I was reading my blog feed and came across a post by a great blogger who I love, and the post was about author photos. This is a topic that’s been “going around” lately. I commented, and I mentioned in my comment the Elizabeth Nelson controversy of last week, which centered around an author who was discovered to have used a stock photo as her bio pic.
I really believe that an author photo is unnecessary. I never purchased a book based on an author photo, and I never cared much what an author looked like while reading. BUT having an author photo says a lot. In this age of e-books, when an author’s name is assumed fake, that bio and photo might be the only “real” thing left. The last authentic signature. It tells readers, in an irrefutable way: I made this. I’m proud of it. I’ll never pretend this wasn’t me.
I could have (and probably should have) changed my pen name sometime over the summer. I had a few erotica titles out, and they’d done okay. I also had written a few paranormal romances, and one did quite well. I made enough money to continue to pay for editing, and cover art, and to validate my “little hobby”.
I also grew a lot as a writer. The difference between those early pieces and the ones I’m doing now (quality-wise) is really pretty insane.
If I was smart, or savvy in a business-way, I would have created a new “brand”, donned a new name, and begun publishing my (new and improved) works then. I do think I’m smart, but good decision making is not really my “thing”, so I didn’t do that. Also at that point I had invested myself in this blog, had built up some friends on facebook, and had only just begun to develop a network (small as it is). I didn’t want to start from scratch.
So I slapped my photo on my existing “brand”, and I owned up to all my work: amateurish, weak, raunchy, silly… all of it. I suppose I could still change, even now. My one author photo is the NoH8 one, and it’s not exactly a “head shot”. I could have another one taken, one where I look different, and change my name, and become a new person. Probably no one would ever notice (I’m not that popular), but it feels like the wrong thing to do.
There have been instances where authors have lied about their gender, or their age, or their race. Usually this is done to increase sales, or to make an author acceptable to a wider audience. Sadly, there are still people who judge an author by their cover photo. There are still men who think women can’t (or shouldn’t) write certain subjects. There is still plenty of racism, and ageism, in the world. And almost all of us judge each other based on attractiveness (subjective as that is) even if we don’t mean to do it.
I have noticed that male authors in the m/m genre are treated quite differently than female ones. The men (or authors with male names) are reviewed much more generously, overall. They seem to garner a lot more attention as well. So I understand the motivation for a woman to use a male name and a masculine image as an author of m/m (though I don’t condone or advise it).
I’m sure similar things happen in other genres. And I’m sure there are people who decide not to use an image at all rather than expose the false hood of their pen-names. To me, pretending to be a male is a different thing than using a male pen-name. Everyone knows an author’s name is fake. I am more surprised when I find someone writing in their real name (it happens).
But being an author is usually more than a name and a bio. It’s a facebook, G+, twitter, blog, goodreads, and whatever else presence. It’s online interactions with readers and fellow authors. It’s a lot of lying, really, if you’re pretending to be something you’re not.
So… does a photo matter? Do readers care what authors look like? No, I don’t think so. But putting your face on your work does mean something, at least to me. It means: I own this, I take responsibility for it. It means: this is me. I’m not hiding. I’m not lying.
So maybe it’s not necessary, but I think it’s nice.