Do readers really care what an author looks like? Apparently so – and neither are authors exactly indifferent to the image created by that dust-jacket photo.
In today's NPR piece today about author photos, Knopf publicity director Nicholas Latimer agrees that it's an uncomfortable idea but he admits that some in the business believe that books by good-looking authors will garner more reviews.
Like it or not, the NPR piece concludes, today the author photo is essential.
Earlier this week the UAE's English-language publication the National also did a piece on author photos. Both the National story and the NPR piece mention Marion Ettlinger, referred to by the National as, "the doyenne of US author portraits."
("Ettlinger is so famous, she has her own verb," continues the National story. "To be 'Ettlingered,' according to The New York Times, means 'to have imparted to you an aura of distinction and renown, regardless of whether anyone besides your mother and your cat knows who you are.' ")
In an NPR interview, Ettlinger tells of shooting an evocative photo of David Foster Wallace, the author of "Infinite Jest." The National includes the story of a striking photo she took of "Corrections" author Jonathan Franzen.
But of course, says book blogger Jessica Crispin, too much can be made of the author photo. It's certainly jarring, she points out, to meet authors in person – only to discover that in real life they look nothing like that dust-jacket portrait.