Tuesday, 28 September 2010

The Author Photograph

I came across this post about cliched author poses on the web the other day and thought I had to share it.  I had some new author photographs done last year (the photographer was Mike Mills, he was v good) and now realise I've gone for a combination of cliche No 3 and No 5.  I read the post just after I'd read another post about hobby v professional writers (can you tell I've got a tricky scene I ought to be writing?) and it was talking about how "professional" writers planned their brand, from image onwards.  

I only wish I knew what my brand was.  I don't like the way authors - and books - are being treated like baked beans. The implication is that readers are a homogenous mass of baked bean eaters, and can't eat anything else.  Well, phoeee.  Most people I know read a wide variety of books, fiction and non-fiction.  They like the old favourites, but will try new stuff.  

And as an author, I find each book is different.  They're all in the same genre, but the feel of the book depends on the main character and what their situation is.  I've written two books about adultery, so perhaps that's my brand. Which would be unfortunate because I think I've said all I want to say about adultery for the time being.  Besides, if you said to a photographer, my USP is adultery, they'd want to have you posing in your bra and knickers. This would also be unfortunate, given that I'm not a 20-something model.  

As a reader, super glam photographs put me off - there's one author whose website has lots of pix of her lounging in leather trousers looking foxy, and it completely turns me off reading her books.  When my pictures were done, I wanted to look...normal, I suppose.  Oh no, I've just realised - my intended brand image is bland.  No wonder I have cliched author photos.  At least I went for a scarlet cardi.


Henrietta Bird said...

Hi Sarah

Just thought I'd post a comment from a marketing point of view! I think branding is very important for commercial fiction and authors. Done well, it should help attract readers - which can't be a bad thing.

'Branding' sounds horrible salesy, but honestly, it should be there to help and inform, rather than treat consumers as a homogenous mass. The whole point of good (honest) branding shouldn't be to imply that readers are all the same, but help point out the differences between authors of interest.

Good branding - actually good marketing in general - should reflect what the author is all about. That can't be bad when a consumer has such a large range of books and authors to choose from. And it certainly shouldn't mean treating humans and artists like canned goods.

That you have written two books about adultery would not mean that is your brand. The fact that (in my humble opinion!) you write intelligent, entertaining novels about characters real women can relate to and enjoy would - for me - be where I would start in terms of talking about 'your' brand!

The posed author shot is just one part of the overall communication but I think it is worth thinking about. Just as there's no point having great characters and dialogue if there's no plot, again from a marketing point of view, in marketing your books and yourself, then the photo is an important part of the mix. If you're going to have one, you may as well have one that reflects you and your writing style.

Jilly Cooper looks jolly in her shots - if she took to wearing a beret and glaring moodily into the distance it wouldn't go with her style!

I don't think your photo is bland - it's rather clever! Friendly and smiley but clearly not shallow or goofy. The library feel from the books in the background works very for your teaching work.

So in a nutshell, I reckon you're better at this branding malarky than you think!!

Now if only I found fiction writing so easy to bang on about!

Hope this hasn't bored you to death. I'll shut up now.


Sarah Duncan said...

Hi AJ, thanks for posting such an interesting comment (miles better than my original post). I know branding is important, but as the object being branded it feels...a bit peculiar, especially as my publisher leaves me out of that particular loop.

I'm glad tho that the photo says what I hoped it would - I wanted Friendly and Approachable, but not Fluffy.