The #1 Mistake Authors Make (That Has Nothing To Do With Their Writing)

You spend hours, weeks, even years developing your stories. Yet so many of us cut corners on our branding. The #1 mistake I see is simple to fix — professional head shots. Yes, even pre-published authors need a pro head shot.

The Day My Paradigm Shifted

Several years ago, I was at a marketing conference. The speaker seemed conceited. He shared several photos of himself. They were in different sizes with different backgrounds and colors. They were all professionally edited — most turned into fancy graphics. I have to admit, I rolled my eyes and was about to tune him out. Then he unexpectedly spun the conversation.
He said something like, “Why do you think I have all these professional photos of myself? Because I’m vain?”
I sat up in my seat. That’s exactly what I was thinking. Then he pointed out that he’s a business. These photos make it easy for companies to work with him. Companies know in a glance that he understands and treats himself like a business – it shows he’s professional partnership material.
In that moment, the paradigm shifted in my mind. By looking professional, he became professional. He always had those brains in his head, but when he showed companies he was a pro by having multiple photos of himself, he started landing contracts, speaking gigs, etc.
All the different sized photos made it easy for companies to share him on their different social platforms (each platform calls for different sizing – so he had them professionally created in all the most popular sizes). My jaw dropped – he’s brilliant. All those backgrounds he had? They’re to give companies options so he’s not “off brand” in his partnerships. My eyes opened.
He made himself easy to work with.
Don’t we all want publishers to find us easy to work with? Easy to promote? (Easy to work with again??)

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Example from Real Publishers
Case in point – I’m on the board of Deep Magic E-zine and we promote the authors we publish. Let me tell you from personal experience, it’s much easier to promote an author who gives their publisher all the tools. We look for:
  •  a website
  • at least one social channel
  • a headshot
I could write an article on each of these topics, but a headshot is the easiest for authors to accomplish.
Our audience loves to have a face with a name. If we have a professional picture of the author, we’ll share that on all our social media channels and our newsletter list. This is a red carpet moment for the authors to greet our audience – our buying audience. Don’t waste your red carpet moment.
Why You Should Start Early (Months ahead of when you’re submitting your novel)
You’re a writer. You submit your novel to a fantastic publisher and it’s accepted! Congratulations. Now back to work.
Deadlines are coming fast, edits need to be done and approved. Your book hits the shelves soon. Then promotion. Then more promotion while you’re working on the second book’s revisions and the third book’s first draft. Plus, you need to put out a newsletter for your few but loyal fans. And you still have family and friends, life to live, groceries to buy.
On top of everything else, you need a professional head shot. Even your BFF is not-so-gently nudging you about your profile pic from 1987. If you have your photo done in advance, you can just pop it onto your Facebook page or any other social media you’re on.
Example — Right before my friend, M.K. Martin, submitted her manuscript, she created an author Facebook page (after thinking about what sort of content she wanted to post — an article for another day!). She already had her profile picture professionally done and ready to go.
Now, with edits and deadlines looming for M.K. Martin’s spring 2018 release, she’s grateful to be able to check something off a growing to-do list. She can focus on other, more important writer related tasks.
“Every time you do an article or an interview, a blog post or a newsletter, you should make it as easy as possible for your readers to find and follow your work. It can be hard to start thinking of yourself as a professional, but take the time to invest in yourself and in your writing career.” – M.K. Martin
Stand Out in a Crowded Market
If you’re a pre-published author submitting your story, you’re competing with a lot of other amazing storytellers for that next contract. Publishers primarily care about the strength of the storytelling. However, if they have two strong stories, agents and editors often look at your professional online presence. I know they do because I’ve heard many, many agents talk about checking out authors they’re interested in. Who do you think they’ll select to work with? The author with a grainy photo cropped from a family picture? Or the one who looks like they’re taking their writing career seriously, with the professional head shot (or multiple professional pictures).
Like I said, a professional head shot is not going to be the first thing an agent or publishing house is going to look at when deciding to work with you. But, do you want it to be the last?
What to look for:
  • Lighting will set your professional photo apart in a snap. Any untrained eye will spot a dark, grainy photo taken in a bar with an iPhone from a mile away.
  • White space will enable you or another entity to crop your photo to fit the marketing or PR needs. The below photos has lots of white space and I rarely use the whole photo. Usually it’s cropped for one site or another.
  • High resolution will enable you or a newspaper to crop in without losing quality.
Action Items
Do a local Google search for photographers in your area. Find several photographers that fit your style. Compare pricing and set up an appointment.
Here are a couple of photographers I’ve used here in Lane County and I recommend: