Dorian Green: What’s with author and illustrator photos?

Saturday, January 17, 2009.

Why are author and illustrator photos so often so far out of date?

Listen to our discussion about author and illustrator photos then share your thoughts by either leaving a comment on our blog or leaving a voice message on our listener hotline, +1.206.350.6487.

Authors mentioned:

Thanks to Bob Staake for making us ageless in his great Just One More Book!! caricature.

Filed under: Discussions,Podcast


Comment by Alycia in Virginia

January 17, 2009 @ 8:46 pm

This is so true. It seems that even a book published this year has a picture in the back that looks like it was taken in the 1970’s….why is that?

Comment by MCM

January 18, 2009 @ 11:36 am

My kids read Robert Munsch religiously, but it wasn’t until some recent books that they started to update his photo to show him without the big, dark beard. She can’t reconcile that the two photos are of the same person, because in her mind, nobody could age that much in the few months between when she got Mud Puddle and Smelly Socks.

This also got me to thinking: how important is it that there IS an author photo on a book? What if the author looks like a terrible ogre, but writes the most beautiful prose? Is it more damaging to leave off the picture, or to use something that gives kids nightmares?

Comment by Gregory K.

January 18, 2009 @ 12:13 pm

Not perfectly on point, but when I think of these photographs, I think of the posthumous airbrushing out of Clement Hurd’s cigarette on his Goodnight Moon picture (talked about here: I wonder how often photos are changed on subsequent re-printings of books? Interesting topic, and it does seem like it shouldn’t be hard in this digital day and age to get up to date photos. Must be something more to it than that….

Comment by Just One More Book!!

January 18, 2009 @ 12:20 pm

Thanks for weighing in, All.

MCM, I wonder, too, about the importance of the author/illustrator photos.

Greg, thanks for the link to the de-cigaretting article. That’s a hoot. I certainly see why you would want to remove the cigarette, but I wonder why they didn’t crop the photo or choose another one (or photoshop an iPhone into his perched hand!)

Comment by Carol Brendler

January 18, 2009 @ 1:55 pm

I don’t know for sure, but when my publisher asked for an author photo, that image became their property. They said it would be used on all future books they might ever publish by me. So perhaps an author would have to ask to have a photo changed when it’s become out of date?

Comment by Lee Wind

January 18, 2009 @ 2:27 pm

Hi, good question. I think this goes back to the whole presumption that an author can only write from personal experience. It’s the same reason why YA and MG books written by women that are aimed at guys usually use initials rather than her first name – the idea being that guys would be more likely to read a book by C.K. Greatauthor than Cynthia Kimberly Greatauthor. Similarly, I think that if a photo is perceived as too “old,” there’s a fear that the buyers will think the author’s too hopelessly out of touch for the book to be relevant… Which is, of course, hooey. It also has something to do, I think, with our obsession with the Cinderella story, that we want our successful people to be overnight successes, and young and beautiful, and we don’t have the same myths about putting in your time and working hard over years and years to become the overnight success. And we don’t respect older people so much in our culture… (You know, you get too old
to be a contestant on “American Idol!”)
Okay, there’s my ideas on it!

Comment by Lauren Baratz-Logsted

January 18, 2009 @ 3:21 pm

Fun post! I get a new picture taken every few years. I’d do it every year but: 1) it’s time-consuming, and 2) it’s expensive. I read once that you should never use the same photo for more than five years. Back when I was an independent bookseller, I was a big fan of Lawrence Saunders. There was a picture of him on the backs of his books, seemingly forever, in which he looked like a debonaire middle-aged man. Then one day a new book came out, he’d updated his photo, and…he was old! There must have been 20 years between the two photos – very visually jarring.

Comment by Teresa

January 18, 2009 @ 3:55 pm

I think no photo would be the best way to go if I were an author. I do think that we often dislike pictures of ourselves, so when we find one we like, we stick with it. I imagine that to be the same for authors. Or maybe they are too busy writing to worry about a photo shoot.

Comment by Christina Rodriguez

January 18, 2009 @ 4:15 pm

Taking professional photographs costs quite a bit of time and money, and I’m trying to milk my current investment for as long as possible. The children’s picture books I’ve illustrated have only been in print for about 5 years, and fortunately I look pretty much the same at 27 as I did at 22, when I had my illustrator photo taken. Restaurants and bars still check my ID when I order a cocktail, so I figure when they stop carding me, I’ll update my photo! Then I’ll renew every 5 years afterwards, depending on how severely time ravages my features.

Comment by your neighborhood librarian

January 18, 2009 @ 5:41 pm

When we do Writer’s Workshop at our school, we really emphasize the About the Author part of a book. It helps the kids identify themselves as authors, and it’s often their favorite part when they read each other’s books.

I think it IS really important to have an author photo and a brief About the Author. Kids want to see who’s behind it all.

However, there ARE author photos that do more harm than good. Anybody who will consent to get Shel Silverstein’s terrifying mug off the back of his books gets a shiny silver dollar from me!

Comment by Heather Jopling

January 18, 2009 @ 5:43 pm

Coming from a background in theatre and performance, I’m used to having to do the headshot thing. In that realm you need current headshots at least once a year. The photo used on the back of my books and on my website was taken by a semi-professional photographer, Jerry Taylor, probably three years ago. What you have to know is that I am notorious for taking TERRIBLE posed photos. In this particular photo, I was talking with my daughter out of camera range when he started taking shots. It wasn’t costly and I was really happy with the results. I’ll probably update the photo in a year or so. I think that image is a bit more important if you’re an author who will do a lot of touring and speaking engagements, or reading for children. Having a ‘kid-friendly’ face is a good thing if you’re going into schools and interacting with kids. Whether or not this translates into a school librarian’s criteria for choosing a particular author for a visit is another thing…

Comment by Rosanne

January 18, 2009 @ 7:02 pm

Interesting question. My experience is limited but as Carol mentioned, I believe the decision about using an author photo lies with the book designer. Most contracts ask the author to provide a photo at their own expense (and for most authors even $200 is a substantial expenditure).

My hardcovers recently arrived and I was delighted with the cover but I noticed that my author photo was cropped quite a bit and apparently I wear lipstick! I have no complaints, but now that I know, I’m not going to assume that the image on the jacket is an untouched copy of what the author provided.

The type of author photo I like best is one that relates to the story. Jennifer Bradbury has a great author photo on the jacket of SHIFT. The book is about a cross-country bike trip and the photo is of her face framed by her bike. Molly Gloss is on horseback on her book jacket for THE HEARTS OF HORSES.

Comment by Susan Taylor Brown

January 18, 2009 @ 8:31 pm

Interesting question and interesting answers. What prompts me to keep photos up long past the time they should probably be replaced is a lack of self-esteem. I’ve put on some weight and a few years and I worry that readers might take a look at a more current picture and then put the book right back down again without reading. For me it is all about being insecure and wanting people to like me. I’m not saying that’s a good excuse, but it’s the truth.

Each time I feel like I am having a “good” day, my husband gets the camera and shoots about 100 shots and then I go through them all. One day I hope to get lucky because I do feel bad that the picture is a few years old.

The other thing is that if you look at my latest book, it came out in 2006. The photo was current then. But if you invited me to come speak now, in 2009, and expect me to look like that picture, that’s not fair. Time passes and we can’t go back and redo a photo on a book that has been out a few years.

Comment by Nicole Tadgell

January 19, 2009 @ 12:03 pm

There’s also the aspect of cultural “authenticity”. Some people think that if a book is written or illustrated by someone who is obviously of that race, it’s more authentic. Personally, I think that so long as the book is well done, it doesn’t matter what race the creators are.

On another note…author photos are fun! I had mine done 4 years ago, and my hair style has changed about 100 times! I had fun with the shoot, and did costume changes and hats, which is great so that each book can have a unique photo. It can be expensive, but you can hire a student at a college and that’s good experience for the student, too.

I just got new glasses so maybe I should think about new photos….

Comment by Sydney Salter

January 19, 2009 @ 2:02 pm

As a debut author, I’ve vowed to make sure that I always look like my author photos. I’ve met more than one author at a conference who looked nothing like the glamour shot on the back of his/her book–and the effect is bit unsettling. And then there’s the whole 80s hair issue…

Why are photos so out of date? Because no one likes to age! Besides we DO all feel perpetually 17 on the inside, right? I say look like yourself and then charm them to pieces with your wit.

Comment by Paul Many

January 21, 2009 @ 2:24 pm

I have a good face for writing (some say its prosaic) and it also works well on radio, but I’m not naturally photogenic. Friends, trying to be kind, say I resemble Abe Lincoln. When a good photo of me accidentally occurs, I get as much mileage out of it as I can. Remember, the purpose of book jackets and author photos is to get someone to select your book. If my mom were the buyer of all copies of mine (sometimes I think she is) any photo might work, but otherwise, I’d rather have readers appreciate my handsome prose and use the most flattering shot I have.

Comment by Angelia Smith

January 25, 2009 @ 1:30 pm

This is a good question. I know my own children love to learn more about the authors and what they look like, I know it has been shoking to my son when he saw a picture in a book and then we looked up the author and the author doesn’t look the same as the book shows.

Comment by ryan hipp

April 19, 2009 @ 11:48 am


In my first book, I put a pic of myself as a kid on the dust jacket flap. Now I am noticing everybody is doing the same thing. In my last book, I used the pic that I have now been using for the past three years. I think for me, I would never let myself age and keep representing that I am younger, but to answer your question, the reason I don’t update it is because its a good picture and I still look like the picture, I guess? Maybe I think I may just draw myself from here on out. I’m sure I’ll get people asking “why haven’t you updated your old drawing!?” haha

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