Embracing Marketability.

25 January 2013

From The Editing Company:

“Nothing has ever shaken my editorial self as much as this comment did. It came from an influential editor from a successful publishing company who was telling me about what to look at when considering a book. The advice had little to do with the uniqueness of the work, the style, the quality; instead it was all trends, what was in season. And then I was told to consider the appeal of the authors themselves—including their appearance.

“Their appearance. I couldn’t believe anyone would say this. It seemed to bring a shallow dimension to the publishing world that I had naively assumed I was safe from—maybe I’d expect it in television or the movies, but not my books!
“This particular person’s approach may be an extreme example. Still, it reminds me that I can’t live in the publishing world and not come face-to-face with the marketing side of the business.”
Read the rest here:  Embracing Marketability

Agents, Big Publishing, Editing, Marketing, The Business of Writing

30 Comments to “Embracing Marketability.”

  1. What difference does it make what the author looks like? Does that mean someone writing romance novels with young beautiful heroines needs to be young and beautiful too? Do thriller authors need to be ex-military and buff? I’m almost afraid to learn what horror writers should look like!

    Hmmm…my son is young and buff. Maybe I should put his picture on my author bio? I won’t claim he’s the author, but if people mistake him for the me…

    • I resemble one of my MCs in that we both have to use a cane on occasion (high heels and choir risers are a bad combination). Otherwise, maybe I should try using a photo of the cat. She’s the right gender, also has long hair, but is a lot more photogenic.

    • This is a classic example of an ought/is problem.

      It ought to be irrelevant to the evaluation of a book what the author looks like.

      It isn’t, though.

      Why? Because human beings are judgmental, irrational creatures. I don’t make the news: I just report it.

  2. Here’s a depressing view point for everyone on marketing. My book is currently in involved in a poll on GR. A particular group is voting which book they’d all like to read next. Positive–mine is in second place. Negative–a member made this comment:

    I’ve never even heard of the other books so I’m voting for (the book currently in first place) even though it’s a rip off of like 4 other books.

    Yeah. That really made my day. Did she even bother to click the links of the other three books, mine included? Did she bother to research them, make an independent opinion? Probably not. She knows the lead book is meh, yet because she’s heard of it from others she’d still rather vote for it. And this is a low risk venture. She’ll receive the book for free and only have to mail it to the next person on the list, as will the next person until it returns to the author.

    Word of mouth as the #1 seller of books is still the truth.

    That and people are sheep.

  3. I posted this story on my f/b and a friend replied, “This is like the reverse of a ghost writer…” Love it.

  4. On the internet, no one knows if you resemble a narwhal.

    • The poachers know. They came in the night and cut off my tusk, and sold it to European alchemists as unicorn horn. Now I only resemble a manatee.

  5. Best line I ever heard from Hugh Heffner: “If I understood the magazine business as I was starting out, I never would have published Playboy.”

  6. ““Their appearance. I couldn’t believe anyone would say this. It seemed to bring a shallow dimension to the publishing world that I had naively assumed I was safe from—maybe I’d expect it in television or the movies, but not my books!”

    Haven’t authors very serious and frowning mugs been on the back covers of books for years?

  7. “I have noticed this – some authors who shall remain nameless, have obviously resorted to plastic surgery and glamour shots for their book covers.”

    Olivia Goldsmith died on the operating table while having a facelift so she would look good for the business/vanity.

    Dirty Darn! I removed Julia’s good post. Sorry.

    • Ha! It’s the ghost in the machine! I said we are becoming an increasingly visual culture, especially in the world of entertainment.
      And… I miss the days when authors just looked smart.

  8. I once had writing classes in college, and the teachers rounded us up one day for a seminar on the publishing industry. Most of them were published themselves (the last time I saw one of them, he was autographing his books for the local Borders), and they pointed out that yes, publishers did consider the author’s looks as a promotional tool. One teacher (the one doing the book signing above) quipped that this was why his jacket photo showed him from the side. I intend to skip this part entirely … or cultivate the rumor that I resemble Cthulhu.

  9. Bah humbug. I’m not a beauty queen by any means, and I’ve seen some serious faces for radio in the back of books. These, some of the most popular books out there. In fact, whenever I saw pictures of Danielle Steele on her romance books, I always wondered what the hell she was doing writing books. I actually suspected for years she was just a fake face for the real author. What I’m trying to say is, I like my authors to have character, not conventional good looks. They can be downright ugly, and I’ll just be even happier to buy their work. Maybe it’s because I have a theory that beautiful people who have everything handed to them never have to develop much of a personality, and they don’t live through the tragedies and struggles that many not-so-pretty authors use to create such well-developed characters.

    • We all eventually experience losses, beautiful or not. And plenty of beautiful people grow up in gut-wrenchingly dysfunctional families. I think the “born to the sunny side” meme is largely myth.

    • Pretty much my thoughts, except for the bit about Danielle Steele: I haven’t seen what you’re talking about so I don’t have an opinion about that.

      As long as the author doesn’t look like a child molester or had just gotten off a week-long drunk, the picture isn’t going to sell me on the book. Head shots of an attractive author isn’t going to do anything for me except maybe stir thoughts of lust or envy — depending on the sex of the author.

      But then newspaper editors are also said to put photos of children on front pages because it will improve sales.

      About the only memorable author photo I have encountered was one of Gardner Dozois, which was on the inside flyleaf of an anthology he edited. He sitting at a table, apparently was making a sandwich, when the photographer told him to look up. A candid photo of a guy who reads the slush pile for a living — which was the point of his book: a collection of short stories writers who want to escape the slush pile should emulate to get published.

      But it was also a funny photo & didn’t influence me either way in my decision to buy the book.

  10. Hell, why bother even reading a book? Why not look at pictures of The Pretty Thing with mouths open and tongues hanging out, with drool buckets around the neck?

  11. And people wonder why I use a purple M&M icon for my author photos.

  12. I can’t help but remark on the fact that the top Passive post that came into my inbox today (in the same bunch as this one) featured a still shot from the video of George R.R. Martin — clearly a man who has become a best-selling author because of his masculine pulchritude!

  13. The context for the article above must be a conversation about the “acquiring editor” role. It is entirely beyond me how someone could approach that role thinking that it is separate from marketing. Acquiring editor = product acquisition. In the entertainment business, product acquisition is a function of marketing.

    That list of things the successful editor told the original poster was exactly what that person needed to hear. All of that stuff should be taken into consideration by an acquiring editor in the traditional publishing industry. It would be malpractice not to. The whole appearance thing is part of taking stock of your assets. An author who is “appearance appropriate” for a book is a plus (in that world). That doesn’t necessarily mean movie star looks. You would be amazed at what a good photographer can do.

  14. The author’s appearance doesn’t matter as much as it used to, when authors got sent for a kind of screen test and acting coaching before money was firmed up for their TV promotion tour. (The screen test happened to a bestselling author I know when she signed with Simon and Schuster in 1998.) I was told in 1996 at a prestigious writers’ conference that certain agencies would not sign any woman over 35 and “fitness is a must. NO Fatties” (I still have the list in my files somewhere.) That’s because books were promoted on TV and most hosts won’t book ugly or fat people unless they’re going to make fun of them.

    Luckily, on the Internet, to paraphrase the New Yorker cartoon, “Nobody knows you’re an ugly, fat dog.”

  15. This definitely isn’t the case for all publishers or in all situations. And thank goodness, or some really amazing (and bestselling) books would never have been published.

  16. Damn, I’ll have to ask my wife to wax my unibrow to make it two. Grew so fond of it. Specially when I did an impression of the Rock. *sigh*

  17. GRRM’s looks are fine in his milieu, because he writes SF/F. If you write romance, you have to look a lot better — and a lot younger. My publicity photo is six years old, and if I had my druthers, I’d use one from when I was about 35 — old enough to look as though I might know what I’m doing, but not two years older than dirt, like I look now.

    It’s funny; I hadn’t stopped to think about this at all, but if you look at the last, say, dozen authors who’ve had their first book published in my rather narrow marketplace (Christian fiction), I believe all but one is under 40.

    • Exactly, Deb. GRRM can put on a clown suit and us SFF nerds will still read his books… well, maybe not a CLOWN suit, but I get what you mean.
      Nearly every romance author I know uses a 10-30 year old photo. Some of the big guns have indeed undergone ‘enhancements’ to keep up with the younger market.
      On the other hand, when big publishing does pick up an unknown she’s very young and very attractive. At least that’s how it seems to me.

      • Even in romance I could name counterexamples (but won’t because it would be rude!). If the publisher thinks the author photo won’t help sell books, they don’t include it. Sometimes it’s not because the author is unattractive but because the author is a man or non-white. Pick up an early copy of one of Sherry Thomas’s debut novels. There is no author photo in the back. It’s not because she isn’t pretty. (She is.) It’s because she is Chinese. Now that she is an established author with a secure fan base, the publisher does include her author photo.

        The way I see it, market forces will always correct this situation. Let’s say we have two publishers, Publisher A and Publisher B, and there are 10,000 manuscripts floating around waiting to be acquired. Half of them (5000) were written by authors considered conventionally attractive.

        Publisher A decides only to acquire manuscripts written by conventionally attractive authors, so they are rejecting 5000 of the available manuscripts out of hand and acquiring the best they can find of the remaining 5000 manuscripts.

        Publisher B acquires the best they can of the entire 10,000 manuscript pool.

        Who’s going to be more successful? Assuming you’re going to invest in one publisher or the other (I know, no one on this website would invest in any traditional publisher), which would you choose? I personally would go with Publisher B. I think the benefits of having conventionally attractive authors are quite small compared to the benefits of acquiring the very best books, and you never know–the next Harry Potter may be in that pool of 5000 books that Publisher A didn’t even look at.

  18. I think attractiveness matters and will help initial sales. Trad. Publ. will be more interested (this is a downside), and if you are attractive, and post your picture on your blog or website, etc., readers will be more likely to come to your website, answer your twitters, and buy your books.

    There is no question that beauty, as defined in our culture, has power and will sell.

    That said, it may benefit the author to be attractive, but the reverse is not true. Authors who are not considererd traditionally attractive can still sell millions of books if they write a good one.

    So, I think this is one of those things to shrug your shoulders about. It’s the way the world works. But it won’t block any writer from being published, so, ultimately, it doesn’t really matter.

    After all, no matter how beautiful someone is, if they don’t write a good book, it won’t sell. And the reverse is true as well.

    Books are, ultimately, judged by the content of their character, not by their covers.

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