Wednesday, July 16, 2008

Stalking An Author Photo

by Julie Kramer

I don't especially like having my picture taken. So it's probably best my day job is as a freelance television news producer, a behind-the-scenes gig where you don't have to wash your hair each day. Same thing with novelists.

But my publisher wanted an author photo. And that does seem to be the norm. As I checked the back cover and inside jacket flap of numerous published books, some authors even appeared to be enjoying their photo sessions. Probably because they're best selling authors. I'd smile too if STALKING SUSAN hit the New York Times list. But we debut novelists are a nervous, insecure lot. Physically as well as editorially. And I'm at that bifocal age.

I appealed to a television cameraman/friend, who also did still camera work, to try to make me look pretty. I thought I'd relax better around someone I knew. Because I'd written a thriller, my photog pal, Garrett Young, posed me in the back of an alley in a leather jacket and decided we should try for an Urban Grit look.

Not wanting to blow my big chance, I'd also hired Liz Zilka, a makeup artist who does face wizardry on television anchors and politicians. She airbrushed me. And when I looked in the mirror, I thought I looked beautiful enough for Hollywood. Or at least high definition television.
But that's no guarantee of a good author photo.

Garrett claims he took hundreds of shots. (He is a patient man.) He blamed the results on his model and not his skill as a photographer. He said producers aren't good at relaxing or taking direction and that luckily he caught me in an unguarded moment. I looked at the numerous digital images and agreed he had a point. In many, I looked strained and uncomfortable.

I really had only two to chose from. He'd also taken another photo series indoors with me wearing an off the shoulder sweater. He used a Magic Ring Light that supposedly hides the subject's facial flaws. And I was tempted to go with one of those pictures because I thought it made me seem young and cute. But a girl friend told me it looked like a high school graduation photo, and a thriller writer needed to look edgy, not adorable. So I settled on the Urban Grit look.

Except when my website went up to promote STALKING SUSAN - a thriller set in the desperate world of television news where a reporter discovers a serial killer is targeting women named Susan - no one said I looked "gritty" or "edgy."

Friends and relatives started teasing me I looked "kind of hot," and "sultry," even "a babe." Things they never say when they see me in person with my unwashed hair. And it wasn't like I was showing cleavage or tongue. I started to get snickering emails about my "sex, naughty girl" look. One called me "sultry and saucy in leather." So when I was signing arcs at the PLA Conference and a librarian told me I looked much better than that photo, which was plastered on a poster by the Random House booth, I wanted to hug her.

My favorite author photo might be Linda Fairstein's on the back of DEATH DANCE. Smiling, showing off her dancer legs. Not your cliche author pose in front of bookshelves.

So here's some questions for you cyber buds - Does anybody even care about an author's photo besides the author? Does an author's photo sell a book? Did I pick the right photo? Or should I have gone with the cute, adorable runner up? How about sharing your own photo shoot story?

Julie Kramer is a freelance news producer for NBC's Today show, Nightly News, and Dateline. Prior to that she was a national award-winning investigative producer for WCCO-TV in Minneapolis.

Julie grew up along the Minnesota-Iowa state line, fourth generation of a family who raised cattle and farmed corn for 130 years. Her favorite childhood days were spent waiting for the bookmobile to bring her another Phyllis A. Whitney novel. An avid reader, she tired of fictional TV reporters always being portrayed as obnoxious secondary characters who could be killed off whenever the plot started dragging. So her debut thriller, STALKING SUSAN, features a TV reporter as the heroine and takes readers inside the world of television news. She lives with her husband and sons in White Bear Lake, MN.


Tory said...

For me, an author photo never sells the book. It's more about, after you've read the book and decided you like the author as an author, how do you bond with the author as a person? Do you see them as someone you'd like to get to know? Or do you decide, "They write well, but I don't think they're a very nice person."

As a reader, I'm willing to go the extra mile for an author I like as a person, not for someone who's a good writer but I don't like. For example, I'll still buy the books of the author I don't like if they're good, but for the author I do like, I might be more invested in suggesting their book for the book club I attend.

In terms of your photos, I have to admit I like the runner-up better than the "Urban Grit" one. The UG looks very posed and doesn't show me a personality, the runner-up looks like someone I'd like to get to know. And I don't think a thriller writer needs to BE edgey to WRITE edgey.

But that's just me.

Annette said...

Welcome to Working Stiffs, Julie! I recently went through the "I need a photo" panic, too, and settled on a cropped version of one my hubby took on our front porch. There is a long story as to WHY I felt I needed one when I don't have a book coming out yet, but I won't bore you all with it now.

Julie, personally, I like the gritty one. I think it's perfect for thriller author. It reminds me of one of Laura Lippman's earlier author photos. When I met her, I realized how much cuter she was than the photo. I'd rather meet someone who looks gritty and turns out to be cute than meet someone I expected to be cute who turns out to be gritty.

Besides, you can always use the cute photo for your NEXT novel.

Joyce said...

Welcome, Julie!

I like the gritty one, too. Although it's nice to see an author photo on a book, to me, it's more of a "so that's what she looks like" kind of thing. But then when I meet the author in person, they rarely look anything like the photo!

JennieB said...

Julie, my sistah! Welcome to the stiffs!

So that's what you look like when you're not looking sultry for the camera. I like both. The UG is probably best choice for the thriller, though. The yearbook photo looks like you might write romance novels instead. You do look friendlier in it, if that's a help...

I started my love-hate relationship with cameras and headshots in New York twenty years ago, when I was just a babe in arms doing - or trying to do - acting. I like having my picture taken, I like hamming for the camera, but I rarely like the results. The best pictures that have been taken of me, are ones my husband has taken. Once in a while I'll ask me to shoot a session on the back porch just for the heck of it. Between the double chin and the craters on my nose,The pic on the ITW site, as well as the one on my website, are his. And they're just candid shots, not much makeup, no lighting, just a $149 digital camera. The quality pobably isn't good enough to use on a book flap, but then I haven't been told I need one, so I guess I won't get my picture on the book. Boo-hoo!

I can't wait to read Stalking Susan!

JennieB said...

That was weird. There's an unfinished sentence in my last post. I could have sworn I did something about that. Oh, well...

Wilfred Bereswill said...

This is probably the unpopular answer with the women, but the members of the fairer sex have it SOOOOO easy on photo shoots.

You have the make-up, the hair stylists, the variety of clothing. Guys have...

I love the photo you chose.

I'm like Chandler Bing on Friends. A camera turns my way and my face becomes a Chinese contortionist.

I envisioned going in with a few outfits and a smile. When I was quoted the price, I went in with an open collar and sports jacket. 75 shots later I had a few candidates. I think we're most critical on ourselves.

Annette said...

As I former studio and wedding photographer, I can tell you it goes both ways. I did portraits before the digital revolution, so we never knew what we got until the proofs came back from the lab. Then I had to listen to those unhappy clients complain about how they looked in the picture. But IT LOOKED JUST LIKE THEM. Which is part of the problem. We don't WANT to look like ourselves. Women want to look like Angelina Jolie. Guys want to look like Brad Pitt.

Which explains the popularity of PhotoShop.

JennieB said...

Freddy my love, you could have had make-up too, I'm sure. You just have to hire a make-up artist. Don't try to tell me George Clooney does without one of those for his photo shoots...

FYI, you guys, Julie is also over on MJ Rose's blog today, talking about the backstory for STALKING SUSAN. It's a really interesting story, so go check it out!

Bonnie said...

To me it doesn't matter on the authors photo. I want the story to be worth reading. Tho I do like to see a picture who wrote the story so I can see them in my mind.
After reading the comments about which picture was a better choice for the book I would agree the urban was the right choice. And I was one of those who thought it was a sexy picture. The runner up picture was the sister I know!
It was great book and I couldn't put it down. Read it in one shot!

Helen said...

I don't usually even look at the author photo until I've finished the book, then I notice it on the flap.

I like the leather babe one for Stalking. If I'd read Stalking then turned to your picture, if it were the other one, I'd think, wait a minute, what is she -- 16?

Wilfred Bereswill said...


I've had make-up once and I covered that on the blog I did for you (think cruise). I will have make-up maybe two more times in my life. When I'm on Oprah and when they put me in the coffin. One of those, I look forward to. I hear high definition is a byotch.

jennieb said...

I think we all remember that blog fondly, Will! ;-)

I like your picture. And you remind me of somebody, but I'm not sure who. Of course, that could be just the photo. I've seen pictures of people I wouldn't recognize if I met them on the street. In other words, they look nothing like their photos. Somehow, the photographer managed to snap them just at the moment when they looked damned good and totally unlike themselves, and that's the picture they chose to go with. In my other life, I'm a realtor, so headshots play a role there too, and there are some of us who have what amounts to retouched Glamour Shots on our business cards. (Not me, I assure you.) It's weird when you've seen someone's picture on their card or website, and then, when you meet them, they're fifteen years older and look nothing like the photo.

Sorry for the rambling.

Julie Kramer said...

Hey Helen, I actually wouldn't mind it if folks thought I was 16. Especially since I have a 17 year old.

Also, I broke down and bought the air brush makeup kit since I'm doing quite a few TV interviews and those lights can be unkind.

Wilfred Bereswill said...

The first conference I went to, I looked on the web and memorized the pictures of the agents and editors so I could accidentally bump into them.

I was astonished to realize I could pick out a damn one of them. They all must have been taken 10 years prior and photoshopped to death.

Jennie, I've heard that before. One person came up to me and said I looked like Jim Belushi another said Bono. I see no resemblence to either.

JennieB said...

I think I may have been thinking of Bill Pullman. Not sure, though. I'll keep thinking on it.

I'm told in one of my pictures I look like Meredith Viera. Not sure whether that's good or bad... I know I don't look like her the rest of the time, though, so it's truly all in the moment the shot was taken.

zoowriter said...

I vote for sultry!
I came up with what I thought was a wonderful concept for my own first author photo. Since NIGHT KILL features a zookeeper, I would pose for a studio portrait wearing a slinky black sweater, black pants, and gold jewelry and would pose with a shovel, rake, and bucket, tools of my former trade. I even had a pile of authentic horse by-product to add verisimilitude. I thought the contrast would be hilarious. Alas, some people exist to take the fun out of life. My sister and the photographer talked me out of it. The resulting head shot is cute (way cuter than I really am), but, sigh... kinda standard. Ann Littlewood

dan said...

jeez, relax on the photo thing. it does not matter at all what you look like, get over it. how vain.

that alley foto is terrible btw

just be yourself!

Tufts 1971