Picture = 1,000 Words
You are an author. You deal in the world of words. And while you might cringe at the thought of a picture being worth a thousand words (Don’t they know how long it takes you to write a thousand words? How could a picture possibly worth that much?), you probably agree that people do indeed judge a book by its cover—or at least a great cover can make you stop and pick the book up. There is one other picture that you, as an author, should be keenly aware of. That is your author headshot.
Let me be perfectly clear. Your author headshot has one and only one purpose—it is a sales tool. It is a sales tool that helps establish, convey, and reinforce the genre in which you write, regardless of whether you write fiction or non-fiction. It is a sales tool that creates a sense of familiarity, even comradery, with your reader. It is a sales tool that helps build your author brand. It is a sales tool that marks you as professional rather than an amateur.
Chances are your author headshot will show up on the back of your book, where it will live forever. It may also be featured on your publisher’s website, or in promotional materials sent out to various media outlets. And in the age of social media, it may (if you're lucky) be shared and reshared, dozens, hundreds, thousands of times.
Show of hands: Are you using a snapshot taken by your girlfriend, mother, some guy who happened to be passing by, for your professional headshot? Is there a disembodied arm around your shoulders? Is your face obscured by a strange shadow? Are you a tiny part of a large landscape? You probably need to get a new headshot… and by someone who knows how.
What Makes a Great Headshot?
Unfortunately, there is no one-size-fits-all answer to that question. Just as you, as an individual and as an author, are completely unique, your headshot is equally unique. But there are a few guideposts that will help to keep you on track.
author of "Uncommon Core"
Consider the image you are trying to convey to the viewer. Like your author bio, your author headshot should reveal something of your personality, credibility, and the genre in which you write. Everything in the photo should be carefully crafted to enhance the message you are trying to send, including such elements as your choice of clothing, your posture, pose and expression, and background—or absence thereof.
Pauline Hawkins is an educator, and her book explores ways for parents to help their children navigate the challenges of our cookie-cutter educational system. Her headshot sends a message of quiet confidence, professionalism, and empathy.
author of "The 5 Manners of Death"
Your headshot should be appropriate for your genre and audience. For example, the headshot you choose for your Young Adult fantasy novel, might not be appropriate for your non-fiction exploration of popular philosophy. If you write in multiple genres, consider having multiple headshots.
Darden North, mild-mannered obstetrician by day, writer of cool, Southern murder mysteries by night. His engaging smile and easy demeanor marks him as a natural storyteller, someone you would want to sit across the table from and listen to him spin a yarn.
author of "The Siege of Sternz"
Your headshot should be professional, but a headshot doesn’t have to be (and probably shouldn’t be) a portrait. Unless you are a corporate executive who has written a book on corporate management techniques, your author headshot should be focused on capturing your personality, and not just your features. A professional headshot will involve determining the right mood and message through the use of color, composition, and lighting, not to mention judicious editing.
Luther Salyers, a writer of high fantasy, combines a casual pose and bucolic background with a serious, contemplative expression that captures the author in his native elements.
you want your author headshot to look like you. Times change. Fashions change. You change. One thing that shouldn’t change is your connection with your fans. Keeping your headshot fresh, professional, and up-to-date is one way to help strengthen that connection.