Does Our Author Appearance Matter?

Meghan is excited to give away a free copy of her book to a random commenter. Comment within one week;
winners must live in Canada/US to receive the book by mail. You can win a blog contest even if you’ve won before.

 

   
Guest column by Meghan McCarthy, author of
11 books—most recently Pop! The Invention of
Bubble Gum, which got a starred review from
Library Journal. See more about her fun books
for kids on her website.

 

Last weekend I heard the Violent Femmes play in good old Brooklyn. Who are the Violent Femmes, you ask? Well, I’d hope you would all know but for those who don’t—Does “Blister in the Sun” ring a bell? I first knew about them when I was a young grunge/alternative fanback when alternative meant something. Now it’s “indie,” which is also losing its meaning. Boo-hoo. Yes, I digress.

Here are the Femmes yesteryear … and today.

 

 
The show was great. Lots of energy. An enthusiastic, screaming crowd. Great fun. But as I was leaving, a friend of mine said what I was thinking. She said, “They’re old, huh? Kind of depressing.” Yes! It was! “No one was under 25. We’re getting old.” This is particularly relevant since it’s my birthday in several weeks. I am already depressed. I am already becoming a Violent Femme. As their song saysGone daddy gone, the love is gone.

Yes, dear reader, I do have a point. I like to trick you into thinking that I’m going to ramble on about nothing, which admittedly, I sometimes do.

MY QUESTION: DOES OUR APPEARANCE MATTER?

Do children’s book authors age like fine wine or do they prune up and give their past beloved fans the bad taste of their own mortality?

Example: Ever noticed how certain children’s authors use the same photo on the back of their jacket for years? I always think, “Hey, who are you fooling? That hat is straight out of the 80s. Update it! Proudly display your aged face!” But then I think—“Huh. That could be me. Would I want to do that?” Now, I must admit that I’ve expressed a strong refusal to put any photo on the back of any of my books. The reason? I don’t take good pictures and I’m vain. If I can’t look like American’s Next Top Super Model then I don’t want to look like anything. There you have it. But perhaps I should before I get too old!

And now, dear readers, I will delve deeper. Does an author’s appearance matter to the publisher? Will they give more marketing and encourage the author to appear more in public if they’re attractive? Does the poor slob with warts all over his or her face get stuffed into a closet? Will that young mom gravitate to the hot guy who just penned his first book? Does the reader care? Perhaps he or she does. Perhaps after seeing this wart-infested author who frighteningly resembles the witch portrayed in their very picture book, the young child will run screaming in horror. After all, Disney has already set the stage for children everywhere to believe that attractive people are good and the unattractive are bad.

I’m not sure what the answer is. All I’m saying is: Think about it.

Meghan is excited to give away a free copy of her book to a random commenter. Comment within one week;
winners must live in Canada/US to receive the book by mail. You can win a blog contest even if you’ve won before.

The 2011 Children’s Writer’s & Illustrator’s Market 
offers more than 650 listings for publishers,
magazines, agents, art reps and more.

 

 

 

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20 thoughts on “Does Our Author Appearance Matter?

  1. chris13

    Being many, many years older than the YA readership I’m aiming for, any author photo of mine would have to be Photoshopped to the nth degree. I also wonder if agents are concerned about age when they decide to rep? I expect to have several decades of writing ahead, but am not one of the myriad bloggers and blog posters who post images holding a baby or toddler. Really. They do. When I see an avatar that is not a 20-30-something/holding a baby, I assume they are old.

    As for the baby, I’ve been there, done that. 😉

  2. liping123456

    Well, this is the age of vanity – if you don’t believe it, ask the 30,000 people who were booted off the Beautiful People DOT com website. They weren’t pretty enough to pass muster, apparently.

  3. Nikki

    Ha! I just had my author picture taken for my debut novel. The picture is very recent… and only slightly retouched by my Photoshop expert husband.
    Did you know you take out individual gray hairs in Photoshop? And wrinkles, too? And make your teeth sparkly and your eyes all glinty?
    Did I say slightly retouched? 😉
    I never looked this good. Maybe I’ll wear a paper bag to all my signings.

  4. Maribeth

    I have often wondered about this. I also have wondered what my own photo would look like should that day ever come. I’d like to think I’d update it through the years but I guess one never knows for sure what they are going to do when the future is in front of them.

    Great post.

    Maribeth

  5. Jewel Allen

    First of all, I have to say, I am a bubble gum junkie, so I am looking forward to checking out your book Pop! As for author photos…when I am trying to decide to read a nonfiction book, I always turn to the back flap to see who I will be reading. Curiosity, I suppose. If they look too slick, it can be off-putting.

    Sometimes, when the author doesn’t fit the traditional mold of beauty, but has an interesting face, or their personality shows through, I think the photo still serves a good purpose, which is to make a connection with an audience. What it comes down to is our photos should show us in our best light but should also capture our genuine essence. For good or ill, books and authors are judged by their cover.

  6. Demetra Brodsky

    I don’t think anyone cares in the industry. If the books sell, it doesn’t matter what the author looks like. I would hope that they would be more concerned with how well they are able to handle speaking to the public. Unless, of course, they are going to just have them stand a the signings like statues. LOL.

  7. Karon

    You’d think that the one profession where you don’t have to worry about your physical appearance would be writing. 🙂 When author’s pictures are on the inside back cover of a book, I rarely see them before the end. They often don’t look like what I imagined, but that doesn’t turn me off of their work. Not at all. I imagine if a publisher finds their author to be particularly attractive, they will be even more eager to post images and have meet and greets etc. However, the majority of people will never meet or even see the author of a book, they pick up. Perhaps appearance can have some small impact on a reader’s impressions, but I seriously doubt it’s going to majorly affect sales.

  8. Lisa von Lempke

    "Ever noticed how certain children’s authors use the same photo on the back of their jacket for years?"

    Oh, it’s not only children’s books! Far from it. I pick up books by beautiful young gods, thinking to myself "How can someone so young write so profoundly?" Then I see that same writer on television – and recognize him only by <i>name</i>, more or less. Old and haggard, heavily wrinkled, the beautiful hair all but gone…

    Can’t understand why they’re not embarrassed to use 20 year old photos on the backs of their books. Must be so unsettling, seeing the disappointment in the faces of people one meets!

    Oh, and I suppose women do it, too. I don’t know.

  9. DJ Young

    Well, this is the age of vanity – if you don’t believe it, ask the 30,000 people who were booted off the Beautiful People DOT com website. They weren’t pretty enough to pass muster, apparently.

    Perhaps the whole thing could be avoided by never putting a photo on your book cover and never making public appearances. Perhaps that would set the example that ‘looks aren’t everything’ and help our audience get over the message that it is. They might actually read the thing based on its quality, the talent of the author and not be so concerned with what you look like. They really shouldn’t be, after all. I’m sure flirting works for some, but I can see where that would work against you as well. Presenting yourself as an author – not America’s next top model, really should be two different things.

    Do we consider this question when we read the classics? Do we care what Dickens or Austen or Hugo or, hell, even Henry Miller looked like? Does it affect our appreciation for their talent?

  10. Kristin Laughtin

    It shouldn’t matter, but it probably does to many people, and it sticks out if the writer doesn’t look similar to a stereotype of their target audience. I haven’t ever made a decision to read or not read because of an author photo, but I often wonder why they’re there. Some of them look like they’re trying too hard to be hip or edgy or relatable, and I’d rather be convinced by their words.

  11. Emily M Casey

    As a reader, knowing what the author looks like affects my perception of them. I wish it weren’t true, but it is.

    That said, I don’t think I’ve ever stopped reading an author after knowing what they look like. I think I just like knowing because it makes them more real. Having a face to put with the name and the book helps me to make a connection with that author.

    I think author photos are a good idea. Just my two cents.

  12. Rhys

    I’d say it matters less than in most media, but still matters a little bit. Ugliness wouldn’t actually count AGAINST you, I don’t think, in getting published, but being super hot would probably make a publisher more inclined to read your stuff.

    I have to say, I build up an image of an author when I’m reading their book and it is absolutely never an accurate image of the author’s real-life self. I’ve been disappointed…

    I would personally rather never know what any writer/singer/actor looks like, really, it never improves on the art. Well maybe actor…

  13. Kat Vinson

    I agree with Kat (& not just because we share an awesome name) – I never notice the lack of a picture, but I do notice when the picture is there. And they seem to come in 3 types – blah, not so great, or clever pose. The clever pose pictures really build a connection with the reader.

  14. Eric Foulkrod

    Sure, appearance matters, but in the list of things that matter to writers it’s down on the list, probably just above shoe size and "showers daily." Being good looking is rarely a negative, but looking good in a picture has little to do with the quality of a story.

    If a book picture dissuades a customer from buying a book, then the words didn’t convince them the book was worth buying. And in person, charisma and confidence turn plain looks into good looks… which is why Michael’s flirting drove sales.

    Marketing is advertising, convincing people they want your product, but if you write something so enjoyable/good/amazing that people have to tell their friends, then your marketing is done for you.

  15. Michael Dittman

    Of course appearance matters!It’s silly to think otherwise. A great deal of our work today is promoting our work in public, not just writing.

    At my first conference, an older (female – because of our culture, women writers seem already to know the bitter truth about looks and success) writer told me – "You’re a decent looking guy in a suit – flirt with everyone who stops at your table." And she was right – when I flirted a little, a sale was much more likely.

    Look how carefully constructed Meghan’s photo above is – she’s youngish and attractive and has chosen accessories, a color scheme, and a pose to tell a story about herself. If we’re not crafting our look, we’re leaving money on the table.

  16. ED Martin

    I look about half my age. While some may think this is a good thing, it’s very hard to be taken seriously when people think I’m still in high school, and they judge my work differently when they know what I look like. Based on that alone, I don’t want to include a picture on my jacket cover when I get published. I want people to judge my writing on its merit, not on the author’s appearance.

  17. Ida Freer

    I suppose the question could be, "What is the purpose of putting the author’s photograph on the
    back of the book?" Image, appearance and first impressions are important; why else would
    so much time and effort be put into book covers and cover copy. The cover artwork, the choice of title, even the font used are the subject of considerable deliberation. I understand that J.K. Rowling chose to use her initials, rather than her name, to prevent potential young male readers from spurning a book written by a woman.

    Perhaps the author believes he or she can create an intelligent or wise appearance for an intellectual tome or a hip and modern appearance for a racy novel. If the author presents as a middle-aged dowager perhaps she hopes to create a bond with similar book-buyers. In television advertisements the sweaty and frazzled homemaker lacking the appropriate cleaning product is a marked contrast to her well dressed and more attractive neighbour basking in the approval of Mr. Clean.

    It could be that the future of author photographs would involve market research and focus groups determining the author appearance which is most likely to generate sales. The picture gracing the back cover of your next novel could be a computer generated avatar.

  18. Kat

    I think it only matters if the author’s picture is put there. I never notice when there’s no pic, but when I see one and the person is… well… not one of the pretty people, I wonder why they would even bother. Before I sound too snooty, rest assured, there will be no pictures of me on any of my books! 😉

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