Kaitlyn Dunnett/Kathy Lynn Emerson here, today writing about publicity photos. Like actors, writers pretty much have to have them. If you’re a big, bestselling author, your publisher will send a professional photographer to your house for a photo shoot. The rest of us are left to provide our own headshots.
The idea to blog on this subject came from a discussion on a Facebook group I belong to called “People Who Come From Liberty, New York.” Fifty or more years ago, the stores in downtown Liberty, a small town in the Sullivan County Catskills (aka “The Borscht Belt”) had other businesses above them. Someone posted a photo showing the word “Tailor” in an upper window, and that reminded me of a long ago trip with my mother to buy a hat from a milliner in a similar upstairs business. I posted a comment, asking if anyone remembered where that shop was and got an immediate answer. Turns out it belonged to the mother and aunt of a classmate of mine. Small world, right.
Where, you’re asking, is this digression going? It’s going to one of the first photos of me ever to appear on a book jacket. When the first book featuring my sixteenth-century detective, Susanna Appleton, was about to come out from St. Martin’s Press, I paid a visit to our local Glamour Shots. For those unfamiliar with this chain, which sadly no longer has any branches in Maine, they provide everything—costumes, hair styling, and makeup as well as portraits in color or black and white. At the time, author photos in color were still a rarity on book jackets. Anyway, among the items in the extensive wardrobe was a hat. I’ve always loved hats. I wish they’d come back into fashion. And the clincher was that, at that time, activities at Malice Domestic featured a hat contest at the closing tea. What better way, I thought, to present myself as an author of traditional mysteries than to have my picture taken in the kind of hat one might wear to tea? So—me in hat.
You may notice that I am totally unrecognizable in the hat and without my glasses. That, too can be a plus. I’m not always sure I want to be recognized. To tell you the truth, I don’t particularly like having my picture on my book jackets. When I started looking for them, I realized that there were only four times that I actually had to put my face out there along with my prose. The first was on a YA biography of nineteenth-century reporter, Nellie Bly, Making Headlines (1989). That’s the one at the top of this post. The second was the hat picture, for Face Down in the Marrow-Bone Pie and Face Down Upon an Herbal. For #3-7 in the series, I substituted a photo from a second trip to Glamour Shots, one without a hat. At that time, I was also writing category romance for Bantam’s Loveswept line and they wanted my photo in the books. The first one below went with my contemporary romance novels. The second was the new one for my historical mysteries.
The fourth and, as of this writing, last time a publisher included my picture with the text was when I wrote three more Face Down books for Perseverance Press, and then my nonfiction How to Write Killer Historical Mysteries. For the novels, they used what came to be known as the “nun in the woods” shot and for the how-to, we went with another Glamour Shots photo taken at the same time as the last one.
Since then, no one has insisted on a photo for a book jacket, but I’ve still had to come up with pictures of myself to use to publicize library appearances and the like and—one of the highlights of my writing career—to advertise the fact that I was Guest of Honor at Malice Domestic. That was when I had the photo I currently use taken. By that point, I no longer wanted glamour, or to be hard to recognize. I wanted to look like myself, slightly crooked teeth, double chins, glasses and all, so it was my husband who took pictures. Lots of pictures. We ended up with several good ones. I currently use two of them for publicity.
Remember the title of this blog? Lots of authors have their pictures taken with their cats. I’d love to do that. As a goal, it was right up there with a photo in a hat. Unfortunately, there’s a problem—our cats are more photogenic than I am. They come out looking great. I look like something that, well, the cat dragged in!
So, what do you like to see as readers? Do you care what writers look like? Do you expect headshots on book jackets? Does seeing a photo of the writer have any effect, positive or negative, on your enjoyment of the book? Inquiring minds want to know.
Kathy Lynn Emerson/Kaitlyn Dunnett is the author of over fifty books written under several names. She won the Agatha Award for best mystery nonfiction of 2008 for How to Write Killer Historical Mysteries and was an Agatha Award finalist in 2015 in the best mystery short story category for “The Blessing Witch.” Currently she writes the contemporary Liss MacCrimmon Mysteries (Kilt at the Highland Games) as Kaitlyn and the historical Mistress Jaffrey Mysteries (Murder in a Cornish Alehouse ~ UK in December 2016; US in April 2017) as Kathy. The latter series is a spin-off from her earlier “Face Down” series and is set in Elizabethan England. Her websites are www.KaitlynDunnett.com and www.KathyLynnEmerson.com