Quite a while back, I brought up a topic on Twitter that I’ve been meaning to blog about ever since. The question I tweeted was:
Do you think author photos should attempt to meet reader expectations? Horror in black, romance looking sexy, literary being solemn, etc.
— Annie Neugebauer (@AnnieNeugebauer) November 23, 2011
And the answers, to me, were a little bit surprising. For the most part, they were a resounding no. True, I follow and am followed by mostly other writers—so perhaps we just don’t like the idea of having to meet some idealized image from readers—but I was still slightly taken aback by the ferocity of some of the opinions. Obviously, writers and authors want the right to look however the hell they look. Seems fair. And yet…
I admit that I do have certain expectations when it comes to author image. A horror author, for example, I expect to look just a little bit edgy. They don’t need to be goth (I hate that stereotype), but if they were wearing pink and smiling sweetly, it would sort of jar my preconceptions. I more commonly see black eyeliner, intense eye contact, and maybe a sneaky little smirk.
Flavorwire has a very funny post about author photo clichés, if you’re interested: “Against Promotional Author Photographs.”
But truly, I think we all know them. Often, romance writers go for pretty glamour type shots, literary authors go for serious or somber shots, fantasy authors go for whimsical, sci-fi for nerdy intellectual, YA for young and accessible, etc. These are all stereotypes, mind you, but they’re ones that authors usually seem to hit.
Is it a bad thing if an author surprises me in this regard? No, probably not. Although the truth is… I’m not sure. I genuinely can’t remember that ever happening. (I can think of plenty of authors whose headshots are so plain they don’t suggest any genre, but not any whose shots go against their genre.)
Which leads me to believe that most authors are hitting these preconceptions intentionally. One simple explanation? It’s a form of marketing. Perhaps readers want to buy books from someone who *looks* like they should be writing them.
What other ways could this be a marketing tactic? Is it a useful one?
How about one step further? Why haven’t more authors tapped into the extreme of this concept and gone for major sex appeal? Surely there are some erotic romance authors out there hot enough to get a spread in Esquire, Playboy, or the like. I couldn’t find any examples of this happening, although a few of my tweeps cited Poppy Z. Brite’s racy photos back in the day, and Tawni O’Dell’s near-catastrophic photoshoot in her undies before Oprah scooped her up.
And could these expectations ever be turned on their head? Could the contrast between expectation and reality ever serve to catch a reader’s attention? I know that I often get comments of surprise when people find out I’m a horror writer… but I still haven’t decided if this works for or against me. It definitely seems to prejudice other horror writers against me (at least initially: what the hell is cheerful young woman doing tweeting me?), but it also gets some people talking to me who might not otherwise think to do so if I were all gothed-out.
I don’t have the answers. I do know that there have been times when I wished I had a different headshot to use, mostly if what I’m pairing it with is something serious, sad, or frightening. My smiley side-tilt (upper right sidebar) just doesn’t seem appropriate at times like those. At the very least, someday when I get a real, professional headshot, I’d like to get a few with different facial expressions. And, yes, perhaps wearing black.
Writers: Do you have headshots? Are you satisfied with them? Did you consciously make an effort to “fit” your genre when you had them taken? And if given the right circumstances, would you ever do a sexy shoot for publicity? How far is too far?
Readers: What are your experiences with peeking at the back of your books? Do you find yourself surprised by what authors look like? Are you disappointed when there is no headshot? Can you think of an author whose headshot conflicts with their genre or general image?
I’m curious to hear what you all think! Feel free to jump into the discussion from whatever perspective you have.Share this: