By Annabel Monaghan
Pullquote: “No one’s ever going to buy your book because they like your sweater or because your hair’s freshly highlighted. They’re going to buy it because you seem like someone they’d like to spend 200 pages with.”
A single friend of mine just joined a dating site and showed me, with much hilarity, a string of guys who have expressed interest in her. There was nothing really wrong with these guys on the surface; they seemed normal enough. But it was the profile photos they’d chosen that cracked me up — three of them in a row had photographed themselves in the bathroom. What thought process, I wondered, led them to choose this particular backdrop? One guy seemed to want any potential mate to know he owned both a shower curtain and a plastic curtain liner. (He knows how to manage risk.) Another took a selfie in front of the closed bathroom door, standing just to the left of a wet towel he’d placed on the hook. (Marriage material, obviously.)
When you choose a photograph to represent you to the public — whether it’s a profile picture, a headshot, or an author’s photo – you have an intention behind it. You may think you selected it at random, but if you’re honest with yourself, it was a deliberate decision. You are trying to highlight some aspect of your life. If a picture’s worth a thousand words, it’s only natural that we’d like to write a few hundred of them ourselves.
Authors toil over this stuff. They could go with the tortured black-and-white photo to suggest emotional depth, or they could give the camera their laser beam eyes to warn the reader about the complexity of their book. Whenever I’ve had a book jacket photo taken, I’ve always chosen the one where I look friendly. I don’t want the crow’s feet airbrushed away because everyone knows people with crow’s feet are friendly. I’m hoping to create a situation where someone picks up my book in a bookstore and thinks, “She looks nice, I’ll buy her book.” No one’s ever going to buy your book because they like your sweater or because your hair’s freshly highlighted. They’re going to buy it because you seem like someone they’d like to spend 200 pages with, or they feel sorry for you. Either way, I’ll take it.
My husband doesn’t distribute photos of himself to the public. He has only three likenesses of himself in circulation: his driver’s license, his passport, and his work ID. All of those photos seem to deliberately deliver the message: I don’t want to engage with you. This look can sometimes be interpreted as: It’s probably not safe to let me on this plane — which explains why he is often waylaid at the airport.
The home page of my website is a really pretty photograph of the woods in my backyard. I love the woods, and, on some level, I was trying to convey an image of beautiful, orderly, interdependent chaos; the woods as a metaphor for the family. This might have worked if it wasn’t for friendly me in the photo, smiling like I just heard a knock-knock joke. I’m seated on a boulder in the middle of the woods, wearing a full face of makeup and literally all of my jewelry. This is a metaphor for I-do-not-know-what.
Every time I happen on that photo I wonder what I was trying to convey there. Did I want people to think I’m a person who gets dressed up to wander in the woods, hoping that a photographer appears so I can share a story? There’s a falseness there that doesn’t quite resonate. Which may be why people just go with the bathroom selfie. That’s about as real as it gets.