Catherine Linka is the author of the two book series, A GIRL CALLED FEARLESS and A GIRL UNDONE. Catherine was a YA book buyer for an indie bookstore for 8 years. Connect with Catherine on twitter @cblinka or FB.


A few weeks ago, my editor asked me to send in a head shot. And then my agent reminded me that she needed one also. Now that my book is under contract, it’s time to get a professional pic to go on my book jacket, fan page, website, book marks, etc., but the thought of getting my portrait done was completely intimidating.

The camera does not love me. Sometimes, I think it barely puts up with me. So, I started asking people for advice on how to find a photographer and how to get a good headshot.

I learned a lot along the way, some of which might help you prep for your big moment in front of the camera.

Talk to your agent or editor about what they want before you meet the photographer. (Not surprisingly, this advice came from my photographer, Brad Buckman.)

When I asked my agent, Sarah Davies, for advice the first thing she said was that the shot should be in PORTRAIT, not landscape, and in high def. It sounds obvious, but apparently, people forget.

Also, find out if it should be in color or B/W. According to my editor, Mollie Traver, “We often decide to make our photos black & white – it goes with any cover colors and can come across as slightly more dramatic, especially for thriller/dystopian YA.”

(Know this, however, black and white shots will emphasize every wrinkle on your face, neck, and body, so lighting is crucial. See below.)

Both Sarah and Mollie directed me to examples of head shots of authors they work with that  they thought were particularly good, so I could see what they were looking for.  While I’m not going to reveal their favorites, I have always been struck by Marie Lu’s picture on LEGEND. She is beautiful and interesting, but not intimidating.

Compare the shots on different photographers’ websites. 

Sarah Davies emphasized that lighting and camera angles can make all the difference in getting a great shot.

To find a local photographer who could do the same for me, I looked for a someone who photographed faces with “character,” not just gorgeous young things. Brad Buckman works with actors–including older character actors and when I saw how great he made them look, I chose him.

Don’t go cheap. 

You may not have a ton of money, but you’ll probably use this shot for several years, so you want one you can be proud of and that will reproduce well. I’ve seen a few that looked like they were done at the Portrait Place at Sears. Murky, slightly blurry, not at all flattering.

 Consider using a professional makeup artist who works with photographers.

Maybe you have perfect skin and an encyclopedic knowledge of makeup tips, but you don’t make yourself up for the camera every day,  so you don’t know what the lighting will do. Plus, airbrushed makeup can make a huge difference when the camera draws in for a close-up.

Think about the image you want to communicate. 

A headshot is part of your marketing package.  My editor and agent didn’t exactly agree on this one, but I feel that the tone of an author’s portrait often seems to correspond to either the audience or the type of book. Picture book and middle grade writers often look friendly and warm while YA authors can run the gamut from angry rocker chicks to compassionate souls.

Since my book is YA spec fiction, I gave Mollie, my editor a list of adjectives to describe what I thought my portrait should communicate. She said, “I love all of your adjectives below – thoughtful, approachable, slightly hip, interesting, expectant – as I think they resonate with teens and this story. I personally don’t love frowny/totally non-smiley photos, but I also love photos that toe that line between smiling and mysterious, like you have a secret.”

Sarah, my agent, responded a little differently. “Don’t worry too much about the relationship to the book. It’s what flatters YOU that matters. Though agree not too ‘Mom.’”And then she added, “Never try to look cool. No good over 30.”

When I got my proofs, I decided to listen to Sarah. The shots of me smiling shave at least ten years off my age, compared to those where I look “intriguing.”

Dress for your image, but make sure you’re comfortable.

I lead two lives–my everyday life and my creative life, and my wardrobe reflects that.

The photographer suggested I bring a range of clothing so we could pick what would work best on camera, avoiding patterns, large buttons, logos. His overall advice was to wear clothes I like and feel comfortable in, and that bring out my skin tone, eyes and hair.

“Rich colors are best, as opposed to primary colors which tend to distract.” He also said to “pay special attention to necklines, as they frame your face and communicate a lot as far as character and mood.” And he stressed that a low neckline can focus attention in the wrong place.

I picked six outfits that reflected my creative personality and brought them to the shoot. The photographer selected the ones he thought would photograph best. Brad took 400 shots of me wearing 3 different outfits and almost all my favorite shots were taken wearing one outfit. The cut of the neckline and sleeves turned out to be the most flattering while another top I love looked all wrong in black and white.

Consider retouching.

Maybe you hate wearing makeup and would never consider a facelift, but retouching can make you look great without going against your principles.

Retouching can be minimal– erasing a blemish– or can shave off pounds and years. I worked with Valerie at Hollywood Retouching and after she showed me different degrees of retouching, I chose to keep my crow’s feet, feeling that I looked like I’d had a restful week at the beach, but still looked like me.

Lastly, make sure the photos are cleared for rights.

You or your publisher will want to use your photos on the book jacket, e-books, advertising, the web, both in the US as well as worldwide. So you can eliminate legal hurdles if you have the photographer sign off that your photos can be used in all these ways. My editor sent the photographer a release form to sign and return.

Catherine Linka’s debut novel, A GIRL CALLED FEARLESS, will be published by St. Martin’s Press in spring 2014. Whoo hoo!


  1. Great post! I’ve been putting off getting professional head shots done for a long time now – this advice makes me feel a little less intimidated by the whole thing. 🙂 Thanks so much for sharing your experience!

    1. I was intimidated, too, Michelle. After all, I live in LA, where I’m surrounded by very pretty young people. So I was relieved to find a terrific photographer.

    1. Thanks, Val. Having to get a head shot is a great problem and I hope more of my SCBWI friends have to solve it.

  2. Gorgeous, Catherine! I absolutely LOVE your photo. It captures the “real” Catherine and you look beautiful!
    Years ago I invested a big chunk of my SCBWI WIP prize into having a professional author portrait made. At the time it felt like a huge splurge–and pretty self indulgent, but I’ve used those photographs countless times since. Having a great author photo has been one of the best professional investments I’ve made.

    1. Tami, I always think of your photo, because I feel as if it so suits you and your books. You look like someone that a little girl would want to pour out her heart to–which meshes so well with THE MAP OF ME.

  3. Terrific post, Catherine. I’m so intimidated that I don’t even have a picture of myself on my web site. I take a terrible picture. The only professional I ever tried shot the picture in a bright, sunlit studio against a white backdrop. I knew it was all wrong during the session, but didn’t have the heart to comment. I paid, but never picked up the photos after I saw them and refused the offer to try again. That was about 5 years ago. LOL. You’re very lucky to live near LA where you get photographers who’re used to working with actors and actresses. Your picture is wonderful, btw.

    1. Stephanie–Intimidating? Definitely! I think you highlighted a very important aspect of getting the right photo which is to be an active participant in the process. I was upfront with the photographer about what I liked about my face and what I wanted to hide. I had a candid discussion with the makeup artist about my flaws. The photographer and I discussed how I wanted to appear and considered different backgrounds. Still, I was surprised when the best shots were the ones where he got me to relax and laugh.

  4. Great advice, Catherine! It sounds like open communication between you and the photographer is key. And feeling comfortable with your photographer even before that first click, so you can relax and smile. Your picture is gorgeous and reflects your warm and inviting personality. Can’t wait to read your book. Congrats!

    1. In some ways, I think I lucked out, because Brad, my photographer made a real effort to put me at ease. I’d made a point of asking his assistant if she liked working with him before I hired him and she let me know that he was a great boss–which made me more comfortable in choosing him.

  5. Fabulous photo Catherine, you achieved all the adjectives you were looking toward. and excellent advice! Thanks

  6. Terrific post, Catherine, and so timely! I wish I’d read this a week ago. 😉 Thanks for sharing your experience. Your photo looks FANTASTIC.

    1. Thanks, Julie. I’m always glad when I can share an experience and it helps someone else.

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