wondering whether or not it’s worth it to invest in a professional author headshot?

kristina holmes "professional author headshots are critical"

Here is an interview with Kristina Holmes, who shared her publishing expertise on the subject of author photography. Kristina is a literary agent with The Holmes Agency. Follow Kristina on Twitter @kristinaaholmes

 * * *

Would you say a professional photo is a “must-have” for writers who want to become published authors?

Yes. When I visit a writer’s web site, I really expect to see their author headshot, even if they are not yet published.

Many writers already have well-developed platforms when I begin pitching them to publishers. If they don’t yet have suitable headshots, this becomes a real priority.

For starters, I almost always include photos in the proposal to add color and personality. Later in the process, when the book is in production, the publisher will typically request author photos.

These days, I really wonder about websites that don’t include a personal photo. It’s important for an author to be relatable. Photography is so helpful with this.

What role do photos play in author platform development?

There are many different reasons why authors building their author platforms would want an author photo, if not several author photos. I often help my clients select suitable images.

These photos not only go on the website, they can also be used in the author’s media kit. Many authors now feature media kits right on their web sites, which is terrific. A tip for authors: make the photos high-quality, downloadable jpegs so they can be used in media coverage.

For authors who also do public speaking, headshots are included in their speakers kit on their bio and perhaps on their speaking sheet. (A speaking sheet details the topics that the author can cover.)

What makes a great author photo?

A straightforward, authentic photo always works well. I think looking attractive is important, but to me, the most successful photos are those that reflect a genuine, approachable person.

The photo should also reflect the type of book being written and contribute to – not detract from – the author’s credibility. So, if you are a business person wear a business suit not a track suit. Looking too casual could hurt you.

What are the most glaring photo blunders in the publishing industry?

I cringe when I see outdated photos. Generally, gaudy makeup or long-gone hairstyles are the most problematic. Photos like this send out a weird vibe. Overly staged photos are problematic. Cheesy and awkward hand positions are the worst.

It’s tricky when authors come to me with an outdated appearance. If I feel it might get in the way of the book’s success, I’ll speak up. One of my authors underwent a head-to-toe makeover to prepare for publication. She was a great sport about it and enjoyed it.

Do different genres demand different styles of photos?

To a degree they do. I work primarily with practical nonfiction which tends to be pretty straightforward.

Sometimes, the publisher might want a particular type of photo to reflect the author’s platform. My clients Niki Dewart and Elizabeth Marglin are the co-authors of The Mother’s Wisdom Deck which will be released in 2012. Sterling, the publisher, requested they have photos made with their children.  I rarely find that the publisher makes such a specific request, but in their case, it makes sense why they would suggest this.  The deck is for mothers, and part of the appeal is that it was created by mothers.

Does the publisher pick up the tab for photos?

Not in my experience. These days, authors are expected to provide professional quality photos.

In some cases, when the photo will be used for the cover and demands a specific type of photo, the publisher might get involved and might contribute. However, these instances are rare.

It’s important to understand that becoming an author requires certain upfront investments. You need to establish an audience and that does cost money. If you have to spend $500 to get great photos, it should be an anticipated expense.

For some authors, the money for headshots is an issue. I do understand it, but on the other hand, publishing is a really expensive enterprise to get into.

* * *

If you have further questions, I encourage you to put them in the comments section. That way, we can post Kristina’s responses for everyone to see.

cheers, dana

This entry was posted in author photos, professional portraits and tagged , , , .


  1. Gail Storey August 18, 2011 at 2:33 am #

    Thanks, Kristina, for the benefit of your experience, and thanks, Dana, for the great photos you did for me!

  2. Ina Russell September 7, 2011 at 5:22 pm #

    Interesting and helpful. Thanks to Dana and Kristina for covering some important basics.

    • dana rogers September 14, 2011 at 8:24 pm #

      You are welcome. Thanks so much for dropping by!

  3. Carol Grever September 8, 2011 at 6:58 pm #

    I believe Kristina is exactly right that quality photos convey personality and warmth that promote an author’s work. My Websites are greatly enhanced by the natural poses in photos that say, “This person is real.”
    Carol Grever

    • dana rogers September 14, 2011 at 8:24 pm #

      I couldn’t agree with you more and enjoyed seeing your photo front and center on both of your sites.

  4. Kristina Holmes September 9, 2011 at 3:20 pm #

    Thanks Gail, Ina and Carol for your comments, and Dana for interviewing me for this interesting (and important) topic that is often overlooked. Photos are a wonderful way to connect with one’s readers, who increasingly want to feel that they are “in relationship” with their favorite authors.

    I really appreciate the opportunity to share with you all… any questions, please let me know!


    • dana rogers September 14, 2011 at 8:22 pm #

      I appreciate your taking the time, especially as my first interviewee. Please feel free to pop back in whenever you have additional experiences and thoughts about the topic.

  5. Jerrie Hurd September 13, 2011 at 2:35 pm #

    I’m sooooo lucky. Dana did mine! She has a knack for head shots. She’s fun to work with and everybody needs one for all the reasons this article gives you. Do it!

    • dana rogers September 14, 2011 at 8:21 pm #

      Jerrie, thanks for the nice words. It was my pleasure to work with you!

One Trackback

  1. By priscilla stuckey at boulder book store on October 13, 2017 at 1:35 pm

    […] an author or author-to-be and are interested in hearing from a publishing expert about photography, check out this post. It is an interview with Kristina Holmes, who ultimately became Priscilla’s agent. I learned […]

Post a Comment

Your email is never published nor shared. Required fields are marked *