How Author Photographs Help Your Book’s Success (+ Top 7 Mistakes to Avoid)

Posted on Dec 9, 2022

You’ve written your book and now it’s time to design it. This is when you create the cover or the dust jacket and a quality back cover that will engage readers and encourage them to open to page one. 

A large factor of a successfully designed book is your author photograph. 

While you may be an introverted writer and not prefer time in front of the camera, your author photograph is a very important part of the publication process.

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In this guide to author photographs we discuss:

  1. What are author photos called?
  2. Do you need an author photo?
  3. Why do authors use photographs? 
  4. How to take a good author photo

By the end of this article, you should feel equipped and not only understand why you should take an author photo, but also how to take a great author photo. You will also know how to use your photos to communicate with your readers before you ever type a word. 

Ready to dive in?

What are author photos called?

An author photo is simply a headshot. If you have a LinkedIn account, a Facebook page, an Instagram or Twitter profile, or a website, you’ve likely taken a headshot before. While your Facebook profile photo may be your favorite selfie, it’s important to put the appropriate amount of time and effort into your author headshot. We will get into why author headshots are so crucial later in this article. For now, just remember that an author photo is simply a headshot. 

Do you need an author photo?

An author headshot is a crucial part of your book’s design because it helps readers identify with you, the author. You can use the same headshot for your website, all of your social media platforms, and your media kit.

While standing in front of the camera and having your photo printed on all of your books may feel intimidating, this is a great way to literally put a face with your author name.

Unless you write with a pen name and want to keep your identity secret, an author photo is an essential part of your book.

That brings up the valid question…

Why do authors use photographs?

An author headshot can help you personalize your book and heighten your sales. Readers want to know the author they are reading, and your author headshot is that introduction. 

Other headshots can also communicate the genre of your book, your personality, your brand, and your credibility. 

Keeping all of these aspects in mind will go a long way when you book your headshot session.

Author headshots communicate your genre: If you write childrens’ books, you can communicate this genre by what you wear, your facial expression, and the background in your photo. For instance, you may want to wear a bit more color and smile if you’re targeting children. On the other hand, if you write thrillers, a darker background and a more serious face will be on brand for this genre. 

Author headshots communicate your personality: Regardless of your genre, don’t forget to be yourself. Readers want to know the author they are reading, and your headshot can communicate a lot about you. As the old saying goes, a picture is worth a thousand words. Put thought into every aspect of your headshot and make sure you get several photos so you can choose the one that is your most accurate representation. 

Author headshots communicate your brand: Branding is a contributing factor in the overall success of your writing. Pay careful attention to make sure your author headshot is on brand with your social media photos, the voice of your writing, and your overall aesthetic. If you write non-fiction in a come-alongside voice, but your headshot is stoic and reserved, you will send conflicting messages to your audience. Make sure your headshot reflects your brand, and vice versa. 

Author headshots communicate your credibility: Think of your headshot as the first look at your writing. If you write academic books, show up for your headshot in appropriate clothing so you don’t undermine the credibility you worked so hard to attain. 

As you look into getting your author headshot, ask yourself: What do I want potential readers to see that will make them think, “I want to read this author’s book!” 

How to take a good author photo.

Now that you know why you need an author headshot, it’s time to get into the details of how to take a great headshot.

What do authors wear for headshots?

What you wear to your headshot will be determined by the genre you write as well as your personal branding. This choice is very subjective and largely dependent on what you, the author, want.

One of the first aspects to look into is what other authors in your genre wear to their headshots. Take some time to browse the internet and look at different author websites, social media platforms, and headshots on their books. You can also browse your local bookstore. 

As you look through different headshots, take note of what you like as well as what does not fit into your genre. The more you learn about headshots, whether it is things that you like or things that you don’t like, the more prepared you will be when it’s time to take your own.

Do you gravitate to headshots where the authors are smiling? Do you find yourself drawn to headshots with a blank background? What about what the authors are wearing? Do the authors in your genre wear more neutrals or more colored clothing? 

Take all of this into consideration as you decide what to wear.

  • If you write more professionally, consider wearing a collared shirt or a suit. Dress like a business professional.
  • If you write for children, consider wearing clothing that reflects this. Think of fun colors or jewelry. Definitely have a big smile! 
  • If you write fantasy, consider presenting yourself in a way that reflects the characters you write about. Maybe you wear a bit more makeup or clothing that reflects the fashion choice of a specific character.

Have fun with it!

Author photo mistakes to avoid.

There are several author headshot mistakes that can be easily avoided simply by preparing in advance.

First, avoid sending conflicting messages to your readership. Your headshot allows you to connect with your audience and gives you an advantage in garnering publicity. Avoid conflicting messages about who you are as a personality, and who you are as a writer. The essence of who you are as a brand should be captured in your photos.

Second, avoid letting the camera intimidate you. As mentioned above, who you are should be captured in your photos. While you may not be used to being in front of a camera, who you are is more than a camera-shy writer. You are a creative, so let this be shown in your photos. 

A great way to avoid this mistake is by researching the photographer you want to hire and making sure you are comfortable with them as a person, as well as confident in their photography style. Look through their previous galleries before hiring them, and be clear with what you want in your headshots. 

Third, avoid distracting backgrounds. While a professional photographer will have a general idea of what will be helpful for you, you are the author and know what is best for your story. No matter what genre you write, you should be the central focus of your headshot. For instance, if you choose to take your headshots in nature, you may want to ask the photographer if he or she can blur the background to ensure you are the focal point. 

Avoid dating your headshot by wearing a seasonal trend or overplaying the creativity of your photo. Your headshot should reflect who you are as a writer, but be professional. 

(Make sure the headshot you use is current. An out-of-date headshot will downplay your credibility as a writer.)

Avoid glaring sunlight and harsh shadows. Again, the photographer you hire will help with this, but it is beneficial to be aware of locations, lighting, and the general time of day that will work best. If you choose to take your headshots inside or in a studio, make sure your face is well lit.

Avoid a negative first impression. Your author headshot very well could be your first face-to-face encounter with your readership. It will be a one-sided introduction, so you want to make a great first impression. If you have a specific image you want to portray to your audience, give yourself the time to do so before your scheduled session. 

This is not about putting on a facade and pretending to be someone you are not, but putting your best foot forward and respecting your reader. If you’re unsure what this means for you specifically, imagine preparing for your book signing. What would you wear and how would you present yourself? Take this into consideration as you prepare for your headshot session. 

Avoid comparison. Your author headshot is your author headshot. While it can be helpful to browse through other authors’ headshots to get inspiration and general ideas of what you would like to include in your headshot, avoid the comparison trap. Everyone is unique in their own way and everyone’s best looks different. Avoid comparing your headshot to another author’s. 

Remember, as you grow and change as a writer, your ideal for your headshot will change as well.  If this is your first time taking headshots, and you compare yours to a New York Times bestsellers, chances are the two will look a little bit different. 

Enjoy the stage you are in. Hire the right photographer for you, make sure you get several photos to choose from, and use the one that best portrays you and your writing. 

As you prepare…

It’s not every day you get the opportunity to take author headshots. Look back on the long road you took to get here. You had to have an idea, you had to draft the idea, you had to edit the idea, and now it’s time to design and publish your book. This is a special journey. Don’t be intimidated by the idea of getting headshots. 

As you prepare for your session, ask yourself a few final questions:

  • Did I hire a professional photographer? 
  • Did I choose a good location? 
  • Do I look my best? 
  • Am I enjoying it?

Then relax and let the photographer do his or her job. 

Enjoy the process just as you enjoy writing. All of this goes together to create a standout masterpiece that has the potential to impact readers for years to come. 

You’re prepared. You did your research. Now it’s time to have fun with it. Be yourself. Focus on what you want to communicate, and enjoy! 

Set Your Book Up to SELL

Book Cover Design Checklist

Download your FREE book cover design checklist to boost the quality of your book to its very best. Hit the button to claim yours.

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Sarah Rexford

Sarah Rexford is a Content Specialist and writer. She helps companies around the nation connect with their audiences through branding and copywriting. A communicator at heart, Sarah speaks on personal branding, mentors creatives, and through her website (itssarahrexford.com), shares behind-the-scenes tips on the publishing industry, including interviews with successful creatives. Sarah is represented by the C.Y.L.E Young Agency.

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