The Dreaded Photo Shoot

I’m not someone who avoids cameras. Hey, I’ll even take the occasional selfie for Instagram.

But my last author headshot was over three years old, and… I don’t want to be, you know, the author who walks into an event and has everyone whispering “She looks a lot younger on her Facebook page,” and “Wow, that must be a heck of an old photo on her website!”

Keeping up to date with who I am now is important.

Still, I avoided dealing with the need to update my headshot. Why?

The Dreaded Photo Shoot: author headshots and visual identity

It’s not about getting older. In fact, I deliberately didn’t Photoshop the bits of silver glitter out of my hair.

So, when I heard “Let’s take your new headshot,” why was my gut reaction basically I can’t and I’m bad at this?

Hmm…

My author headshot is part of my visual identity. It’s the first thing you see when we “meet” online. So… I want to look like someone you’d want to know, right? I want to look like someone who writes what you want to read.

Potential Obstacle #1: Does my general appearance fit my visual identity as an author?

Mostly, yes. This isn’t much of an obstacle for me, given a little bit of prep time.

I don’t see my author persona wearing glasses, so I need to have my contact lenses in. I don’t wear makeup every day (I mean, to sit at my desk writing, really?), but it does make me feel more glamorous and professional if I take a minute to put on some eyeliner and mascara and tinted lip gloss before picture-time. I appreciate a chance to fix my hair out of its usual messy bun.

Lots of writers (and people in general) struggle with self-love, and I know how lucky I am not to have deep issues with my appearance — we all have ugh days, but most of the time I’m fine with myself as I am (and I recognize the truckload of privilege that’s built on). I’m also not an intensely private person, but that’s a factor for some authors.

And it’s convenient for me that my pen name and outward appearance match. I imagine the question of author profiles would be complicated for anyone who deliberately chose a gender-neutral pen name or writes as a persona that doesn’t match what shows up in a photo.

So — for me — this isn’t a reason to hesitate over getting an author headshot taken.

Potential Obstacle #2: Do I know what kind of expression I want to convey?

Smiling, or serious? Intent and passionate? Dreamily romantic? Having fun or being silly? All sexy and smouldering? Do I look at the camera, or off into the distance?

So many questions, so many choices. This aspect of getting a headshot taken overwhelms me a bit, to be honest.

Plus, what I think my face is doing doesn’t always translate to what I see in the photos. The corners of my mouth curve downward when I start a smile, leading to weird frowny faces half the time. My full smile looks goofy and shows far too much in the way of teeth and gums. I have an awful tendency to raise my chin, which looks either snotty or defiant or odd, depending on my expression.

This time, I ended up with direct eye contact and a hint of a smile. Good? I think so. I can see myself in the picture saying, “I’m going to get into some heavy stuff occasionally, but it’s really all about love and attraction.”

Making the right faces is a bit of an obstacle for me, but not an insurmountable one. Chin down, medium smile, try to look confident…

Potential Obstable #3: Can I admit to myself — and the photographer — what I want from the photo shoot?

A-ha. There it is. Admitting to anyone that I want to look polished and glamorous, maybe even a little bit sexy? Why is that hard?

My author headshot is not a humblebrag. I shouldn’t need to pretend (to myself, to the photographer, to readers) that I fell out of bed like this. But for some reason, I find it hard to step up to that and take ownership of what I want.

And it’s more than dabbing some concealer on the odd blemish and taking a minute to brush my hair. I want to sparkle in my picture. I want to channel Grace Kelly and Marilyn Monroe. And that feels super vain and arrogant and… if anyone guesses how I’m feeling they’ll think I’m ridiculous, and… maybe I shouldn’t brush sheer glitter on my eyelids and use lip liner so my cherry cola lip gloss really pops…

There it is. That’s my problem. The critical voice saying behave yourself and be modest inside my head is my big obstacle.

So, what worked?

These magic words from my photographer: “You’re creating a persona. Go put on whatever you’d like.”

And… whatever turned out to be a ridiculous low-cut rock and roll t-shirt I found in a garage sale bin and an extreme push-up bra left over from a wedding outfit. You can’t even see it in the picture, but dressing up made me feel like a star.

T.J. Lockwood gets the credit for my author headshot — she patiently took about forty pictures to get one good one. She says: “If you have access to a really good camera, don’t waste it.” She’s a fantastic writer (and all-round creative person with an eye for photography and design), and her first novel, Violent Skies, will be published in September 2017 by Filidh Publishing. If you’re into science fiction, you should definitely give her a like on Facebook and follow her on Twitter.

But Am I Newsworthy?

newsletter subscribe buttonI love getting newsletters from writers.

Why? I’m not absolutely sure. Maybe it’s because newsletters give, instead of asking or taking: they come with content just for me (well, not just for me, but for the mailing list members), and I’m not expected to share or retweet or comment or vote or click “like” — these social media engagements aren’t bad things, of course, but there’s an expectation of visible support, and it’s obvious when not given. While I like to show as much enthusiastic public support as I can to authors I admire, there’s something nice and pressure-free about just opening an email and reading it without having to respond. Yes, a newsletter is technically a marketing tool, but it’s also a gift from author to readers, and the best ones don’t feel like self-promotion.

I’ve been thinking for a while that I’d like to have a newsletter of my own; however, one big thing was holding me back. I kept asking myself, “But am I newsworthy?”

candy heartHere I am, thinking that I would like to give the gift of a private, special newsletter to anyone who is interested in my stories — and I’m wondering whether I’m good enough to do that.

Since when did giving a gift depend on the giver being worthy?

I woke up to this thought at the beginning of the week, and realized that now is the time to go ahead and create a mailing list, with a goal of sending out a monthly newsletter. We hear all the time that smart writers establish mailing lists well in advance of any book release; there’s no way to do that and also achieve some kind of invisible goal of becoming Important Enough For A Newsletter before starting one.

No one is being forced to sign up. If I end up sending out, say, a flash fiction story or an excerpt from something I’m working on, and it only goes to a handful of people, so what? Those people get something no one else does. No one is imposed on by the mere existence of a newsletter, right? I keep telling myself this.

candy heartBut this is exciting: I’ve realized I can do something with a newsletter that I can’t do on a blog or Facebook page or anywhere else — I can customize it to the preferences of those who sign up. One of the questions on my sign-up form is about comfort level: Sweet (prefer no explicit sex or swearing) or candy heartTart (okay with sexy description and gritty language)? That way, I can send my Sweets an excerpt that won’t make them blush, and my Tarts can get something a little dirtier.

I still feel strangely guilty, greedy, and not newsworthy enough to have my own newsletter. But it’s time to stop validating those feelings and go forward.

Be a Sweetheart; sign up!
(But only if you want to. No pressure.)

Writers, have you hesitated to start a newsletter because of doubts about being worthy? Did you end up doing it?

And readers, what do you love best about newsletters? What makes the great ones so awesome?

Having Profiles All Over

So it seems that we’re expected to have profiles all over the place, for this and that. I seriously think I could spend all my time updating here and there, if I tried to do them all, and I’d never actually get to writing. No, thank you.

But for a writer, it’s apparently important to be out there — to be findable, to have a presence. Mind you, I’m not really at that stage yet, since I’ve only recently had my first acceptance for a print anthology, and the only story I’d previously had published was in an online magazine which has sadly since gone dark (the excellent 10Flash, which was edited by K.C. Ball). Still, presence. How do you do that and stay sane? It’s about all I can manage to blog occasionally and post the odd remark on Twitter or Facebook, maybe go +1 a few things on G+ if I’m feeling energetic.

So today I stumbled across something called about.mehere’s my brand-new profile — and decided to give it a go. Why? Because it’s essentially static. See, it struck me that the answer might be found in many static points of contact leading to a few active places. So about.me wants a teeny chunk of setup effort, and then it’s done. I don’t even have to go back there and log in.

I don’t have any published books to promote yet, but I’m betting author profiles on social reading sites can work the same way. Not user profiles, because that’s just as much work as having another Facebook or Twitter account to update, but the author profile thing. From what I can tell, it only makes sense to smarten up your author profiles wherever they can be found (like Shelfari and LibraryThing and Goodreads) because they look so blank and unappealing when they haven’t been done. Someday when I have books for sale, I am totally going to make sure my author profiles on those sites look sparkly and cared-for, and they’ll point readers right here to where I already am.