Thursday, January 20, 2011

Adventures with Author Photos

By Jaden Terrell

Some of you may know that the first two books of my Jared McKean series have picked up by The Permanent Press. This means the first book, Racing the Devil, will be reissued (again) in June of 2012 and the second book, A Cup Full of Midnight, will be released in August at the Killer Nashville Thriller, Mystery, and Crime Literature Conference. We even have some interest from a few overseas publishers.

It's all very exciting, but there's one bug in the ointment--the author photo.

I don't how the rest of you feel, but for many of us, the author photo moment is a source of great angst. I mean, not only are total strangers going to be judging you--and your book--on the basis of the photo, you also become fair game for articles like this. And this.

I tried to convince the publisher that we didn't need an author photo. I made what I thought were compelling arguments. First, my protagonist is male, which is why we went with a unisex pen name. An obviously feminine photo would defeat the purpose. Second, I don't look like the writer of hardboiled PI novels. I look like a kindergarten teacher--or a special ed teacher, which is what I am--or was. People who see my picture on the back of the book are going to expect a warm, cozy read, which my books are not. They have a warmth to them, but they're far from cozy. A photo of me, I said, would give readers exactly the wrong impression. No one, I said, was going to buy a book because my photo was on it. (Unlike Graham Brown, whose thrillers are exciting and well-written, but who probably sells as many copies because of the photo on the back as for the stories themselves).

My publisher suggested I have an ambiguous photo made, a sort of androgynous look. For a woman who bears a strong resemblance to a fertility goddess, this was quite a challenge, but it seemed like a reasonable compromise. I thought that, since my PI, Jared, has horses, it might work to wear a cowboy hat and maybe an Australian-style duster. If I included the horse, it would draw even more attention away from me.

I went online and looked at dozens and dozens of photographers' websites. After days of searching, I found this guy, Jeff Frazier. You can read his blog here. His photos are wonderful, and he's a delight to work with.

I emailed Jeff and told him what I needed. He seemed intrigued by the challenge, and his prices were reasonable, so we arranged a photo shoot at the pasture where a friend of mine kept two horses. (They're my horses now, but that's another story.)

It was a beautiful fall day, and the pasture was filled with some kind of tall, golden grass that looked like but wasn't wheat. In spite of my near-phobia about cameras, Jeff made the shoot fun and took what seemed like hundreds of photos--some that obscured most of me and some I could use for head shots and other promotional materials. By the time he left, I felt like a movie star.

After my agent, my mom, and several friends had helped me narrow the choices, he sent me two retouched/polished photos, one for the cover and one for a head shot where I don't need to be obscured. The CD with the others is on its way.

Here's what we decided on for the cover. Not so ambiguous, but at least there's a horse to draw attention away from me. That's Pete--short for Peter Pan. Isn't he handsome?

What are your experiences with author photos? Love 'em? Hate 'em? Consider them a necessary evil? Do author photos influence you to buy (or not buy) a book?


Mark W. Danielson said...

I'm more likely to judge a book by its cover than any author's photo. But that's just me:)

Bill Kirton said...

The entire back cover of my first book consisted of a mugshot. It was taken by my wife in our spare room. She used almost a whole roll of film (yes, it was a while ago) and we eventually agreed on one. My sister said it made me look like a retard or a pedophile.

But that's not the reason I agree with Mark. I just don't see the relevance of having authors' photos.

Shane Cashion said...

Interesting post. Bill I absolutely love your blog photo. You look super shady and like you're on the run. It's great!

Carola said...

I never had an author photo till my German publisher asked for one. St Martin's paid for a professional photographer, so they started using it too. And they're still using it 12 years later. Of course, I haven't aged a bit in that period...

Sylvia said...

I care not about the author picture, only if the book is any good. Those columnists/bloggers, whatever they are, who wrote those articles need to get a life. :-)

Jaden Terrell said...

I actually liked some of the photos on those sites.

As for photos on book covers, if they're there, I look at them, but if they aren't, I never even think to miss them.

Jaden Terrell said...

Bill, I like your photo too. You look a bit like The Equalizer.

Bill Kirton said...

Shane, Beth, thanks for the kind comments. I took that photo myself with a tripod and self timer outside my house. It was a deliberate attempt to try to look crime-related. It's a bit of a nuisance now though, because I'm moving into different genres. But the prospect of trying to get a 'normal' shot is daunting. Maybe if I change my name to Honey something-or-other and 'borrow' a shot of a semi-clad beauty, it might influence sales.

Jean Henry Mead said...

I no longer consider myself photogenic so I still use a professional photo taken a while ago. I like the shot of you and your horse, Beth. And Bill, I think your over-the-shoulder photo is great. I don't judge books by their author's photos although I'm sometimes surprised when unflattering snapshots appear on book jackets.