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.
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:
One more thing checked off the list. Phew!
Laurie 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.