Five Things: How to avoid taking a bad author portrait

Category: Writing

You may have written the greatest story ever told, or maybe the most concise analysis of ‘that’ famous battle, but when your manuscript arrives on a publisher's desk (or in their inbox), it looks much the same as the thousands of others they'll receive this year. Sure, their job is to give it at least a cursory glance but how can you make it stand out that little bit more?

Think about it. You've spent a year on research, three years writing and you're finally ready to try and sell your treasured manuscript to the publishing community - even to the public directly by self-publishing. How is your book going to stand out amidst the clutter of other titles all vying for attention? You need to sell yourself of course.

You probably didn't even consider an author portrait when you were beavering away on your book, but we live in a very visual world so why not make the most of that and present yourself in the best possible light?

To give you a helping hand I've used my experience as a picture editor, photographer and - as the owner of Writer Pictures - collector of literary portraits, to put together this list....


The five biggest author photograph mistakes

1. Take it on your phone: This just screams "I can't be bothered!" If you can't be bothered taking the time to promote your first manuscript, then is any publisher going to believe you'll want to go on tour promoting the published version?

2. Send in a family snap: Sure, it's easy to think that the picture taken when you were camping in France in 2003 is the best picture ever taken of you. It may well be. But, that's because you felt relaxed and you had a nice time on holiday. Is your book about leaving it all behind and losing yourself in southern France? No I didn't think so. The picture is totally unsuitable.

3. Go arty: Imagine it like a CV. The face is king here. People want to see you. They want to look at your face and project the kind of person you might be. They can't do that if your hair is covering your face. Yes that beam of sunlight falling across your face is simply gorgeous but save that one for Facebook. Go simple.

4. Be too shy for the camera: This refers back to number one again. If you're too shy at this point, when the world hasn't yet sat up and taken notice of you, then what's going to happen when they do? Promoting your book can, and hopefully will, be a fun experience but it's also going to put you in the spotlight, and that can be draining. Why not practice now by experiencing what it's like to be the centre of attention for a photoshoot? Which leads me on nicely to number...

5. Fail to call in the professionals: By this I don't mean you need to go to great expense and go all 'hair and make-up' on us. Let Vogue do that further down the line. You probably know a good photographer already, there are lots of us and we arty types tend to move in the same circles. If not, then maybe someone you feel relaxed around is pretty decent with a camera. Pay them some money, or cook them a meal, and ask them to make you look as good as possible. Clean, uncluttered pictures will make you stand out. If they're good they'll also save you from a hundred requests for portrait sittings when you do get published!

For inspiration on poses and styles feel free to browse our galleries on and decide how you want to present yourself. If you feel the urge, we'd love to receive your portrait when it's been taken. Finally, if you need to, then please ask - we could also organise your photographer.

Good luck even though you don't need it. The hard part's done. You've written a book, you can do anything!

Alex Hewitt

Alex Hewitt is the owner of Writer Pictures. To find out more, check out his website, or follow the company on Twitter