How to Tell if Your Author Photo Is Sending the Right Message

How to Tell if Your Author Photo Is Sending the Right Message

Last night, after I finishing a book, I found myself curious about the author. So I googled for images and found several pix. In the old days, this would be unthinkable. How many of Charles Dickens’s or Jane Austen’s readers knew what they looked like? But nowadays, an author photo is a vital part of the promotional package. Like it or not, your author’s photo will influence readers’ opinions of both you as a person and you as an author.

In perusing a magazine a few weeks ago, I glanced through the front matter, which contained headshots and bios of some of the contributors. Two photos, side by side, offered a stark contrast of how and how not to have your author photo taken.

One the one hand, we had an obviously professional headshot of a smiling woman standing against a picturesque red barn. She was dressed casually but professionally, her neat hair and makeup highlighted beneath appropriate lighting.

On the other hand, we had what looked like a picture taken on the author’s webcam. This author looked like he had just gotten out of bed and had yet to find his way to the nearest Starbucks. He didn’t make eye contact with the camera, which resulted in a glazed, disoriented look. He was wearing a T-shirt. The setting behind him was a messy desk. And the faint lighting cast a shadowy and gloomy pall over the picture.

Two author headshots. Two totally different presentations.

4 Tips for Taking a Successful Author Photo

How can you ensure your author photo is sending the right message to your readers?

1. If at all possible, have your picture taken by a professional or at least a friend who knows cameras, knows lighting, and knows how to properly pose you.

2. Dress like you would if you were going to job interview—because, in a sense, that’s exactly what you’re doing. This picture is about to become your calling card. Add the fact that it’s going to be preserved for all eternity on the Internet, and consider how you want to be seen and remembered.

3. Focus on the face. I’ve had several author pictures taken that included full body shots, and depending on how you want to use them (website, etc.), you may want a few yourself. But your face is what people want to see. They want to be able to flip your book over, look into your eyes, and see you looking back.

4. Be creative. Depending on your personality and the type of books you write, you may want to think outside the box. A picture of science fiction author R.A. Salvatore holding a sword in front of his face has stuck with me for a long time. So be goofy, be daring, show off your personality. But do it cautiously and with forethought, since professionalism is still the name of the game.

If you haven’t looked objectively at your author photo for a while, take another peek. Does it still look like you? Does it look like an author you would want to read or even meet? Does it appropriately indicate your professional attitude? Of course, if you’ve yet to have an author picture taken, it’s time to get cracking!

Wordplayers, tell me your opinions! What do you think is important in an author photo? Tell me in the comments!
How to Tell if Your Author Photo Is Sending the Right Message

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About K.M. Weiland | @KMWeiland

K.M. Weiland is the award-winning and internationally-published author of the acclaimed writing guides Outlining Your Novel, Structuring Your Novel, and Creating Character Arcs. A native of western Nebraska, she writes historical and fantasy novels and mentors authors on her award-winning website Helping Writers Become Authors.


  1. This is rather frightening because I have always considered myself unphotogenic.

    • K.M. Weiland | @KMWeiland says

      A good photographer can make all the difference. Anyway, it’s not about being magazine cover model material. It’s about being personable, genuine, and professional.

    • I don’t like having my picture taken… aside from a few pictures with my kids I am not in any pictures. And I don’t look at author pics very often…I’ve certainly never looked one up on the internet. But I certainly like the idea with the sword…. I love swords, also archery, or my horse…and it suits my genre. Thanks for the information on a topic I’d love to…but obviously can’t…avoid.

  2. Mic Meguiar says

    Hi Katie,
    When I click on the link to the AuthorCulture site it won’t allow me access because I am not deemed an “invited reader.” I know this is an old post but I would still love to read it. Can you help?

  3. Harald Johnson says

    I think this is the first time I’ve seen this discussed. Excellent, Katie! As a former Art Director I can well appreciate your tips about this. I was lucky enough to have had a pro shoot a pic of me standing with a more famous person, so I just cropped in on me (getting the photog’s permission, of course). Black turtleneck, perfect lighting… very “authorial.” BTW, the best crop is usually “head-n-shoulders” although it can also be tighter as you see in the avatar here. And you’re right… people want to see the eyes; don’t obscure them.

  4. When I worked in business, I had a pro shot, which was very me yet very business. As a fiction author, I decided to go with the more casual look, since you would never ever get me in a suit again. The one with the guinea pig suited the children’s and animal books, the other suits all the rest, but it’s one of those things – you can get the best pictures when you’re not thinking about them, which is of course, what a good pro does.
    Thank you for the post, it gave me some reassurance!

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