiful-people romance cover before. Now a staple at yard sales, used book stores, and grandmothers’ basements, this type of image is characteristic of what comes to mind when we think about category romance publishers – especially the biggest of them all, Harlequin Romance.

What many people would be surprised to discover, though, is that Harlequin wasn’t always in the romance game. In fact, it once published a much more lurid, pulpy type of book, and was responsible for such titles as Pardon My Body: A tough expose of the American Underworld and You’re Lonely When You’re Dead.

vintage harlequin pardon my body

vintage harlequin lonely when dead

harlequin romance pulp art exhibit 1 and 2 by yawper. CC by 2.0.

This sensationalized approach to storytelling would carry over to the romance genre with the publication of what some call the first ‘modern’ romance novel. In 1972, Avon released The Flame and the Flower, which featured the heroine’s forced – ahem – deflowering, and was controversial for its graphic depiction of sex and violence.

While The Flame and the Flower‘s enthusiasm for baring it all raised eyebrows, however, it wasn’t quite a true ‘first’ in the genre – according to Wikipedia, even one of the earliest romance novels, a popular 1740 publication called Pamela, or Virtue Rewarded was criticized for its licentiousness. Pamela was revolutionary for its almost exclusive focus on courtship and its narration from the female point of view, telling the story of a young maid imprisoned by her employer. Her virtue is, in the end, rewarded with a marriage proposal from her master, but not until he foils her repeated attempts at escape and tries to rape her .

Post Pamela, the genre brought us Jane Austen’s celebrated (though comparatively tame) romantic comedies in the early 1800s. Although Austen was not a particularly prolific author, her works have permeated our public awareness and inspired countless miniseries, films, spin-offs and parodies (Pride and Prejudice and Zombies, anyone?).

In the 1920s, there was a return to smut with the publication of D. H. Lawrence’s Lady Chatterley’s Lover (read it for free at Project Gutenburg), which was banned in countries all over the world and was the focus of a storm of obscenity trials across the globe. Georgette Heyer also came onto the scene in the 20s with her extensively researched Regency romances, giving rise to an entire subgenre.

The 1950s gave way to a spate of Harlequins and other mainstream romances featuring modern “career girls” (largely nurses and stewardesses), and on the heels of Avon’s foray into romance with The Flame and the Flower in the 70s, American author Janet Dailey sold her first romance to Harlequin, becoming their first (and at the time, only) American author. Dailey’s books provided an exciting new take on the genre, and readers were eager to read more about heroines who had adventures in the American West, had explicit sex with the hero, and generally did more than sit around waiting to be rescued.

Unfortunately for Dailey, she was discredited in the eyes of many when she was sued by powerhouse author Nora Roberts in 1997 for what turned out to be blatant plagiarism. Dailey passed away in December 2013, and is noted in a Washington Post obituary as a pioneer who left a complicated legacy. La Nora, as she is known to fans, continues to dominate the industry, and with more than 200 books to her name, is one of the most prolific writers in the history of the genre (or any genre).

Today, the genre continues to evolve, with new subgenres such as paranormal romance, romantic urban fantasy, and romantic science fiction gaining in popularity over the past 15-20 years. The most recent addition to the canon of romance subgenres is New Adult, which focuses on the “growing pains” unique to protagonists in their late teens and early 20s.

Another major shift in the genre is the move by many authors toward self-publishing – but that’s a whole other post!

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.