Tuesday, March 21, 2017

Authors: the importance of knowing your business

by Rick Blechta

I have written at length on Type M about the difference between the job of “writer” and “author”. Yeah, those thoughts are very much my view of the two, and you might well not agree with them, but please hear me out. I’m not going to rattle that cage very much in this week’s post, anyway.

A few years back I did a very rash thing. Toronto was being considered to host the 2017 Bouchercon and I went to the meeting (held at the end of the Cleveland Bouchercon in 2012). What happened next I may live to regret. I said I would be willing to do the convention program book. Now payment is coming due and the sheer amount of work involved is daunting in the extreme.

Anyway, I’m currently dealing with processing author photos to accompany the brief bios that form a review of the authors in attendance. Here’s where I didn’t think through my commitment when I said, “I’ll do the programme!” At this point over 600 authors will be in Toronto next fall. Each should have a nice photo in the programme, right? That means dealing with those photos.

(When is he going to get to the writers vs authors part?)

With my professional designer’s hat on, I have to say that 20% of the author photos I’ve received have been (to put it bluntly) appalling: awful photos, too small photos and even ones that are quite blurred.

It seems to me that if you want to be taken seriously as a published author, first off, you should have a professionally done photo that can be used for situations just such as this. Yeah, your husband may have taken a great photo of you on your last holiday in Cancun, but is it up to professional standards?

I also put together a pretty exhaustive list of what authors need to know before sending in their photos. I know some of the authors submitting didn’t even give this a moment’s consideration.

One of the biggest things an author can do to help themselves stand out from the crowd — and probably the easiest to accomplish since it’s completely under their control — is to appear professional. For instance, a newspaper asks for a nice headshot for a profile they’re doing of you. Your job is to fire off a professional photo of yourself — and you do it promptly and in the proper format for print. That’s called being professional. It will help them to take your seriously.

That means educating yourself about things like finding out the difference between a photo on a computer screen and a photo on a piece of paper. (And it’s easily “google-able”.)

The thing that appalls me is that not only do too many authors attending Bouchercon not know anything about these requirements, but they obviously didn’t bother reading my instructions (designed to help them if they don’t know).

And they expect to be taken seriously as professional authors? Ain’t gonna happen. You tend not to get second chances with other professionals, especially media outlets.

I’ve just covered one small area of knowledge that an author should know. If you’re new to this game, especially, do yourself a favour and educate yourself. It will only help you.

One additional thing: Bouchercon2017 sent out a call for author photos over two weeks ago. Do you know how many I’ve received? Just over 10%. I’ll bet a good 20% of the attending authors will submit their photo at the eleventh hour. Guess what’s going to happen? I’m only going to have time to be able to just throw their photo on the page and hope for the best. So if you’re one of those authors who has registered and not taken care of this, do yourself a HUGE favour and get me your photo now when I can give it my full attention. Details are on the Bouchercon website.


Eileen Goudge said...

You make a good point, Rick. Without a professional photo and/or bio, who is going to take you seriously as an author? Hope you've recovered from your "good deed."

Rick Blechta said...

Actually, I wasn't complaining. Being a professional designer, I knew well how much work something like this is. Perhaps, though, I was naive about how many authors actually "get it". To be accurate, many people sent in really gorgeous photos and they were sent in a good format. Literally, I opened the images, cropped them to my design format, closed them and filed them in the appropriate folder. A quick note back to them acknowledging receipt was the final touch. All of that takes about 3 minutes.

For the bad photos, there have been several back and forths (one argument that I had no idea what I was doing), and some of them still aren't done.

I continue to be surprised how many writers just don't get it. This is just one small thing in a much larger issue.

And speaking of Bouchercon, I hope you'll be in attendance, Eileen. I'd love to meet you and put a face to the writing.

Charlotte Hinger said...

Whoops! A call for photos? Gulp. On the way.

Judy Penz Sheluk, author said...

Agree with everything you've said. On my website/blog, judypenzsheluk.com, I invite authors to share their new release news, and I interview others. I always ask for a photo of the author. Now, for a website, they don't need to be hi-res, but they should be a good photo. Some of them are just plain dreadful. This is how you want people to see you?
On the opposite end of the spectrum are the photos that have been so touched up, your own mother wouldn't recognize you unless we were back in 1985. Author photos are supposed to actually look like the author. If you have crow's feet around your eyes, just leave them in the photo. Let people recognize you when they see you in person (the point of the author photo) and not think...hmmm. must have been taken a few years ago.
My nickel (since we know longer have the penny). And happy to say I did submit a professional hi-res photo that you seemed to like.

Rick Blechta said...

Yes, you did, Judy, and many thanks for that!