It can be easy to shrug off the importance of a good author photo. Readers should be buying your book for your words, not your headshot on the last page, right? But having a solid, professional looking author photo is incredibly important! Not only does it help establish you as an author in the eyes of your potential readers, but it also conveys so much of your author brand in one image. Readers can learn a lot about you and the types of books you write from your author photo! Plus, if you’re publishing in print, this photo will be around forever on that final page, so you should make sure you’re proud of it. 

So what makes a great author photo? Some of it will depend on the genre you’re writing in and the vibe you’re going for. For example, if you’re writing serious non-fiction, you’re probably going to want a photo that conveys a more serious, academic-minded message. But if you’re writing sweet romance, you’re going to want a photo that’s much less serious and much more smile-focused. 

Regardless of genre, there are some standard Do’s and Do not’s of great author photos you should definitely keep in mind. 

Editor’s note: A lot of author photo articles use examples of good and bad author photos to convey their message, and while we wanted to do the same, it felt mean-spirited to grab photos at random and label them “bad”, when we know everyone is just trying their best. So instead I’ve opted to use my own headshots and personal photos as examples. Get used to seeing a lot of my face (I’m sorry/you’re welcome… I’m not sure which).

Do: Get Professional Headshots

The best thing to do is leave your photos in the hands of a professional. A pro photographer will not only be able to help you find your light and the best angle for your photos, they’ll also be able to help you convey the message you’re looking for. Just like getting a professional cover design, a professional author photo will make your book look the best it can. Plus you can use different takes of the same photo shoot to add some variety across your social media profile pictures and website while maintaining a level of consistency. 

Do Not: Get too artsy with the professional photographer

Don’t get me wrong, doing more “art-house” photo shoots can be a lot of fun and can look incredible, but it’s not what you’re looking for in an author photo. You want to make sure you are the focus of the picture, and you need to be seen clearly without distraction. These two photos look really cool, but you can’t see my whole face and the message of the photo could contrast with the theme or genre of the book or your brand in general.

Professional photos can get expensive, so it’s completely ok to take your photos yourself too! But if this is the route you’re going to take, here are some things to keep in mind. 

Do: Have a friend take your picture or use a timer on your phone

When you’re taking your picture yourself, you want to convey the same level of professionalism that a professional photographer would give you. As in: you still want your picture to look like it was taken by someone else. So round up your bestie, or use that handy “self timer” feature, and snap some professional looking shots yourself!

Don’t: Use a selfie that looks like a selfie. 

Selfies are great, don’t get me wrong, but they also have a time and place. They are perfect for your instagram feed and for sending to friends and family to show off where you are (or how great you obviously look), but they’re not ideal for your author photo. Using a selfie can look a little last minute – like you didn’t put enough thought or effort into your author photo and just snapped a quick pic at the last second. And then you have the whole Gen-Z vs. Millennial selfie angle debate that’s best to avoid entirely.

Do: Show off some of your personality!

I know all of the tips so far have been about the importance of professionalism, but don’t be afraid to have a bit of fun with your author photo as well! If you write steampunk fantasy, get thee into a corset and fascinator and show off your exceptional cosplay! If you write hard sci-fi, don’t be afraid to let a little space-y nerdiness into your picture! If your cat has a stronger instagram following than you, let him into the photo! Just be careful you…

Don’t: Let your personality take over the photo

At the end of the day, your author photo is a huge part of your brand and needs to be taken seriously. So a period-accurate portrait for historical romance is ok, but full elven warrior cosplay is a bit much – especially if your face is covered in prosthetics and makeup. Your readers still want to see you! So maybe save your comic-con photos for your newsletter.

Some other important things to consider:

  1. Lighting

    When you’re staging your photoshoot, make sure the lighting is optimal. Your readers need to be able to see your face without it being washed out.
  1. How does it look it black and white?

    Along the same lines as lighting, you need to make sure your photo will translate well into black and white since that’s how it’s going to look on the page. Also play around with the resolution to make sure it won’t lose any readability when it’s translated into an ePub.
  1. Is it evergreen?

    Like I said up at the top, your author photo can last forever so you want to make sure it will still be relevant 20, 30, 50 years down the road. I wish I was *hip* and *cool* enough to know what’s “on trend” right now as far as photos go, but the best example I can come up with is tiny moustaches from 2010. It would have been funny then, now it’s just weird.
  1. Does it fit into your genre?

    Like so much of the publishing world, author photos can benefit from a little comparative research. Check out the photos of some of your favourite authors in your genre and take note of the similarities between them. Are they dressed similarly? How are they posing? Is the background a plain backdrop or are they outside in their garden? Take note of these trends to make sure your author photo will convey the same message!
  1. Finally, have fun with it and give yourself plenty of options!

    If you’ve hired a photographer, chances are you’re going to end up with a solid collection of photos to choose from. But even if you’re taking your photos yourself, be sure to give yourself lots of options. What you like on the day of the shoot might differ from what you end up choosing come publication time. And like I said before, whatever photos you don’t end up putting in your book, you can use on your website and social media. Especially the outtakes.  

Let us know your favourite author photo tips and tricks in the comments!

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