Picture Me: Some Thoughts/Advice on Author Photos

Along with a bio, a lot of publishers big and small will ask you for an author photo to display alongside your story, on the back cover of your book, and so on and so forth. I know lots of folks hate having their picture taken, and if that’s you, I understand, but if you DO want to have an author photo, here are some things you might consider. Note, I am not a professional photographer, so take any technical advice I offer with a grain of salt. These are things that have worked for me; you may want to go in a completely different direction, and that’s perfectly cool and acceptable.

  1. You should look professional. I’m aware that people’s ideas of what “professional” means can vary widely, so I’ll approach this from my own perceptions of the word. For me it means getting myself into presentable shape: freshly shaven (face and head), putting on a nice shirt of some kind that will photograph well (I prefer stretchy T-shirt type things in dark colors), and doing some light maintenance on the facial area. For you, professional may be completely different, and that’s cool; you just want to make sure the image you’re putting forth is the one you actually want (a lot) of people to see.
  2. The photo should look professional. Usually, this means hiring a professional photographer. I lucked out and married a woman whose hobby has been photography for the last twenty years. Your author photo should probably not be a selfie.
  3. Style. So I prefer a close-up type photo, what is usually referred to as a head shot. I find that it scales up or down a lot easier when publishers have different display requirements. Even with my meager Photoshop skills, I can take the original and resize it for whatever the publisher needs. As for background, I like simple industrial looks: brick, steel, stone. This is all stuff that’s available outside my front door in downtown Seattle. That said, the black or white “studio” background is perfectly acceptable.
  4. Format. I’m a little out of my depth here, but generally a publisher will ask for a hi-res jpeg or TIF file, so it’s a good idea to keep hi-res versions of both handy.
  5. Color or black and white. This is totally a personal preference, but I like black and white. To me it just looks more authorly. That said, I have a color version of my author photo if a publisher required one.
  6. Smile. Again, this is just personal preference, but I think looking like a friendly, approachable person is a lot better than looking like a brooding angry writer guy. Your mileage may vary, of course. My goal with my author photo is for people to see it and think, “Hey, I’d have a beer with that guy” rather than “I wonder if that guy will punch me if I ask him about his books.”

So, with all that in mind, here’s my current author photo, for better or worse:

rudel-author-headshot

If I could change a few things, it would be the hole in the brick wall below my left ear and maybe a bit more contrast between myself and the background, but those are not deal-breakers for me, and I’m pretty happy with this photo. This one is over a year old, and I’m considering changing it out in the next few months. I think freshening your author photo every couple of years isn’t a terrible idea; you want people to recognize what you look like now not five years ago.

Got any tips for author photos (like, what might be wrong with mine)? If so, I’d love to hear about them (or share your own photo).

12 thoughts on “Picture Me: Some Thoughts/Advice on Author Photos

  1. Good topic. Heads up that you’ve got a misused “your” toward the end of (1).

    So when you get ready to update your author photo, will you share some options and put it to a vote? 🤔

    Darla

    >

    Liked by 1 person

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  2. Interesting post, Aeryn. Unfortunately, I’m breaking many of the rules. Right now, my author photo is the same one I use for social media/WordPress (the one where I’m blowing bubbles). My wife took it with her cell phone (it’s actually part of a larger photo that I cropped). At some point, though, when I go pro, I guess I’ll have to upgrade it.

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  3. I’m more of the Thomas Pynchon/Greg Egan school, and I refuse to have my picture posted with my stories. It’s not just because I really hate having my picture taken, but also because of reasons of privacy and security. I even lost a sale a while back because I refused to send a picture of myself to the market. Which makes me wonder why more markets don’t explicitly state in their guidelines that they require author photos upon publication. It would save me a lot of trouble.

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    • The privacy/security issue is something I hadn’t considered, but it’s an excellent point. I guess every author, especially these days, needs to carefully weigh that decision. I agree with you, though; if an author photo is mandatory, that should be stated in the guidelines.

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