Friday, October 28, 2005

Vanity of Vanities

I don't usually think of myself as vain. I'm more often insecure. But every so often the ego jumps out and takes over.

Take, for instance, those galleys I got the other day. The first thing I did was flip to the back to the "About the Author" page to see how my bio looks and to see if they'd included a photo this time (since I'd had a nice, professional one taken). The bio is still shorter than the "About the Typeface" paragraph, as I mentioned (I need to do something so I can add a line or two, maybe take up a new hobby). And there's no photo.

Now I'm wondering, is this a big deal? Is it worth saying anything about? I might not have been so sensitive about this if there hadn't recently been a spate of posts in the publishing industry blogging world about the importance of the relative degrees of attractiveness among authors and how important that was to their careers, if it was truly important at all. The consensus seemed to be that a publisher could and would use the attractiveness of an author as a selling point if the author was attractive, making sure to put a nice photo of the author in or on the book, send out author photos with press material and putting the author out in front of the public. But if an author was talented but a troll, then they'd still promote the book, but not use photos of the author.

That mingling of insecurity and vanity hit full-on as I wondered, does this mean they think I'm a troll? I'd rationalized that maybe they didn't use a photo in the first book because the one I was using at the time was rather amateur (even though my editor said she loved it and thought it made me look happy and friendly), so I'd sort of expected to see a photo now that I had a professional one. I immediately had to check every Ballantine trade paperback I own to see what other authors got and try to extrapolate the corporate policy. It was a mixed bag. Some had photos, some didn't. Some of the photos that were used looked even more amateurish than my original one, like random snapshots. Some of the authors were attractive, some weren't so much.

And the funny thing is, I'm not sure how much this matters, if it matters at all. I've seen on reader message boards where they like to see what an author looks like. I've also seen on reader message boards where they assume that the narrator/heroine of a first-person book looks just like the author, if there's an author photo (which would be a bad assumption in my case because Katie looks nothing like me). With the recent discussion of troll authors, I worry that having no photo will make people think I'm a troll. Or maybe I'm mysterious. Then there's the reader out there who apparently thinks I'm a pen name for Jennifer Crusie. Seriously. A photo should debunk that.

I'm not even sure -- if I decide to raise the question -- how to go about raising the question without sounding like I'm a hop, skip and a jump away from being one of those diva authors who's late to a personal appearance because she didn't like the limo the publisher sent to ferry her to that appearance and insisted on waiting until they were able to get the right kind of limo there -- stocked with the proper brand of bottled water, of course, and M&Ms with all the orange ones carefully picked out.

So, to the readers out there, do you even care if there's a photo of the author in the book? Does it have anything to do with your decision to purchase a book? Do you make any assumptions about the author based on the photo, or lack thereof?

And now I should get back to ticking things off that scary to-do list instead of getting sidetracked by vain and trivial things.

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