Tonight’s guest blog post is brought to you by novelist and non-fiction author Eric Muss-Barnes.
An Author Picture is Worth 1000 Words
Have you ever questioned how much care goes into an author photo? Have you ever been skeptical of a book when the author photo is second-rate?
When my first book, The Gothic Rainbow: Beginning Volume of the Vampire Noctuaries, was published, I knew I wanted a unique author photo. I couldn’t bear that same old cliche of “author standing in front of a bookshelf” used by most authors. What is up with that? Actors headshots aren’t in front of shelves of DVD box sets. Band photos aren’t taken in front of stacks of records. Why the heck are authors always in front of bookshelves? You’re a writer. You like books. Yeah, we get it.
I wanted something far more creative.
However, since The Gothic Rainbow is a vampire book, my author photo had to reflect the atmosphere of the novel. I couldn’t be smiling, wearing a cowboy hat, on a sunny day, at a waterpark. That would kind of kill the mood of “brooding vampire dude”. No smiling. No waterparks. At the same time, you don’t want to come off looking angry or sullen. So, you walk that fine line of trying to look dark and mysterious, without looking like a corny mockery of yourself.
On the other end of the spectrum, I also wrote a non-fiction book entitled How You Can Get a Job at Walt Disney Studios Without a College Degree. Certainly don’t want to reuse the author photo from a vampire book to promote that one!
For my book Schooling Your Boss to not Suck, again, I went with a new photograph, attempting to reflect a friendly and down-to-earth image that would again fit with the vibe of the text.
Even my book Forever Loving You has a romance-novel-parody, tongue-in-cheek author photo, to match the rather silly love poems on the pages.
The “image” of my author photos express my own personality, but as filtered through the tone of the book.
Too often, authors overlook their photos. Slap it together at the last minute. Not a big deal. Whip out the camera and give it to your spouse like you’re grabbing a snapshot in front of the World’s Biggest Buffalo Turd. “Oh, I want my writing to speak for itself. I don’t need a photo. This isn’t a fashion show! I don’t care about my photograph!”
Well, you should care. And cut out the false integrity. Avoiding a photo has nothing to do with thinking your writing is awesome. The truth is, you’re just insecure about your appearance. Stop it. You look fine. Get the photo. Reading is an intimate way to get to know people and your readers like being able to visualize the person telling the story. Show your readers that courtesy. Let them see you.
Most of all, take the time to do it right! Don’t slough it off and decide to just take some lame snapshot in your kitchen with a smartphone.
Okay? Stop that. Seriously, cut it out.
Your book is a full package. Cover art. Author photo. Formatting. Font choices. All of these elements contribute to the whole. You’re not just selling words on paper. You’re not creating something that’s “just about the story”. That’s a load of pompous dung. You’re selling yourself. If you show people a lazy, careless portrait, it’s not unreasonable to presume you’re a lazy, careless writer too. Cruddy author photographs prove, you don’t give 100% to everything you do. Why should anyone assume you gave 100% to your writing? Maybe you slack off on your writing, just like you did on your picture. Package deal, folks. Everything must be the best you can make it; from the font choices, right on down the line. Would you build a fancy, gorgeous, custom home and eschew a bathroom for an outhouse in the backyard? “Oh, we didn’t want to build a bathroom, so we just threw up any old thing. Whatever. It still works.”
No one would ever do that! That would be crazy. You make the whole house great, not just parts of it.
That’s exactly what authors do when they use crappy images of themselves in their books. “Well, 90% of the house is beautiful. That’s good enough.”
No. It’s not “good enough”! It’s lazy. It’s pathetic.
Don’t stink up the book you worked so hard to create, by using the outhouse-equivalent of an author photo. Invest in the fancy bathroom.
Maybe you know nothing about photography and you have no photographer friends. That’s no excuse. Go on the Internet and learn some basics of photography. Give yourself 30 minutes to check out some basic lighting educational videos and you’ll improve your images twofold.
They always say, “A picture is worth a thousand words.”
You wouldn’t put a thousand words of nonsense in your novel. Don’t put a nonsense photograph in there either.
What are your favorite author photos that really make you feel this author looks like the type of personality who could write this story? Have you ever seen a photo that doesn’t fit the book at all?
That was very interesting, and amusing. Thank you, Eric.
Born in Cleveland, Eric Muss-Barnes has worked as a martial arts film stand-in (for the stunt coordinator of “The Crow”), and as a freelance artist for the toy design division of American Greetings.
Having begun producing music videos for bands, and other projects, under the name Dreamdancer Motion Pictures (which he founded in 1994), he also created a gothic/industrial video magazine which aired on television across northern Ohio.
In addition to both novels of the Vampire Noctuaries, and having his writing appear in numerous magazines, he has also composed a book of poetry and axioms entitled “In This Harsh World … Draw Thy Breath In Pain,” (later retitled “Forever Loving You”) the name of which is a phrase taken from the final act and scene of Shakespeare’s Hamlet.
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