Monday, April 14, 2014

Behind the Scenes: Author Photo

You might have noticed that snappy little number in the upper left corner of my blog. Looks like I just sat down at a cafe, posed, and got myself a nifty photo, right? Wrong.

Way more planning went into it than you'd think. That's partly because I wanted to use it not only for my blog but also for the author photo on my book cover. While you can swap out your blog photo eleventy billion times per day (if you so desire), you're stuck with your book cover photo once it's been printed and distributed to loving hands around the world.

Which - groan - means you need to put way more thought into it. Whether you're planning to do an author photo of your own, want tips for a good blog profile photo, or just want a glimpse into this fascinating world (ha!), check out my tips in the latest installment of my "Behind the Scenes" series.

Behind the Scenes: Author Photo

Even the shyest among us need an author photo for our book cover, marketing promotions, and for Mom to point to when she brags to the neighbors about having a published writer in the family.

Having seen tons of bad author photos, let me start by telling you what NOT to do:

4 Mistakes to Avoid With Your Author Photo

1. Don't have your cat/dog/bird in the photo unless they contributed to writing the book.

2. Use a recent photo or at least one that could pass for recent. If your bio says you've been in the IT industry for 25 years, don't try to fool me with your wrinkle-free face. (Or at least let me know which eye cream you use.)

3. No selfies unless you're a teenage pop star writing an autobiography.

4. Go easy on the props. It's not a garage sale.

With that out of the way, let me share four easy tips to get a great, natural photo. Whether you hire a professional (recommended, if you can afford it) or rope your significant other/aspiring photographer friend/dog into doing it, prepare beforehand with the following tips:

4 Tips For A Snappy Author Photo

1. Pick a neutral outfit. I know I said not to use a photo that was 25 years old but at the same time, you want this photo to last at least a few years. Don't wear anything too flashy or trendy that will date the photo in six months. Also, you don't want anything detracting attention from your beautiful face. For my photo, I chose a plain gray sweater that was flattering but didn't stand out.

2. Pick a setting that reflects your personality or your books. For my photo, I chose a typical French cafe, since I write about living in Paris. Having the Eiffel Tower in the background would be going overboard but I did want to instantly convey the French connection to my readers. If you write action-adventure, try an outdoor backdrop. If you write chick-lit, an indoor setting with a light, bright background can help convey your tone.

3. Choose one prop, maximum. The majority of photos look perfectly fine without a prop so don't force this. When in doubt, leave it out. But since my photo was in a French cafe, I figured it would be appropriate to have a coffee in front of me. If you're a romance writer and are known for your love of wine, a glass of red could be a nice prop and give you something to do with your hands. Or if you're a mystery writer, having books in the background (a home library, maybe) can be a nice touch.

4. Practice your pose at home. My husband took literally 100 shots of me in different poses before I found the perfect one. Try tilting your head at slightly different angles, lacing your arms and hands in various positions, and varying degrees of smiles/half-smiles, until you find the most flattering shot. Then copy that pose exactly for the real shoot. Don't forget details like wedding rings (make sure it's not turned at a weird angle) and flyaway hair.

Want to see the before and after shots? Of course you do!

Author Photo for Vicki Lesage, Take 1
OK, but not perfect. My 3-month-pregnant belly was too exposed and my thighs looked ginormous. I needed more focus on my face and less on my body. Also, at that angle the tank top I was wearing under my shirt was noticeable and distracting.

Author Photo for Vicki Lesage, Take 2
Much better! The belly is still unflattering and the angle of my face could be improved, but we're on the right track.

Author Photo for Vicki Lesage, Take 3
Nope. We were closer with the last one. The head tilt looks too girlish.

Author Photo for Vicki Lesage, Take 4
Bingo! If we can just hide my preggo belly we'll be in good shape! And maybe move my arm to the side so it's not dominating the photo.

Author Photo for Vicki Lesage, Final Take
The final shot

Once at the cafe, we made a few last-minute changes. My hair was behaving better than usual, so I decided to wear it down. And the height of the table nicely covered my belly. My arm isn't as prominent as in some of my test photos.

My husband snapped a few shots and once we were sure we liked the set-up, I ordered my coffee. Sure, the coffee could have been cold in the photo and no one would have been the wiser, but I did want to actually drink the darn thing after all that work!

All in all, we spent about 10 minutes at the cafe getting the shot, just enough time for my toddler to get bored and start pulling sugar packets and ashtrays off all the tables. Literally one second after the last photo was snapped, I jumped up to chase him. I'm SO glad I prepped everything in advance or we would have never gotten through the shoot. We could have hired a babysitter, but then how would I afford my expensive coffee habit?

Where you spend your money is up to you and your budget. But you'll still want to follow the tips I outlined above to maximize what you get out of your photo shoot.

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Escape to Paris

Vicki Lesage, Author