Author photos! Okay, so this topic doesn’t apply to like 99% of us because how many of us are awesome enough to publish a book? But we simply must talk about author photos because they’re just SO cool. And! There actually is a lot that the rest of us civilians have in common with real live authors (more on that in the second half of this piece).
Our studio has had the honor of photographing some seriously baller writers for their books, and we asked just two of them about their experience in using those photos.
spent years working on his debut novel, The Lost Book of Adana Moreau
, and when it was released by Harper Collins in 2020 it landed on more “best of” lists and won more awards than we can count. When asked how often he has had a request for a headshot since releasing his book, he says at least 100 times, but that’s the roughest of ballparks.
“At every stage of publishing (and beyond) I’ve been asked for an author photo,” Mike says, “Pre-pub for marketing and book materials, post-pub for marketing and A LOT for events (both virtual and in-person, readings, and when teaching classes and seminars). It goes without saying that it’s so important to have a great photo as an author, and I use mine weekly!”
Mike also said that his publisher “gave some basic guidance for an author photo, but not enough for me to take one on my own or to know where to begin with creating the look of the photo. An author photo experience should also be a type of creative and fun process, and as a writer and not a photographer, I wasn’t sure how to translate who I am as an author into a photo. Organic Headshots took care of that part for me, and I couldn’t be happier with mine.”
Mike’s novel takes a journey across several cities and time periods, so it seemed fitting to have an urban, enduring look to the photo.
Emily Bleeker is a Wall Street Journal and Amazon Charts best-selling author with six novels released under Lake Union Publishing (with over two million readers and counting), and she’s of course working on her seventh and possibly even her eighth book. She is also asked for an author photo “by my publisher when I turn in each book. I am also asked for an author photo any time I do an appearance, write an article, appear on a podcast, or teach a class. My publicist is another person who distributes my author photo widely, where it’s used for my Goodreads page, anywhere my book is sold, etc. My publicist also suggests having multiple portraits available on my website as part of an easily accessible media kit, so anyone using the photo can have several to choose from.”
How many times is Emily hounded for a photo? “It depends on what phase of publicity I’m in. I’d say maybe just three times a month when I’m drafting, but in the three months before and two months after a book publishes I’m asked for an author photo so many times it’s hard to count.”
The headshot we took of her was published in Variety when ABC picked up the pilot option for a series based on one of her books. That last sentence was written and put in bold type purely for its clout and coolness factor, and for no other reason.
And like Mike, Emily also didn’t get too much guidance from her publisher or publicist for where to get a photo taken or what it should look like. “I learned that as an author you are your product. Sure, it’s your books, but you want people to want to buy YOUR books just by looking at your name. So when you represent yourself online or otherwise as an author—you are presenting your product. You have to look confident in your photo and it has to draw people in to want to learn more about you and your book.”
When the rest of us are asked for a headshot it’s not likely to get printed on a book jacket cover, but we do have plenty in common with authors when we’re crafting our own headshots.
1. Your photo is part of your personal brand. People should be able to look at your photo and get a sense of what you do. For writers, the author photo on the back of a book on business will have a look that’s different from a horror fiction book’s writer or from Elizabeth Radcliffe’s headshot for her self-help book Soulwork (which we also took!). In other industries, a litigator’s headshot will look different from a therapist’s headshot.
2. Tailor everything in the photo to fit that brand. Choose clothing that reflects your style and personality. Make sure your facial expression evokes your characteristics and what you want people’s first impression of you to reflect. What about the colors in the background? Think about if muted tones are part of your look, or if the backdrop should have bold colors.
3. Action or no action? A plain headshot as simple as can be is just fine. But so is a candid of you walking down the street, or a portrait sitting in a library wearing a smoking jacket and chomping on a cigar if that’s your thing. Be creative and rely on a creative photographer who can talk through what you need and help you craft something that suits your image.