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Monday, May 24, 2010

And another thing about photos...

Let's see, where were we?  Oh, yeah, I was blathering on about how you should plunk down your hard-earned money for a professional publicity photo want to look like a professional.

I have a few picture-taking stories to tell about my new publicity photo, and they involve cows and large migratory birds, but I'm going to let them wait until tomorrow, because I remembered something interesting about the old photo.  I think it achieved the primary publicity goal of being memorable, because even people who hated it remembered it.  I met a fellow writer for the first time at a mystery conference and she spent a good part of our first conversation telling me I should get a new photo.  This was back when that photo was new, so I wasn't inclined to go spend more money unnecessarily, unless that one was career suicide.  Apparently, she thought it was.

"People need to feel like they can approach you.  That picture makes you look scary!  And you have such a nice smile.  Why do you hide it?"  (There was also a little bit of an Italian mother twist to the conversation.)

Well, in mystery circles, there can be an unfortunately tendency to presume a woman's books might be a little lighter and frothier than the gritty realism written by men.  (Yes.  Even in 2010.  Good Lord.  And tell me how realistic is a book about a middle-aged mini-van driving man who finds himself being chased by bad guys from one exotic locale to the next, while in the company of a sexy young thing who persists in taking off her clothes?)

My work has its dark side, so I think a serious facial expression is appropriate when my books are being marketed.  And perhaps my perception of the need to be taken seriously is colored by my own experiences.  I started engineering school in 1979. I was the only woman in my Electric Circuit Theory class.  Also in Fluidized Bed Heat Transfer, and probably a few others.  I worked offshore during the summer of 1981. 

On my first day of my first job out of graduate school, a community college teaching position, I entered my FORTRAN class to find that I was teaching 25 male college freshman.  I was 22, and I looked 17.  (I know this, because I was carded in New Orleans about that time.  Come to think of it, the drinking age in New Orleans back then was 17, so I guess I looked 16.  And I really don't think folks in New Orleans care if you drink when you're underage.  None of the other twenty-somethings in my party were carded.  They abandoned me while I fumbled for my ID.  You know, I may be the only person who was ever carded in The Big Easy.) 

The only way to prosper as a woman in a man's world--and I did--is to cultivate a persona that says, "Take me seriously."  I'm southern, so my persona is more like, "I'm polite and friendly and warm and feminine but, at the end of the day, you'd be well-advised to take me seriously."  Some people are a little obtuse, so they don't get the subtlety of it all, but that is a topic for another day.  Anyway, I kept the serious mug shot, and I think it did its job.

And there's one funny thing I want to tell you, and then I'll shut up.  As I said, people remember the photo, but they don't always remember it well.  I can't tell you how many people mention it and call it, "that black-and-white shot."  A friend of mine who had worked as a model and had a head shot of his own even called it that.  Now another benefit of hiring professionals is that they know how to take a photo that looks good in both formats.  See--here it is in black-and-white:

The photo that's used more is definitely in color, but I'm sorta black-and-white.  (In my twenties, I learned that friends who were trying to describe me to people who'd met me once or twice but didn't know me would say, "You know...Snow White."  LOL.  I guess I did have a penchant for blood-red lipstick in those days.)  Here's the other one, one more time, so you can see that it's in color, even if I'm not.

Until tomorrow--
Mary Anna


  1. I have always enjoyed your publicity photos, to me they show an intelligent, thoughtful, and insightful woman and I think it goes very well with the subject matter of your books. I agree with your statement that you shouldn't look too friendly, but I don't think that this photo is either scary or unapproachable.

  2. Why thank you, Deb! And I'll tell Randy that people are perceiving what he intended them to perceive when he took the photo.

    I think I'll blog soon about hiring the best and respecting their skill. To me, that extends to the hairdresser who can make my hair do things I can't, and it's attached to *my* head!