I don’t particularly mind having my picture taken. I can mug for the camera as well as the next person. What I don’t usually like is the results. You know the drill. Someone takes your picture and you ask them to turn their camera so you can see. You take a peek, shake your head, and ask for a retake. Sometimes this can go on for several snaps until finally you either give up and ask for the pictures to be deleted or you resign yourself to the result. So that’s what you really look like? So be it. It’s what’s on the inside that’s important, right?
When I embarked upon my journey as an author a few decades ago, I knew that part of the job was to have a “nice” picture taken for the back cover of my books. Over the years, I’ve had several pictures taken for my non-fiction books but they were all, without exception, of the posed-in-studio variety. They all looked pretty good (particularly the ones taken in my younger years!), but none of them really felt like me.
So when it came time to have a photo taken for my newly launched career as a novelist, I knew that I didn’t want the same old, same old. Fortunately, the universe led me to an amazingly gifted young woman who nailed it. Seriously nailed it. Her name is Heather Pennell. You can check her out at http://www.theessenceoracle.com/
In Praise of A Great Photographer
Heather isn’t just a photographer–she’s a branding specialist. Yes, sounds painful, but in Heather’s hands, branding is the process of determining who you are and how you want to present yourself to the world. Are you really the sitting up straight, clad in business suit, smiling (OK, grimacing) into the camera kind of gal or guy? This format may be fine if you really are a straight-laced business type who doesn’t want to stand out from the crowd.
But many entrepreneurs–and I include myself as an author in the ranks of the entrepreneurs–must stand out from the crowd in order to attract attention. We don’t want to look like everyone else. We want to look like someone who our potential customers (or in my case, potential readers) want to take a chance on. We want to celebrate our uniqueness.
Find a Photographer Who Understands Branding
Heather comes to the rescue with a whole branding package that includes an interview with her, a questionnaire, and the most comfortable and fun photo shoot I’ve ever experienced. You can read all about what Heather does on her Web site. My intention in this blog isn’t to deliver an infomercial for Heather (although she deserves one!). Rather, it is to underscore the necessity of finding a compatible, simpatico, and highly skilled photographer to put together your portfolio of author photos. A holiday snap of you knocking back a martini or baking on the beach just won’t cut it.
If you are putting yourself out to the world as an author worthy of being read, than you must ensure that the whole package you present–from the quality of the book itself to the posters for a reading event–shows you are a professional.
A Great Author Photo Attracts Readers
Do you flip to the back of a book that you’re thinking of buying to check out the author? If the picture is kind of ho-hum, poorly lit, and showing someone who clearly isn’t having fun, how inclined are you to buy the book? The personality of the author matters. People like to connect with the author, to feel that he or she is a person with whom they can entrust ten to twelve hours of their life. You owe your readers a picture that shows the real you.
How to Find a Great Photographer
You find a great photographer by asking around and by studying the portfolios they post on their Web sites. Ask author friends and other entrepreneurs in your area for recommendations. When you study the photographer’s portfolio, look for photographs that show the subjects clearly enjoying themselves in interesting locations and poses. I pored over the Heather’s Web portfolio until I felt like I knew all her subjects. You won’t find stock backgrounds and people perched uncomfortably on studio stools in Heather’s photos. Instead I found an amazing variety of “looks” that all spoke to the individuality of the person being photographed.
Getting to Know Your Photographer
In the past, I’ve just shown up at a photographer’s studio, shared a few pleasantries and then hopped onto the chair for my photo shoot. The results were professional and fine for the purposes I needed, but they always felt “posed.” I didn’t see any real joy in them. My experience with Heather was completely different. After I contacted her, she sent me quite an extensive questionnaire that made me really dig deep into who I felt were my target markets. In my case, my target market consists of readers of historical fiction. The exercise of really thinking about who might want to read my book and why was extremely useful, both for the purposes of the photo shoot and later as I developed my marketing plan. Heather and I then had a face-to-face meeting in a tea shop in Kitsilano in Vancouver to get to know each other. Finally, in the weeks leading up to the shoot, I was asked to develop a board on Pinterest showing hair and makeup styles that appealed to me. I had a great time searching for photographs of 50-something women who I felt embodied the same kind of “look” I do (or want to !). The exercise got me thinking about “beauty” and reminded me that we 50-something women can look pretty darn good!
For me, the preparatory work was extremely valuable. When you’re looking for a photographer, I suggest finding one who asks something of you, or at the very least includes a face-to-face interview before the shoot to give you an opportunity to discuss your work and the way in which you want to present yourself to the world. The more effort you put into your photo shoot, the better the results.
What to Expect at the Photo Shoot
If you’ve chosen your photographer well, the photo shoot should be a pleasure. My photo shoot with Heather lasted about five hours including time with a make-up artist and a wardrobe consultant. I arrived at Heather’s studio laden with various outfits and jewelry. The wardrobe person put together two outfits for the shoot and the make-up artist transformed me. I wish I could have her with me always! Once I was made up and dressed in my first outfit, we drove to our first location–Banyen Books in Vancouver. Heather had already spoken to the proprietor who kindly allowed us to commandeer various parts of the store for the shoot. You want to choose a photographer who makes you feel good about yourself, who encourages you to be yourself and helps you to let your personality shine. Heather talked to me while she was shooting so that I felt relaxed and happy. After our stint at Banyen Books (inside and outside), we went down to the beach. By this time, I was so relaxed that I had no problem hamming it up a bit. The “scarf photo” is the result (see below!).
What About the Cost?
A professional photographer who goes the extra mile to really get to know you and to develop settings for your photo shoot that really get to your essence does not come cheap. But I guarantee you that the investment is worth every penny–whether you’re self-published or “trad” published. Only once in my career, did a publisher pay for a photo shoot–and that was only for one black-and-white quickie. All the other times, I paid for photo shoots myself. It’s just the cost of doing business.
My advice–don’t skimp on this part of the publishing process. Of course, you’ll never know for sure if more people buy your book or go to your reading events because of your author photos. What you will know is that the way you present yourself to the world feels good. Instead of shrugging and declaring that “oh well, no one really cares what I look like,” you are proud to let people associate you with your books.
Heather’s Amazing Photographs
Below are the five photographs I chose after my photo shoot with Heather. She gave me many dozens of photographs to choose from and I can still order additional poses if I need them. Another excellent feature that Heather offers is full digital rights to her photographs. That means that I am free to use any of the five photographs I choose in as many ways as I need–on my book covers, my Web sites, on posters for events, on bookmarks, in articles–the list is endless. I recommend you find a photographer who offers full digital rights to the photographs you select. Your up front cost for the photo shoot and the retouching of the photos you choose may be higher, but in the long run you will save money.
Scarf in the Wind
First up is my very favorite photograph. The day of my photo shoot in Vancouver in February was, no surprise, rainy and bone-tingling chilly. After shooting for a few hours in Banyen Books on West 4th Avenue in Vancouver, we decided to go down to Locarno Beach to get some outdoor shots. Since I am born and bred and have lived most of my life on the west coast of Canada, I really wanted to feature the landscape I love in some of my promo photographs. We arrived at the beach and I was goofing around with my scarf. I wasn’t posing; I didn’t even know Heather had her camera out. I just felt like lifting my scarf behind me and letting the wind take it. Fortunately, Heather was shooting and with one click captured the joy I felt being on the beach (I’m a Pisces after all) and about to launch a brand new career as a novelist at the age of 57. What could be more exciting? I use the “scarf photo” on my business card and in articles and social media posts where I need a visual representation of “living the dream.”
Author Cover Photo
For the back cover of the first, “indie”-published, edition of my novel The Towers of Tuscany, I chose one of the more conventional photographs. This photograph was taken in Banyen Books and I think conveys the impression of an author who is approachable and very happy to be writing. I use this photograph for most of the promotional materials related to marketing The Towers of Tuscany. When the novel was picked up by Lake Union Publishing a few months after I indie-published it, this picture went onto the company’s Web site and is now included on the inside back cover of the second edition of the novel. I also use this photograph on posters advertising events, and in articles and other press.
On the Beach
I really wanted to have at least one picture of me on the beach. The weather that day was perfect Vancouver–clouds crowding the mountains, the water slate gray, the sand empty and pockmarked with raindrops. The soft light perfectly captures the vibrancy of my scarf.
Outside Banyen Books – More Traditional
This photo was taken outside Banyen Books. I’ve included it on my Author Page on Amazon. The gorgeous scarf, by the way, was purchased a few months earlier from a great little boutique on Granville Island.
At Banyen Books
And finally, I chose this photo of me hanging out in Banyen Books. I like the casualness of this photo. I also like how the make-up artist and Heather’s skills have combined to make me look a wee bit younger than I actually am!
I began my publishing journey in January of 2014 by making one of the best decisions I made all year. I hired Heather to take quality author photos. Sure, I could have asked my husband to take a snapshot of me in the back yard, but I know I’d never really love the results. I don’t know why, but the high quality of Heather’s photographs has given me unexpected confidence. As I forged ahead, first with indie-publishing and then with acquiring a “trad” publisher, I found that my author photographs were almost as important as the book cover. Every time I look at them, I feel good about myself–and that is worth a great deal!
So don’t skimp on getting good author photographs taken. As I often say, writing is art; selling is business. High quality author photographs help sell your product–and your product is both you and your books.
Categories: The Writing Life