A number of questions were raised when I wrote about the “bio” portion of a book proposal and suggested that you include an author photo. Here are some practical considerations.
Make it Look Professional
Quality photographers will tell you that background, lighting, how you look at the camera, and what you are wearing have a great influence on how the photo appears.
I once saw an author photo taken with a phone camera from about 20 feet away. The author was standing across the street and was obscured by the shadows of the nearby tree.
Everyone who wants to know more should take the 45 minute video course “10 Photo Secrets for Bestselling Authors” found on the Christian Writers Institute site. In fact, the price for the course has been cut to only $6 to make it reasonably accessible to all. Just click the course title above and register. You’ll have access to the course any time on any device. There are no limits to the number of times you can watch it.
As mentioned in a previous blog some of the larger writers conferences have a photographer on-site who will do a professional sitting with you for a new author photo. The fees are quite reasonable and may be a worthwhile investment since you are already there. I used that opportunity myself. The photo of me on the about page was taken at the Mt. Hermon Writers Conference by Mary DeMuth.
This is not a Beauty Contest
I’ve been told I have a great face for radio…Thanks for that. Your author photo isn’t an audition for a film role or for a place in a beauty pageant. Rarely does anyone “like” their own photo. That’s okay. It won’t affect your manuscript evaluation!
The point is to help the agent or editor recognize you if you’ve met before. It also helps introduce you to the publication team when they evaluate the proposal.
You Will be Googled
If you don’t include the photo for whatever reason, that is fine. Remember that an agent or an editor will google you anyway. If you have a web site (if you don’t, why not?) your photo should be there already in the “about” section. Or you might have a Facebook page where your social media activity is on display.
The editor or agent is trying to get a handle on who you are and what type of platform/presentation you make to the public. Because if you get published by a traditional publisher, the reading public will google you too!
Use an Optimized File Size
Important! If you embed your photo into your proposal, make sure it is not the high resolution file. Use a file size that has been optimized for use on the internet.
Let me explain if that doesn’t make sense. Last week I received a proposal via email. I clicked on the file … and waited. And waited. I felt like I could have taken a walk around the block and come back to find the file still trying to open. Why? The author had embedded their photo but used an enormously sized file. The point to a proposal is to have it snap open.
This is a common mistake. The author thinks “Steve said to use my photo” and they click “Insert|Picture” and choose their photo file without thinking about the file size.
The same goes for pictures you use on your web site. If you go to a site that has a lot of high resolution files on the page, the site takes a long time to load. Few have the patience to wait.
I’ve used a free picture re-sizer site on occasion called PicResize. It can take a 1.2 mg file and change it to 0.18 mg in just a few steps. (They say that any uploaded photo is deleted from their server within 20 minutes, if that is a concern.) It is also a great way to optimize your social media photos which are very specific on their sizes (Click here for Facebook as an example).
You May Not Want to Use Your Image
There are any number of reasons to keep your image private. I understand. I’ve met a number of people over the years who are very protective of their public identity and don’t allow the use of an author photo. It can be anything from avoiding a stalker, an ex, or simply a desire for privacy. That’s okay! This blog isn’t for you. Those I’m trying to help don’t have those restrictions.
I’m not saying that your photo is a requirement. Only that is can be an enhancement to your presentation.
Thanks Steve for this common sense post. I am a traditionalist and wonder quite frequently about millennials and their creativity. At least if one sees themselves as a “professional” or one who aspires in the profession of writing, it would seem important to put forward an image that invites others that one wants to be taken seriously.
I would add that it’s important to keep your author photo reasonably updated. Personally, I update mine every three to four years, but I would think every five years or so would be fine too. As Steve said, you want to be recognizable when meeting in person!
Hi Steve, thanks so much for this insight! I actually wanted to ask you about getting an author website. I currently use my WordPress account, quite honestly because it is free, and I was waiting to publish a book because I don’t really have anything published yet but my blog posts. Do you recommend getting an author website before even publishing my first book? Thank you!
Yes. I suggest you have an author web site. If you don’t want to blog, don’t include one. But make it so that someone can find you if they search for you.
Remember that having a poor looking site says something about your professionalism. So take the time to create one that looks good.
Here is a link to a course on what makes an author web site work:
Thanks for the course link, Steve. I’m really happy with my history website that pulls >3K visitors a month and leads to international sales, but my more personal author site has very disappointing visit rates. Plus I have no idea if it has any effect on sales. I’m planning a revamp as soon as I get my next released this month, and this course might be just what I need to figure out what I should change and how to change it. Preview looks intriguing and the price is definitely within my budget. Glad you told us about it here.
If you sign up for the Christian Writers Institute newsletter today, the next day you will receive an email with a code to watch that Author Website course for free.
That is definitely a price within your budget.
Rebekah Love Dorris
Thanks for the helpful tips! Is it okay to use a picture that includes your spouse (as shown <— )? For professional articles I have a headshot alone, but around the internet I've been using this one for comments and such. Does that work, or is it better to go solo? (My writing is focused toward women, marriage, family issues, FYI.)
Think of yourself as a consumer. If you look at a book by a solo author but the author photo has someone else in it, what do you think? Did that other person help write the book? Why aren’t they mentioned as co-author? Who am I looking at?
Thus I recommend using a solo photo if you are the solo author. If you want a spouse photo or even a family clan photo on your web site? Sure. By all means. But the proposal is about you as the author. If I google you and find on the about page some nice stuff about the rest of your family, that is fine. But the author photo should be of the author.
Aw, this is easy. Just take a selfie during some air time riding The Voyage at Holiday World…”The author, approaching a deadline.”
The Voyage is rated as one of the scariest rollercoasters, and it’s to be found at Holiday World in Santa Claus, Indiana. Seriously.
Rebekah Love Dorris
Now that’s a thought. The look on that face as said phone slips out of grasp in the looptyloop, like the passing of a deadline in a mad blur of appointments…
I hire speakers for a large convention. In the process I view hundreds of author/speaker websites. Trust me, your photos/website will make you or break you. The people we bring to the convention need to be marketable. If your website won’t load or doesn’t have a professional look, including a photo I load onto my website, I’ll move on to the next person.
Also, give me everything I ask for. Only 2% fill out the convention forms properly. A website URL is not the same as the name of your website. I get paid to resize your photos and grab a logo off your website, but it’s nice when you give me the information properly.
I’m sharing this because you don’t know what opportunities could be passing you by because of your photo.
Thank you for the practical application. This is exactly what I’m talking about.
The entire “package” is looked at by everyone.
I often change image file sizes for my websites. To shrink a high-resolution file, you insert the file into PowerPoint. Right-click on the image to get the menu. Under Size, change the vertical number. One inch is perfect for the sidebar link to my Amazon sales pages. I use 1.5″ to 4″ sizes on the web pages. Then click “Save image as” to pick filename and format. I prefer jpg. The resulting file will be 50 to 300 kb. Mousing over the image icon in File Explorer will tell you pixel dimensions and file size.
Good, practical advice, Carol. I don’t have Powerpoint so I use freeware called IrfanView; it’s got a lot of features but is fairly intuitive, and gives good results for resizing, altering resolution, and special effects.
Also – love the use of the verb ‘mousing’. It reminds me of “The Man Of Property” in Galsworthy’s “The Forsyte Saga”, in which Soames Forsyte is described as ‘mousing down Cheapside’, with every hand raised against him in protection of Irene.
Sheri Dean Parmelee, Ph.D
Thanks for the info, Steve. I thought your About photo was very nicely done. And, as an added bonus, it looks like you!
Thank you for the tips! Weird question for you. I, an author, change my hair color on a decently regular basis. It is currently green, it was previously blue, purple, pink – you get the idea. Given that this ever-changing bright color serves as a brand in and of itself, in a fashion (people recognize me far more often now in my daily life than when I had blonde hair!), do you think updating my author’s photo across social media and in proposals whenever I change my hair color makes sense? Or should I keep the same photo for long lengths of time, even if my hair color has now changed?