I’m guessing that not many of us have looked at the picture of the author on a book jacket and thought, “That’s one fine looking man!” Let’s face it, most authors aren’t going to be winning any beauty pageants anytime soon. Unlike most celebrities, authors are not necessarily required to be “hot” in order to be, well, “hot.” If Stephen King can sell a million copies of his book and still look like a chimpanzee, more power to him! Still, it’s funny what kind of author photos do end up on book jackets–from the urbane (John Grisham surrounded by volumes of old law books) to the downright creepy (“Judith Michael” and their matching denim shirts). My personal favorite is Dean Koontz and his magical morph from balding and moustachioed to clean shaven and bushy-haired. Other highlights include Danielle Steele’s 30 different photos on 30 different books, each more glamorous than the last; and that if you stack all of Mary Higgins Clark’s mystery novels on top of each other, with the most recent on the bottom, and pull them away one by one really fast, you can actually watch her age before your eyes. Seriously, it’s like she’s melting!
So what do author photos have to do with selling books? For established writers like King, Grisham, Koontz, Clark and Steele, the photos give readers a sense that these millionaire storyteller gods and goddesses are at once accomplished and benign, both like and unlike us. For newer and younger authors, there is certainly an air of celebrity and even sexiness behind the photos. The boyish good looks of Jonathan Safran Foer, the broad chest and square jawed profile of Nicholas Sparks, Anne Coulter’s plunging neckline, and Terry Goodkind’s heavy-metal bass player haircut/vacant stare all blur the line between the cult of the author and the fantasy worlds they create.
It’s been said you shouldn’t judge a book by its cover, but next time you pick up a novel, take a look at the author photo and start judging!