Wednesday, September 8, 2010

The Author Photo

John McFetridge

So, yesterday an anonymous commenter said s/he wouldn’t buy anything in support of Jay because of the photo on his blog.

I think they meant the one right over there on the left.

Now, personally I like that picture, it’s got some movement in it and some attitude. It gives me an idea what to expect in a Jay Stringer story and I think that’s a good thing.

I remember when I was trying to get a blurb for my first novel and the only writer I knew was Peter Robinson (our wives worked in the same office) but my publisher said it wasn’t a good idea to lead readers down the cobblestone path of decent Inspector Banks only to then hit them over the head with my foul language, violence and ugly Toronto streets.

So the author photo can serve a purpose, but it’s still very hard to get right. My friend, Ray Robertson (he’s written some terrific novels and I recommend them all but a good place to start is What Happened Later, his fictionalized account of Jack Kerouac’s return to his Quebec roots mixed with a story of the coming of age of a young Canadian writer) has put together the Three Rules of the Author Photo:

1) Keep your hands away from your face (particularly damning is placing a wistful forefinger to your chin.

2) No smoking (even though, undoubtedly, you're a tortured soul -- hence the nicotine addiction -- and, obviously, you're incredibly busy with important literary matters, hence the fact you can't put down your cigarette for the ten seconds it takes to snap a picture).

3) No pets in the picture, please (your acute sensitivity and deep humanitarianism will doubtless come through in your writing).

(Note if you can somehow manage to have an animal on your lap while simultaneously puffing away and stroking your temple or chin, feel free to ignore the previous piece of advice.)

Well, certainly Jay has broken one of those with the smoke and his hands are close to his face if not actually touching it and for all we know there may be a dog nearby so that should pretty much do it.

I have a photo that shows up on Blogger sometimes of me reading a book with my dog in my lap. He’s too big to be a lapdog but he was a rescue and has some serious seperation anxiety and tends to stay pretty close to me. So, he really does get up in the big chair with me when I’m reading sometimes. Still, that’s not an official author photo.

The other day Adrian McKintey blogged about Shel Silverstein’s scary author photo and really, this is on a kids’ book?

Me, I’m still using a photo taken before my hair went completely gray. That’s not breaking any rules. Is it?


Donna said...

I like Jay's photo. As you say, John, it gives you an idea what to expect and that's the sort of attitude I like in a story. Now, if I read a Jay Stringer story and it's about a crime solving cat who knits, I'm going to be severely pissed off, because I've been misled. (As an aside, when I first saw the picture I thought he was eating a chip...after all, he does live in Glasgow...)Keep the photo, Jay.

On the wider topic of author photos, I absolutely hate photos of me, but no matter how many chins I have, I'm definitely not going to do that thing I've noticed which is the hand under the chin thing.It draws my attention to the fact that someone has double or triple chins more than the double or triple chins would ever do.

Jay Stringer said...

Yup Donna's right, i'm eating chips in the photo. Taken in a candid moment at the seaside town Largs.

I use it for the reason McFet says, it feels to me like a picture that sums up my writing; It's got all the tropes of a moody crime writer -urban background, leather jacket, even a hoodie. But the mood is undercut because i'm pulling a face and eating a chip.

Which must offend people who worship chips?

People can be forgiven for thinking i'm smoking though, because again that was part of the fun. Looks like i'm doing something 'gritty' when i'm doing something greedy.

Funny thing is i've been trying to change if for awhile now. I don't look much like i do in that picture at the moment - i like like a version thats four years older and fatter. But nothing we take at the moment captures the feel of my writing like that one does, so it stays for now.

pattinase (abbott) said...

I had to have one taken recently for an anthology I'm in and it was a horrible experience. I hate formal pictures but damn it's hard to not look demented otherwise. Or old. Or grumpy-especially by the twentieth one. Hate it. Believe me, a cigarette and a hand over my face would have made all the difference.

Dana King said...

Keep the picture, for all the above reasons and one more: never do anything to satisfy an anonymous commenter.

I think I'm going to handle the author photo conundrum (assuming I ever get published) by hiring someone better looking to "be" me. It's not like a publisher is going to send me on tour where people might notice the difference.

Rusty James said...

I've never understood the writer's photo.

And Kerouac is, IMO, the only (classically) good-looking dude I've ever seen on a dust jacket. The type of guy you can imagine playing second fiddle to the much cooler Neal Cassady.

Joelle Charbonneau said...

Ha. Despite my past in modeling - I hate taking pictures. However, I did make sure to take a variety so there were options for the author photo - and I made my friends and agent pick because I hate looking at pictures of me. Fun stuff.

Funny, but I am certain the Jay photo that caused consternation wasn't the one up top - it was the photo/book cover of the guy with the tats giving the camera the bird. I say this because while I know my mother wasn't the commentor - she doesn't know how to do the blog comment thing, yet - she had a bad reaction to it. Personally, I like the new book cover one much better.

Ray Banks said...

That Shel photo is on the back of THE GIVING TREE. We had to move our copy because he used to watch us eat. It was terrifying.

Course, if it was up to me, there would be no author photos. If it were up to me, there would be no author NAMES on the books. Just a title on a blank cover. Let's see who's a bestseller then.

Oh wait, still not me.