By Tom Rachman
I walked into the bookstore gripping my debut novel, its cover puckering where my sweaty fingers clutched tight, as if to remind myself: You’ve published a book, you’re not an absolute imposter. What awaited was a lectern and a huddle of sad chairs. This was back in 2010, at one of my first readings. Here I was, a writer at last. Only, how to appear writerly?
“Oh, hey!” the event organizer said, noticing me hesitating in the doorway. “I actually recognize you from your author photo.”
“You sound a bit surprised—do authors not look like their photos?”
Not usually, she answered. The writer on the book jacket and the writer in store often differ by more than a decade. We chortled about vain authors. Didn’t they realize they’d be unmasked at every public event?
Flash forward to my third novel. The publishers need a publicity photo of me for the inside cover. I’m glancing at an old headshot, then at the 43-year-old in the mirror: grayer, pudgier, baggier. Is it a crime, I wonder, to stay 33 for another book?
Problem is, books are written slowly, and aging happens all of a sudden. So the author is secreted away during the composition of a new novel, typing and deleting, until finally it’s complete and ready for exposure, at which point the writer stumbles from a study into the (very minor) flurry of publicity. By then, the previous shot compared with the new one is like a Before-and-After for a spa you’d best avoid.
Stressing about an author photo isn’t just vanity. It’s also about career survival, given that the spoils of fiction are meager, and accrue to the few. Writing novels is often a business of lionized old lions and bright young debutants, with prairies of middle-aged mid-listers between. An author’s image—not beautiful necessarily, but of striking looks—helps the sales package. Consider Virginia Woolf or George Orwell, Zadie Smith or Karl Ove Knausgaard. When I think of them, I have plenty of opinions about their work. But what I picture is their author photos: flinty or debonair or aloof. Culture—no matter how we hate to admit it—is a style choice too. This is disenchanting for all the obvious reasons, not least because many writers chose this line of work partly because relying on looks seemed a dismal answer to the world’s indifference.
Read the full article: https://lithub.com/the-agony-and-the-ecstasy-of-taking-author-photos/