You see that picture to the right? Yes, the one right there, at the top of my sidebar – me wearing purple and smiling like a goober. I’m sick to death of it.
Since the event of that photo, I have since had shots of me that I like better. Namely, this one, where my hair is in its natural mane instead of straightened:
So why haven’t I swapped them out? It’s simple, really: You recognize that picture.
Unless you’ve stumbled upon this blog post randomly, you probably know me, at least vaguely/subconsciously, as “that smiley girl in the purple shirt.” You should, anyway. I use that headshot on my blog, my Twitter, my Google+, my Goodreads, my author bios, my Klout, my Linkedin, my Disqus, all of my blog memberships, and any other online venue that I’m partaking in as a professional writer.
And not only that, but I’ve color coordinated, too. Purple (to match that shirt, of course), orange, black, gray, and white are the colors I stick with whenever I have the option to choose my own colors. And I choose damask whenever I can choose a pattern. (These colors and pattern are the best compromise, to me, between my vastly different genres of horror/gothic, literary, and poetry, but I’m getting off topic.)
The reason I do this is to begin building name/face recognition, and it’s easier for people to remember you if you’re consistent with your online image. Think about it this way: your hundreds of Twitter followers are also following hundreds of other people. It’s easy to overlook someone. You have to make effort to build relationships with people. And since those people’s timelines are filled with thousands of tweets that they have to sort through every day, most people scan.
The way they scan? They look at those tiny little avatars and/or your Twitter handle (your @ name). If you’re one of the lucky people who they’ve built a relationship with, you’re probably one of the avatars they scan for amidst the masses. If you change that avatar, you’re much harder to find. In fact, I can think of several Twitter friends that I don’t know any more, and I strongly suspect that it’s because I knew their picture better than their name, and now that they’ve changed it I can’t figure out who they are.
Here’s another scenario. I’m a reader. I read a short story/poem that I absolutely LOVED in one of my favorite literary magazines. In fact, I loved it so much that I went to the contributors page and looked for the author’s bio. Next to their neat one-paragraph summary is a picture of them in a red hat. At the bottom is a link to their author website. I click on it.
There, right on their sidebar, is that same picture of them in a red hat. I know I am in the right place: the home base of the author I now love and will follow forever. If the picture had been of them twenty years later with no hat and a different hair color, I might be confused. I might think I had the wrong website. I might just move on, because hell, it’s easier anyway. They’ve lost a potential reader.
So what am I getting at?
Don’t change your stuff.
There are exceptions, of course. Sometimes websites really do need overhauls. But that should be a once-every-few-years thing, not a monthly thing. Same goes for headshots. When I get a book deal, I’ll want to get a professional author photo for my promo stuff, book jacket, etc. But once I get that new headshot, I’ll put it everywhere and keep it for as long as I can. And wherever possible, I’ll bring it to people’s attention that I’m changing my picture, so they can make the connection between my old photo and me as their online friend.
And I’ll hopefully never change my Twitter handle, etc. That’s why it’s good to use your publishing name as your website title and username for everything you can. No matter what else changes, that will always stay the same, building name recognition between you and everyone who follows you. Same thing for avatars. You want a picture of you, not your book. Your book will eventually become a different book; you will always stay you. Besides, people want to interact with other people anyway – not objects.
So that’s why I think writers working on their online platforms should avoid the impulse to change their avatars, handles, and website templates like they’re nail polish colors. The interwebs is a big place for writers, and we work hard to build connections with each other. Make it easier for people to keep them by making it easier for people to recognize you from venue to venue.
And yes, you should go ahead and make peace with purple-shirted, straight-haired, smiley me, because I’ll be keeping that photo until A) I get an agent/book deal or B) my physical appearance changes so drastically that I’m no longer anything like that picture.
What do you think? Are you guilty of swapping photos every time you get a better shot? Twitter handles? Blog templates? Or do you think I’m wrong, and that variety is the spice of life? I’d love to hear your thoughts.