On the topic of author headshots

Yesterday, Dr. KatPat raised some interesting questions about marketing oneself. Here's my two cents on the subtopic of author headshots:

First, while it may sound trite, be yourself. Middle-year mom, aging punker, chippy college girl, thirty-something preppy striver - whatever. Rock it. If that's who you are, it's a waste of time trying to market yourself as something else. Second, author headshots should be individualistic portraits as opposed to generic corporate photos or the malleable blank canvas you try to achieve with an actor's headshot. You're trying to look like an authentic human being, not a JC Penney catalog model. It's not an image that says "hire me"; it's an image that says "date me."

Consider these photos of Stephen King. First there's the Manager of the Month photo:

King might be able to get away with that, but for the rest of us, a stiffly staged author photo does not bode well for what readers hope will be welcoming, accessible, relatable prose to come. So you want to avoid anything quite as topsytastic as this:

But something like this, I think, is cool and character-driven:

And this is engaging and personal:

Here's Anita Shreve looking like she wants to be cast in an infomercial for a colon bacteria balancing supplement:

Here's Anita Shreve looking like someone who's inviting me to sit on her porch and enjoy a cup of tea and a great story:

One author who has consistently gorgeous photos: Jodi Picoult. This is a gorgeous woman, and she consistently has gorgeous author photos in which she comes off as warm, intelligent, witty and personable, which is exactly what her books are. It's about rockin' who you are, and she is Jodi mo'fo'ing Picoult, gorgeous chick and blockbusting author, and she appears to be enjoying herself.

As my wise daughter has told me many times: "You do you."

For some great nuts and bolts advice on getting a great headshot, check out Danielle LaPorte's White Hot Truth article on how to look hot in a photo.


Yes, and I will "do me" when I do author photos. Definitely. But professional headshots for the academic setting require a different kind of look, a look that I still hope is me, but that is the professor me, Dr. Paterson, not Dr. Kat. ;) For instance, my new boss wanted something more "corporate," so I had to deliver that, even though that's not at all what I would want for an author photo (too stuffy, too stiff, like the first King photo above, except even in an office setting). And that's what I'm talking about--the fact that for those of us who have more than one online presence, things get a bit tricky.

Now will my readers see the photos I just sent out? No. Most likely not, unless they go to that particular business's website, and they probably won't do that unless they're looking for dissertation coaching. But what about the flip side? Will my coaching clients google me and find my personal website? Will they google me and find this blog (and my last post)? And if so, am I comfortable with that? Is my boss? I can always delete the post, but there may be other things I will want to say as an author that may not be appropriate for me to say as a coach.

Arg. I was hoping not to have to spring for two sets of headshots, but this whole conversation is making me think I need to do that. But then why worry about the "author photo" before I'm selling the book? Is it too soon to be thinking about all this? Or should I have a great author photo on my website now? I guess that's what's confusing to me about the whole social media/web presence issue. I'm now, by virtue of the coaching being so successful (and yay for that!), actually building a profile as a writing and academic coach too. That profile is moving faster right now than my profile as an author. But is that profile going to be off-putting to potential agents and readers?

Or at this stage of my career, does it even matter?
Oh, and I love the second and third King photos and the Jodi Piccoult. You're right--Jodi always looks good. And thanks for that link, too. By the way, I've always loved all the BtO author photos, precisely because they capture everyone's personality so well.

Isn't there also a bit of a genre twist with these things? Like the character driven photo of King wouldn't work on the back of a self-help book, but it's great for the kind of horror he writes.
Great advice about being an approachable, real-life version of yourself. Maybe a neatened, possibly retouched (okay, probably) version, but that's to be expected. :)

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