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  1. #1
    Just Another Philistine Hereford Eye's Avatar
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    The Value of a Picture

    The prevailing wisdom among those who write business proposals for a living is that you should never include photographs of the folk you are proposing to do a job. The rationale is that you do not know the team who will be evaluating your proposal, their likes and dislikes, biases and other personal quirks. You may propose Charlie Lauren as your manager and Charlie may possess the world’s finest credentials. On paper, they don’t come any better than good old Charlie.
    The evaluator may be quite impressed and willing to hire your company and Charlie in particular till he sees in Charlie’s photo that she is a slightly overweight Asian woman. The evaluator does not wish to work with a woman, definitely does not wish to work with an unattractive woman and cannot abide the thought of working with an unattractive Asian woman. Your company will not get the job.
    These days, it’s all the rage to put author’s photos on the dust jackets. I wonder if this kind of marketing ploy can backfire. I’ve never seen C.J. Cherryh’s photo on a dust jacket but I have seen Anne McCaffrey’s grandmotherly countenance on her books. I know not seeing C.J.’s photo has never prevented me from buying her work and I don’t think McCaffrey’s picture stopped me buying her writing. I still buy Tepper’s books despite having seen her picture. I had never seen Moon’s picture but I still bought some of her stuff.
    I saw Heinlein’s picture and Asimov’s and Resnick’s. I have never seen Simmons; I have seen Donaldson in person. Knowing what these men looked like didn’t help me buy their books nor did it preclude me from buying them. I was surprised that Resnick wasn’t black; I’d built an image in my mind that he must be but he isn’t. I saw DeLint in person and have yet to buy any of his stuff.
    So, the question is: does the fact some publishers insist on providing author pictures help us to buy their work or does it have an opposite effect? I suspect Katherine the Great or Flung Poo may have definitive answers but I don’t.

  2. #2
    Damn fool idealist DailyRich's Avatar
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    Depends -- are you talking about a small, two-inch high photo on the inside of the rear flap, or a photo that takes up the entire back of the book?

  3. #3
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    Since the publisher usually includes a photograph of the author that is at least twenty years old I think it probably doesn't much matter.

  4. #4
    Just Another Philistine Hereford Eye's Avatar
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    ...are you talking about a small, two-inch high photo on the inside of the rear flap, or a photo that takes up the entire back of the book?
    Does it make a difference? I get the feeling that you are inferring that the large photos are a turn-off while you can abide the smaller? Or, am I reading something into your question that isn't there?

  5. #5
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    For me it doesn't make a difference. I only look at the back once i've read the book!

  6. #6
    Damn fool idealist DailyRich's Avatar
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    Quote Originally Posted by Hereford Eye View Post
    Does it make a difference? I get the feeling that you are inferring that the large photos are a turn-off while you can abide the smaller? Or, am I reading something into your question that isn't there?
    More that a large photo usually doesn't come into play until the author has reached brand name status, like a Stephen King or a Tom Clancy, so I wasn't sure if you were talking about any photos or just the ones that seem to act more like a corporate logo than an introduction to the author.

    To be honest, on the back cover or inside the flap, you're not seeing the picture unless the cover has already intrigued you enough to pick the book up, so I can't see a photo influencing my purchase one way or the other.

  7. #7
    Speaks fluent Bawehrf zachariah's Avatar
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    The photos of Katie Price in Being Jordan were instrumental in my purchasing decision.

  8. #8
    Fulgurous Moderator KatG's Avatar
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    Well the thing is that you're not working with a fiction author or even taking advice from a fiction author, and people don't really have much interest in what a fiction author looks like. In SFF, they are much more interested in art that shows what the characters look like. (I'm highly amused that you thought Resnick was black, HE; he would be too.) The media has virtually no interest in fiction authors, and therefore, whether they look presentable on t.v. is also largely unimportant for the fiction market (but can be an issue for non-fiction, though less so after the age of Jerry Springer.)

    If you're out at a convention and you're a heterosexual male and there's a cute female author, you might buy her book just so you could talk to her, perhaps. And if your book is a smash and you're relatively young and cute, media will play that up in covering you, as you are Hollywood bait, and indeed, if you also write the screenplay of your adaptation, etc., your looks will get even more coverage. But first the book has to be a hit.

    But there are lots of reasons they use author photos. They are used in hardcovers, sometimes trade paperbacks, very seldom if ever in mass market paperbacks (cause it costs more.) Author photos are good for familiarizing readers with what the writer looks like for when the author tours (in the past, many authors didn't tour or do events.) You only get the full face on the back of the book if you are a major bestseller and it again is largely to familiarize readers with what the author looks like so if the author is on t.v., they'll be recognizable. Author photos are also necessary as part of P.R. mailings for many types of media, and they go ahead and have one in the book, so that the media associate the PR packet with the actual book.

    With all the Web pr and such that authors have to do, it's become very common for authors to have their photos lying around and people have gotten into the habit of seeing them, but I doubt we'd find much data correlating looks and purchases. Certainly for SFF, buzz trumps appearance. That an author is black or Asian, however, may unfortunately have an effect or publishers mistakenly believe that non-white authors will sell mostly to non-white audiences. And that an author is male or female can have an effect, because sometimes people won't buy based on that. When romance authors started having to tour more often and interact with readers and have author photos, the number of male romance authors in the category market dropped to nearly nothing, for instance. But how good looking you are doesn't necessarily trump that issue. Age is pretty much a non-issue for fiction authors, except again, a young author with a hit is maybe slightly more attractive to the media than an older author with a hit.

    Author photos, the small ones, are also used because authors want them, and quite often not used when they don't -- the author provides the publisher with the photo. C.J. Cherryh, who does show up at conventions, was C.J. to cloud the issue of her gender initially because fans were idiots back then and most of the field was in mass market paperback. She is a category bestseller, her new titles come out in hardcover, and the issues about gender in the market and especially in her case are largely dropped, so she could certainly have an author photo if she wants one, but the likelihood is that there isn't one because she doesn't.

  9. #9
    We Read for Light Window Bar's Avatar
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    book photo

    Guesswork only: One of the main sales ploys in any business is to create a feeling of familiarity between the buyer and the seller. The seller, at a subconscious level, wants to be doing business with a friend. When I was young, I felt as if Tolkien was one of my closest friends; it may have come as a deep shock if we'd ever met on the street and he chose to ignore me.

    The pic may not have anything to do with selling the book in hand; it may be about building that faux relationship that keeps readers returning.

  10. #10
    Forgive us our tristises Tristis's Avatar
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    Interesting timing. I recently had a little revelation about myself over this issue. I was a third of the way into the book "Defining The Wind" (or "de-fin-ing the wind" as the cover implies) by Scott Huler. It's non-fiction, exploring the history of the Beaufort Scale. I thought it was going to be more or less biographical about Francis Beaufort, but instead it's focus is on the scale itself and its phrasing, so it meanders a bit.

    It meanders a lot, actually, including a long passage about how the author did his research, and how lucky and talented he discovered he was. I was getting rather frustrated with this and concluded, by page 92, he was a bit of a tool. I decided to check out the back flap to see what his biography said. There was his head shot and my opinion was reinforced by it. He looked like a tool.

    I didn't put the book down, partly because the subject is interesting to me. Now, with about eighty pages left, I've decided that Mr. Hule is not a tool. He's funny and insightful and intelligent. I don't even mind his zig-zagging narrative.

    Because of this thread, I've flipped back to his photo and decided he doesn't have a "toolish" look at all. He's just an ordinary guy, smiling a little and looking somewhere off camera.

    I've never let somebody's appearance stop me from getting to know them, because I believe that judging people's worth by their looks causes you to miss out on a whole lot of worth. But it's interesting that once I had an impression of an author, the photo not only did nothing to change it, but only reinforced it. Why? Where does that come from? Why was my annoyance with an author's voice able to colour my impression of his face, even temporarily? How often is my judgement so affected?

    Disturbing. I'm going to go back through other books I've read and check out what photos are there. I'm also seriously considering that if I get published, it won't be my picture on the back of the book.

  11. #11
    Fulgurous Moderator KatG's Avatar
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    Well you can do what Stephen King did, though it will probably be uncovered pretty quick in this day and age. King wanted to write some stories that weren't actually all that different from the stories he was writing, but he wanted to have some freedom with it, so he made up the name Richard Bachman. He enlisted a friend who posed as the author, had his face as the author photo, did the promotion, etc. Eventually, the true identity was discovered, but nobody really had a problem with it.

    But given the fallout from the memoir sector, I'm not sure a publisher would necessarily let you build a false persona that extends to a person posing as you or as your author photo. People still use pseudonyms, but the promotion necessities often don't mean their real names are particularly hidden. Then again, you can apparently completely fool the sales counting computers which publishing and retail are trying to use to be more like other industries by simply using a different author name but not hiding your actual identity from fans at all. It's all gotten very weird.

  12. #12
    Quote Originally Posted by zachariah View Post
    the photos of katie price in being jordan were instrumental in my purchasing decision.
    lol... oddly enough, I'm not sure she could write a check

  13. #13
    infomaniac Expendable's Avatar
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    On the back cover of Good Omens were the two authors, Terry Pratchett and Neil Gaimen - and I had at the time heard of either one of them. But the author bio said Terry knew nobody ever read the bios but he liked fans that would send him daiquiris in a can. Neil's stated he liked fans who sent him $50 (he'd read Terry's and figured it was worth a shot.)

    Author's photos are nice but not important to me until I've gotten to know them.

  14. #14
    Keeper of the Hikari Radthorne's Avatar
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    Here's the really important question, HE: now that you've seen not only me in person, but my wife, whom you have graciously entitled The Saint of the Northwest, does this make you more inclined or less inclined to pick up my books?

  15. #15
    Edited for submission Holbrook's Avatar
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    Quote Originally Posted by Radthorne View Post
    Here's the really important question, HE: now that you've seen not only me in person, but my wife, whom you have graciously entitled The Saint of the Northwest, does this make you more inclined or less inclined to pick up my books?
    That is the question, No? (ROFL)

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