Sunday, October 09, 2005

The Face That Launched a Thousand Fits

Yet another yin-yang over on Agent 007's blog - see side bar for link if I didn't do this link properly - over the value and versimilitude of author's photos on back flaps.
In my usual dim way, I'm not sure what the point of her post was - whether a description of pirate agent on the prowl or an indirect method of indicating an insider's take when they buy a book, just like anyone else, in a real bookstore. A point being, I suppose, that an industry insider is never going to look at a book the way an ordinary reader will.
But she mentioned the author photo. Again. Last I looked the dust still hadn't settled, because of the suggestion that a writer must be "attractive."
You could hear the gulps from those with a mirror complex who believe (probably without any justification whatsoever) that they have faces - to use a description from Down East - like "a wind row of arseholes" or felt their features were ordinary, unremarkable, and therefore unmarketable.
Yins argued that one only had to appear "interesting", like the kind of person who might write that sort of book. Vampire novel? A black and white with a suggestive smile. Others suggested a good photographer, evocative backgrounds and air brushing; and that a face like a bag of hammers often revealed witty and fascinating personalities - very important for those interviews - and most of all because such faces did not intimidate readers, and in fact, allowed for a degree of relationship with readers. They pointed out a few best selling writers whose looks would never win the Pageant.
While admitting a minor advantage if the writer is "cute," they find the idea that sales/representation/success swings on photos somewhat repulsive. Superficial. Contemptuous of readers.
Yangs claimed a cold, hard publishing reality. Their main attitude condensed into "Suck it up."
A minor dido to be sure, this clash of opinions. Bear in mind that in such arguments, people tend to stake out the opposing poles almost absurdum ab initio before heading to the middle ground. Yet it illustrates the often conflicting advice writers are given.
We are told that it's the writing that counts. Always. But we'd better be beautiful. We are told that publishers only promote tours and publicity campaigns for the Few, yet our face is our fortune. We are told that publishing is purely "business" and not to become emotionally flattened by rejections; yet we must find an agent or editor who "love" our book, will go to the wall for our book, will immolate themselves against recalcitrant committees for our book - because they are emotionally driven by it.
Go figure.

13 comments:

ali said...

I always thought the idea that an author should be attractive quite strange. Maybe publishers think differently, but I've never bought a book because of how the author looked. Most times I don't even look at the photo.

And yes, you're very right about the contradictions. Ask two different agents the same question and get two different answers, both supposedly the gospel truth.

Bernita said...

Exactly, Ali.
The problem develops, perhaps, from application of the winning principles from the visual media, movie stars, fanfic and such.And perhaps it is more important for the exposure of first-timers - but if the story doesn't hold a reader, no pretty picture will translate into a second buy.

Gabriele C. said...

Hehe, if I ever get there, I'll have someone really skilled with photo manipulation do the job and make me look like a Hollywood actress. After all, I have been asked to work as model when I was younger, but I declined. Not my world.

But that an agent/editor lists the look of an author among the important points is sorta dissappointing, though it fits her other post about sucking up to make a career. Not my world, either. ;-)

Ric said...

Yin Yang - And we know what Miss Snark will say, "It's all about the writing."
So, this raises the question, What if you write a chick lit book and you're really a 55 year old guy?

Do you use your real name? Do you put your picture in the book knowing it will hurt sales?

Will a prospective agent take on the book, knowing that?

Is it all about the writing?
I'm beginning to wonder.....

Bernita said...

Several possibilities come to mind.
No picture.
Use initials, or"Rici" as your pen name.
Claim a sex change - that might be considered very camp.
Some imprints go more by genre than author profile, not bothering with pictures and stuff. Maybe that would work.
Me, I look at the remains of a once fatal beauty and sigh.

Robyn said...

I'll admit, I do get intrigued by some author photos. Doesn't influence my buying the book, but I was very amused by...I think it was Rebecca Brandywine? years ago when she'd pose like her heroine on the front cover. It helped that she had very long hair.

And after viewing another author's photos, I began to see that almost every heroine she wrote looked exactly like her.

Muse said...

Heh. I read a lot of Canadian literature, and *always* look at author photos. Other than Barbara Gowdy and, hmm, Douglas Coupland, most Canadian authors look like their mothers once had to smear venison stew across their faces to get the sled dogs to play with them. But I like that faintly depraved look: Margaret Atwood's crossed eyes, Michael Ondaatjee's tea-stained beard, Anne Michaels' birds-nest hair.

I kid: all of the above writers are perfectly attractive people. But what attracts me is the unique way they wear their work and lives on their faces. I read a lot of Canadian literary biographies, too, and almost always the faces seem to go quite well with the lives.

I also like to know where the authors are from, and especially where they wrote the book I am reading. Like an author's photo, it doesn't make me more or less likely to read it, but it does affect how I go about doing so.

Annalee Blysse said...

I jumped to your blog from the other... I went to a huge author signing at the RWA National Conference and there were several authors I wouldn't have recognized if not for their name tags. Actually though, when I go to the bookstore I read the first few pages of the story, not what is on the cover. I know what authors look like because after I get home and the book is sitting on my nightstand, I see their faces a lot.

Bernita said...

Dear me, Robyn, that sounds like wish-fulfilment with a vengeance. On the other hand perhaps it was a convenient technique to help her inside her heroine's head.
Gabriele, unless I'm mistaken,having seen one on your blog, you don't have to worry too terribly much about an author photo.
That's a point, Muse. I think where they are from influences me more than their photo, in how I read - depending on the genre, of course. In ScF, it doesn't matter.
Annalee, thank you for coming by.
You bring to mind another point, an effective name. Seems to me yours is evocative and attractive for a writer of romance.
And that's a subject worth exploring. Name suitability. Bland names. How many Dan/Dave Browns are there out there? See? I'm not sure which. Do best-sellers with forgettable names have to fight against having forgettable names?
Hmmm.

Tess Harrison said...

I read this entry. Found it interesting. But I have to admit, I've never flipped to look at an author photo before buying a book. I also don't buy a book based on how many quotes or printed on the covers from others about this book or a previous. I buy it based on the blurb and if i think it's something I'd like.

ali said...

Tess, I'm like you. Just about everything Agent 007 mentioned in her (his?) post doesn't matter to me. It's all about whether I think the story sounds good.

Gabriele C. said...

Gabriele, unless I'm mistaken,having seen one on your blog, you don't have to worry too terribly much about an author photo.

There's one on my website which is linked via my blog.

Thank you. *blushes* :-)

Blog World said...

A dying man needs to die, as a sleepy man needs to sleep, and there comes a time when it is wrong, as well as useless, to resist.
Stewart Alsop- Posters.