5 Tips to Taking the Perfect Self-Published Author Photo

You’ve got your manuscript finalized, the cover designed, and maybe a few blurbs from your favorite authors and publications. You’re just missing one thing — an author photo!

An author photo isn’t just for vanity — your author headshot is an excellent marketing asset to help you garner authority. If you’ve ever seen author book events you’ll notice right away the clear, professional, and quality author photos sporting the front of a bookstore display.

And even if you’re a little camera shy, there are plenty of ways to capture a professional and creative author photo that will stand out and serve as a promotional tool. A well-taken photo can help grow your social media, be used on business cards, and help your self-published book stand out on the shelf.

Here are our top tips for snapping the perfect author photo for your next self-published book, plus examples from famous authors to get you inspired to pose for the camera.

1. Do Your Research

You’ve likely done loads of research while writing your self-published book. Preparing for your author headshot should be no exception!

Author photos vary depending on your work’s genre, age category, and personal style. If you’re writing a nonfiction book about becoming a professional keynote speaker, it would make sense to wear a business outfit or more formal attire. For a self-publishing children’s book author, it might be more appropriate to wear a casual outfit that reflects your personality or the content of your book.

A great example is Judith Kerr, beloved children’s book author of The Tiger Who Came to Tea. Kerr was frequently pictured at her drawing desk, smiling at the camera with her artwork and tools surrounding her.

Research similar authors and books in your genre to get a sense of how others pose for the camera. Some authors might choose a more polished look behind a plain background, while others pose at home or in a natural or urban setting, depending on the content of their book.

But while you notice trends in your research, don’t be afraid to add your own creative flair. The most important thing is that your photo looks and feels natural and authentic to you.

While it’s great to take yourself seriously as an author, it’s also important to show off your personality. This was true for breakout author Xiran Jay Zhao who rocked a cow suit in their author photo for Iron Widow.

2. Practice Posing

Posing for a headshot can sometimes feel awkward or forced. That’s why if you’re hiring a photographer (or just taking them yourself), it’s important to practice your posing before the big day.

That might mean practicing in front of your mirror or taking test shots to see what feels most natural to you. Does it help to think of something funny so that you can chuckle a bit when you smile? Is there a more serious look you’re going for that can be accomplished with a specific facial expression?

This is also the time to consider your outfits, makeup, and scenery so you’re not scrambling the day of.

3. Lighting Matters

You can tell professional author photos from amateur shots pretty easily — it’s all about the lighting!

Once you’ve decided on the setting, poses, and what you’re trying to convey with your author headshot, consider lighting options. This is especially important if you’re taking your photograph without professional help.

If shooting indoors, try to find as much natural lighting as you can, without washing yourself out. For outdoor author photos, try to plan for an overcast day, which photographers swear by for the best lighting.

Ring lights and light boxes can be fairly cheap online and when used to highlight your face can add an element of polish to your photos.

4. Have Options

Unlike picture day at school where you got one shot at a good picture, you’ve got more options when taking your self-published author photos (thank goodness).

If you can, bring a few outfit changes and switch up the scenery or background a few times throughout your photo shoot. When you go to choose your favorites, you’ll have different moods and poses to choose from.

This is also important when it comes to designing your dust jacket. You’ll want to make sure that your final author headshot matches the colors and design of your cover!

5. Be Yourself

When you look at author headshot examples, be aware that they’re just that — examples. It’s okay to try out a few poses or ideas that you see others do, but once you get more comfortable in front of the camera, try to relax.

Just be yourself and try not to force smiles, facial expressions, or poses. This is your author photo, not someone else’s!

If it’s helpful, jot down things that are unique about you before you set up the camera. Reminding yourself what’s different and quirky about you can help bring out those elements in your photos.

Stir Up More Buzz for Your Book

A stellar author photo can lend an element of polish (or fun!) to your self-published book. So what happens when the book finally hits the shelves?

To really make an impact among a sea of self-published books, it’s time to explore #BookTok, a hashtag making waves on the popular app TikTok.

Learn more about how TikTok can help self-published authors grow their platform and audience >

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