The Power of the Promo Shot

Yesterday, I posted about the catchy opening on author Barry Eisler's web site. I also posted his headshot. Although we did talk about that blurb and the premise of his books, that photo caused quite the stir.

All hubba-hubba references aside, that's a magnificent promotional headshot. His expression, the five-o-clock shadow, the dark attire--all help to convey the tone of his novels. If you scan his website, you'll see plenty of candid shots of Eisler smiling, clean-shaven, and wearing glasses. He looks like he has a great sense of humor. He looks like a nice guy. If he copped that look for his promotional headshot, he'd be setting the reader up for a different tone. Perhaps they'd be expecting a cozy mystery as opposed to an edgy thriller. Instead, for promotional purposes he opted for a dark and dangerous look, a perfect tie-in to his books.

Perception. Something to keep in mind, writers, when you invest in that professional headshot. Your clothes, your pose, your expression. Are you accurately setting the reader up for the tone of your work? Note Nora Roberts who also writes as J.D. Robb. She uses a softer photo (softer make-up, hair, light-colored suit) to promote her 'Roberts' romances. A tougher, sexier look (heavier make-up, darker clothing) for her edgier 'Robb' series. When you look at the author photo on the book jacket, she's setting the reader up for the tone of the book.

Performers run into a similar challenge. Often an agent, buyer, casting director will see the performer's headshot before they ever see their work. The headshot/bodyshot sets a tone, and if that tone is light, the actor might get passed over, never even considered for a darker role. The actor may well possess the chops, but the buyer has already been influenced by that headshot.

Actor Bruno Amato, recently ran into that problem. Although he auditions and lands roles for several various shows such HOUSE, ZOEY 101, and VERONICA MARS, he found he wasn't being considered for detective roles. Perhaps the casting director took one look at his headshot and thought, "Naw, not this guy. He looks too nice." Thus a trip to his photographer for new headshots, shots that conveyed a more serious tone. Hard-boiled dectective as opposed highschool football coach. Hop over to Bruno's blog and check out his latest post. He provided a link to a contact sheet that features several different poses from that 'detective' photo shoot. Note his attire. But also note how different expressions convey different mood and tone.

Are you a performer? An author? Take another look at your promotional headshot. What is it saying to the buyer? Are you accurately promoting the tone of your work?

Comments

Bruno Amato said…
Beth, I wake up to see MY name in YOUR blog :) I never thought of the headshot being used for writers too, but now that I think about it, when I do go book shopping, I DO look at the photo of the author, if there is one, and I guess that does come into play, if I buy that book or not...I love the shot you use for your blog...I'm not sure if you use that on your books too, but you look very warm and friendly :)...and pretty :)...So next week I'll meet with my agent and get his opinion on those shots too....Who know's maybe I'll start getting called in for those detective type roles....Thanks for the mention Beth....You're the coolest!!!...Bruno
Tori Lennox said…
Great post, Beth! And I'd never really considered it before, but you're right. I haven't really given headshots much thought for myself since I'm not anywhere near close to selling.

Hmm. Now that I think about it, though, I have sort of a 1920s bob style haircut. That would work well with my 1920s murder mystery. :)
Beth Ciotta said…
Hi, Bruno! When talk turned to headshots, I just had to mention yours. Hope you don't mind. All of my professional headshots are dated. Meaning, the last one is like ten years old. Great shot, but age wise, it would sort of be false advertising. LOL Regarding the shot that's on my blog just now. Not professional, just something for now, but I had hoped it conveyed the upbeat tone of my work. From what you said, I guess it does. I AM warm and friendly. Don't know about the pretty part, but THANK YOU!

Curious to know if your new shots open new doors. Be sure to keep us updated! Break a leg. ;)
Beth Ciotta said…
Glad you enjoyed the post, Tori. I started thinking about 'marketing' aspects long before I was published. Never too early as far as I'm concerned. Bob haircut, eh? You're right! Perfect for the 20s murder mystery. An era that I adore, btw. :)
Constance said…
So does this mean I have to wear pointy ears for my SF/F books? I think I can pull off the ancient history stuff and look Roman since it's in my blood, but...

Dang it, Beth, now you have me thinking about how to disguise my chipmunk cheeks and that third eye in the middle of my forehead!
Beth Ciotta said…
*snort* Third eye? Chipmunk cheeks? Naw. But wait, that pointy-eared thing? Now that I gotta see, Constance. :) I know of this costume shoppe...
Tori Lennox said…
Not sure what kind of headshot I'd need with this shapeshifter book, though. LOL! Probably best not to even dwell on it.
Gabriele C. said…
I think I should pose with a sword. :)
Beth Ciotta said…
Tori, probably you don't want to hear my ideas. *g*

Gabriele, I own a replica of the Braveheart sword. Excalibur, too. I'd offer to loan them to you, but why do I have a feeling you have your own collection of medieval weaponry? :)
Gabriele C. said…
Lol, I wish I had the money for a swords and other pointy things collection, but good replica are expensive.
Constance said…
We have the most well-armed house on the cul-de-sac. At last count, 19 swords, 12 daggers, 2 axes, a mace, 4 bo staffs, 3 pairs of nunchucks and 2 Corgis with ear splitting barks. Not to mention the suit of lamaller armor, lorca segmentata, helmets, greaves lying in the hall and vambraces on the kitchen table. Can't tell we like to play, can you?

Beth, I own a pair of Vulcan ears and a pair of LOTR ears. I've never worn them, but I own them. My friends are sick, twisted, and live in big cities with interesting places to shop. In revernge, I mail them tumbleweeds.
Olga said…
I've never thought about the headshot being that important but you might be right. It's the image you convey to the editor/agent/reader, and it might influence if you get picked or not. I remember the photo of the YA author that was re-done several times to make her appeal to a younger readership. So I guess the head-shot combined with the voice, attitude and character is a big part of the image-packet.
Anna Lucia said…
I'm going to skirt over the Braveheart reference (hot button *g*) and say GOOD post, Beth, well said.

I have a sword. Nineteenth century North African (possibly Tuareg?). And if we don't restore it soon, the leather scabbard's going to fall apart. :-(
Beth Ciotta said…
Constance, that's quite the collection! Must be amazing to behold. Grinnging about the collection of EARS. Your friends sound like a hoot. :)

Josie, Glad you enjoyed the post!
Beth Ciotta said…
Probably most of us wish it wasn't but, yes, Olga, I think the headshot is very important. Image wise. Marketing wise. :)

Anna, I when I mentioned my Braveheart sword, I was thinking more if THE William Wallace, not the actor who-shall-not-be-named who shocked and disappointed.
Constance said…
Beth, at our local Celtic Festival a guy had a sword that from point to hilt was almost 5 feet. One of those William Wallace models. I'm not exactly a Leprechaun, but I was feeling a bit insignificant. I could lift it, but two swings and a parry and I was ready for a beer.

This is why, when the going gets tough, the lazy choose archery...
Bethany said…
You are 100% on the mark here Beth! Perception is everything (unfortunately and fortunately sometimes)-- so let's make our first impressions stand where they should, right?
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