When you write a book, people will want to know what your face looks like. I don’t know why, but it’s true. Maybe the reading public has been burned one too many times by the Carolyn Keenes of the world and needs reassurance that you’re not secretly a conglomerate of underpaid ghostwriters, or maybe they want to scan your forehead for telltale talent bumps in a kind of 2-D phrenological exam. Either way, a headshot must be taken.
Step 0: Eliminate all the pictures of your face that you CANNOT use.
It’s the new millennium, which means that in addition to wearing unisex silver leotards and commuting to work in pneumatic tubes, every person on earth has a digital repository of face-photos somewhere. Don’t believe me? Just tap into your phone’s “Selfies” folder:
In a word: barf city!!! (Okay, that’s two words.) Still–these are all terrible and will not do. A snapshot of yourself with stick-uppy purple hair and sunglasses you took in the front seat of your Volvo 240 while stuck in traffic on the way to a Christopher Moore signing does NOT a professional headshot make.
Step 1: Identify all of your flaws.
This should be very easy. In my case, we have the following issues:
Intractable hairline cowlick (A)
Bald eyebrow spot, here filled in with makeup (B)
Nose that appears strangely flat in profile (C)
Gross! Now, short of a head transplant, there’s really nothing you can do to FIX these, but you CAN dwell upon them obsessively and try to hold your face in a strange rictus that obscures all flaws from view at once. Practice in the mirror.
Step 2: Know somebody who owns a camera.
Ideally this is a friend of yours. If you do not have a friend with a camera, you will have to pay someone with a camera to be your friend for the afternoon. No, I don’t know how much it should cost—three thousand dollars? That sounds about right, right? All that flash powder and developing fluid adds up, surely.
Step 3: Pick an authoritative background.
Put the “author” in “authoritative” by insisting on posing in front of bookshelves. If there is no bookshelf in your photo, people will forget that you are a writer or even that they are holding a book at all! Don’t let this happen. Even if the shelf is full of something like the complete 1982 Encyclopedia Britannica or a bunch of Goosebumps books, it will lend you gravitas. “Yes,” a full bookshelf says. “She has scanned her authorly eyeballs over all of us, and drunk in the knowledge imparted on our pages. She is therefore wise, and her book is sure to be a good one worth at least $17.99 plus tax where applicable.”
Step 4: Dress appropriately.
Pick a power outfit that says something like “I’m sexily intelligent, or intelligently sexy, but I could also kill you with my bare hands OR go onstage to accept my National Book Award, all in this same multipurpose sensible ensemble.” Also no loud prints or pastels.
Step 5: Have somebody else paint your face normal colors.
Your face probably has a lot of problems (see step 1) so this is a good opportunity to pay someone to lacquer it up with skin-colored goop so that no one can see your pores or even your nose-holes. Unsure of what to ask of your maquillagiste*? Ask for “the regular human face.” She’ll know what it means.
*Not a real French word
Step 6: Drench yourself in glorious light.
The sun doesn’t count, and neither does your novelty leg lamp. If your camera-friend is worth his or her salt, he or she should have one of those upside-down umbrellas with a light in it and also something called a “B light.” Also, if you’re a woman, you should be backlit so that your hair lights up around your head like a nimbus of gold.
Step 7: Pose.
Under no circumstances should you hold your body the way your ordinarily do, you slob. Pretend an invisible string is pulling up the top of your head. Pretend another invisible string is pulling up each of your shoulders and elbows. Now dance! Ha ha, I made you a marionette.
But seriously. Here are some classic looks for an author:
Crossed arms with chin on fist
Crossed arms with chin on fist and one finger delicately raised against one’s cheek, as if to say “tee hee, what a fascinatingly bestsellery book idea I’ve just had”
Hands on hips
Whoa, not so aggressive! Hands GENTLY on hips
Fingers hooked weirdly into front pockets
Casually leaning against brick wall
Lying on chaise longue, one arm flung over eyes
Aggressively pointing at camera while mouthing “YOU, YES YOU, BUY MY BOOK”
Exaggerated wink/thumbs-up combo
Step 8: Shoot!
Once you’ve picked some poses, just sit back*, relax**, and let the camera do its magic!
*Do not sit back.
**Do not relax.
Soon you will have a bevy of appropriate and flattering shots to choose from, such as:
Step 9: Despair.
God, what were you THINKING, trying to take a photo of your face? This is worse than school picture day and a dentist’s appointment mashed together! Brainstorm alternatives: maybe your publisher will accept an oil painting of your face, or that caricature of you and your dog you paid $20 for in the seventh grade? Maybe you can claim you’re in the witness protection program, except then what if your publisher calls your bluff by offering to pay for plastic surgery to distance you and your young adult romantic comedy from your crime-filled past as a bookie? Look enviously at your dog, who is lying on the ground, dead asleep, and does not have to worry about things like getting his picture taken, because he barely understands how a mirror works, let alone a three-jillion gigapixel DSLR with wide-angle lens.
Step 10: Take a picture of your dog instead.
Perfect. They’ll never know the difference.