Nicola Vincent-Abnett

Nicola Vincent-Abnett
"Savant" for Solaris, Wild's End, Further Associates of Sherlock Holms, more Wild's End

Tuesday 8 May 2012

On the Subject of Author Photos

A long time ago, when I co-wrote something with the husband, and had a comic strip or two published, the Black Library asked me for an author photo. 

I obliged.
The husband took quite a lot of photos, and chose one for use on the website and in publicity materials. I was in my thirties, but I didn’t look bad, and the picture’s quirky without it being anything more than your basic headshot.
I wonder, though, what author photos are really for.
The husband has had several over the years. He had some done professionally fifteen years ago, but I thought them rather dull, so Adelie High has been taking them, and a good job she’s done of it too, in my opinion. She even took a rather fetching shot of the husband for an advent calendar put out by Angry Robot Books a couple of years ago.
Recently, I did some more work for the Black Library. I had sent them a more recent photograph from the set that included my blog photo. This is what I look like now. I can’t help it.
When I saw the publicity material on the web for my latest stuff, the old photo was used.
So here’s my question: Why?
As it turns out, it was the photo on file, and time was short, so I forgive my lovely pals in the BL office.
It does beg a broader question, though: Does it matter what a writer looks like? And, if it doesn’t matter, why put their photo on their book jackets?
If you look like China Mieville or Sarah Pinborough, having your photo on your book jackets might help you to sell some extra copies. The same thing applies to writers that might not be considered particularly beautiful: Terry Pratchett has quite a distinctive and now distinguished look that suits his stories, and Stephen King looks almost as scary as some of his writing genuinely is. By the same token, who could fail to think well of Jacqueline Wilson
I don’t see the harm for most male writers. It never really matters what a man looks like so long as he’s clever or funny, or so long as his books are good.
It’s all about women again, isn’t it?
In my experience women writers are as various as women are in general, but if you stick a woman’s face on anything, her looks are going to be judged by someone. Why should we be made to feel wanting? 
We can all find something to feel vain about, but do we really want to sell our work on the strength of our looks? Will young people, men and women alike, buy my book if they see a picture of a grey-haired woman on the jacket? And, if I believe they won’t, should I colour my hair? 
It’s a knotty problem, because I’m proud of what I do, and because I feel no compunction to hide. I’m always a little wary, too, of people who don’t use their own name or their own face when speaking to the world, especially on the internet.
I will put my face on my book jackets, if thats the advice from my agent and potential publisher, but I suspect I shall agonise for an age over choosing the right images. It’s one of those little jobs that seems insignificant by comparison to the real work, but it’s one I’m not entirely looking forward to. 

There are now only 4 days before my hundredth blog, so I'm going to use them to suggest some blogs that you might want to visit. Today’s is actually my friend Sara Rowan’s artist’s website. She's a great painter and photographer, and, once in a while I have the great privilege and enormous fun of spending a morning painting with her. I am particularly in awe of her amazing skills with wet, washy watercolours.


  1. I am always very 'affected' by the author pic. I assume this is because I am incredibly shallow. The picture doesn't come into play when I'm deciding to buy or not to buy. That decision is usually informed by the cover art. This is probably another example of my, aforementioned, shallowness. Once I've read (and enjoyed) a book I will tend to hunt down a picture of the author. Whilst reading the book, I will have created an image of what the author will look like. Not specifics, but very generally. Stephen King, a but scary? Correct! Clive Barker, cool and a bit dangerous? Correct! Patrick Dewitt, Victorian curiosity shop owner? Correct! I am disappointed when the reality doesn't match my imagination.... Take a bow George R R Martin!

  2. I must admit, I sometimes find author photos a little off putting as, in my imagination, I tend to keep the author's voice and his/her physical look and personality as far apart as I can. Since being on Twitter and reading blogs, many of my idols have fallen off their pedestals. I'll side with Sir Philip Sydney on this one. The work of art is what is best about the man/woman. Let's focus on that alone.

  3. I see what you mean about Sarah Pinborough... Phwoar..

    On a serious note, don't worry about it Nik, just try and look clever :)