I recently talked to Kristina Holmes, an agent with Ebeling & Associates Literary Agency, about author photos. Kristina is a publishing expert who provides representation and publishing consulting, author platform development, and affiliate marketing. (Her answers are paraphrased.)
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Would you say a professional photo is a “must-have” for writers who want to become published authors?
Yes. When I visit a writer’s web site, I really expect to see their headshot, even if they are not yet published.
Many writers already have well-developed platforms when I begin pitching them to publishers. If they don’t yet have suitable headshots, this becomes a real priority.
For starters, I almost always include photos in the proposal to add color and personality. Later in the process, when the book is in production, the publisher will typically request author photos.
These days, I really wonder about websites that don’t include a personal photo. It’s important for an author to be relatable. Photography is so helpful with this.
What role do photos play in author platform development?
There are many different reasons why authors building their author platforms would want an author photo, if not several author photos. I often help my clients select suitable images.
These photos not only go on the website, they can also be used in the author’s media kit. Many authors now feature media kits right on their web sites, which is terrific. A tip for authors: make the photos high-quality, downloadable jpegs so they can be used in media coverage.
For authors who also do public speaking, headshots are included in their speakers kit on their bio and perhaps on their speaking sheet. (A speaking sheet details the topics that the author can cover.)
What makes a great author photo?
A straightforward, authentic photo always works well. I think looking attractive is important, but to me, the most successful photos are those that reflect a genuine, approachable person.
The photo should also reflect the type of book being written and contribute to – not detract from – the author’s credibility. So, if you are a business person wear a business suit not a track suit. Looking too casual could hurt you.
What are the most glaring photo blunders in the publishing industry?
I cringe when I see outdated photos. Generally, gaudy makeup or long-gone hairstyles are the most problematic. Photos like this send out a weird vibe. Overly staged photos are problematic. Cheesy and awkward hand positions are the worst.
It’s tricky when authors come to me with an outdated appearance. If I feel it might get in the way of the book’s success, I’ll speak up. One of my authors underwent a head-to-toe makeover to prepare for publication. She was a great sport about it and enjoyed it.
Do different genres demand different styles of photos?
To a degree they do. I work primarily with practical nonfiction which tends to be pretty straightforward.
Sometimes, the publisher might want a particular type of photo to reflect the author’s platform. My clients Niki Dewart and Elizabeth Marglin are the co-authors of The Mother’s Wisdom Deck which will be released in 2012. Sterling, the publisher, requested they have photos made with their children. I rarely find that the publisher makes such a specific request, but in their case, it makes sense why they would suggest this. The deck is for mothers, and part of the appeal is that it was created by mothers.
Does the publisher pick up the tab for photos?
Not in my experience. These days, authors are expected to provide professional quality photos.
In some cases, when the photo will be used for the cover and demands a specific type of photo, the publisher might get involved and might contribute. However, these instances are rare.
It’s important to understand that becoming an author requires certain upfront investments. You need to establish an audience and that does cost money. If you have to spend $500 to get great photos, it should be an anticipated expense.
For some authors, the money for headshots is an issue. I do understand it, but on the other hand, publishing is a really expensive enterprise to get into.
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Thanks to Kristina for her helpful information. Please attribute any bad grammar and/or typos to Dana, keeping in mind that she is a photographer and not a professional writer.
If you have further questions, I encourage you to put them in the comments section. That way, we can post Kristina’s responses for everyone to see.