Sunday, October 9, 2011

Author Photos and Bizarre Reactions (Jenny O'Connell)

When I found out this month's theme - what's the backstory behind your author photo - I couldn't imagine what I'd write about. And then I remembered what happened when I had a new picture taken for my YA books. And I thought, "Oh, yeah!"

This is my current author photo, on the left, which is on all of my YA books.

This photo on the right is the author picture that was on my adult books.

My hair was longer in my YA photo because my books were published a few years after my first adult book, but that's not the only difference if you look closely.

A few years ago, my agent wrote about how I use Jenny instead of Jennifer for my YA books, and talked about my "new" YA author photo on her blog.

Here's what she said: "Jennifer, being the savvy author that she is, decided to do a photo op that had a younger feel. She even decided to remove her wedding rings for the photo since being “married” might feel too stodgy and established for her younger readers..."

Well, the responses that got from her blog readers - totally unbelievable!! (you can read them here if you have a strong stomach) A maelstrom of comments ensued, calling me a liar for not wearing my wedding rings, a sell-out for disguising my married status, a soulless being who put marketing above honoring my marriage. You name it. Then you had the people defending my choice, saying, in essence, who cares?

I was stunned. Really, who gives a rat's ass what an author chooses to do with their author photo? If author photos sold books, you can bet more authors would be investing in high-priced photographers who could make them look like supermodels. The fact is, in the author photo for my adult books I wore the same jewelry I wear every day (I have fallen hook, line and sinker for those DeBeers commercials that say a diamond is forever, it's all I wear). And when I considered my author photo for my YA books, I looked at my existing author photo and thought: No. No. No. It did not say "this person knows what it's like to be 17 years old." It said, "This person knows her carats."

So I had a new photo taken, by the same photographer. And I wore what I'd wear in every day life - cargo pants and a tank. But I did NOT wear my jewelry. Not because I was trying to hide the fact that I was in my late 30s and married with kids, but because I didn't want the distraction of having readers look at my picture and wonder if I could actually relate to them. As a first-time YA author who had 5 adult books already out there, that was a real concern of mine. I wanted readers to not see me as an "author" but rather someone they could actually talk to, someone who would actually listen to them, and someone who could laugh at herself. I wanted my new photograph to make me feel accessible, and one way to do that, I thought, was to remove the extraneous decoration.

I read all of the comments and was speechless. I thought two things: 1) Really, people? You are reading way too much into this; and 2) You people need to find a real interest in life if you have this much time to be talking about someone else's author photograph. It wouldn't take a genius to go to my website and learn I'm married and have kids. In fact, my first book was dedicated to my daughter, my second to my son. This wasn't about hiding my marital status. It was about trying to let the focus be on the books, not on me or my life.

But at the end of the day I didn't really care what anyone thought. I know why my fingers are bare in that photograph. My husband loved my "new" photo so much he kept it on his desk, and the lack of bling on my finger didn't bother him at all. The funniest thing about all of this? On the actual book jacket my publisher cropped the photograph so you can't even see my hands. All this fuss over nothing!

5 comments:

  1. Interesting post, Jenny, and a little scary, too. The positive takeaway is that your readers are paying attention. Really paying attention!

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  2. Wow, that's a little intense and scary! But I love your grounded attitude about it. Both photos are gorgeous!

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  3. Well, people are funny that is true. You look gorgeous and young enough to appeal to YA and above!

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  4. You're beautiful in both photos, but I love the fact that the picture was cropped...Isn't that the way it always goes??

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  5. Wow,that is intense!!! I really love both pictures though.

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