I have always wondered, and still do, what authors look like in real life – a life filled with triumph and trouble, happiness and hopelessness, wonder and worry. Life etches our faces, records its impacts on our skin, and broadcasts to the world our passage from first breath to last. Do authors really look like the headshots that grace their web and book pages? For the sake of a glamour shot, has the evidence of their life’s journey been erased?
Photographs of my face seldom pleased me after my forties, but something changed when I adopted my photographer daughter. I became a willing, albeit somewhat reluctant, participant in family photos. In the first head shots she took of me, although I struck a formal pose, it was against a backdrop of spruce trees instead of a studio or computer-generated background. Still, the result was a static, fly-caught-in-amber, glazed look.
The first time I realized staid, classic headshots bothered me was when I discovered an author I admired, respected, and read devotedly was actually twenty some years older than the photo on her book. I felt betrayed. I’d trusted her to be the author I could see on the back cover, not someone reluctant to show the world how she actually looked.
I discussed with an editor friend what I had begun to think of as the plasticity of many traditional headshots, and she pointed out that one purpose of such a photo was to make the author look as attractive as possible to prompt readers to buy. I understood the principle but felt honesty played an important role in the bond between author and reader.
During a later discussion of the issue with a friend in the publishing business, she showed me her favorite author headshot. The woman appeared to be in her late fifties and she simply looked into the camera with a genuine smile and tendrils of her greying hair escaping her upswept do. She was genuine, herself, and not trying to mislead me with post-photographic-session airbrushing.
When I published my third book, I decided I should endorse my belief about headshots. If I wanted my readers to truly know me – no matter the color of my hair, the wrinkles on my face, the number of chins – I’d use a photo of the timely me in relation to my words; hence, one with my dogs for my dog book, one of me leaning on a huge question mark for my book of rhyming questions, and another of me at the table in the coffee shop where I wrote about two ladies in a coffee shop. Now, I look forward to a new photo for each book and the fun I have deciding what, where, and with whom it will be taken.
I haven’t talked to any other author who has puzzled as much over head shots, but, since it bothered me, I took the time to figure out what I wanted to do. Regardless of how many people read my books, the ones who do will see exactly who I am at the time the book was written. No surprises, no disguises.