Pub Rants

Photoshop That Baby?

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STATUS: Just got the new Korean copies for ENCHANTED, INC. Man, I’m just so tickled because I think the cover is darling.

Random House JoongAng/Korea

What’s playing on the iPod right now? WALKING IN MEMPHIS by Mark Cohn

I want to say first off that I can completely sympathize with authors concerning the trauma involved in having a headshot taken.

My current picture on my website (see it here) was taken during the Denver Magazine 5280 photo shoot for the profile they did on me. Great photographer. Good lighting. But I’m telling you, that young lad took over 200 pictures of me and when it was time to select a photo for the magazine spread, there were only two shots I remotely liked. I’m not that photogenic super close up.

So I feel your pain. Get out the photoshop, baby!

But I want to caution authors to resist that particular temptation. Why? Because I think you should look like your author shot. There is nothing more startling than meeting an author in person and he or she looks nothing like the photo and if the photo is better than the in-person moment, well, it’s downright awkward. I’m as politically correct as the next person but it sometimes hard to hide the shock.

And that’s certainly not the response you want your fans to have when meeting you.

Now I do think you should like your author shot and redo it until you get it right (however you define that.) You have to live with it after all.

If you detest the whole author photo thing, than you can get creative. I think it’s Kim Harrison whose author photo consists of a long shot of her from behind walking down a wooded road. I love that shot. Very dramatic and mood setting which kind of fits the books she writes.

No contract ever stipulates that it has to be a headshot of the author (at least none that I’ve seen.) I’ve also seen great author shots where the writer is anonymous because they are wearing a hat dipped low or something similar.

Photoshop is not the only option.

24 Responses

  1. Cindy Procter-King said:

    I agree totally. There’s nothing wrong with choosing the best possible picture of oneself in the best possible lighting, and I have nothing against a writer Photoshopping a blemish or two, but I can’t help but do a double-take when I can’t recognize someone at a conference from their website or blog photo. And I mean REALLY not recognize them. I met a woman at one conference who looked at least thirty years older in person than in her photo. That thing had been Photoshopped to death. Who needs botox when you have Photoshop?


  2. Anonymous said:

    When I started on this journey, I accepted there would be tons of things I would have to do, some of it scary. Having an author photograph done is one of those things. Believe me, it’s not anywhere as scary as giving birth.

    Kimber An

  3. Anonymous said:

    I sat next to a well-known author at a conference luncheon. I had read her books. For years. I had no clue it the same person.

    On the older books there was a different photo. Could have been another person entirely.

    When she introduced herself I heard myself saying how I didn’t recognize her from her photo. It just came out. I tried to turn it into a compliment, but it sort of fell flat.

    I think there was probably more than photoshop and a trip to the salon that morning involved in this case, but you are so right. Look NORMAL. Forget the glamour shots. It will save everyone embarrassment.

  4. Anonymous said:

    Unfortunately, looking normal when the picture was taken often means not looking like you do face to face. The only author shot that actually looks like me (sorta) was taken at a presentation. I’m gonna use that one for a long time.

    The lighting must have been funny when we took the picture of the three of us to show who actually wrote a picture book that is out under a pen name. Because as long as I sent that shot to conference people or to be put on signs advertising my programs, I got huge reactions when people saw me appear. The comment, “You don’ t look like your picture,” was as much of a shock to me as I seemed to have been to them.

    I’ve had people of color bring their kids to my talks so their children can meet an African-American author. We became friends later, but really, all they were going on was my picture and the fact that I had written biographies of Louis Armstrong, Duke Ellington, and Marian Wright Edelman. And The fact that the African American illustrator of my picture books used his own children in them, didn’t help either. (shoppers at my bookstore signing thought I was one of the salesclerks selling that pile of books.)

    So, thank heavens if you can find one decent picture out of thousands. I’m keeping this one for a long time. (until I grow too wrinkled and grey, I suppose.

    -librarian/ writer

  5. Shanna Swendson said:

    Oh, that is a fun cover!! (And yes, this is the first time I’ve seen it.)

    My challenge in getting an author photo taken was that photographers tend to annoy me, so that the photo always has this “Die, fiend!” look in my eyes. I went to a photographer who does head shots for actors and actresses, as well as the, um, let’s just say “advertising” photos for certain (ahem) professionals who need to look sexy. (Let’s just say he had some interesting stories.) When I was trying to look sexy, all the shots looked like I was pondering someone’s slow, painful death (which could explain why I’m still single and why men I’m attracted to always turn and run in the opposite direction). The photo I ended up using was from the end of the shoot when I thought we were just chatting and didn’t realize he was still taking pictures. It’s only mildly Photoshopped. He removed the dark circles from under my eyes, some flyaway hair and some redness from a lingering sunburn at my neckline. I wouldn’t let him take out any freckles or moles.

  6. Anonymous said:

    I sympathise – I’m as photogenic as a brick wall, and the 200+ photo method is a good way of getting one with ‘character’

    Of course, paying a pro to take 200 pics is almost out of the question, but at least with digital cameras you can ask them to keep snapping away and hope that one ends up useable.

    As an example, I have one headshot I did with my own camera (a fairly good DSLR). I stuck the camera on a tripod, set up the lighting and used a cable release. I must have spent half a day and taken upwards of 100 pics, but I did get one I could use. (The shot I paid a pro photographer for was very serious-looking. I wanted something a bit lighter.)

    By the way, you can often improve a headshot by converting it to greyscale.

  7. katiesandwich said:

    You know, I wonder what my favorite author looks like in person. In every photo I’ve seen of him, he looks about 35, but in fact, he’s older than my dad!

    And you know, my feelings about author photos differ from day to day. I mean, sure, I’d like to weigh less EVERY DAY, but some days, I look at myself in the mirror and think, “Your potential readers would run screaming from the bookstore.” And then other days, I think, “Hey, I wonder if I can borrow somebody’s digital camera today.” I never have, though. But I hope that when I actually need my author photo, it’ll happen on one of those, “Hey, I at least don’t look repulsive” days!

  8. Jennifer Smith/Ila Campbell said:

    Just thought you’d like to know that the Korean cover you posted had the title faithfully translated. Most of them aren’t, and it’s really funny to see how different they can be. The title of this literally one translates to “Magic, Inc.”

  9. Anonymous said:

    Nice photo, Kristin.

    I look at photos of authors on books keenly–to see what I can discern about the personality and talent of the author! As if that would show in a photo of an ordinary mortal. And yet, it often does.

    I love to take photos. I think I find the “essence” of people I snap. Or something quirky or momentarily important.

    But I hate to be in photos! I look ridiculous, not natural, not relaxed, instead dorky,nervous, and uptight.

    When (and if) I ever get a manuscript accepted for publication, I’ll find something to do that is “arty” and appropriate. Yeah. I’ll do that. Someday.

  10. Sarah McCarty said:

    Oh, heck. When I needed a headshot I went to a professional and hated them all. So I told hubby, “We have the equipment, we have the technology, let’s do it ourselves.” (He dabbles in photographry)

    It took 100 shots to get a decent photo. A hundred shots in which I was made vividly aware of how many awkward facial expressions I go through on the way to a smile…

    After that, I, who normally smiles 24/7, became horrendously self conscious about smiling at all. For a couple days. Then I got over it. *wry grin* I am who I am.

  11. Gina said:

    This may sound kind of silly, but when I finally saw a picture of the author Lloyd Alexander, I nearly jumped out of my chair! He looked like he could be a character in one of his books.

  12. Wilfred the Author said:

    I’ll turn the tables on you Kristen. I went to the opening banquet of a recent conference here in the midwest (east of you) armed with headshots of the agents I wanted to meet. No, I wasn’t planning to stalk them in the bathroom, well…maybe, but since I’m the opposite gender that may have been another first.

    Anyway, there’s not a single person even remotely resembling these pictures, so I think that maybe they couldn’t make it in early. Well when the conference opens, the panels are introduced and I about hit the floor. I swear these agents had professional models stand in for them, or they were taken with a Kodak Brownie.

  13. Anonymous said:

    I want my author shot, when I have a published MS, to capture me jumping from a swing, mid-air. Not just my face either. I want people to think I can fly or–at least to know that I try.

    Maybe an amazed crowd will be photoshopped below me.

  14. L.N. Hammer said:

    Okay, loving the Korean cover. Possibly more than the American Enchanted, Inc., and I picked that up as soon as I saw it. This, on a manga/manhwa, I’d snatch up as the sort of thing I’m looking for.

    I’ll even forgive the angel instead of fairy wings.


  15. Poor Struggler said:

    In a magazine article where I was featured, the photographer used a photo he took where I was laughing. Big open mouth, the works. They Photoshopped out all of my fillings, crowns, and unsightly dental work!

  16. Anonymous said:

    What about no photo at all? I’ve seen a book or two that didn’t include an author photo, and assuming I ever get that far, I’d rather not have one myself.

  17. Joelle said:

    If I may make a suggestion, any writer who wants to get a headshot done might try to find one who does actor’s headshots. That’s all they do and they’re good at getting a good shot. Strangely enough, actors often are not that great at getting their pictures taken until they’ve done a lot of practice. Also, Kristen, only finding 2 pics in 200 is standard. No biggie! That’s why they take so many.

  18. joanr16 said:

    Anonymous at 7:40 pm wrote: Believe me, it’s not anywhere as scary as giving birth.

    Excellent perspective to keep in mind.

  19. cm allison said:

    When I get to that point, I have a photo my hubby took of me on our stallion doing a LOVELY extended cross-over. I’m using that!

  20. Anonymous said:

    I’m always surprised when I pick up a Connie May Fowler book. Every photo of her looks so different, I’ve wondered if it’s even the same person.

    On the other hand, I had the great pleausre of meeting Erma Bombeck once. She looked exactly like her picture – only shorter. And what a dear she was!

  21. Rob Gregory Browne said:

    I had my author photo taken off my book jacket after friends and family uniformly said the photo I’d chosen was truly awful.

    Unfortunately, I didn’t have time to get in a replacement before publication, so the jacket is photoless.

    Now people tell me I should have gone with the one on my website header. The next book, I guess.