So The After Girls is going to press soon, and I’m discovering that there are a LOT of steps to the publishing process. It’s not just as simple as how to get a literary agent and how to get your book published. There is a ton more and, these days, more and more that falls on the author. So I thought I’d tackle some of the issues I’ve come across, in no particular order and from my limited experience only. So without further ado, a few tips on how to take an author photo for your book jacket cover.
First off, you have a few options. You could plan ahead and and use whatever money as an author you can scrounge up to hire a professional. I’m sure that’s what all the real big-wigs do, but if it’s your first book, like me, that might not be a viable option. Second, you could find a friend who is a semi-professional photographer and offer them a small sum or beer or whatever you can find that’s barter-worthy and have them do it. This would probably be ideal. Your third option. You could have a short deadline and have just moved across the country to a city where you know no one and do it yourself. That’s what I did. You can see the result on the right.
1. Use a good camera. A DSLR is best (the one with changeable lenses), but in a pinch, I think you could even get by with an iPhone if you use the focus feature and take a lot of shots. I set mine to the lowest possible aperture and auto white balance (a professional photographer friend of mine suggested that this is the one thing that’s okay to set to auto) and then had my boyfriend adjust the shutterspeed accordingly as the light changed. And don’t forget to shoot on the highest resolution that you have.
2. Pick an awesome location. My advice here would be to choose something that expresses you, but just know that very little bit of your background is even going to show, and make sure you don’t choose something too busy and distracting. Inside against a fairly blank wall with good light would work. Against a building with nice exposed brick. In the woods, in a park, at the beach. I chose the beach. I’d also consider the mood of your book and your writing. The After Girls is for teenagers and very moody, so a cloudy day at the beach was perfect.
3. Find good light. Contrary to popular belief, full sunlight is no good–it will make the shadows on your face appear really stark and harsh. Morning and afternoon are better. Or overcast almost anytime.
4. Choose a friend/boyfriend/sister/etc. who has patience. Unless they’re a professional, you’re going to end up directing them. Show more of this. Take more photos. Not so close, etc. You’ll probably have to take a lot, so just make sure they know, beforehand, that it’s not going to be a matter of clicking the camera a few times and heading back. And be sure to thank them profusely once you’re done.
5. Leave any self-consciousness or embarrassment behind. Or at least choose a semi-deserted location. You are going to feel awfully silly standing on a beach and watching people walk by while you do try to summon your most genuine and best faces. You just will, and you just have to decide not to care if anyone gives you weird looks.
6. Be yourself. I think this is the most important part. When you think of author photos, they tend to be ultra-pensive, serious, looking to the side, etc. I personally don’t like the way I look when I try to be serious, and I’m not all that serious of a person, so I chose to smile and look at the camera. I tried doing it several other ways, but it just wasn’t me. And that’s okay. Plus, there are far too many book jacket photos out there already that are variations on Socrates’s The Thinker. Basically, don’t be afraid to let your personality shine through a little.
7. Look at the shots as you go, and keep going until you find something you like. You may feel stupid going through so many, but the perfect photo may be the next one you take. Don’t feel like you have to stop just because you’ve been out there awhile. I suggest taking a break every few minutes to look at what you’ve got. You can even bring a laptop with you so you can see them on a bigger screen. Don’t stop until you’ve got something you’re proud of.
8. Edit. Once you’ve got a few that you like, throw them on a laptop and go through until you find your favorite. There are lots of free photo editing programs if you don’t have Photoshop. I use Picasa. Adjust the light and color if necessary, and clear up any blemishes using the clone function. Just make sure that you’ve got the originals saved in case you make a mistake. And don’t go crazy. It’s a professional photo–not Instagram.
9. Share it with your friends. Get some honest feedback, because you’re not always the best judge of yourself. I put mine up on Facebook and instantly had a ton of people saying that they liked it, and I also asked one of my more discerning friends what she honestly thought. She said that she loved it but it made me look a little young, which I was fine with because my target audiences is teens. It’s always good to get a truly frank opinion.
10. Relax! Seriously, even if it doesn’t come out perfect, it’s going to take up about 2″ of space on your book jacket. And very few people will even ever look at it, so don’t kill yourself worrying about it. You can always hire a professional for the next one.