Why Writers Online Should Avoid the Impulse to Change

You see that picture above? Me wearing purple and smiling like a goober? I’m sick to death of it.

Since 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 sidebar, 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 as long as I can possibly bear it.

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.

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  • Heroicfinearts

    First off, I like the smiley purple-shirted picture. It seems as though someone was genuinely making you smile. Of course, you’ve always been good at that!

    The best example I can think of, for how important photos can be, has to do with high school reunions and Facebook. Their names change and so do their faces. They wanna be my friend. I have no idea who they are! How do they know who I am? Perhaps it’s my name. I couldn’t possibly look the same. Or maybe I look more like me than they look like themselves! Oh my gosh!

    So, keep the name Annie and keep the purple picture. I don’t even like purple, and I love the picture, and if you want to be my friend I will know who you are!

    • That’s true! Sometimes people look nothing like themselves twenty years later. I guess then it’s time to change the picture. Because it’s also weird when their picture is familiar/young and then in person they look totally different. But people on Facebook should have their maiden names listed too, if they want people from back when to know who they are. And thanks, I’m glad you like my pic. =)

  • Oh my goodness, Annie– you are absolutely gorgeous. I knew you were pretty because of the purple shirt picture, but goodness, with your hair naturally curly like that, wow!

    Ugh, I am SO horrible about pictures. I am still wanting to take a real picture. Soon, before people actually get to know me. You avatar really is the equivalent of your face online. It’s a chance to set a good impression. But I always look horrible in pictures because I tense up like I fear losing my soul.

    • Aw, thanks Nina! I know what you mean about tensing up right before a picture; several people in my life do that too. My best tip for that is to laugh out loud. I know it sounds silly, but if you make yourself laugh instead of just smile (even if it’s at a dumb joke in an “I’m so embarrassed” way), your smile will look more real. Or you could go with the whole stoic/sexy thing and not smile at all. 😉

      • No, I’m going to need to do the smile, I can’t pull off stoic sexy, lol. I think I need to also find someone to take my picture that I feel comfortable with. Poor Jay. That means he’s probably going to be the one getting pulled out somewhere to snap some pictures of me at some point when I’m feeling braver and more confident.

        • Hehe, yeah. I can’t pull off stoic sexy either. =) And yes, it does matter who’s with you, for sure! My husband took that purple shirt picture. You can also take tons and tons of pictures, just endlessly snapping shots. Eventually the nervousness will have to wear off so you look more natural. (Assuming you have a digital camera, of course.) Or go with friends who make you laugh and take pictures of them, too, so you feel less self-conscious.

      • Anonymous

        HA Daniel can’t smile in pictures. He just can’t. He’s like Chandler on friends. So he has to make himself laugh when he takes a picture. I, on the other hand, have a great smile. lol

  • Anonymous

    Ha yes. I get bored and like to change things up but you have a point. I think I may have finally settled on a blog layout. I think my current twitter pic expresses me pretty well. But I’d like a newer picture

    • I love your picture! Personally, I don’t think you need a new one yet; you still look like you do in that pic for the most part. I think it captures the essence of Febe. And I’m not just saying that because I took it. 😉

  • I love your curls! So pretty! Also, how funny – my hair is naturally curly too, but I also straightened mine for my profile pic. Hmmm, interesting trend there with curly-haired girls? I think when I do my next change, I’ll go curly!

    As much as I love changing things, you’re totally right. Any changes need to be infrequent and made with lots of announcement.

    • Thanks Laura! That is funny. I had no idea your hair was curly! I have noticed that a lot of curly girls go straight for photos. I wonder why we trend toward that? I actually think curly makes more sense, since it’s less common and thus more memorable. Let’s start the new trend!

  • I think of you not from the purple shirt but from the popping out of the wall stance. I love it! And your hair is glorious in both the avatar and in this blog post.

    You’re right about not changing the avatar. I keep mine even though I’m so sick of that scarf and sickened by the size of my forehead.

    • Haha, yes. Or “the Jack-in-the-box stance,” as I like to call it. =)~ Thanks Nina! That’s sweet. I think you have a very pretty avatar; I feel like I know you because your picture is up-close, friendly, and not kooky. I wish more people did what you’ve done!

  • I completely agree, Annie. I use my wedding photo most places, so far, because it’s better than a lot of other photos I have and there’s every reason for me to love it. 😉 I thought I’d chosen a different photo at one stage, but realised I didn’t like it as much after all. On my blog/website, I’ve got a picture of me grinning like a manic on my “about” page, which I don’t think I should use as an official author photo on anything else. XD


    • Well your wedding photo is certainly gorgeous! I used mine for a while too. =) And I love the happy picture on your about page, although I agree that it’s a little casual for an official headshot. One of the rewards I’m going to give myself when I get an agent/book deal is getting professional photos taken. That way I won’t feel like I’m wasting money, you know?

  • 83October

    I actually thought you were straight haired and then suddenly changed it to curly when I saw the picture. Lol. Anyway, as someone who has worked in Marketing, I completely agree with you. It’s very much like a company logo and their color story. Images are powerful, we can say variety is the spice of life, but if you’re out there marketing yourself, sometimes variety can be dangerous.
    Change is a good thing, but it should be done in moderation and it should be announced. I however am guilty of changing my blog template alot. However, right now i’m trying to keep to the current theme. When I made my logo for 83 october, i decided to keep it that way, at least no matter where i comment people recognize it immediately. I’m big in making logos and i take time to make ones for the sites i am part of to keep the recognition going.
    As usual, great post Annie. 🙂

    • Yes, a logo is a great way to look at it. And I had never heard the term “color story” before, but it makes perfect sense. If Home Depot suddenly changed all of their signs from orange to blue, we might miss them as we’re driving down the road looking for hardware stores.

      83 October is definitely recognizable. I’m not usually a big fan of handles that aren’t people’s names, but yours works for you. You have sort of an anonymous thing going while still being present and open to conversation. I like it, and I like your current blog template too. Thanks 83!

  • Chanale Fellig-Harrel

    As a singer and blogger, I change my picture every year or so. My sister is a photographer so getting a new shot is not a problem. I used to think that changing the pic keeps in interesting but you are absolutely right! People recognize me from my old pictures too but my last one had everyone commenting I looked just like my mother. So I changed that for good! First time reading a post on the topic. Great observation. LOVE the curly hair. Just like mine!

    • Hi Chanale! I imagine that if I had a photographer for a sister I’d be much more tempted to change my picture too! That sounds fun. =) But I’m glad my point made sense to you. Thanks very much for commenting.