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.