Author Photos – the Dos and Don’ts

So, last week I had to get some promotional photos done for myself as an author. That’s right, fiction-writer me. I’m debuting my play at Taunton Literary Festival in November and needed an image to put on marketing collateral, such as the festival brochure, website and advertising. Here are my thoughts on the process, why it’s a necessary evil and how not to do it.

Why do authors need photos?

I’m glad you asked that, let me explain. An author’s photo generally works to prove that you are a real person, not a disembodied typing entity. If you’re self-publishing,

Author photo Garth Marenghi

Don’t fall into the Garth Marenghi trap of author photos. His nib may be dipped in darkness, but that skull’s a prop too far…

then it may go on your book somewhere, but it’s not necessary and could be seen as a bit too much. Generally, your photo will be on your website and your social media profiles, so that people have something to relate to.

If you decide to do any marketing, whether that’s with a local bookshop, articles or something like guest blogging, people will probably want a head shot. And this is when you whip out your author photo. If you don’t have a photo, you may be tempted to rake through old holiday snaps, but this would be a bad idea. Bad lighting, your drunk friend in the background, sunburn and flip-flops won’t give the right impression – trust me on this one.

Your author photo is designed to sell you, as a serious writer. The tone of your photo should sell your writing, so that your readers know what to expect. It becomes your profile picture and your logo, especially in this age of social media, so it’s important and worth investing in.

What you really want is a clean, simple, professional image that presents your brand as an author. That’s right, once you start selling yourself and your books, you become a brand and every image you put out there reflects on that. Take the time to have some good photos done and avoid some of the pitfalls.

Having just gone through my first author photo shoot, here are some pointers:

  • Avoid ‘writerly’ props: Don’t be tempted to get your pictures done in a library or pose with a quill or a vintage typewriter to prove you’re a serious writer. It will make you look more Garth Merenghi, when you were actually going for Margaret Atwood.
  • Resist catalogue poses: Don’t stare off into the middle distance, trying to look earnest and thespie or lean nonchalantly against a marble fireplace with one foot in the mouth of a tiger skin rug. Just sit somewhere with a neutral background, people generally look more relaxed sitting and don’t feel tempted to strike a pose. And look at the camera’
  • What to wear: Don’t don a whimsical hat, unless you’re Terry Pratchett and he probably only did it after he became “Terry Pratchett”. Wear something you’re comfortable in; if that’s a black t-shirt, then fine, if it’s a Fresian cow onesie, rethink it and go with something you’d wear for a casual lunch with friends. Keep the neckline simple, so that people focus on your face, not your outfit. Yes, ladies, you will be judged more harshly on your appearance than your male counterparts, but don’t let it dictate too much.
  • Choose a photographer: Get a professional, if you can afford it. Ask writer or actor friends who did their photos. Find friends who are into photography and ask them for a favour (that’s what I did). Also try local photography clubs or classes – you might get a good deal or even a freebie. Failing that, ask a friend and take many high resolution shots, in good light, you might get one good one, but to look professional, people need to think you’re willing to invest in your job.
  • Don’t do artsy shots: You may want to emulate those black and white artsy author photos, but don’t. No high-angle shots or cemetery settings, with stark shadows, even if you do gothic revival, vampire fiction. Instead, choose an interesting wall or a neutral backdrop, if you want that studio look and go for a portrait shot, rather than full length, unless you’re a confident poser and have a good photographer directing you.
  • Do update your photo: It’s tempting to keep that nice shot from 10 years ago, but you don’t want people to think “yikes, they’ve aged”, when they finally meet you at a signing or event.  Update your photos, as time goes by.
  • Think about your brand: If you write comedy or for children, maybe that moody monochrome isn’t the thing. Think about how you reflect your writing. This photo isn’t trying to say, “this is me” it’s a picture of you as a writer. Don’t include your kids and pets, unless you write about them in a Gerald Durrell way. Keep it clean, simple, well-lit and well-framed.

This blog post offers great advice on the why and how of author photos, including examples of famous authors who do it well.








2 thoughts on “Author Photos – the Dos and Don’ts

  1. That is really valuable advice Chella. You make so many great points. Even though I have been a pro photographer in my time I never seemed to have one of myself and tend to use an older one. I will get onto it and take some new ones. At least if I don’t use them for my promos I can put them on the mantle piece, it will keep the kids away from the fire. regards Stuart

    Liked by 1 person

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