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Author Photo Advice

I recommend that publisher Web sites routinely include author photos as part of the author bio material.

We, as a species, are visually oriented. Nature made us that way. We get most of our sensory data through what we look at. We are conditioned to notice what our fellow homo sapiens look like. We are usually unconscious about how great a role the the visual impression of others has upon us in making response judgements. That is one of the primary reasons why there is so much humor played off the concept of "blind dates."

Now Bill makes a good point. There are exceptions to my general recommendation to have author photos on a publisher Web site:

  1. If the author's appearance would detract from the impulse sale of the book.

    For example, this could be the result of a birth defect or an injury disfiguring the author.

  2. If the author's gender must be disguised.

    If the author is a man whose pen name is female because the books are best marketed as if he was a her. It's a not-so-widely-known fact that some of the Harlequin Romance writers are actual guys writing under the "house pen names."

    A few decades back, women had to write under a man's pen name in order to get their books published. Andre Norton of science fiction fame was "outed" in the last years of her life (and after she had won a shelf-load of awards and recognitions) as being a female. When she started writing science fiction back in the 20s and 30s it was the only way magazine editors would publish her stories.

  3. If the author wants to remain as anonymous as possible (because he or she is painfully shy, hiding out from creditors, writing under pseudonyms, etc.).

You will note that in my three exceptions I do not include authors who are of ordinary appearance, or even down-right homely. For folks with ordinary features, or Bill's "bear of a sensitive poet" example, I would recommend the publisher use a professional portrait photographer.

As those who have seen me can attest, I'm overweight, wear a beard to cover up a multitude of chins, and have never won a beauty contest in my life. But I took my non-photogenic self to a portrait photographer, and after an hour's session, the guy came away with a picture of me that makes me look like I was a Fortune 500 magnate and a Hollywood star rolled into one.

I think I will be buried with that framed photo clasped firmly in my moribund hands.

So here is my standing advice for publishers: Use author photos unless they fall into one of the three exceptions. And if your author says that he or she just doesn't "photograph well," take them to a professional before giving up.

There's a reason why the Random House and HarperCollins type publishers have author photos on the backs of their books. Author photos help to sell books. Author photos help to build up name recognition. Author photos help TV bookers decide if your guy or gal would be "good television" material.

Jim Cox
Midwest Book Review

James A. Cox
Midwest Book Review
278 Orchard Drive
Oregon, WI 53575-1129
phone: 1-608-835-7937

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