How do you feel about seeing an author or illustrator’s photo alongside their author bio? Do you like it? Hate it? Do you think it somehow helps sales, helps build their audience, gives you a personal connection to them?
I’m generally indifferent on this matter. Seeing the face behind the fiction (or nonfiction) generally doesn’t enhance a reading experience for me, nor does it detract from it. From the perspective of working with kids, I think author photos can be truly useful — they remind kids that, yes, there are real, live people who write these books and illustrate them. (Sometimes that’s a useful lesson for adults too.)
From the standpoint of a book industry professional, I like that author photos enable me to recognize people when I see them at conventions. I would think that most authors and illustrators would like them for this reason too. It’s much easier, after all, to reach a sort of "celebrity status" when people can recognize you long before they’re close enough to read your name tag.
However, if an author uses the same exact photo in their books for YEARS and YEARS, that sends a completely different message. A confusing and rather creepy one, in fact. Imagine what it’s like for readers to show up at a public event expecting you to look a particular age and then OH. WOW. You’ve suddenly leaped forward twenty years into the future — or at least that’s how it appears to everyone who knows you by that ONE photo you’ve been using since time immemorial. I think it’s best not to put your readers through that freaky type of time shift. Just as it’s best not to take up any habits that might be acceptable now but later be considered a "bad influence" and therefore digitally removed from your images when you’re no longer around to raise an objection. (Fun to predict what those might be!)
I think about these photo issues a lot as I’m thumbing through publisher catalogs, which often include pictures alongside authors’ and illustrators’ bios. Often I like seeing their smiling faces staring back at me, but every now and again a photo comes along that is just… CREEPY! Or such a bad, blurry photo that you can’t help wondering if anyone at the publisher thought to suggest that they have a professional do the job. In such cases I sometimes feel that the presence of an author’s picture is a bad thing.
I also think it can be a bad thing when a person’s appearance looks COMPLETELY unlike the type of characters they’re creating or the genre they’re writing. For example, readers of your sleek urban novel about rap stars and gang wars might be more likely to send you letters if they don’t note your striking resemblance to, say, June Cleaver. Likewise, your arrest photo probably isn’t a good choice for that sweet little picture book about kittens. Or really for any book except Hole in My Life by Jack Gantos, which you should be reading RIGHT now if you haven’t read it already. Seriously. Skip the question bit at the end here and go pick it up.
But what do you think? Photos good or photos bad? Bad photos good? Good photos bad? Please weigh in with your thoughts, and share your photo-related stories or Photoshopping-related predictions (á la Clement Hurd).