The ART and AGONY of the Author Photo
(I usually blog about southern writing here but beggin’ your pardon, can I go off topic just a teeny weeny bit? Thank you.)
Who’s idea was this? This book jacket photo thing? This Press Kit thing? Do you know the agony that I’ve experienced from this? Okay – some of you do and some of you don’t. Let me make this clear. I don’t like having my picture taken as evidence by the fact that my hand is usually covering part of my face - even as a child. As a matter of fact, my mother in all her grown up glory decided when I was about five years old and still an only child prior to sister being born that the thing she needed to do was get dressed up, dress me up, and then both of us sit our dressed up selves down for our professional mother and daughter photograph in a real studio. I remember this moment clear as can be. The big empty room, the big lights, the shadowy man behind the camera that I SWEAR was saying something like, “Look at the birdie!” He squeaked horns, flapped his arms, stood on his head, told funny jokes – all to the no avail to my stone freezy five year old face that was not amused. Which of course caused my mother’s face not to be amused as this event was definitely not turning out as she had planned. And she had to pay for it plenty. She bought the pictures anyway. Maybe she had to. I must say our dresses looked very pretty. And so did we. In a stone freezy kind of face way.
Back to the Author Publicity Photo. First, we are supposed to look what???? WHAT I ASK YOU? Intelligent? Warm? Fuzzy? I look drunk and cock-eyed in most my pictures. Smarts doesn’t play much into it. We are supposed to look aloof like we don’t care - yet approachable. Loveable, and laughable and like we have a great sense of humor and would be somebody’s bestest great friend ever. We are supposed to be skinny, well endowed, muscular, healthy, snappy, snazzy, with it - and yet - above it all and removed from it. Like being on a pedestal with an apron on while baking cakes with the perfect hairdo. Oh wait – that was the 50’s.
I was once sitting behind two women at a book festival while we were all waiting for an author to come on stage and speak. When she did they opened her book to the author picture, gave one another catty looks and one of them said, “Not in a million years.” The other one lifted an eyebrow and nodded her agreement. I swear they did. I wanted to bonk their heads together like something from the stooges. (Sorry – just telling the truth.) Not on my account mind you but for dear women everywhere who are trying their best to take a photo that doesn’t make them look like Ronald McDonald on hormones.
This picture you see of me? Well, a dear, dear lady took it with me complaining, fussing, squinting, and shutting up just long enough for her to snap it. I had the most precious friend with me for moral support who was just behind the camera making smiley faces at me. It was taken three years ago. I kept promising the publisher to get a new picture taken and kept promising and promising and promising until they said – TOO LATE! And Snatched this one up as it was time to go to print. Okay, the the real life part is, I still own that jacket and wear it, and I do stand with my arms crossed a lot but I like to think I am much more approachable in a drunk –looking cockeyed kind of way than the picture suggests. Matter of fact, just me personally, it looks just a tad stand=offish of which I am not. I am shy and introverted believe it or not and on occasion will pull into my shell and slide along the walls of any public gathering trying to practice my invisibility skills.
Now plenty of my author friends have great author photos and great hair and great highlights. Denise Hildreth takes a glorious picture which is why she is in commercials in real life (really) and J.T. Ellison has killer hair just like her writing and Tasha Alexander just makes us all sick cause she’d look good on the 10th day of a 12 day flu if you took her picture wearing sweat pants that had been slept in for six months without seeing the inside of a washer. And Kathy Patrick just glows no matter what she’s wearing. But some of us cry, gag, and drag if we have to get in front of a camera. (I have literally called my mother crying because I had an interview with a reporter that day and they were going to take MY PICTURE AND PUBLISH IT IN THE PAPER.) Some of us really struggle to look relaxed or to look normal of which we are neither. This isn’t just a woman thing either. I have men friends who are authors and always struggling with their author photos, too.
They are supposed to look intelligent but not insane, virile but not viral. One particular man kept fussing over his picture in every book. You could tell it was driving him crazy. He kept saying, “You know you have to give the publisher a great photo but they don’t pay for a photographer or the studio!” Then he’d turn through his author photos and point saying, “Serial Killer. Serial Killer. Serial Killer. Ax Murderer. Serial Killer.” Don’t worry, I tell him. We all look a little dangerous when caught in an unforgiving flash.
So I ask you, dear readers please be gentle with us when you see those photo’s - even if they are backlit and we’ve had our dark circles and bloodshot eyes touched up a bit from all these deadlines and drafts. While you’re in a forgiving spirit, help us to forgive ourselves for being less than ageless, model perfect. And to remember that it’s not the size of the waist, or the bulge of the biceps, that lead a reader to drink in a story but the words we carve out one page at a time.
So, with a deep breath and a sigh of relief, let’s raise a glass, and offer a toast - and a smile!
River Jordan is a a storyteller of the southern variety. Jordan’s novel The Messenger of Magnolia Street, (Harper Collins, Harper One) was published in January 2006. Kirkus Reviews describes the novel as “a beautifully written atmospheric tale.” The Messenger of Magnolia Street was applauded as “a tale of wonder” by Southern Living Magazine who chose the novel as their Selects feature for March 2006 and by other reviewers as “a riveting, magical mystery” and “a remarkable book.” Her first novel, The Gin Girl, (Livingston Press, 2003) has garnered such high praise as, "This author writes with a hard bitten confidence comparable to Ernest Hemingway. And yet, in the Southern tradition of William Faulkner, she can knit together sentences that can take your breath." Florida Today Ms. Jordan teaches and speaks on ‘The Power of Story,’ around the country and produces and hosts the radio program, River Jordan Radio on 98.9fm Nashville. She has just finished a new work of fiction, Saints In Limbo, on sale May 19th, and lives with her husband in Nashville, TN. You may visit the author at www.riverjordan.us