Every aspect of a book jacket picture conveys something about the author. Lighting, clothing, expression, background: they all send subliminal messages, so it’s crucial that the author knows this and makes choices that send the message they want.
As the author of a business book, the photo of you is an important piece of the marketing campaign. Why? Because readers need to trust the person whose advice they’re taking, and if your picture doesn’t show you in the best and most appropriate light for your subject and readership, then the reader is sub-consciously less likely to buy your message (and people have been known to judge books by their covers). Also, the picture you choose will be used on your website, the publisher’s website, every time you guest blog or write an article, on your twitter, your facebook, your LinkedIn…so it should be a good one! But what makes a “good” author photo? There are two aspects to it: the technicality of the photograph itself, and the more subjective quality of how you present yourself.
The Photograph as a Photograph
The photographer who takes your picture, if they’re good at what they do, should take a picture with these key points in mind:
• Lighting: photos of people generally work best when they are not backlit. While there are some exceptions, when the light comes from behind, people in photos can look like they have a lit-up outline around their head. The light, picking up on hair or a side profile, can potentially distract the viewer and take away from you, the main event. However, there are some exceptions—if the photo is backlit and you don’t look like you have a halo, then the photo can work! Lighting also works to set a mood—harsher lighting provides sharper features for a more severe, serious look, while softer light (more diffused: think a cloudy day vs. a light pointed at your face) will make you look more mellow. Think about what image would work best for the book you’re selling.
• Background: a good portrait needs to be taken in front of a background with which you don’t have to compete. This means you should be the focus of your picture, not the big house, stray cat, or weird looking orange thing that accidently ended up in the frame. Outdoor shots with lots of leaves (out of focus) in the background or blue skies are good (stark trees in winter tend to be distracting), as are blank walls in neutral colors for indoor shots. Overall, look behind you first, and after the first photo is snapped, check the shot to make sure there’s nothing behind you that distracts from your fabulous face. If there is, readjust.
The Photograph As It Represents You
You’re in charge of how you’re presented, so make sure you pay attention to:
• Clothing: you want to wear something timeless so that you don’t look dated as the years go by and people still read your book. You do, however, want to dress for the tone you’re setting—if you’re selling a business book, a suit might be your best bet. If you’re going for a specific industry or target audience, think about what type of clothing would endear them to you most, and wear that. And, like the background, the clothes you wear should also be non-competing so you don’t distract the viewer.
• Expression: If your book is about playing hard and fast and taking no prisoners, a friendly and inviting smile undermines that message. But if your book is about how to win friends in industry, you probably want to look as kind and inviting as you can. Again, use your best judgment, and go with your gut.
• Positioning: in a picture with just your head and shoulders in it, it’s usually best to have the photographer position your eyes in the top third of the frame. This way, you own the space and there isn’t too much extra above your head. If you’re opting for a full body portrait, make sure your body language reflects your message. Again, authoritative? Stand straight, maybe cross your arms. More laid back? Lean against a doorframe or show yourself laughing at something off camera.
Your Photo, Your Message
These bullet points are just suggestions, none are rules set it stone, because you’ll only know what works best for you once you’ve tried a bunch of different options. Kevin Allen, the author of the forthcoming book The Hidden Agenda: A Proven Way To Win Business And Create A Following, has a headshot perfect for his book:
Kevin’s book is about creating a following and getting those to whom you pitch to accept your ideas and follow you. This photo communicates the right image for his message: he looks confident and strong, two necessary qualities in a leader. Kevin’s face is lit well from slightly above, which makes him look sharp, and it’s taken from a slight upwards angle, which makes him look authoritative. The tie is a nice bit of color and matches his tones, while the suit fits his business. The neutral background works nicely, as well, and there’s no extra space above his head.
This photo of Jill, President and Co-Founder of Bibliomotion, could be better. The background is distracting due to the crooked books. Jill is photographed slightly from above, which can work, but in this case makes her look somewhat timid. The lighting, while even and well diffused, is a little too yellow, but that can be fixed in photoshop easily. Basically, it’s the angle and the background that needs to be fixed.
Have the photographer take many, many pictures, because it’s always better to have too many to choose from than too few. Once you have a picture you like, go with it!