I really struggled on whether to post this one, or not. I don't want to come across as singling anyone out, or being negative, but there are some things people just aren't teaching. These involve what not to do. Most good lessons explain the various promotional options, they encourage us to do certain things, but they never go into what not to do.
Keep in mind this is only one man's opinion. Nobody has to agree with me, and some of you probably won't. I'm going to write this without photo examples, because I don't want to pick on anyone.
I'm going to write this from the perspective of an author, because that's what I do. Maybe you want to accomplish something else, but the ideas still apply.
To start with let's drop a couple of lines about why I think the way I do.
- Mom always said, “You never get a second chance to make a first impression.”
- As a writer, a common lesson is to never give someone a reason to say no. This applies mostly to traditional publishing, and the process of shopping a manuscript around. There are lessons here for the rest of us though.
First up are author pictures. These come come in two varieties that I'll loosely define as a photo, and a Gravatar.
I believe an author photo can be almost anything, but it shouldn't turn people off. It's fairly common to see an image where the camera is looking up at the author, they're standing there with their chin up, and their arms crossed. (One of my author friends told me my singular use of they is back in style this week, and I'm going for it.)
I'm sure the photographer, or the author, thinks this is an image of someone who is a master of their craft. It shows confidence, and charisma. I think these photos also translate a raised chin into looking down your nose at me. The crossed arms are defensive and protective. In fact, I think the photos look downright arrogant. It's almost like holding up a palm and saying, “Talk to the hand.” I've seen plenty of multi-level marketers, pyramid schemers, and get rich quick guys projecting the same image.
Personally, I tend to bounce right by those kind of sites. I wonder if others do the same? If they're too good for me, maybe I'll go hang out with people more my level and buy their books. PS: I review the books I read too.
Then there are the ones who try really hard, but don't pull it off. As an example, there is a fine line between mysterious and creepy. I see a lot of guys looking up from under their eyebrows. This can also be done with the brim of a hat. Many of these are in black and white, but not all of them. To be real honest, they look angry and even mean. Isn't the point to attract people to your blog/books/Etsy store?
I've seen one that seems to do all these at once. It involves an over the shoulder look with a furrowed brow, in black and white.
I try to do one of three things; smile, be myself, or be corny. I actually use three pictures that reflect one of each. In one, I'm wearing a tie and smiling. (Yeah, I have a full beard, but you can see it in my eyes.) My arms are crossed, but they are leisurely resting on a countertop. I'm also leaning slightly forward. No arrogance here.
The second photo is me at one of our regular hangouts. I'm hoisting a beer while wearing one of my fedoras. I'm still smiling, but it's a natural environment image. I also pushed the hat back on my head so people could see my face. Who wouldn't want to have a beer with that guy?
The other one is my bronze bust. This image is kind of dour looking, but it's quirky as hell.
Dean Koontz writes some scary stuff, but he usually has a really nice picture of himself with a golden retriever. You can't dislike someone with a golden retriever.
Any of these images are unlikely to scare people away, and that's the point. Don't give someone a reason to say no. If they do read, it isn't because they're looking to disagree with me. Open mind, open heart…open wallet.
If your natural environment might be somewhat controversial, maybe don't project that until you know someone a little bit better. Remember what Mom said in my first bullet point. Holding up a dead opossum by the tail and saying, “The other white meat,” might be something to hold back for later.
The other kind of picture is what I'm calling a Gravatar. These are the little calling cards we leave all over the Internet. These don't have to be pictures of you, but if they are, the same concept applies. Make sure to create one as soon as possible. Nothing is easier than blowing right past the Twitter generic egg symbol. It screams “I don't care enough to actually participate.”
If I click on a site, it's because I want to read something you've written. I really detest being assaulted with pop-ups. If you are on something like WordPress.com, like I am, you don't have control of the advertisements. At least they don't have pop-ups yet. If you have your own site, like with WordPress.org, it's clear that you chose to make me deal with a pop-up before I can read your post. Sometimes I just move on. If I haven't signed up for your newsletter the first couple of times I visit your blog, I probably never will, but I still get assaulted with the pop-up. It doesn't make me feel welcome. It makes me feel like prey.
Twitter has its own version of this. I follow someone, and immediately get a direct message asking me to buy, read, and review their book. At least kiss me first. It tells me I'm the least important person at this party, and I'm welcome to leave my money on the table and get out.
I'm convinced that I am the brand around here. What I am selling is myself. If enough to people decide they like me, they might turn into consumers too. I don't want to drive them away before they get the chance to see what I'm all about. I've actually struck up a friendship or two with people who've never bought any of my books. I'm okay with that. Friendships are wonderful, and that's a big win too.