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Author Photos: Project the Right Image

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Author Photos: Project the Right Image

September 2011
Dana Lynn Smith

The author photo is not only part of the author’s image and brand; it’s part of the publisher’s image and brand. So a fuzzy shot cropped out of a group photo, with someone’s arm draped over the author’s shoulder, just isn’t right.

But the photo doesn’t have to be shot by a professional photographer in a studio. In fact, some studio portraits tend to look overly formal. Whether you’re arranging for the picture or advising an author about doing that, think about the setting, pose, and clothing in terms of the author’s personality, the type of book the photo will appear on and in connection with, and the brand or image that it would be best to project.

For instance, an outdoor shot with plants in the background is appropriate for the author of gardening books. A studio portrait in business attire might be best for an author of business books. Sometimes it works to take a photo in front of a bookshelf or with the author holding a mockup of the book the photo is for; sometimes a shot against a plain white background is effective. You can get ideas by looking at photos on authors’ Web sites and on book covers in physical and online bookstore. It’s always useful to see what others who write similar sorts of books are doing.


Pix Nitty-Gritty

When a photographer will be taking the author photo, be sure the photographer understands that the picture will be used for business and that you will need to receive digital files and the right to use them for promotional purposes. If an amateur is tapped for the job, discuss possible locations and ask for lots of shots taken with a digital camera so you can choose the best one. Also emphasize up front that the photo must be in focus and free of distracting objects in the background.

Solid-colored clothing usually looks best in photos, and bright colors can be eye-catching. For my own author photo, I wore a blue blouse to coordinate with the color scheme of my Web site. My photographer shot several poses in a studio and several outdoors, and I liked the outdoor shots better because they were less formal and more colorful.

Several versions of the photo are necessary for promotional purposes. For printed materials such as book covers, sell sheets, and magazine features, you need a high-resolution image (300 dpi). For online use, it’s best to use a low-resolution image (usually 72 dpi). Because low-resolution files are much smaller, they are faster to upload, open faster as Web pages load, and take up less space on servers. I recommend offering both high-res and low-res versions of your photo and your book cover in your site’s online media room and on the author’s site.

It’s a good idea to use the same photo everywhere, so people will begin to recognize the author. You may need to experiment a bit to get the best version of the photo for use on social networks. For example, on Twitter it’s best to upload a square headshot, cropped fairly tightly around the face. On Facebook, you want to upload a photo that’s not cropped so tightly.

Note that Facebook will display your original photo with an author profile, but reduce it to a square thumbnail to display in other places on the site. Here’s an example:

An example translated to black-and-white for use here.





Cropping is fairly simple with the photo editing software on most computers. To crop a photo in Windows, double-click on the file to open it in Windows Photo Viewer. Then click the Open button at the top of the screen and select Microsoft Office Picture Manager. Click on Edit Pictures; click on the Crop tool; and finally drag the black lines inward until you’ve captured the portion of the photo you want. Try the Auto Correct button to improve the color and lighting. Click on the Compress tool to create a low-resolution file for use online. Be sure to save each version with a new file name.


For Continuing Connections

Some authors want to use their book covers or logos as their image on their social network personal profiles. But people are there to network with people, not with books or logos, so I recommend using the author photo most of the time. On occasion, it may make sense to use the book cover instead of the author photo—maybe, for example, during a book launch. And on a Facebook Fan Page you can use an author photo or a book cover, or create a “badge” that’s like a mini-ad for your books or business.

Consider updating an author photo every couple of years to keep it fresh. And if you’ll be getting a new picture, see above to make sure it will project the right image of both author and publisher.


Dana Lynn Smith, The Savvy Book Marketer, helps authors and independent publishers learn how to sell more books through her how-to guides, blog, newsletter, and private coaching. Her Top Book Marketing Tips e-book is free at BookMarketingNewsletter.com. To learn more: TheSavvyBookMarketer.com, @BookMarketer, and facebook.com/SavvyBookMarketer.

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