The Author Photo—Pre-Publishing Tools

(This continues my series about useful tools while acquiring a literary agent, or approaching a publisher’s acquisitions editor.)

An author photo represents you everywhere: facebook, twitter, goodreads, pinterest, youtube, and in your marketing materials. Think long and hard about how to position yourself, and your brand, BEFORE the photo’s taken. Here’s my story.

I started with a very corporate author photo, and landed an impressive agent with it. ItxVFWxYOBCg0hZyoGnqNYjqO3P29jBNm3shEXCXgml3M appeared all the online entities I mentioned above. As my brand grew and a publishing contract became more probable, I needed to update everything—my corporate brand, so to speak—before I could move to that next level. So I hired a mentor to help me fine-tune, and provide “healthy distance” as I used positioning and marketing skills from a previous life.

His first comment was about the photo. “You look like a mom.” No, I thought, I look competent. Approachable. Polished. Besides, I AM a mom.

“You’re writing suspense. You don’t look mysterious. Or evocative. Who’s going to buy a book by a suspense author who looks like a mom, even a nice mom?” He has a point, I thought. Bummer.

Now, mysterious and evocative (or romantic, if you write romance, or paranormal…well, you figure that one out) is a lot harder than you might assume. I had to chisel my brand (the suspense writer)  from my self-image (the mom) before I could figure out how to present myself as Angelina Jolie mysterious or evocative. So I studied photos of authors I read. One resembled a pit bull. Another looked like an attorney. The third just looked old. Those photos weren’t helpful, but I began to discern differences in how they presented themselves to someone picking up their book at the local bookstore. (By the way, they’re all NYTimes bestsellers, so maybe photos don’t matter as much.)

norma-108_2I agreed I needed an image more consistent with my writing, so spent several hundred dollars, and a few hours, interviewing professional photographers, choosing clothes, and finally doing a photo shoot. I actually took four outfits, and tried to figure out how to look like a suspense writer by getting comfortable with “the look” in front of my bathroom mirror. (Yes, the same mirror where I practiced my pitch. )

The first phase of my platform’s relaunch was the author photo. My facebook followers jumped from 3,400 to 6,700. When I added new background photos, they doubled again. Within a month of the website launch (May 15), my facebook followers number more than 20,000.

Did that surge result only from the author photo? No. My entire brand has evolved. But until I figured out how to present myself visually as an author writing suspense, I couldn’t work through the other facets of a new marketing platform. Having the photo taken forced me to evaluate myself as an author selling a product—one that I represent.

This old marketing dog knows if the marketer doesn’t understand the product, it’s not going to sell. Author, know thyself.

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