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Sunday, May 23, 2010

Advice for writers--hire the best photographer you can get

As a public service to my sausage-making readership, let me share one of the first pieces of advice I offer to writers who have just had that most heady of experience--they've signed a book contract.

Soon enough, and in my case, on Day One, the publisher will ask for a publicity photo.  Please, please, if you are ever in this position, do not lean up against a wall and ask your husband to snap your photo.  We are all sensitive about our looks.  Most people who sell a book have been writing for many years, so the sensitivity ramps up with every wrinkle.  People let this fear keep them from showing their face to someone who knows how to take a picture.  DO NOT DO THIS. 

Readers do not care if you are beautiful.  They care if you are interesting.  Hire a portrait photographer who can take a picture that tells a story, and that story needs to be, "I am fascinating and you will love my books.  Rush out right now and plunk down enough cash to buy everything I've ever written." 

A good photographer is expensive, yes, but that money will come back to you in publicity.  A professional photo will get you newspaper coverage.  It has gotten me (small-circulation) magazine covers and local TV coverage.  Oddly enough, a good photo will get you radio coverage, although I can't imagine why.

I had the surreal experience of being asked on Wednesday if I could provide a photo by Friday, because the catalog was going to print.  I begged off until Monday, but that still ain't much time.  Fortunately, I have a friend who is truly a genius at portrait photography, Randy Batista.  If you don't believe me look at his website here.

I called Randy in a white-hot panic and he worked me into his schedule.  I called my hairdresser Irene in a white-hot panic and she worked me in.  I found a walk-in nail salon and I walked in, just in case my hands showed in the portrait.  (They did, so it was money well-spent.)

Randy asked me what I was going to wear and I said, "A suit?"  And he asked me where I wanted the photo taken and I said, "In the studio?"  Randy said, "  Tell me about the book."

So I told him it was a mystery about a woman desperate to save her ancestral home, and he said, "I know the place.  And we want you to look approachable, so wear jeans and a simple top.  Maybe black, but gray would be better."

I take directions well, so I bought a gray sweater and showed up at the location shoot.  Randy had chosen a dilapidated Victorian house as the backdrop.  I liked it.  Nevertheless, he asked me, "What's wrong?" and I said, "I'm forty years old and you're going to be pointing that thing at me."  He grinned and said, with just a touch of a Cuban accent, "Don't you worry 'bout a thing."

The experience was exactly like the modeling footage you see on TV.  "Lean into the light.  Turn your pretty face toward me.  More, more.  No.  Stop.  There.  Hold it!  You're GORGEOUS!!!"  I'm here to tell you that every woman should get this kind of treatment at least once in her life.

I'll show you the photo in a second, but be aware that we were going for a mysterious look for a mystery author, so I'm wearing what someone has called my "Take your best shot, buddy" face.  People have said that it doesn't look like me, because I'm a smiley sort, but my older daughter said, "Yes.  It does.  It looks like her when she's mad at me."  LOL.

It is also possible that I look stern because this house was not in the nicest part of town.  Periodically, a homeless man would pedal past slowly, calling out, "Aaaaayyyy...Bay-beeee!"

I've recently retired this shot because I figured five books per photo (and seven years) was probably enough.  Using the photo past that point would have been just dishonest.  I'll tell you about the new one (which I believe is somewhere on this page, so it's not like I'm buiding any suspense here) tomorrow, but just look what Randy did with a forty-year-old mother of three:


  1. This is a great photo. Your face speaks a whole range of emotions.

  2. Thanks, Maribeth. That's what I was trying to say with my post. A publicity photo for an artist isn't really about what the person *looks* like. It's supposed to tell the viewer something about that person's art, and art is all about communicating emotions.

    Apparently, when my daughter sees this picture, the emotion she thinks I'm communicating is something that goes along with words like, "You're not leaving the house in that outfit, Missy!" :-D