Over a decade ago I recall having a somewhat heated debate at a dinner with authors, booksellers, and a publisher about author photos. The question was whether or not an author photo made a difference in how a book is received in the marketplace. My answer was “Yes.”
For my part it wasn’t just about how consumers responded, it was about whether a good photo would open more doors in print and on television. Not unlike a book jacket, the photo became a part of the presentation and let’s face it, media and book buyers like attractive things.
Now the word on the street is all about branding and personal branding no less. It’s about connecting with readers and communities and getting people interested in your work because they are interested in YOU the author. What ever happened to book reviews?
Can we blame this phenomenon on reality TV? Can we blame it on the inability of our government to cross partisan lines? Unfortunately, no. We have all played a part in this evolution and in the entertainment business we have literally trained consumers to respond to a personal brand.
Is this all new? Well, not really. There have been fan clubs for authors since I was a kid at least. I personally was a member of the Judy Blume and Beverly Cleary clubs and I was very excited to get letters and other stuff in the mail about the women who wrote some of my most beloved books.
So what’s different today? Well, now instead of “fan clubs” there are web sites and communities where people chat about their favorite authors and books. Authors go on tour to shake hands with their readers (albeit not quite as often as they used to). A celebrity writer is literally a “celebrity”, with people behind him who tell him what to say, where to go, and sometimes even what to wear. Move over Hollywood stylists, make room for author fashion. A website devoted to an author needs to be branded in line with the writer’s work and image. Twitter, Facebook, Pinterest, etc…all need to fit in with these molds as well. Messaging and presentation are critical because one doesn’t want to alienate precious readers.
Bottom line: It’s a vast landscape of possibilities for presenting yourself and your work, but it also requires people whose actual job is done solo, to break out into the world in a bright and shiny way. I truly believe that good writing and good books have a shot out there and will reach an appreciative audience of some number. But I also know the bestseller list is competitive and you may need to unseat Snooki for your spot on it.