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.
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!