Part I: The Request
I get one little publication credit, and I upgrade myself from ‘writer’ to ‘author’. See how that goes?
Along with the story, the amazing people at Body Parts Magazine asked if I had an author photo, and all hell broke loose. The crazy came out. I mean, top level insanity here.
Like every hopeful author, I’d spent my life studying author photos, judging them, and dreaming up the perfect one. Of course, I never took any actionable steps to achieve the Perfect Author Photo because that would mean jinxing any possibility of getting published. (Preparing for something means it won’t happen, obviously.)
So when Body Parts emailed me asking for one, I said I would totally get them one that week, like the professional I am. Then I spent most of the week flipping through old social media profile pics wondering why I’m so un-photogenic and such a nerd.
Then: lightning bolt moment. I have a fancy camera! I’ll do this myself. (Because doing something well without ever practicing has always worked out.)
Part II: The Set Up
I globbed on the makeup, fiddled with the camera settings, and sat in some sunlight. Then. Selfie time. And I ended up with what I thought were some kickass photos. So I shared them, which turned out to be my mistake.
“You look like an old, hardened woman.” –My Mom
“Uh. I think you look hot? Sexy, maybe?” –My Sister
“Did you intend to look pissy? Because if that was your intention, right on!” –My Friend who is a Model
“Why aren’t you smiling? You should be smiling at least a little bit.” –Assorted Friends
“Hot damn. That is my sexy wife.” –My Tall Person (who has been taught to say such things)
Part III: The Meltdown
I spent three full days wondering if I had a sort of face dysmorphia where what I saw in the photos wasn’t what other people saw. I mean, I was looking at the version of myself I always wanted to exist, and people were recoiling from it. This chick in the photo was somebody I wanted to be, and nobody else liked her. What did they say about me? About what I wanted and who I aspired to be?
And then one of my friends said, “But as long as you like it, that’s all that matters.” And that’s when I realized it. In my line of work, that isn’t true.
Part IV: The Overthink
It doesn’t matter if I like what I write. What matters is whether the reader responds it. Of course I write what I enjoy, or what I would want to read, but at the end of the day, that isn’t enough. If I bring a piece to workshop and they tell me it’s failing, I have to listen. If I don’t, I’ll be hanging onto an unsuccessful piece.
In the case of the photo, what I wanted to know was how people were responding to it. It wasn’t a picture of me, your friend, daughter, sister. It was a picture of a person who wrote a story. Does that picture make you want to know more about them? Find them on Twitter? Connect with them? Seek out their work? Does it jive with what I wrote or enhance it? It’s just about the only visual aid my short story’s going to get online, so it had better be doing something. Just sitting there looking pretty isn’t enough.
And, I think, that’s what my friends and family wanted. They wanted a picture of me that conveyed good ol’, amicable (if slightly moody), me. And this picture wasn’t it. It was a little pissy, a little edgy, a little intimidating. It wasn’t neat, and it wasn’t necessarily someone you’d want to be friends with. It wasn’t me.
But in some ways it was the me that wrote the story. It was the me the way I saw myself as a writer. That vision, that edgy, intimidating self was there. It had been built up through years of looking at author photos—my own persona (though not in person, never in person, because I will never be able to shed my awkward, goofy self). But on a jacket cover? As a profile pic? Yes. That’s me the writer.
The whole meltdown could have been avoided if I’d thought before I shot. What do you want this picture to say? What do you want it to achieve? How do you want the viewer to respond? The same way I think about short stories. Then, based on the feedback I got, I could have seen if it was working or not. And then I could have decided if I wanted to change my approach. Since I dove in headfirst, jumping from fifteen minutes of selfie to “Look at me! Did it work?” without ever wondering what working would look like, I ended up with a jumble of responses and thoughts, none of which were what I was expecting.
It’s very possible this is a long and convoluted way of saying, “Set your expectations and know them before you check to see if they’re met.”
But that’s how an author author’s. What do I want to achieve? How do I achieve it? Now write it. Then check with readers to see how they’re responding and rewrite.
The collision came from how other’s view me and how I viewed myself, a dichotomy I could have been saved from me had I acknowledged it.