Wednesday, June 27, 2012

Author Photos? They Might Do More Harm Than Good

A few weeks ago on Twitter, someone went on a rant about how horrible it is that SOME writers use ICONS instead of their photos.  She went on for several tweets about how evil this was.
I'd tell you her name, but I can't recall it; I stopped following her after about the 4th tweet-rant.
I also have a blog follower here who occasionally makes jibes about my lack of photo.
Thus, it's time to make my case as to why it's not always a good thing for an author to put up a photo.
Basically, it's this: pretty people sell stuff; ugly people don't.
Let's face it; advertisers don't put zit-ridden adolescents or fat people or people with bad teeth or -- well, I could go on forever here -- on ads because we all want to associate ourselves with beautiful people, and putting beautiful people on ads tends to make us dream of being like those folks IF we buy the product.
We also expect celebrities to be beautiful.  This sort of makes sense if the celebrity is an actor, but we're beyond that.  Way beyond that.  Long gone are the days when singers only had to have beautiful voices; now they're made fun of it they aren't pretty people.  And politicians and their spouses must also be beautiful.  (Did you catch the media rants over Secretary of State Clinton's hairstyle?  Honestly, why should we care?  But we do.)
And so we come to authors.  Authors, in this info/media age, cannot really function the way Emily Dickenson did.  Authors must become a type of celebrity in order to get people to buy books.
But not all that many authors look like celebrities.  And, as usual, people are more critical of women's looks than of men's.
So, we have Neil Gaiman.  A few years ago, he was totally drool-worthy.  I have ABSOLUTELY NO DOUBT WHATSOEVER that a lot of women bought his books because of his looks.  Maybe some men did, too.

He's aging well, but time takes its toll:
He may not capture the hormones of younger readers quite so well anymore, although his charm in person will help a lot.  (He is remarkably good-tempered, even after long bouts of signing books.)

Other authors who look like celebrities include JK Rowling, who has the body of a star and a pleasant face which make up artists can build upon to make her look the part:
She'll be 47 in a month, but she hardly looks it.
Shannon Hale is nauseatingly cute.  And Ian Rankin has incredible charm and rugged good looks, which make him a total favorite with audiences.
But this is about where it ends.
Most authors look like real people, and not like celebrities.  I recall one author who showed up at her book signing in a faded tee-shirt with baby spit-up on it.  And another very popular author stunned me with her super-fakey dyed red hair and clashing shade of red lipstick that over-accentuated her too-large mouth and make her look like a fat, red frog.  Really, I was better off not knowing what she looked like.
But wait, you say: what about photos?  You're discussing live people; surely authors can do better with photos and photoshopping.  Well, yes.  To a point.
A few days ago, I saw a youtube video of an author.  Now, I had been particularly entranced by one of her books, which had a protagonist who was lithe, fierce, and athletic.  I was stunned to see that the author was obese and in need of good hairstyling.  And sometimes the authors are much older or much younger than what we expect.  Or short -- I was very surprised to find out that one man whose books I enjoy greatly is only about 5 feet tall.
Posh!  None of this should make a difference, right?  These are writers!  It's their words that matter, not their looks!
Uh, huh.  Just keep trying to get yourself to believe that.
We are conditioned by the media to expect beauty.  Ugly people don't sell products.  Books are  products.  We say not to judge a book by its cover, but we all do.  A bad cover on a good book hurts sales.  (A great cover on an average book boosts sales, too.)  Likewise, an unattractive author or author photo hurts sales.
Now, I haven't exactly made millions yet off my Half-Vampire book, but I have no intention whatsoever of jeopardizing future sales by putting up an unattractive photo.  My icon is better looking than I am; it won't hurt sales.  True, I have more sense than to let myself look like the fat, red frog or to wear shabby clothes to a major event, but I'm no JK Rowling, either.  My photo stays off.  (And there are probably quite a few other authors who would do well to consider this, too.  I'm not the only one where some things are better left to the imagination.)


  1. Aww -- your avatar is cute. And I like the light saber. Not such a good idea to have a live pic of yourself like that. :)

  2. I agree that our society is obsessed with looks. For some reason good looks result in higher credibility, despite the fact that being born good looking is entirely random. I think authors should be able to protect their privacy and not feel that they must participate in the marketing of their looks, besides their books.

  3. I missed this before...caught it when I came over to leave my comment earlier...

    ...headshots aside...cleavage always works for a woman...a cute puppy, anyone.


    (now I'm feeling what do you think of my FB picture?...are you even on Facebook?)

  4. The photo I use was taken semi-professionally and cost me nothing (it was done for an amateur play).

    And you are right about a bad photo, or appearance. Odd looking can work for comedy, serious for thrillers, but you have be attractive for romance. I wonder what sells for YA though?

    Sadly it's a golden rule that (perceived) ugly will not cut it. If you're avatar is anything to go by, you shouldn't have a problem...especially with that light sabre.

  5. It's sad to say that we're all so affected by what's on the outside, but it's true. *Sigh* Yet another thing to worry about when hopefully one day I have a manuscript to work with. Eek!

  6. I wanted to let you know I have an award for ya and give a shout out. :) If you would like, you can check it out on my blog. I posted it on 6/28/12.