The Author Photo: Just Show Us What You’re Really Like

People keep asking for author photos. Can’t my work just speak for itself? Evidently not.

But I take a really awful photo. Or maybe I look like that and I’m just deep in denial. When I got my new computer (I loooooooooooove my new computer) it came with the iSight camera built in, which I forgot when I clicked on the Photo Booth icon to see what that did. What that did was put me in all my puffy, saggy, blotchy glory right there on my computer screen.
I screamed out loud.

Then I became fascinated with it. Photo Booth comes with all these variations, all of which made me look better than the monster on the screen in plain old color. Well, they all made me look better because they made the image a different color and texture which cleared up an amazing number of blotches, wrinkles, and sags. But none of them looked like me. Or rather, they all looked like I wanted to look, but would have lead to people saying “Who is that?” Which is really depressing.

Then there was the whole problem of who did I want to be? There are some of those pictures that made me look, uh, arrogant. Vain, even. Can’t have that; pictures are for people who don’t know me and so still have a chance to like me. The last thing we need is truth in photographs. Then others are so heavily embellished with the different photo booth variations that they’d just make people squint.
Or the ones that make me look like an alien.
Hard to believe those were all taken within a couple of days of each other. Or that they’re photos of the same species.

While I was thinking about this, I went over to Teach Me Tonight where the Mysterious Laura Vivanco not only posted a wonderful picture of herself that wasn’t her, she supplied me with a link to romance author photos from the eighties. And they are FABULOUS. If only I had that kind of nerve.

Well, not the Rosemary Rogers one; I don’t think I write the kind of story where the author sprawls across her bed in her nightgown. Janet Dailey is pretty upfront about who she is; I think that photo is from the time she wrote a book set in each one of the fifty states while traveling the fifty states. Later she stayed home and traveled other people’s books. That would have been a good photo, too. So no, I don’t think I see myself standing out in front of this barn of a house with Wolfie under my arm carrying a “Get Out Of Iraq” banner. Bertrice Small has a very nice Gorey-esque photo with her husband. I have related elsewhere what happened when Bob and I tried to get an author photo taken together; if we’d been in the same pose as Bertrice and George, Bob would have been strangling me. Actually, that’s a thought; conflict sells. And I could so do the Danielle Steele pose. All I have to do is get some big sleeves, have Wolfie stuffed, lose a hundred pounds, and write a lot faster.

What I like about these photos is the Diane Arbus feel to them which nicely captures the freakshow that is publishing-for-a-living. Almost every one of those photos was carefully staged and chosen by the author to show a side of herself that wasn’t real, deliberately letting the reader in on the joke. (I love Steele’s plastic dog. I must have one.) (The photographer is really Mary Ellen Mark, who, like most of the authors pictured, is still working today.) Bob has talked about doing a photo where he’s dressed all in black with black sunglasses on, standing about ten feet behind me while I sit on a park bench looking innocent and happy. After seeing these photos, I think he might be right. Assuming I can fake innocence.

The photo I can’t imagine is the one that’s real, that shows me as I really am, because who I really am changes hourly. If that kind of self-knowledge is required for an author photo, it’ll have to wait. Yeah, that’s the ticket. I’m not self-actualized enough for an author photo. I’ll call you when I get there. Bring your camera.

28 thoughts on “The Author Photo: Just Show Us What You’re Really Like

  1. I like Bob’s Man-in-Black idea. Or he could feign innocence on the bench and you could dress in black and be the bodyguard/secret menace.

    I don’t think anyone knows what they look like, really. I shudder to think I look like 90% of the pictures of me. We all just catch a glimpse of ourselves in the mirror and think, “Is that what I really look like?”

    You might as well do something silly or get Glamour Shots.

  2. Definitely like Bob’s idea, but Phyllis has an interesting twist on it. Then again I’m not sure Bob can do feigned innocence so better stick with the original idea.

    And its so true about photographs. Even mirrors aren’t as honest.

  3. I like Bob’s Man-in-Black idea. Or he could feign innocence on the bench and you could dress in black and be the bodyguard/secret menace.

    Oooh! I like that. Gender reversal’s cool. Maybe he could pose holding a Romance novel open before him and pretending to be enrapt?

  4. I’m glad you liked the link.

    The photo I can’t imagine is the one that’s real, that shows me as I really am, because who I really am changes hourly

    You know, you could just start a new trend: author photo-collages of digitally altered photos, candid camera shots, different overlays and backgrounds, all adding up to a fascinatingly rich portrait, in which some aspects may be unreal, but not untrue.

    The Mysterious Laura Vivanco (maybe I should leave the sign of the V and wear a mask?)

  5. OMG those photos are priceless! Except now I’m really, really afraid twenty years from now my author photos from now will show up on someone’s blog and they’ll spew diet coke all over their monitors …

    I like the idea of a pic with Bob and Jenny in boxing ring with the gloves on 🙂

  6. No one looks good when their face is a foot and a half from the camera and the photo is all pixelly. The blue picture is great though.

    I am among the unphotogenic which in my family isn’t a big deal because we’re all allergic to getting our picture taken. I’ve looked good in two photos – one from my university graduation and one wedding picture. I only look good in that one because the photographer just told a dirty joke and I’m grinning. My in-laws, on the other hand, pose for family portraits at the drop of a hat. I suffered through my first session and thought I did okay only to hear my SIL say “We can’t use these, Angie’s making a face in them.”

    I was smiling.


  7. i love the last idea. and you can fake innocence. or photoshop it in. 🙂

    i take awful pictures. and all any one wants to do these days is take pictures and put them on facebook. at least my dodging skills are coming back.

    Office Wench: i’m told i scare small children when i smile. maybe that’s why they’re really taking pictures of me…twenty years down the road: “you see this? you want to look like this? then stop making faces behind my back, buster” or “you see this? quick phone call and you’ll have to live with this. one more word out of you and i’m calling”

    *sigh* my last good picture was six years ago.

  8. I just bought my MacBook less than a week ago and I’ve been having entirely too much fun with PhotoBooth. I also come from non-photogenic folk, so being able to completely distort myself is just a blast.

    I love this machine. I’m now a Mac convert. Completely and totally.

  9. Wow. Thanks for that trip to the 80s.

    Just pose with your favourite play pals: Moot, the Flamingo (sorry, I’ve forgotten her name), the Turkey Vultures (Gertrude and Heathcliff?) and you’ll look relaxed and Jennyesque.

  10. I like the blue one (without the blue) and have always loved the pix you took with Bob before the DLD tour. (Especially the one on the website)

    I must admit to loving the PhotoBooth also. I’ve toyed with the idea of taking a photo every day I’m writing my next manuscript and compile them into their own book. Of course, it may mean a lot more once I get published…

  11. Well hell. You deleted my favorite picture. I liked that one, even though it didn’t really look like you.

    Maybe you should have one taken for each of Maslow’s levels until you get to self-actualization. “The Author as a Work-in-Progress.” Or not.

    When I “picture” you I remember seeing you in the hotel at Nationals last July and you were walking around looking for someone you were supposed to meet up with and then stopped to chat with some writer friends. When you walked away from their table you were laughing and, knowing they were watching, you flipped a hand through the back of your hair and tossed your head as if to brush them away. They all burst out laughing and it made me laugh, too and I thought, “that is such a typical Jenny thing” — even though I have no idea if that is typical of you. You need a picture like that. Laughing and teasing. Get Mollie to take it.

    Bob, on the other hand — you need to make him stop smiling in pictures. Geez. That’s just scary.

  12. Jenny,

    If you ever decide you really want to do that park bench shot with Bob, let me know.

    Self-portraits aren’t as easy as they seem. I tried to do a self-portrait “author photo” several months ago. It didn’t work out so well. Having never done self-portraits before, I didn’t realize that the camera wouldn’t auto-focus after I’d already set the timer. But the clock behind me looked good.

  13. Jenny, love the blue pic. Very Andy Warhol! LOL
    I am now adding overwhelming courage to your list of other attributes. Gia

  14. I had a very similar reaction when I got my new computer with Photo Booth. Except I didn’t shriek, since I didn’t realize it was I. I just thought “Why did they get such a homely woman to Max Headroom this program?”. Then I started laughing when I realized it was I.

    I don’t look like that. Really. I have a much more pleasant expression on my face!

    It’s a sad thing when the best photos of me are from my (old) passport and my college ID.

  15. Awesome.

    I made my oldest friend take my author photo. I never feel drunk enough to get my picture taken. I’d rather clean a bathroom.

  16. Deb, that’s an awesome picture of Jenny & Bob! Although, Jenny is leaning toward Bob and he’s actually smiling. It’s like they’re saying through their teeth, “Are you going to get her, or am I?”

  17. You know you take a bad picture when your own mother comments on how bad you looked. And that was WITH make-up. I got Bells Palsy about 10 years ago. Half my face went limp. It took about 6 months for things to come back, and my nerves did a little “rewiring” in the process. Now, when I smile, my left eye squints. The bigger the smile, the bigger the squint. If I laugh, my eye almost shuts completely. I take a great pirate pic though. Argh.

  18. I agree with Gia, very Andy W. that blue one. How about a series of six all with different funny expressions, one b&w, one yellow, one green, one blue etc?

  19. I love the collage idea. Jenny you could incorporate all the stuff that you are about … art and literature, romance fiction, teaching, flying keyboards, etc.

    BCB, I too liked the one she deleted.

  20. What would be really scary is if we all had our pictures posted next to our comments.

    I liked the deleted one too. (Wait a minute. That doesn’t sound right either. Could it be that all BCB, McB and I, all three of us, agree on something? Yikes. 🙂

    Phyllis mentioned how odd it felt to catch a glimpse of yourself in a mirror. The other day I saw my reflection in a window and it was like looking at my grandmother when she was young. Now that was odd.

  21. I liked it, too, but it didn’t look like me, plus I looked at the blog full of pictures of memememememememe and thought, “Self-involved much?” So I took one off.

    That’s my idea of modesty. Only THREE pictures of me. Sigh.

    Oh, and I have a Warhol portrait, that’s one of the things Photo Booth does. In fact I have three. But as I said, too much memememememememememememe already.

  22. Well, its your blog – it can be all youyouyouyouyou if you want it to. What are we going to do, throw you out?

  23. Whaddaya think, we come over here hoping to find someone else? Sheesh. Give us a little credit.

    Although, we go over to Bob’s blog and find NO ONE IS THERE, so maybe we don’t deserve credit for rational thought after all. Maybe you should tell him how to post pictures? But then you’d have to send pictures for him to post. Never mind.

    And McB and Mary are obviously suffering the ill effects of ingesting too much Easter candy if they’re agreeing with something I said. That just hurt my brain. No doubt it’s a conspiracy. I’ll get over it.

  24. “I liked it, too, but it didn’t look like me, plus I looked at the blog full of pictures of memememememememe and thought, “Self-involved much?” So I took one off.”

    I must respectfully disagree. That was the best of the bunch. If you had your eyes open in that one, I could see “arrogance,” but it looked dreamy to me.

  25. I’ve loved all the pics on your books. Not only are you a great writer, but you have a very good eye. I think you should just trust yourself and have a little fun with it!

    As a reader, I like to see who has written the book. It makes me feel relieved if she is the Americana type (loved the link by the way!), but if she is glamourous and having fun, that’s great too. The most important thing to me is to see the author looking like s/he is having a great time and is on top of the world. (I like comedies, by the way. I suppose a tragic book would be better off with no pic, or a gloomy one.) Terry Pratchett has some really nice ones with that hat of his.

    It’s not really about honesty, I’m afraid, but about making the reader feel good (-:.

    The author photo Malcolm Gladwell used on his book “Blink” made me as mad as hell, though. His book is about snap judgements, and then he uses this photo where he isn’t exactly happy, and his hair is going six different directions. Total mindf***, if you ask me. “Dare to make a judgement!” he seems to say. But for goodness sakes, if you are going to have long, curly hair, you can at least ask someone like Steven Pinker for his styling secrets. (-: Made me very upset, but I do appreciate the point.

    Stuff of fantasy, but still important.

  26. Can we play “picture Jenny?” I suddenly had a flash of you with a fabulous flowerpot hat and a single blooming gerbera daisy in it. Although, blood-red poinsettias would be more thematically correct for the Zelda book since it’s a Christmas mystery.

    For Fun Book, I see you dressed up in a suit and those cute square reading glasses, with the backdrop of one of those fabulous libraries you see in movies — multi-layered books interspersed with antiquities, and a ladder to reach the top shelf.

    We could have a lot of fun with a “dress-up Jenny” day (-:.

  27. I would probably submit more, were I able to overcome my great fear of the author photo. You see, I know I’ll be a success–until they see the options for author photo and run screaming–from the editorial board meeting, or if not from there, from the book store.

    Thank you for isolating and talking about that which we deny as we write.

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