A Story About Choosing an Author Photo

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Sometimes (okay, more than sometimes) I like to live in a world where the only thing I’m judged on as a writer is my writing. The rest of the time I know I have to play the game. You know the game. The one where what you look like, how cool you are and how good you are on social media seem to be just as important. I resent the hell out it (mostly because I’m not beautiful, I’m a nerd – not one of those cool new-age nerds, just an old-fashioned awkward nerd – and my social media skills could charitably be described as needing work).

So imagine the personal torment I went through as I recently chose a new author photo to go on the back cover of my latest book, Black Spot. If you know my history with author photos, it’s not that hard to imagine.

That history is this. In 2012 as I was preparing to release my first book, I asked a friend of mine if she wanted to be the public face of my writing. She was blonde, bubbly and beautiful, people responded well to her without exception and, most importantly, if she was willing to do it, that would mean I wouldn’t have to. She graciously declined and instead offered to lend her professional photography and marketing skills to take (and lightly Photoshop) this image of me.

Ever since, I’ve been using it for my book covers, my social media, pretty much everything related to my writing and professional lives. When Black Spot was shortlisted for the 2016 Text Prize and I had to provide a photograph to Text Publishing for promotional purposes, I supplied them the same picture, only in colour.

In February 2017, I used it again when I released Project January: A Sequel about Writing. Then I enlisted the ten second delay function on my camera to take a photograph of me holding the book for the announcement.

In the uncropped version, you can see my laundry on the left (and a fraction of the garage) and the downstairs toilet on the right. “The toilet roll in the background is distracting,” my sister Stephanie commented when I circulated the raw image asking for feedback from family and friends on potentially using it again for the publication of Black Spot. “It’s going to be cropped!” I replied.

In April 2017, when I was profiled on the website of Swinburne University, I used the ten second delay function again and took this image. “It looks like you’ve been crying,” said my sister Genevieve when I asked for her help choosing the best image. “I swear I haven’t. I don’t hate having my picture taken that much. Unfortunately, that’s about as good as it gets,” I told her.

And in early 2018 as I prepared to release Black Spot, I went back through all these images and realised none of them quite suited the young adult genre of the book. That meant it was time for another horrible attempt to take a picture in which I don’t have crazy eyes, chicken neck, caveman forehead, slumped shoulders or that weird smile that strangely emulates my now long deceased dog after he was hit by a car. Yes, Chandler Bing and I have a lot in common when it comes to sitting for a portrait.

So even though I usually only wear make-up for weddings, I spent half an hour applying it badly (the only way I know how), half an hour taking pictures of myself, five minutes scrubbing my face (only realising at that point and after I’d taken about seventy-five pictures that I’d forgotten the mascara, more important than you might think for someone once described by a make-up artist as having “the shortest eyelashes” she’d ever seen) and the next day regretting it as I had a massive allergic reaction (the reason I don’t wear make-up). These are the best of a pretty bad bunch.

Worse still, even though the whole point was to take a picture that suited the young adult genre of the book I was publishing, none of them were even remotely appropriate for that purpose. What a waste of an evening one day and a box of tissues the next.

Those I enlisted to help me choose a photo agreed by not agreeing. There was no consensus about which image I should use but the two most popular were the ones I’d taken a year earlier for the announcement of Project January’s release and the Swinburne University profile. But neither of those screamed “Young Adult Author” either.

My sister Elizabeth, although she was the only who picked it, said that this was the image that most closely suited the type of book I’d written.

I don’t think it’s the best picture ever taken of me but it’s casual and relaxed, there’s no forced cheesy smile, I look confident that I’ve produced a good book (or possibly like I don’t care whether anyone else thinks I’ve produced a good book) and like someone a teenager might be able to relate to, more than in any of the other pictures anyway. For a few hours, this was the image I chose.

And then I decided that even though the concept of the image was right, the image itself wasn’t. It was a little fuzzy and while that usually wouldn’t bother me, it’s the sort of thing that my cover designer likes to put her foot down over. After all, it’s her reputation, too.

So I cleaned a window in my house that I like looking out of, did my make-up again, dressed similarly, posed similarly and sat for another timer delay photography session. And finally I managed to come up with this.

Nobody is ever going to ask me to be on the cover of Vogue and that’s okay because it isn’t a goal of mine but at least I look better than a dog that’s been hit by a car (yes, I set the bar pretty low but when you’re not photogenic, you have to be realistic).

I don’t think, however, that I’ll be following the advice I’ve seen to splash this image everywhere on my blog, social media, Amazon and Smashwords profiles, Goodreads, etc for the sake of consistency. Because I’m not a young adult author. I’m just someone who happens to have written a young adult book. I might write another in the future. But my next three will be non-fiction about motherhood, non-fiction about writing and a literary crime novel. I’m not sure which author photos will best suit the covers of these books but there’s a good likelihood that it won’t be the one I chose for Black Spot.

Yes, I make my marketing life hard by not sticking to one genre but I make my writing life so much more interesting by writing and publishing whatever the hell I want and figuring out which picture goes with it later on. I wouldn’t have it any other way.

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