A Picture Is Worth A Thousand Fans

I wish to be cremated. One tenth of my ashes shall be given to my agent, as written in our contract. Groucho Marx


By: Stacey Purcell

They say a picture is worth a thousand words. As authors, we hope that our picture might be worth attracting a thousand fans. In days past, authors like Plato, Charles Dickens, and Jane Austen would never have had to worry about people seeing their image. Those days are gone. Readers want to read the books, but they also want to know about the author. Modern technology fulfills that wish.

One of the first things I noticed when I jumped into this crazy writer’s life is that EVERYONE had a picture of themselves. The pictures are on web sites, blogs, Facebook, My Space etc. So what did I do? I perused through our family albums until I found one of myself that I liked. Copy, paste and voila! I had my picture up too.

Stacey Purcell- Casual shot, not close up and definitely not a good example of an author's marketing shot!

That is not the way you should do it.

I’m a prime example of how to do that bit incorrectly.

This is our front line of marketing and I’m surprised to see that I’m not the only one doing it wrong. I’ve looked through a ton of author photos and have discovered my vacation shot seems pretty darn awesome compared to some of the images out there. I’ve looked at shots where the writer looks disheveled, the background is a messy house and the eyes look stoned… or terrified. (I’m still trying to work that one out.) Come on people, we can do better than that!

It doesn’t matter what route you take with publishing or even if you are published- You need a good picture of yourself to fling about the internet. How do you do that?


  1. Use a professional photographer- If you can afford it, this would be the best route. If not, try to find a friend that takes good pictures and has some basic idea of light, color and posing. This will greatly improve the quality of your shot.
  2. Focus on a head shot- People want to be able to look into your eyes. I know it sounds corny, but it’s true. You might also want to have some full body poses and use them for different things,
  3. Dress normally(professional)- The internet is forever so if you decide to appear in costume or look like you’re dressed for a rainy Saturday at home alone, your readers will form instant opinions of you…and your life. It’s been said to dress like you would if you were going to an interview because this is a type of visual interview. I think that can be taken to an extreme as well. Nice, casual, formal- whatever represents you as a person and how you would like to be in a reader’s memory.

    Melissa Ohnoutka- Her head shot is open, pretty and very approachable. I'm a fan!

  4. Be creative- A picture does speak volumes and can convey many things. You might want to incorporate items from your genre. I’ve seen some very interesting steam punk authors’ photos and they are very cool. Don’t go overboard because you are a professional writer and this is your corporate image.
  5. Are You Approachable- Readers will react emotionally to your photo. Are you approachable? Can people connect with this shot? What do you want to convey? These are all questions you should think about when presenting yourself to the world.

    Jennifer Bray Weber- this is a great head shot and readers can look directly into her eyes.


It looks like I’ve got to look for a photographer…just as soon as I get back from a getaway trip with my two best friends from high school to Mexico. Since I write thrillers set in exotic locations and travel has been such a huge part of my life, maybe I should try taking some head shots there. Hmmmmm the work never stops!



24 Responses to A Picture Is Worth A Thousand Fans

  1. Gerri Bowen says:

    Good post, Stacey. You have to wonder what people were thinking when they selected those particular photos. Maybe they were the best of the lot. The terrified look? I get that; I can never relax enough to look natural. I got so tired of seeing my picture, which was taken professionally, on my facebook page, that I put up my book cover.


  2. Thanks for stopping in, Gerri. Your head shot looks wonderful so I think you have the terrified look under control.


  3. I was cautoned years ago that the shot you use will follow (haunt?) you as your career progresses… Brian Keene finally changed his author shot after all these years to something more ‘mature’ after the one with him standing and his Anthrax heavy metal hoodie pic…

    Armand Rosamilia


  4. Hi Armand- thanks for stopping by today! Nice to meet you.
    Those pesky camera shots will follow, or haunt, you from now until eternity. Be careful, be wise, be professional about what you put up…you never know who’s looking!


  5. Sarah Andre says:

    2 Observations:
    1- When I had my picture taken professionally last year the photographer said ‘okay, smile’ and I did. She immediately backed away from the camera and said “Oh. You’re a squinter. That’s not good.”

    Evidently my eyes crinkle to such slits that she assured me any shot she’d take would not be publishable. I begged to differ, given I’ve had many photos taken of myself smiling. But she was adamant, and as a result I spent an hour smiling with my mouth and not with my eyes. I felt stiff, fake and forced and I hate the outcome (to the left of this comment.) Everytime I look at it I don’t think it represents ‘me.’ LOOKS like me, but that isn’t my essence coming across. I am, after all, a squinter.

    2- I went to a booksigning recently and the author is hugely famous. Her cover photos have changed over the years, but she’s always photographed smartly polished, pretty, and with hair style and clothes that are intimidatingly posh.

    When the author was introduced and sat down she looked like she could pass for homeless! Probably 30 pounds heavier too. I really felt bad for her because as a group, myself included, we immediately turned the newest hardcopy novel over and blinked down at her profile shot in confusion…like maybe this speaker was the warm up act…

    So, unlike the 2 examples above, when you DO have your pic taken, I recommend it look remotely like you/who you are. I love Melissa and Jenn’s profile shots because the poses are casual and the shots capture a perfect representation of the 2 beautiful women!


  6. Wow- your photographer is not real strong in bed side, I mean camera side, manner! I would question their empathy and communication skills because it sounds just plain rude. You may be a squinter, but they are lacking a sensitivity gene!! I like your shot, for what it’s worth.

    Your second story is a tale of woe. I feel so badly for that author. It’s a good lesson as to why we want to update our photos every now and again. Also a good reminder to not show up to personal appearances looking like something the cat drug in.


  7. Tess says:

    Great post and a subject I hate…I don’t do photos…at all. I’m either the least photogenic person in the world, or I’m butt ugly! Either way readers will have to wonder what I look like.


  8. I can personally attest that you are NOT butt ugly!!! I think you’ve just had a lot of bad photographers in your life.


  9. Ruth Kenjura says:

    I don’t do pictures either, as Stacey can attest to . I hide from the camera and give a smarta… answer like “I’m in the witness protection program”. Even my family complains. If and when I do a photo I’m going to one that brush stroke it to death.


  10. Yes, getting a picture of you is harder than spotting a chupacabra!!! Some day, you will have to grin and print one. I’ll be in the background with a pitcher of margaritas to kill the pain!


  11. jeff7salter says:

    You’re absolutely right about Jenn’s pix and Melissa’s — both are excellent.
    [Only thing I’d change about Jenn’s is not to crop quite that tightly. Give it a little bit more ‘frame’ … like Melissa’s. Sorry, Jenn.]

    Like you, I have seen some awful ‘author photos’ … and the driving force behind their selection seemed to be that they didn’t cost anything. Which is terrible criteria.
    I’ve even seen some ‘red-eye’ snapshots!
    One of the big offenses (to me, anyway) is when the author pix has quite obviously been cropped from a pix of that person and a spouse, or that person in a gathering. For heaven’s sakes — at least get somebody to snap a pix of you by yourself! Good grief. Readers don’t want to see limbs (or other parts) of other people in the author pix!


  12. Awww Jeff, you old hound dog. (see picture) You’ve made some really good points. I’ve seen way too many pictures where other people’s limbs show up, but no body attached. That’s just odd looking. The other faux pas is where you can tell they stretched their arm out as far as possible and took a shot of themselves. They could at least have a neighbor snap a picture out in the garden. Of course, I can’t gripe too loudly as my photo is nothing to brag about, but at least I recognize it and will take steps soon to change it.


  13. I loved the examples you used, Stacey:) And, since I know both authors, I can say their images truly reflect who they are:) I run from random photos, but have captured a few of me that I’m willing to fling out there for everyone to gawk at..;)



  14. johngraceson says:

    All three women have that special appeal. What the photos have in common is the smile. The smiles agree with their eyes. That’s important. I’ve always believed the best photos are the ones conveying expressions that aren’t worn, but telegraphed to the surface from feelings within.

    Only true pros can either manufacture or conceal feelings or expressions. The rest of us have to dig for an inspiration that naturally telegraphs to the surface. An experience, a special memory, or even music can do it. There IS a perceptible difference, and the audience will sense it, subconsciously or otherwise.

    Ironic, don’t you think? Writers practice the strict discipline of “show, don’t tell” by way of tone, setting, and illustrated character gestures and expressions. …Yet they seek professionals to help translate their own scene, setting, look, physical gesture and expression to convey conception in the mind of the same audience.

    I loved Sarah’s comment, above. I think you do have to be true to yourself to be true to the audience. But here, one size doesn’t fit all. There should be no cookie-cutter photo.

    Should you find a true version of yourself that works best for both you and your audience?

    Ever encountered someone you were drawn to by physical appeal, only to find that when they smiled or laughed, you flinched at the transformation? Conversely, ever meet someone who made you feel guarded or distant, then when they smiled or laughed, you were irresistibly drawn in. There is a best version of the many ideal versions in all of us. Everyone’s different. A serious pose, a subtle smile (with eyes opened), a warm smile, a wide smile, direct/indirect gaze, or eyes cast aside. For the general viewer, any one of these versions could be more optimal and engaging at the exclusion of others.

    That incredible setting may have ruled the scene in Stacey’s photo. As an incredible author and researcher, I would love to see the character interact with the unique setting, rather than become lost as a mere witness to it. I’ve got a lot of poses in mind for that heroine!

    As in the nature of your plots, a little action, intrigue, mystery or allure works well. What’s the significance with Melissa and Jenn gazing slightly upward? What’s the suggestion of one with the palm up vs down? The tilt of the head? The side glance? The tones? And why is Jenn’s picture reversed –Is that her wedding ring on the right hand? Either way, both she and it are treasures, for sure! – LOL!

    Great post, Stacey!!


  15. jbrayweber says:

    Loving all the comments, today. And so glad I didn’t wear my favorite concert tee for my head shot. LOL! (I dig Anthrax, BTW)

    Jeff – you dog, no worries on your comment of my head shot. I think it was cropped in some other cyberspace pic and somehow I ended up using it here. Or, maybe I just wanted to be ‘in your face’. 🙂

    Sarah, what a sad story. Lesson learned, I’d say. But I still like your pic. Such a pretty lady.

    John, that’s not my wedding ring. Just sayin’. *wink, wink*

    Great post, Stacey!


  16. jeff7salter says:

    Jenn has another great photo which we used when she guested on my blog last year.


  17. Brandie Nickerson says:

    Thanks for the advice! I knew eventually I would need a picture, but I didn’t realize how important that pic would be.



  18. Precipitous timing with this post. I finally decided to have a professional picture taken. Appointment is next month. The photographer is great and is already suggesting things we can do. Figure I could get the “official” photo to go with the bio, then a few artsy ones for the blog.

    It’s tough to know what picture will capture a readers attention – in a good way. I think, as long as we’re satisfied with the picture and it’s a good representation of ourselves, then that’s the pic to run with.

    Have a great day Stacey (and Jenn!)


  19. Carla Rossi says:

    Thanks, Stacey. Like everyone else I have my horror stories and my good ones. I went to the professional, paid too much for the right to use commercially, and never really liked the photos – there was only one useable pic in the bunch. Last August I had a professional come to my house for mega-bucks LESS – seriously, the best deal in town, you won’t believe it – than the studio charged. She shot for an hour around my house/yard (I could even change clothes) then brought the disk and the release back to my house.

    Since she came to me, it was private and I could relax. I am NOT photogenic (three chins and a turkey waddle neck) so the fact she was able to get good photos of ME is pretty outstanding.
    She’s awesome and I have several shots to pick from when I want to do something. I will share her with anyone interested – email privately for info. carla@carlarossi.com.

    And yes, every author needs to do this now. You need that usuable photo out there and ready to go. You never know when fame will come knockin’.


  20. You mean my plans of wearing a rabbit mascot’s head isn’t going to work? Darnit!


  21. Great post today, Stacey! So glad to hear my picture works. 🙂 It only took around 180 shots to get that one! LOL Thank goodness I know the photographer or the session would have cost me a small fortune…not to mention my sanity!


  22. A great photographer makes an enormous difference. When I found out I needed to provide a headshot to my publisher, I was nervous.A friend recommended a photographer. I asked him if he could work miracles with photoshop. 😉 He laughed and put me at ease. I was pleased with the headshot.


  23. Good advice all round, Stacey. Thanks!

    PS: I love Sarah Andre’s headshot, and Ruth Kenjura, what’s up with you? You’re beautiful.


  24. Great post Stacey! Of course, your friendly smile will always win friends & fan…hmm, but what does my pic say about me?


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