Nude Authors?

I’ve been publishing books since 1990 and have seen publicity fads come and go (and sometimes come back).

Over the years, publishers have urged me and other authors I know to do postcards, bookmarks, business cards with a book cover on them, and all sorts of doo-dads.  They’ve pushed attending mystery conferences.  Sending out posters to book stores.  Advertising in magazines, newspapers, and mystery conference program books.

But wait, there’s more!  Hiring your own publicist and taking yourself on tour. Starting and constantly updating a web site.  Cultivating reviewers and famous authors. Doing professional trailers for your books.  Having a fan page on Facebook separate from your regular page.

Then there’s blogging.  Guest blogging.  Setting up a blog tour.  Advertising on line.

And that’s not all, folks.  Creating contests and book giveaways. Establishing a presence on Goodreads and carefully pretending to be there for discussion while you slowly mount a campaign to take the site over and crown yourself queen or king.  Tweeting.  Jumping on Tumblr and Instagram so you can be the Beyoncé of the book world.

Plus, if you’re one of those authors getting a book out every year (or more often, even), you need to be supplying your fans with “content” between books to keep them in a buying mode, so you have to be writing short stories and novellas and loading them as e-books.

The pressure can be relentless. Push, push, push.  Sell, sell, sell.

One thing that hasn’t come up yet, at least not widely, is selling yourself.  I mean, your physical self.  While people do have their hair and makeup done for photo shoots, publishers haven’t yet become body bullies.  They don’t push their authors to lose weight or go for spray-on tans.  They don’t suggest fashion makeovers or keeping track of your body fat percentage.   They don’t send links for Spanx.  They don’t raise the subject of cosmetic surgery.  They don’t urge us to take hot yoga, sign up for spinning classes, go running, do Pilates, enter Iron Man contests, train for marathons, and try liposuction when all else fails.

Because otherwise you’d see a  new wave of hokey photos:  authors at their laptops in thongs or Speedos (or nothing at all); authors casually nude or semi-clad as they take notes in a coffee shop or at the Eiffel Tower for their next books; and most obviously, working out at the gym.  There would also be a new  tacky classic, standing around shirtless or topless, perusing your latest opus.  Or the super-obvious reading nude in bed. The publishers would love it: hot author! hot book!  What could be bad?


Controlling Your Image–Literally

When you start out as an author, it’s thrilling to be interviewed and have your photo in a newspaper.  That is, until you see the photo and you think, “Oh, God!  I don’t look like that, do I?”

Well, you don’t.  Far too often, authors get pressured by photographers into taking corny poses that aren’t flattering, but that the photographers think will work.  You know the ones I mean: chin held in the palm of the author’s hand, or head leaning against an extended finger.  It’s supposed to say  This is an Author.  To most people it says stiff, artificial, dumb.  And: Who sits like that?

I had to learn the hard way to resist bossy photographers.  But first I had to know what worked.  When I’m standing for a photo, I never feel relaxed; I feel the opposite: exposed.  So author photos of me standing anywhere usually come out looking stiff and artificial.

I feel much better facing a photographer if I’m sitting in a comfortable chair.  That makes my whole body relax, and I can smile–if I want to.  I don’t always feel like it, and if I smile against my will, I look fake and uneasy.

Sometimes photographers insist on taking their subjects outdoors.  Why?  Because it supposedly shows that the author isn’t just trapped by books and work.  What’s the point?  Some of my worst professional photos have been taken outside.  Under a tree.  I guess the connection might be trees = pulp = books, but in an e-book age, that seems passé.

So,  before you agree to have a photographer come to your home, do some thinking about photos first .  And don’t be afraid to say “no” to anything you don’t like. Or to postpone a shoot if you’re not feeling well, if you’re tired, or if you haven’t been sleeping and it’ll show.  And wear something that makes you look and feel good.

If worse comes to worst, you can always decline, send the magazine or newspaper a publicity photo.  If they decide not to run it, they might run the cover of your book instead.

In the end, though, it’s better to be interviewed and photographed than not.  And most people don’t notice a bad photo, or at least they mercifully won’t tell you if it’s awful.  They’ll be pleased for you about the coverage.  A recent bad photo in my local newspaper didn’t seem to register at all with the dozens of people who told me they liked the accompanying piece a lot.

After all, they know me and know that I look better than that.  Most of the time.