A third-generation Oregonian who can peel and eat a banana with her toes, Tawna Fenske has traveled a winding career path from journalist to English teacher in Venezuela to marketing geek. She’s the author of the popular daily blog “Don’t Pet Me, I’m Writing
” and a member of Romance Writers of America.
Her debut novel, Making Waves
, was nominated for Best Contemporary Romance in the RT Book Reviewers’ Choice Awards, and the Chicago Tribune
noted, “Fenske’s wildly inventive plot and wonderfully quirky characters provide the perfect literary antidote to any romance reader’s summer reading doldrums.” Her second romantic comedy, Believe it or Not,
hit shelves March 2012 from Sourcebooks. Library Journal
noted, “Fenske’s sophomore effort (after Making Waves
) is another riotous trip downfunny bone lane, with a detour to slightly askew goings on and a quick u-ey to out-of-this-world romance. Readers will be enchanted by this bewitching fable from a wickedly wise author.”
Deb Tawna weighs in with her take on Author Photo Week:
You know that expression about the cobbler’s kids going without shoes?
That’s kinda how things are with me and author photos.
The pic I use now for social media and prison mug shots guest blog posts was taken by close friend and talented photographer, Claudine Birgy.
I like the photo a lot, but it’s now more than two years old. Though people say I don’t look much different now than I did when I graduated from high school 20 years ago, I know they’re just being nice because they either want to grope me or steal my wine.
In any case, my photo could stand to be updated.
For a year now, I’ve been dating a great guy who happens to be a photographer. Awesome, right? I mean unless he was a wholesale wine distributor or a Pure Romance consultant, there aren’t many professions that could be more useful to me.
Except, well….we kinda never get around to taking those new author photos. I’m busy, he’s busy, clothing ends up on the floor and those shots don’t really make the best author photos.
But we do keep finding other ways to make our professions overlap.
When I’m not doing the author thing, I work part-time doing marketing and public relations for Bend, Oregon’s tourism bureau. Through a peculiar twist of circumstances I swear didn’t involve inappropriate sexual favors, my gentleman friend ended up shooting some photos for a piece in Dog Fancy magazine promoting our status as one of the nation’s top dog-friendly towns.
If you followed any of my Debutante Ball posts last season, you might notice something interesting about this page from the October 2011 issue of Dog Fancy:
Yup, that’s me, along with my trusty canine companion, Bindi. And yes, that’s my gentleman friend’s photo credit.
Think that’ll work as an author photo?
Admittedly, there are other areas of overlap in our professional lives. Though I wrote my sophomore novel, Believe it or Not, a couple years before we started dating, a few last minute revisions and scene additions coincided with the start of our relationship. The result? Well, let’s just say the leg-massage scene on pages 99-105 had some divine inspiration.
I’m sure we’ll find time to take those new author photos eventually. In the meantime, I’m fine continuing to use the slightly outdated photos taken a couple years ago. Bindi’s OK with it, too. It doesn’t show her gray fur.
My reaction to this week’s topic: I laughed! I cried! I went “Ugh!”
Mixed emotions much? Um, yeeeah.
And who can blame me? I was traumatized by school pictures like this:
(I think I was in the fourth or fifth grade there. Honestly? I’ve blocked it out of my mind.)
I tend to prefer playing photographer to be photographed. Not that I’m any good it, mind you. It’s just that when I’m behind the camera, it means I’m not in front of it, wondering if I have spinach stuck between my teeth, or if my bra strap is hanging out, or if the lighting is going to enhance my crow’s-feet and make my butt look big.
But I knew I had to have some sort of pictorial author presence on the web, so gritted my teeth and found some photos of me I don’t hate. Much.
There’s this one—my “What a pleasant surprise–you caught me just as I was walking out this door” photo:
And this one—my “I’m pretending to be kickass enough to really smoke this cigar” photo:
Those are the two of me you see most places I visit on the web. I usually go for the first one if a little decorum seems to be in order (like here, for my Deb picture), and for the second one if I’m just being a smartass (like on my own blog, or commenting on other people’s blogs).
I even have a spare one of me in one of those cliched “author poses” in this piece that Deb Erika linked to in her post earlier this week:
My, don’t I look pensive? And, I dunnoh…pained, somehow, like I’m thinking, just take the damn picture already! (Which, if I recall correctly, is exactly what I was thinking.)
But it’s the picture my baby brother took of me last summer that truly expresses how I feel about being photographed:
Honestly, I’m hard-pressed not to do that every time I see a camera pointed in my direction. And obviously my brother liked it so much he had it framed for me. (Okay, apparently that’s an app on his iPhone. Whatever. It’s the thought that counts, right?)
How about you? Are you comfortable in front of the camera, or would you perhaps rather walk over shards of broken glass barefoot? Or maybe have a root canal without anesthesia?
P.S. Remember–if you hover the cursor over the pictures in my blog posts, you’ll usually find a little additional commentary.
I think of author photos the same way I think of book blurbs. They make you feel like a glamorous, real-life Author. As soon as I got my book deal, I thought “OMG I get to take an author photo!” It felt so professional, so legitimate. Like the photo was what made me an author, not the 300-plus page memoir I’d spent the last year writing. But I’m not actually sure if they make a difference. I don’t buy a book, or not buy a book, based on the picture. (I compare this to blurbs because while getting blurbs was one of the most exciting parts of the book process, and I know that authors and publishers put great weight into them, I’m not so convinced that they actually move product.)
The day I spent doing my author photo shoot was a perfect Chicago day — sunny, not freezing, which is really all you can ask for. We spent hours doing photos on a chicago rooftop with the city in the background, in my apartment, and then on my apartment building’s communal deck. I brought outfit changes. Many. I did hair down, hair up, hair half down half up.
I smiled awkwardly, and heard my photographer friend say “not such a big smile!” more than once. And then we were done. Or so I thought.
Just as she was leaving, my friend said, “let’s just take a few photos in the green dress, in front of that colorful photograph in your apartment.”
And thank god she did, because those last shots were the best of the day. Of course they were.
In the end, I was deciding between these two photos.
I know what you’re thinking. These pictures look exactly the same! And yet, I emailed these choices to approximately 12 people for their opinions. The votes were split. Maybe because they are basically the same. But these are the details it’s fun to get lost in! We can only tweak sentences for so long, so it was nice to finally obsess over something else and still qualify it as “work.”
Of course, in retrospect, if I wanted to portray the real me I would have just gone with this:
Wine. Wac-a-mole. Dresses.
I’m Rachel, nice to meet you.
Here’s my question for you: Do you think author photos make a difference in selling books? Have you ever been swayed based on the author photo alone?
I have a confession. This girl?
That’s not me.
Sure, those are my earrings, and that’s my hair (on a pretty decent day), and I suppose those are my features, but still. That’s not me.
This girl is polished and sure of herself, staring at the camera with a hint of a smile — or is that a challenge? This girl knows what she’s talking about. This girl don’t take no shit from no one.
But me? The real me? I’m distracted and often frazzled, underslept and overscheduled. More Marla Hooch than Dottie Hinson, if you know what I mean.
[Sidenote: a few weeks ago, my friend Nat and I were playing "What celebrity do you hope you look like, and what celebrity do you fear you look like?" I said that on a good day, I hoped I look like Drew Barrymore, but most days I fear I look more like Marla Hooch. He had to look Marla up on his iphone, and then he didn't stop laughing for like ten minutes. IT'S FUNNY BECAUSE IT'S TRUE.]
Author photos (and author bios, for that matter) are weird and often uncomfortable because they ask us to choose one face to show to the world, when we know that no one picture — and no one paragraph — will ever sum us up. As my friend Marisol told me, back when I was struggling to write the bio for the book jacket:
“I think, among other reasons, that writing a bio is stupidly hard for the same reason that writing a resume or a college application is stupidly hard – they all seem to build on the premise that there is a single truth of self that we can capture on paper if we only find the right words. And worse, the right 50 or 100 or 200 words. But, that’s bullshit. And, perhaps ironic, because anyone who could be captured in that way – would you really want to hire them, bring them to your college, or read their book?”
(I love her.)
I think most of us grapple with this, in our world of social media and profile pictures and 140 word twitter bios and “About Me” sections — how do we choose to present ourselves in this or that context? (I like to joke about “managing my brand,” but lately it feels like less of a joke than it used to.) At least with Facebook you can post a number of pictures to hint at your multifaceted glory. But with an author photo, you only get one shot.
So which do you choose? Do you go with the casual snapshot, the Oh Hey, I Didn’t See You There, I’m Just Hanging Out On This Dock?
(In my defense, I was actually just hanging out on this dock.)
Or the Sure I Write Books But I Spend Far More Time Hugging Dogs/Don’t Look at Me, Look at This Adorable Greyhound:
(To be fair, she is adorable.)
There’s always the I Can’t See You, I’m Too Busy Being a SERIOUS WRITER And Wearing This Awesome Leather Jacket:
(What was I writing? Probably “Ali is taking a picture of me. Blah blah, I am writing!” or something similarly poetic.)
Or do you try to channel Robert Frost and go rustic with the Here I Am, At Home In The Woods, Just Casually Laughing On A Stump:
(This one was taken in Iowa, so it has a special place in my heart.)
Or do you try to show your readers how fun you are with the Wacky Hatching From An Egg pic (total cliche, am I right?):
(What author didn’t hatch from an egg?)
Or do you give up on the idea of trying to put your best face forward, and go with the But Seriously, This Is What I Actually Look Like shot? (Which might be what old Uncle Shelby was doing in the picture that so terrifies Deb Joanne.)
(That’s just my face, you guys.)
It’s overwhelming and crazy-making, and in the end you often have to just go with something and try to stop obsessing. And that’s why I went with what’s probably the most boring option, the professional headshot:
It’s not me. Not entirely. It doesn’t show how casual, dog-loving, thoughtful, rustic, fun, cranky, or contradictory I can be. It’s only one face of many, and I contain multitudes.
But I guess that’s what my book is for.
**You know you want to play along: What celebrity do you hope you look like, and what celebrity do you fear you look like?**
Once upon a time, it was so easy. You put on your favorite Bionic Woman T-shirt, you stood in line, you picked out your plastic comb (you maybe even used it—or not), you sat in front of a baby-blue background, you smiled, and two months later, you got a sheet of little wallet sized photos that you cut out to send to family and friends.
Oh, those were the days.
When a writer starts looking down the road to publication, there are lots of things she or he looks forward to. I’m going to go out on a limb here and say “Finally getting my author photo taken!” is not high on that list.
So when it came my time to produce an author photo, I thought back on another sort of headshot experience I’d had in my, ahem, younger years. In one of my past lives, I was an actress. (Though, as my husband is fond of saying: “Was?”) I had done my share of visiting in the land known as “the actress headshot” so I thought it might help to revisit those old shots and look at them critically as a way to come up with ideas for my author photo.
Turns out, it wasn’t. (But my kids definitely enjoyed seeing them!)
Now there’s no question the author shot serves a different purpose than the actor’s headshot. I began to understand that as soon as I burned lovingly filed away those old headshots and started to do research online. There are many great tips on the web—especially on photographer’s websites where they will give you advice on how to dress for your photo shoot, make-up, etc. I even came upon this piece from Flavorwire on the clichés of Author Photos. (For those keeping score, I was going for #3, ended up with #5 but sort of wish I’d at least tried #2. Oh, well. Live and learn.*)
Just as the experts had said, I kept my wardrobe simple which wasn’t hard because my wardrobe is, well, painfully simple and I kept my make-up light (Again, not a challenge. I consider Lip Balm make-up.)
My first "professional" headshot. Cast me now, Saved By The Bell!
Now the only question was where to take the picture. Since my husband and I had to wait until the kids were asleep, we had to do it indoors. First, we tried to bathroom. (Is it me, or is this starting to sound bawdy enough to be a Friday post, Deb Linda?) Er, let’s just say, we didn’t have Deb Joanne’s success. Then we tried the foyer. (I’d post the disastrous results here, but I’m fairly certain you all would turn to stone and we need your readership.) Finally, we opted for something “casual” in the living room. I’m using the word “casual” here the way they do when they refer to “natural-looking” make-up. As in, it takes a lot of work to make something look like it took no work at all.
Trust me, this took work. Almost three hours of it.
And what’s so alarming and glorious about the end result is that out of the 200 hundred shots we took, this was the only one that was decent.
The only one.
*And yes, my chin did in fact end up in my hand. It just wanted to go there, I swear! (Though I wish it had crawled a little further to the right to cover up that big ole age spot. Ack!)
So tell us: Where would you take your author photo? (You know, besides the bathroom.)
So it’s author photo week here at The Debutante Ball. Yikes. I’m going to put this out there right now: like a lot of folks, I don’t love having my picture taken. I am very rarely pleased with the results and thus try to either duck out of the lens crosshairs or be the one behind the camera. But something funny happens when you sell a book; you are suddenly required to have pictures, because, for some reason, people want to know who you are and what you look like. Weird, right? I know.
It shouldn’t matter, what I look like when you read my book. I mean, I could well look like this:
And it really shouldn’t matter, because I’m writing fiction and I’m not even the narrator for my books. But for some reason, people want to know what I, the person behind the words, look like, thus there is a need for author photos. But these take a great deal of thought. And in my case, at least, a lot more thought than is really required, which means this has been a very angsty process for me, thus good fodder for a blog post, so bear with me.
First, one has to think about who is going to do the pictures. Can I get away with doing my own author photo in my bathroom?
I guess. This photo really was taken in my bathroom-the dark background is a towel thrown over my shower rod. For the size of my bathroom and the fact that I took this myself, I guess it turned out okay. It was the only one I had to use when I found out I was going to be a Deb, so it’s the one you see every time to you come here, but it’s not really ideal-I don’t think I would want this on a book cover.
Okay, so then I need to find someone to take the pictures. I’ve got my cousin, Tania and my husband, who both own decent cameras and know how to use them. So-photographer? Check.
But then I need to think about how I want to come across as an author.
Do I write very serious tomes? Do I want to come across like a very literary and thoughtful person:
- photo credit: Tania Garshowitz
Nah, that’s not really me. Okay, so how about a glam shot? After all, I am a Debutante!
- photo credit: Tania Garshowitz
Uh, not exactly. So how do you find the balance? How do you look friendly and approachable, but not ridiculous? How do you show your tween audience that you’re fun to be around and capable of writing a book they would want to read?
Insert a dog!
- photo credit: Deke Snow
Although it’s always a good idea to have a clean head shot.
- photo credit: Tania Garshowitz
So which one will you see on the flap of SMALL MEDIUM AT LARGE? Beats me. I haven’t seen the full cover art yet, so I’m not even sure there will be an author photo on there. But no matter what, as long as it’s not like this one of Shel Silverstein, I’m okay with it.
- Seriously? I still can’t believe they put this mug on the back of books for kids. Yikes.
So I’d love to hear what you think of author photos? Do you love them? Hate them? Skip right by them? Have you ever not bought a book because of one (kind of like how I put down that copy of THE GIVING TREE and ran from the bookstore, fearing terrible nightmares?)?
Congrats to Jane Cook, winner of a copy of Jennifer Gooch Hummer’s Girl Unmoored!
From the 2012 Debs…
Deb Joanne – would like to remind everyone that her Goodreads ARC giveaway is almost over. If you haven’t gone to enter, you only have a few days left.
Deb Erika has been working on the reader’s guide for THE MERMAID COLLECTOR and coming up with some discussion questions. While there are no gumbo recipes this time around, she is still promising plenty of flavor…
Deb Molly will be teaching a class called Start Your Novel Now, beginning Monday, April 2, at StoryStudio Chicago. There are still a few spots left!
Deb Rachel will also be teaching at StoryStudio Chicago. Sign up now for the one-night class Perfect Pitch: How To Sell a Non-Fiction Book on Monday, April 16.
Past Deb News
Deb Tawna was interviewed by USA Today about her new release BELIEVE IT OR NOT. Read it here!
Debs Eleanor and Sarah Pekkanen and Jenny Gardiner have been at the wonderful VA Festival of the Books in Charlottesville this week!
Deb Friend Sarah McCoy just visited Denver’s Tattered Cover Book Store to read from her novel THE BAKER’S DAUGHTER.
Deb Dish - What is one locale you’ve always wanted to write about/use as a setting but have yet to try?
Deb Joanne - most of my books are set in Anytown, Canada/USA, so I don’t think too much about actual locale settings. The only book I have ever set in a specific place was the mermaid one that was set in Carmel California, and I did extensive internet research, including A LOT of Google Streetview to get real images of streets and locations right in the town. I was even able to choose a house where my main character lived in. Kind of creepy when you think of how people in different countries can drill right down to actual houses and explore streets and stores with just a few clicks of a mouse…
Deb Erika I have always wanted to set a novel in the Southwest (and hope to someday!) but I have yet to visit that part of the world and I know in today’s world of Google maps and other internet resources, I could probably glean enough info to do so site-unseen, but I really feel I need to BE there to really get a feel for the landscape in order to write something believable. In other words: Road trip! Who’s in?
Deb Molly I also want to write about the Southwest! I lived in New Mexico for years, but the longer I lived there, the more I felt I didn’t truly understand it. It’s a wild and challenging place.
Deb Linda — Hmm. So many great places to choose from! I guess I’d have to go with Ireland. It’s beautiful — I adored my visit there. Plus, I picked up loads of fun, off-the-beaten-path info that I think I could work into one of my books. (What? I can totally see my MC breaking into the ruins of an old castle in the off season, hooking up with probable gun runners by mistake, and escaping by a hair. *cough* Not that anything like that happened to me while I was there. Not that anything like that didn’t happen to me, either. You know what? I think I’ll just plead the Fifth on this one. (No, smarty-pants. Not the fifth of Irish whiskey. Okay, well, maybe…)
Deb Rachel would love to write a book set at a summer camp. Write what you know, right?