A Lesser Me

Well, it’s author photo time again.  The one here on the left is the one that my publisher likes best.  Truth be told, I’m not entirely sure that I agree.  I don’t like the sloppiness of the shirt in the front.  I wish the photographer had told me that the shirt was all bunched up.

The exciting part of the author photo this time around is that for Damage Control (July, 2012), my ugly mug will dominate the back cover of the book.  I wish I were modest enough to say I didn’t care about that, but we all know each other too well for me to pull that off.  I think it’s very cool.

Now, if I had my ‘druthers, the chosen pic would be the one in the sports coat.

I just think it’s a sleeker look.  It also shows me in the first Armani jacket I have ever owned.  Trust me, it was bought at a steep discount, but still.  Armani!  Note to the uninitiated: I learned a long time ago that while expensive clothes are, well, expensive, they also fit better and last longer.

For me, though, this particular author shoot is a milestone event for me.  As you read this post, I will have officially crossed the one-year mark for having kept off the fifty pounds that I lost.  Not to get all sappy, but in May of 2010, I had emergency gallbladder surgery that didn’t go entirely well, but left me alive.  I didn’t enjoy looking mortality in the eye.  On the day I left the hospital, I vowed to my wife, Joy, that I would take life’s warning shot for what it was, and change my gluttonous ways. 

I understand that no one is more annoying than the recent convert who presumes to preach to others.  I, too, remember that moment when Oprah celebrated her weight loss by rolling a wagon full of animal fat onto the stage to show what a wonderful thing she’d done, only to apply all of that fat back to her waistline within a year or so.  Having been prone to weight issues my entire life (I’ve been way more self conscious of my profile than I ever was of my hair line), I know better than to boast, because I know that I could backslide anytime.  Still, it’s a good sign that I like vegetables now, and that they don’t have to be fried for me to get them down.

Does it help a weight loss regimen to spend a few months barfing up food that annoyed your gallbaldder?  You betcha.  It’s God’s ultimate diet plan, and I credit Him with half of the fifty pounds.  The rest of it, though, is on me, and I’m proud of it.

My pride and narcissism aside, let’s turn this into a discussion about books.  Do author photos matter to you when it comes time to buy a book? 

Does the fact that Bob Crais looks like a friggin’ movie star make you more likely to buy his books than if he were, you know, more Gilstrapian?  Does putting an author’s mug on the outside of the cover where it can be seen by the casual observer make any difference at all?  Or is book buying really about the quality of the writing?

31 thoughts on “A Lesser Me

  1. Wow, congratulations. In my opinion, you should be proud of that. Also, I’m glad that you are okay. You add something to this old world, a good something.

    I don’t actually care what the picture looks like, though sometimes I’ll say to myself “okay, cool portrait”. I’d never recognize anyone from them though. I’m much more concerned with what they think.

  2. Funny this should come up today. I’m taking a course on creating web pages to eventually do up my author site. Unfortunately, it seems to be one of the “rules” that you have to have your picture slathered all over everything. I’d rather post a pic of my dog or one of Arizona’s many geographic wonders.

    I especially don’t understand this author picture “rule” when I could really care less about seeing an author’s photo on the book. Just as we are taught not to “tell” the reader what they’re supposed to think with author intrusion, it seems intrusive to me to have an author photo. After all, isn’t using imagination supposed to be the point of fiction?

    I read Zane Grey books for years before I ever saw a picture of him and it didn’t change my purchasing habits.

    BK Jackson

  3. I bought Bob’s books and became a huge fan long before I got a chance to meet him at Thrillerfest in 2008. Yes, his looks don’t suck. The guy is a major hotty in his signature Hawaiian shirt, but his endearing personality & generoscity to a fellow author made me a fan of his for life, no matter how he looked. His writing made me a fan.

    John– Major congratulations on the 2.0 of you. You look great. I like the shirt one, but your Armani .007 impersonation would get my vote. My husband and I are doing a 6-wk program that is best described as vegetarian, starting in Oct. Thanks for the inspiration. You may wind up on my fridge.

  4. I don’t know that I’ve been influenced to buy a book by the author photo, although a few year back several of us were laughing about using body doubles during book tours. I don’t suppose it hurts your sales at all if you happen to look like Robert Crais, Sebastian Junger, Twist Phelan or Tasha Alexander on your book (or in general, for that matter).

    I too have had the emergency gall bladder surgery, although mine must have been about 15 years ago. Not fun. And of course, we still get some mileage out of the 4F’s that make up the typical demographic for gall bladder surgery: Fat, Forty, Fair and Female.

  5. I like the photos…and no, I have never been influenced by the photo versus the writing. In fact sometimes the movie star shots put me off!

  6. You look mahvelous, Dahlink. Major high five on your weight maintenance.

    As for your author photo, I don’t mind the shirt thing at all. It makes it look “real.” Too slick is not a good look for any author photo, IMO.

    In all the data ever collected, I don’t think “Author Photo” has ever registered one iota in the buying decision of readers, though it’s hard to measure. I’m sure the “movie stars” nudge a browser or two toward plunking down the bucks for certain books. Other than that, it’s probably not a factor.

  7. Congratulations on the long-term weight loss, but commiserations on the cause.

    I don’t necessarily buy a book because of the author photo, but I do enjoy looking at them.

  8. Nice photos, John. And congrats on the weight loss. I don’t think author photos influence book buyers. But it does establish a visual connection with the reader. I remember times in the past when I’ve taken a few extra glances at the author’s photo to try and figure out what might have been going through his or her mind when the words were written.

  9. First, John, congratulations on your monumental achievement. It takes amazing courage and determination to change one’s life style for good. I did the same with cigarettes 25 years ago when my vocal chords froze and I couldn’t talk. Can you imagine me not talking??? I was lucky to get a warning instead of cancer.

    Second, I think a great photo that really captures an author’s character is an excellent addition to a book cover. That way, when the reader finishes the last line and loves the book, he/she can kiss your face in gratitude. LOL!!

  10. I think the one with the jacket looks more like an author photo should.

    I would like to say that I’ve never been influenced by the author photo, but I know I have. I don’t know that the author photo would convince me to buy the book, but I must say that my guess as far as who the author is as a person has changed based on what I’ve seen in photos. As I read a book, I frequently judge the events based on what I think the author is trying to say.

  11. Casual’s better than Armani. I would’ve suggested a pose incorporating an evil stare, longer goatee, & wearing Phillies t-shirt while holding a Guinness but hey – that’s just me. I only have these flashes of brilliance ’cause I avoid vegetables, ‘specially green ones.

  12. Well done on the fitness accomplishment!

    I don’t usually look at an author’s picture with any interest until I’ve read (and enjoyed) the book. That said, I had professional hair, make-up, and a wee bit of “work” done in preparation for my last author’s photo. The downside is, people seldom recognize me from the photo in real life. My doctor loves my photo, though. Last time he peered at it, then at me, and said, “You look the same, except for maybe a few crow’s feet.” Ouch.

  13. I heard stories about Crais’s agent or publicist who got him TV appearances on big national TV shows because of his looks. If that’s true, then maybe his looks DID indirectly influence his popularity, because he had the goods (great writing) to back up the eye candy. Just sayin’

    And BTW John. Like Kathleen said, I would have totally given your mug a kiss after I finished THREAT WARNING, but it was on my kindle. Not the same.

  14. The author pic means nothing to me. (No offense.)

    I have a Crais story. The Beloved Spouse and I went to a reading/signing a few years ago. She had no idea what he looked like. So there we are sitting in the fourth row, and Crais walks in. He hadn’t even made it to the podium and she tapped me on the arm. “He’s on The List.”


    (The List is a roster of people either of us can sleep with and it wouldn’t be cheating. They have to be famous, not people we know, but I thought it was in poor taste to put someone on the list while we were all in the same friggin room.)

  15. i like the armani pic….your face is much more engaging.
    i don’t buy based on the author’s picture. except when it’s a little old lady with crimped, gray hair. that may make me read the cover a little more closely.
    seriously, crais can wear a gunny sack…wouldn’t matter. and i do love sandford and child’s worn leather jackets. can’t go wrong there, either.

  16. To be honest, I always hate author photos that feature the “hand on chin” pose. I like the same one that your publisher voted for, but they’re both great.

  17. I understand not liking the rumpled shirt, but it’s the better photo. The pose is more relaxed, your facial expression and eyes are more intriguing and the lighting is superior. The other photo has that awful shadow from incorrect lighting, and that lighting creates both too much shine on your face and an unfortunate shadow, and your expression is too standard. I grant you the clothes are better, but you’re not selling the suit.

    Photography is a hobby of mine. I can’t help but stare at photos and pick them apart. I don’t believe I have ever purchased a book based on an author’s photo (especially since nearly everything I buy is on the Nook), but I do cringe when I see those that were clearly taken by the author’s friend or relative. Even if it’s not the most crucial element to the book’s design it’s still better to have a good one than a bad one.

  18. The author’s photo means a bit to me. I want the writer to look like the book. Make sense? I don’t want Barbara Cartland or Stephanie Meyer on the back of a political thriller. A credible look helps sell me.

    As to you photos, I like the one you have now with the leather jacket. As to the new ones, I like jacket better, but agree that the lighting leaves a lot to be desired. However, you look credible in both, so its a toss up (still like the current one better)

    Congrats on the weight loss. When I met you in 2009, you didn’t register as fat to me, but the before and after pics are amazing.

  19. Congratulation on keeping the fifty off!

    I have to agree with the first commenter, I’ve never let an author’s photo influence my book-buying.

    I can see why the publisher prefers the first photo, but in truth both have issues. Why not ask for another photo shoot and get what you want? There’s also the marketer’s favorite – A and B testing. Suggest it.

  20. I think the writing matters most. I don’t think I’ve ever read a book based on the author’s photo.
    One author that I read changed his photo in the middle of the series. His first photo was more friendly and looked like he wrote humor. The second one was ominous and looked like he wrote supernatural books. The funny thing is he writes both, and mixed the two in the series I read.

  21. Man…I gotta get about that much off..taking off 70 would bring me back to soft yet studly look my wife loved so much when I got out of the Marines. Oh for those svelty days (I could never get a washboard, no matter what). I don’t want a life & death thing to make it happen though, even though I am starting to fear that’s what it’ll take.

    As far as PICS, I like the suit pic, but the shirt pic is cool too, except yeah I did home in on the wrinkles.

    When it comes to movie star looks, that doesn’t make me pic up a book. A balding guy like yourself is more likely to make me buy a book, because your brain looks bigger. A hunk or a hottie may make me turn away, because I get the sense they may be vapidly narcissistic, of course that may be jealousy talking. Some of my favourite authors, like Fred Forsythe and CS Lewis, have a distinctly Fuddish look, yet they are among the best.

    Anyway, congrats on the next book in the offing, may it be a great success…and you know who to call when its time for audio production…hint…hint.

  22. John,

    I’ve thought about your post since I read it at 7am this morning.

    The first photo reveals something innocent about you – the curtain behind you I see as a metaphor (the man behind the magic). I never would have noticed the bunched-up shirt if you hadn’t mentioned it.

    The second photo is svelt, as you mentioned.
    I’m so proud of you for losing the baggage because I have struggled with that same issue my whole life through – both the weight, and the appreciation of the finer things in life, like the Armani jacket.

    Keeping the right things off, and the right things on, is a point of excellence, to me at least.

    And yes, it’s hard to pick the right photo to put ourselves out there…after all, it’s a revelation of the man behind the curtain – the one who came up with the story. The lifeblood of the novel. The real you.

    I don’t buy a book based on the author’s photo…
    The image of That Face…
    The one behind the curtain, the one who was brave enought to write down what he thought was important through his characters…
    That image consistently intrigues me because I understand what it takes to write a novel.
    I appreciate a good Author photo, after the fact, after I’ve fallen in love with his story.

    Have the photographer reshoot you in the Armani, with the curtain in the background, face-on, with the same pose and expression you wore in the first shot.

    That picture’s worth a thousand words…

    Can’t wait to read Damage Control,

  23. Like others have said, the leather jacket is best. The shirt’s condition is not an issue, but the Armani is better. The shot should be in an alley — like behind a bar. I’m looking forward to Damage Control.

    I don’t buy books based on author photos, but I like to compare what they look like with what they write. In the leather jacket, you got the “mission ready” look. In the Armani, you got the “double-nought spy” going. In the shirt? Not so much. A Guiness would add to it.

    Stay on the healthy side.

  24. Congrats on getting healthier! As for pic choice: Go with the shirt, the Armani jacket is awesome and you look like a million bucks in it but the white background with the shadows doesn’t do you justice.

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