The Dreaded Author Photo, Again

I received a handy-dandy checklist from my publisher detailing everything I needed to do between the offer and the release date. It wasn’t like anything on this list was a huge surprise, but there were some parts I was looking forward to more than others. And there was one I wasn’t looking forward to at all.

Author packet checklist

Author packet checklist

Ugh. Most authors I know aren’t exactly photogenic by nature. We usually work from home, where we don’t really have to bother showering or getting dressed, let alone doing our hair or putting on makeup. I used to do all of those things every day. Now that I’m a writer… not so much. And even if I had what I needed to do all of that—and, um, could remember how—there’s still the whole matter of how much I despise seeing pictures of me. I don’t like being reminded that my hair is flat (and look, another gray!), or that my eyes are too squinty, or that there’s yet another wrinkle on my forehead, and so on. To avoid this situation, I typically try to dodge cameras and duck out of photos whenever possible. Here was one photo I wouldn’t be able to get out of.

Add to that the fact that this isn’t just any ordinary snapshot. The author photo is, after all, a selling tool. The goal is for readers to like us, to be able to relate to us. Studies show people, including readers and book buyers, are more drawn to people (and authors) who are beautiful. Gulp. At the very least, we don’t want to scare people away, right? (I wonder who decided that putting this photo of Shel Silverstein on the back of The Giving Tree was a good idea?) And, as my sweet son put it, “This picture will be on every single book you ever sell, mom. Make it good.” No pressure there, right?

The author photo is such a hazing ritual for authors that the phrase “dreaded author photo” has become cliché. I know several Emus have blogged about it here already. I think pretty much every author hates the whole idea, don’t we? And yet the author photo is something all debut authors must face. So, how to approach this scary beast? Carefully.

First, search for every blog post you can find (like I did) about how to take a good author photo. Or, save yourself a whole bunch of time and just check out this one, by Jennifer Ziegler, which came at just the right time for me and had the most helpful advice I found anywhere: Be authentic. Okay. I can do that. I think. Well, maybe with a little help.

In the end, I went with normal, comfortable clothes that make me feel like me. I let someone else handle the hair and makeup, but with strict instructions to keep it casual and natural-looking, because I’m a fairly casual and natural person.  I told the photographer I didn’t want to look too serious or stiff. And in the best decision every made about author photos, I invited a friend to join me. My friend Kim Baker mentioned that she needed to get a new author photo, too. Misery loves company, right? I knew she’d understand my pain, and I also knew she’d be able to make me smile.

It was a beautiful, sunny day. The leaves were turning. We strolled around the university campus looking for good backgrounds, and Kim and I took turns being photographed. It was all much more pleasant than I expected. And thanks to Kim and our fabulous photographer, Mary Balmaceda, I think I got a photo I can actually live with:

Laurie Ann Thompson head shot

One more thing checked off the list. Phew!

Laurie Ann ThompsonLaurie Ann Thompson’s debut young-adult nonfiction, BE A CHANGEMAKER: HOW TO START SOMETHING THAT MATTERS, will be published by Beyond Words/Simon Pulse in September, 2014. She also has two upcoming picture books: an as-yet-untitled biography with Schwartz & Wade/Penguin Random House and MY DOG IS THE BEST with Farrar, Straus, & Giroux/Macmillan. Please visit her website, follow her on Twitter, and like her Facebook page.


Filed under Anxiety, Promotion, Writing and Life

14 responses to “The Dreaded Author Photo, Again

  1. Lindsey Lane

    Perfect!!! The post and your picture. Really.


  2. Joshua McCune

    It’s such a pain in the ass and you’re never quite sure if any of the hundreds of shots are gonna turn up right…. kudos to you and Mary. That’s a wonderful picture.


  3. Great author photo!!! I don’t like to take those either. Yours turned out great.


  4. Use that photo everywhere! It looks great! Besides, it looks exactly like you.


  5. Love the officially official picture.
    Your Emu pic is great too — that smile makes me happy! 🙂


  6. Thanks, everyone! I think this is one of those under-talked-about things that really stress authors out. It’s hard to complain without sounding vain, but there’s a reason we all stay home and write in our basements, right? 😉


  7. Laurie…GREAT picture! It does look relaxed and genuine. (And I didn’t even know about getting an author picture done! Guess that’s something I may have to do at some point in the future.)


  8. I had mine taken yesterday and thought of you. They took a ton, so one has to turn out, right? I took all the precautions — hair, make-up (!!) nails. Then, I just said: “Well, this is as good as it’s going to get.” The make-up part was fun, because it’s probably the first time I’ve worn make-up in 20 years. I don’t even own any myself. Unless Chapstick counts.


    • At one point the photographer told me to put my hands by my face. I said, “Oh no! I didn’t do my nails!” She laughed and said, “OK, we’ll skip those.” 😉

      But why are you getting new ones done? Your current one is adorable!


  9. Oh, this is great, Laurie. And your photo is gorgeous. Just like you.

    I’ll be having my author photo taken next month, so I’m fighting the urge to start a binge diet and seek a face lift in advance. Thankfully, we live in an artsy community and one of our own authors is also a photographer. She has set up a head shot day at The Writing Barn, which is also owned by another author. All that points to your suggestion about being comfortable and engaging friends.

    I hope my shot turns out as beautifully as yours.


  10. A gorgeous photo that truly does you justice! Beautiful and warm. Hooray!


  11. Pingback: What a year! » Laurie Ann ThompsonLaurie Ann Thompson

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in: Logo

You are commenting using your account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s

This site uses Akismet to reduce spam. Learn how your comment data is processed.