Every Author Needs Professional Headshots

I don’t consider myself a formal person, and you can tell by the name of this blog—There Are No Rules—that I’m hesitant to put an absolute on anything.

That said, I’ve been in the publishing business long enough to know and understand how important a professional photo can be (just like a professional website) in making the right impression.

A professional photo can help:

  • show your seriousness of purpose, which can lead to trust
  • refine and distinguish the message you want to send about yourself
  • show yourself at your best

A photo (professional or not) can also do not-so-great things:

  • give people the wrong feeling about you
  • trick or deceive (sometimes intentionally!)
  • show you at your worst

It may be wrong to have this reaction, but when I see a great professional shot of someone, I immediately consider them more successful than someone who does not.

Also, in the online world, we often don’t have a chance to meet everyone in person, so the image we hold in our head is whatever that person is willing to provide. And too often what is provided is not flattering.

Christina Katz, in Get Known Before the Book Deal, gives these reasons for having a professional headshot:

  • Because you’ll get the lion’s share of publicity.
  • Because you communicate without words that you are a professional, camera-ready for visibility.
  • Because you get selected easier.

She offers these tips for what your photo should accomplish:

  • be as flattering as possible
  • catch you at your best angle, highlight your best features, and make you look like someone interesting to meet
  • reflect a professional quality (nothing distracting in the background, no one else showing in or obviously cut out of the photo, no poor lighting or shadows)
  • capture your essence so that people feel like they are meeting the person they expected
  • be sharp (as with all types of communication, clarity and technical excellence  count)
  • be in context with your platform (if you write thrillers, you can be mysterious or look like the hippie girl next door, whichever is more compelling)
  • project confidence and success

I have been extremely guilty of using candid, everyday shots for professional purposes. Even the photo at the top of this blog breaks at least one cardinal rule.

When I decided to go professional, I knew 2 things:

  • I did not want an executive-style studio shot
  • I wanted the photo to reflect something of my Midwestern roots

For a long time, I had my eye on a photographer, Daniel Rowe, an old friend and schoolmate from my hometown of Oakland City, Ind. We are friends on Facebook, and he frequently updates his profile with photos from his photography business, Rowe Portrait Studios. (Shows you that Facebook marketing works!)

I was consistently impressed with his work and how he creatively uses the Indiana landscape as a canvas for portraits. So it felt right to return home and get some headshots taken where I grew up, with someone who had known me since grade school.

I think you’ll agree the shots are terrific. I’m showing you the “friendly” ones here, but there’s also a set of more “serious” ones that I can always use when I happen to write the Great American Novel.

All photos courtesy of Rowe Portrait Studios.

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0 thoughts on “Every Author Needs Professional Headshots

  1. Jane Friedman

    @Courtney – Wonderful viewpoint on author photos. I agree, too. I’m not sure why so many authors want to look mysterious and unapproachable — as if that were a sign of their genius or a wonderful storytelling talent?

    @Dave/@Debbie – Thank you for commenting!

    @Debbie (2) – Very lucky to have someone like Daniel. If anyone reading this is living in the Midwest, I dare say it would be worth making the trip to Oakland City, Ind., or hiring Dan to come to you!

    @Claire – Best next step is find the photographer for you. 😉

    @Darrelyn – 😀

  2. Jane Friedman

    @Joel – Thanks for the comment! I like that word "official" to describe. 🙂

    @RK – I’ll have to find a way to sneak them into WD mag!

    @Julie – My significant other would agree with you there. … And I’m so glad you brought up the issue of waiting until you believe you’ll look better (whether by losing weight or otherwise). If you wear the right clothes and pick the right setting, a great photographer can help you drop weight. 🙂

    @Meryl – So appreciate the note, thank you. It took me a long time to realize that I feel and look much better outdoors. Every studio shot I have of myself is dreadful!

    @JL – Fabulous cartoon. (Everyone: go look!)

  3. Debbie Pierce

    Jane: Outstanding headshots!! I agree, Daniel does great work, and he achieved what you were looking for — someone who’s friendly and appears interesting, professional, and confident! We all need to look for the "Daniels" in our lives!

  4. Courtney

    I love the pictures!
    The last one is awesome!

    These are the types of pictures I love to see in a book. As a reader I appreciate the honesty a picture like this portrays. Too often the headshot of an author is a faux library background or some weird ‘glamour’ shot or even just a semi-expression on the author’s face.

    This is real.
    This is a woman who I find myself returning her grin.

    As an author I hope that when I find that wonderful opportunity to be discovered in a bookstore the reader will flip to the back and return my smile. I hope he/she sees a piece of who I am and will enjoy the book even more believing they saw a glimpse into my story.

  5. Meryl Evans

    Fabulous photos, Jane. ALL of them. I tried to get an outdoor photo, but it didn’t turn out well. I need to get back to my fave photographer and get new ones (he did the one that shows up in all my avatars).

    I think we’re way beyond the wear a suit times. Some of the best photos are the ones wearing similar outfits to yours.

  6. Julie Isaac

    Jane, Great photos!

    I vote for the bottom one, with you against the tree. The lighting on your face is fabulous.

    I had professional photos taken earlier this year and LOVED it. I considered waiting until I was thin, but decided that I needed photos now, not at some unspecified time far far away. I will admit that I didn’t think it was possible to get a good picture of me, but Moriah made me look great!

    So, if there’s any writer out there hesitating, just do it! But I would recommend carefully picking out your clothes ahead of time. I knew one outfit going in, but not the second. We chose a second, and I was very unhappy with most of those photos. My face was fine, but the clothes did not flatter me. They barely had a nice word to say.

    I use the new photos in most places, but chose to keep the twitter avatar I already had because I still like it, and people are used to it.

  7. RKCharron

    Hi Jane 🙂
    Those are beautiful professional pictures.
    Magazine worthy!
    I like how you incorporated your personality into the pictures.
    I’m taking your advice and getting one done like yours.
    Happy Holidays,

  8. Joel Friedlander

    Wow, Jane, that’s quite a difference. Nothing says "use professional photos" better than the comparison you have right on this page (not that there’s anything wrong with the old photo, mind you). They just look so "official." My favorite is the one at the top–very warm and inviting. Enjoy.