Social Networking and Your Picture

  • By: Jessica Faust | Date: Apr 14 2011

I’ve been thinking a lot about social networking and how authors can best use it. One of my thoughts lately has been about the photos we use on Facebook and Twitter. As many of you know, it’s not uncommon for users to change their profile photo now and then. You might have gotten an amazing new shot of yourself over the holidays, or maybe that new haircut is so stunning it’s time to show it off, but is there a problem when we change the photo too much? Are we failing to brand ourselves?

Remember, as an author, the purpose of your Facebook or Twitter account is to keep in touch with your readers and connect with them on a personal level. Unfortunately, I think a lot of authors think of social networking as a way to constantly remind the reader to buy, buy, buy (a mistake, by the way) and think that way with every post and every picture they post.

One of the things I’ve been thinking about lately is the use of your book’s cover as your profile picture. I don’t think I like it. I get it. You want to have recognition so when readers go into stores they recognize the cover and remember to buy it. But could that backfire? Could it instead mean that they’ve seen the cover so much that they think they already own it? Or do they fail to immediately connect you, the author, with the cover because the cover is constantly changing? I think there’s a very real possibility that by constantly bombarding “friends” or followers with your cover they’re going to quickly forget they haven’t read the book.

Most important, are you losing the connection you could be making with your readers? Instead of identifying with their new “friend” Jessica Faust, are they not able to see beyond your cover or your book? I think, personally, this is the biggest problem. If you’re trying to become friends with your readers and connect with them, then really let them know who you are. Use a real picture, or fun picture, of you. Or maybe a picture of your protagonist, but I don’t think the ever-changing cover shots work. But that’s just me.


60 responses to “Social Networking and Your Picture”

  1. I've mulled over this issue. I used my picture until my publisher's web guru advised me to change it to my book cover. That was a while ago, so I'll revisit the question with them.

  2. Avatar Pia Newman says:

    Oooh, tricky. I can only speak for myself, but while I don't mind seeing a book cover, I follow an author's posts in the social media because I'm interested in the person, not just his/her books (although I am, of course, also interested in those; just not solely). So, I do prefer seeing an actual picture of a "friend" or "follower". It's more personal for me that way, and I feel like I get a more complete picture of a person.

  3. Avatar Kristan says:

    How about a photo of you with your book? Or your author photo, which is presumably on your book and website? I've found that to be fairly "harmless" (as in, doesn't make me feel like the author is trying to sell anything to me) and yet professional, and also a tie-in to the book/brand/platform.

    But I agree with you: covers-as-photos sometimes make me feel like I'm just a consumer. I get that an author would be super excited about her cover, but as a reader who has taken the time to find an author on FB or Twitter, I'm excited about getting to know HER.

    So yes, like Pia said: covers don't *bother* me, per se, but I *prefer* a more personal connection.

  4. Avatar Julie Kramer says:

    I have also grappled with this issue…but because there are hundreds of Julie Kramers on facebook,I use my book cover so fans can tell which one is me. Close friends and relatives can recognize me from my photo or where I live….but if a reader wants to friend me,I want to make it easy for them to know which Julie Kramer I am.

  5. I agree with you entirely (although I realise that the picture in the corner of this comment would suggest otherwise).

    I think that you are trying to forge a connection between readers and you as an author, not you as a product (ie, a single book). If there are any barriers to conveying your personality and humanity to potential readers then I think you aren't using social networking to its fullest.

    Yes, you may get your cover splashed at a few more faces, but I would much prefer more people saw my face, recognised me, and then discovered my latest book as a result of being interested in me, the author.

  6. Avatar wry wryter says:

    Here’s a question.
    Suppose your photo image is counter to your book’s content.
    For instance, Wally Lamb, She’s Come Undone.
    A middle aged man writing as a teenage girl. In Wally’s case, well Oprah didn’t care and the rest is history. He IS an amazing writer and human being. But if I write a novel as a young male, won’t my fans be turned off by my matronly appearance?
    Oh God, I’m a matron, shoot me now.

  7. Avatar Jael says:

    Taking it a step further, on Twitter I don't even use my official author photo. I use a more casual snapshot. Twitter's a conversation, and I think the picture of me grinning toward the camera adds to the conversational feel.

    I do use my book cover for the Kitchen Daughter page on Facebook. Sometimes my identity is book-first, sometimes it's person-first, it just depends on the situation. Not all online interactions are created equal, and it's good to be thoughtful about every aspect of your online presence, even down to something as seemingly simple as a picture.

    Thanks for addressing this, Jessica!

  8. I agree–you want your friends on FB to know something about you, beyond the relentless promoter. That means you have to post about something other than "buy my book!" at least now and then.

    There's also a practical problem with putting up your book cover. If it is very detailed, the thumbnail isn't big enough to convey it effectively.

  9. I use my picture for a number of reasons, first and foremost to say that comments made in this blog post or tweet are from a real person, this person right here in the picture (isn't he handsome?).

    You also establish a stronger connection with a face than you do an icon or a book cover.

    More importantly, I plan on having multiple book covers. I want to make sure that my online presence is identifiable across multiple publications. In the deluge of tweets we receive in a day, I want to make sure I am consistent and recognizable over the long term, not just this or that book account pimping itself.

  10. Avatar Suzan Harden says:

    Since my picture adequately reflects my love of chocolate and coffee, then I'm on the right track. *grin*

  11. Excellent point. It drives me crazy when folks I think I know change their icon or photo – I often hesitate. Is this who I think it is?? Book covers, in my humble opinion, are less personal and more "buy me." I think a friendly or fun photo of the author is best.

  12. Avatar Kurt Hartwig says:

    Jonathan Beer has it right – social media is good for making connections and having your readers (or viewers) feel like they can communicate with you. Individual books are just individual books, and everyone gets cranky when all you do is post "buy mine" or "look what I'm doing."

  13. Avatar Elle says:

    I think this raises an interesting question about marketing. Personally, I use my own photo as a web presence on appropriate sites, the book cover on others where appropriate. One thing I have noticed is that many writers do not take the time to get a really good picture. I went to a professional photographer, explained what the photo was for and what I wanted to convey. I think it was worth the time, effort and money because I did get what I wanted. A little quirky and cheeky. I also think avoiding full face shot staring at the camera is not the best look. Using or considering other poses such as three-quarter or even profile head shot can be more effective.
    Elle Druskin

  14. Avatar Anonymous says:

    I hear you. My question is this: can you recommend any author pages who you think are doing this right? I'd like to see 'what to do' as well as understanding what 'not' to do.

  15. Avatar Rosemary says:

    My web designers advised me to use my photo on my landing page, as a way to make the site warmer and more personal.

    Let's hope I get a book cover to go with it!

  16. Avatar Scott Eagan says:

    I would also have to add that a photo taken with your phone, by yourself certainly doesn't get across a professional image. Remember that for readers, this might be the first impression of you, and as they say "you never get a second chance to make a first impression."

  17. Avatar TL Jeffcoat says:

    I have never even considered using anything but a picture of me, sometimes a photoshoped one of me in a dramatic photo, like on Gerard Butler's body in 300 or Muhammad Ali. To me the whole point of social networking is to get to know people, and once I am published, I will talk more about them, but I won't spam buy me with every tweet or FB status or change my profile pics to my book cover. I will create links to my website for the book. But I want the reader to know I'm a real person, not some mysterious thing subbing in for me to promote my work.

  18. Avatar Kate Douglas says:

    You're making me rethink things here! I use my photo on my regular Facebook page and all my posts, but use my current book cover on my "Fan" page on Facebook, and with a new book every three months it's constantly changing. Now I'm wondering if I should use my mugshot on both pages.

    Don't DO this to me so early!

  19. I recently separated out my writerly Facebook from my personal Facebook. I created a page for myself as a writer. I try to update it at least once or twice a day, but I try not to bombard people with a constant stream of information. I do have my own picture as the profile image on that account.

    The primary reason for the separation is that I want to be able to use my Facebook account for two aspects- connecting to readers and keeping in touch with friends and events that I care about.

    I may be a little paranoid, but I don't want random strangers able to see every photograph that I'm tagged in or every event that I RSVP to. Nor do I want them to see photographs of my nephews.

    As for the profile picture, I update it when needed to keep things looking fresh. My website could use some freshening by way of photographs, but that's for this weekend. I don't think changing a profile picture once in a while is an issue. Authors change their headshots on their books from time to time. But if there's a new photo every time you check in to their site, it can maybe be an issue.

  20. Ha! This has been bothering me lately.

    Recently I went to a book event and there was a particular author I wanted to stalk–I mean meet. I kept picturing her twitter profile pic in my head, but I never found her. Then, when she was introduced on her panel–it hit me. She's not the 20-something model on the cover of her book!

    If social media is supposed to make authors feel more real to their readers, then maybe having young, headless models as their profile pic isn't the way to go.

  21. Timing. I was just pondering this last night and had some of the same thoughts, but I decided that my covers work best for pointing out which "Paige" I am.

    However, now I'm rethinking too.

    Hmmm. Looking forward to more comments.


  22. So many authors use 20-25 year old glamour shots, you would never recognize them if you saw them in person anyway.

  23. Avatar Jill Kemerer says:

    I agree with you. The more I social network, the more difficult it is for me to keep track of people. When an author I'm not very familiar with uses her photograph, as opposed to a book cover, across all of her sites, it helps me identify her better. And that in turn helps me connect her book to her name, which spurs me to actually read her books.

    I typically connect with writers in one medium (maybe through their blog or website) and immediately look them up on my other sites (Facebook and Twitter). When I see the same face on all the sites, it makes the process quicker and, as I mentioned, solidifies the author in my memory.

  24. There are so many people who use books as their avatar that they all run together.

  25. I agree 100%
    If I am friending an author, I want to see them, not the book. Personally, I am even more apt to rave about the book and recommend it to others if I fee like the author and I are "friends." Pathetic? Meh, oh well.

    Great post!

  26. In general, with only one exception EVER, when a book cover requests to be my friend, they have zero interest in being my friend and will never interact with me; they just want to spam my news feed about their book, which generally isn't even in a genre I read.

  27. Avatar Mesmer7 says:

    Some of us who write erotica need to maintain a level of anonymity. So posting our own photos is out of the question. I've been using my cat's picture as an avatar, but honestly, I think a picture of a book cover would be better (if/when I get published).

  28. Avatar Jen Daiker says:

    I think I'd go Kristan's route. Take a silly photo with the cover of my novel and use it as my profile picture. I like me as my profile picture and it's how I relate with others… book covers are fun but they don't draw me to their sites. For me the more fun profile picture the better, then again I like people like me (as most of us do) so it makes sense since my picture is different!

  29. Hmm…I think one important thing to remember is that many followers of an author's blog or Facebook page feel somewhat invested in the author's success. They have read the blog posts and followed along silently cheering each success. I agree that the main picture profile should stay the same, but I admit to experiencing a little flutter of excitement when I see the profile picture change to a book cover and usually rush to congratulate them on a new release or publishing deal. Sometimes a change in profile picture is a great way to signal new events.

  30. Avatar Laila Knight says:

    Well, I'm considering your post from the perspective of someone who likes to read and browse through books.

    I do like covers, specially if there's a hunky guy on them. It's probably the first thing that will attract me to a book and make me pick it up.

    However, when I'm ready to purchase a book, I will flip to the back cover and take a look at the author's picture. Why? I want to see who poured their hearts and soul into the book I'm holding. If I check out their sites, which I do often, I seek out the author's picture. It makes them human, more than just their words.


  31. Avatar Ju Dimello says:

    I never really put my picture out there..since I wanted to wait for the "perfect" shot 😉 which as everyone probably knows, will never occur 😀

    My DH drew a picture(on a magnetic fun board) for fun and said – This is you 😉 and asked me to sign it for him…This was when I started writing seriously, with an aim to get published… And this is the picture that I've used in my blog and other social media till date. Moreover I'm still debating on my pen name…but then I'll leave it to the point when I actually sign a contract…

    Not like I have a book published yet to use its cover, but I might keep this advise in mind when I take the perfect shot soon 😉

    Great post..and nice to see all the opinions…

  32. An important side note is consistency in images across social media outlets and boards/sites etc. Sometimes people use different names, or variations of names across sites, and a consistent photo makes me realize "oh, that's so and so."

  33. I'll sign in with Blogger so you can see my avatar. I actually had someone friend me on Facebook the other day after a number of years of no contact — because she saw the S, knew it was me, and wanted to see how I was.

    This is why the S is also on my business cards. People recognize it and West of Mars.

    I'm not about to change that up. It works. People know me.

  34. Avatar sarah says:

    I think there is an element of branding to an image you always use. People may not remember your name, but they will remember an image. So if you do change it, I wouldn't change it often.

    I've also seen people at conventions tuck a copy of their blogger/facebook/etc image into their name tag, which I thought was pretty clever.

  35. I'm a bit face blind and recognize avatars far more readily than faces. That said, I'm also a big proponent of a consistent brand across similar communication platforms, no matter what form that brand takes.

    A real name is nice, as well. If I never learn your name (for example: Wry Writer), I'm less likely to be able to buy your books.

  36. Avatar al boudreau says:

    I totally agree. I feel as though someone is hiding behind a curtain when I see a book cover, or other cutsey image, as their avatar. Social networking is all about connecting with people. You wouldn't go to a job interview, or on a first date, wearing a mask, right? Therefore, I feel one should be confident enough to show their face to the world, and leave it at that.

  37. Avatar Inez Kelley says:

    I mainly use a Chia head (and I am REALLY hoping the Chia shows up here now and not some random picture I selected a year ago)

  38. Avatar Alaina says:

    I like to use my face on anything that has to do with my writing or fan base. That way it feels more personal, like we are connecting face to face.

    There are times though where I can see using an avatar or book cover. Blogs that speak from a personal POV of the writer seem to fit better for me when the image is of their face. While blogs that are about the novel only, or movie, have an image from the book or a still shot from the film, and all the writing is coming from the perspective of the characters.

    Both are interesting for me to read, so maybe the way in which we present ourselves should fit what the topic of our blog is.

    Thanks for sparking this highly informative conversation! 🙂

  39. Avatar Walt Mussell says:

    At a workshop I attended a month ago on social networking, the presenter stated that one of the things we needed to do was to breed consistency with our photos (i.e. keep them the same). Been trying that ever since.

  40. Unless you specifically have a Facebook page for your book, I agree. (And some writers seem to, and create a new page whenever they have a new book–but they often have an author profile as well.) The points you brought up are valid, but I also think fans like being able to see what an author looks like. Sure, there have always been author photos in books, but I think fans do feel more connected if they can see some picture that doesn't feel "staged", like they're gaining some secret insight into someone they admire. Authors can become celebrities now, and so people like being able to recognize them.

    Plus, what happens when your book is released with a different cover, say if it comes out in paperback after an initial hardcover run, or it's released in a different country? Will it alienate readers to see the "wrong" cover, or cause some lack of recognition in them? Plus, if you have an author page instead of a page just for the book, then you're working to promote ALL your books, and yourself as a brand–so why not have the picture be of you, say at a signing or conference or in your writing room or somewhere awesome?

  41. Avatar MissFifi says:

    I always felt Neil Gaiman handled that well. He changes his main Facebook photo, shares photos of his awesome dogs and talks about different facets of his writing, his life, everything.
    Book covers are great, but in truth, I could care less. Sometimes a little insight into the author is more fun then the average cover.
    If I ever got published, I think I would have an artist friend render some avatars of my main character then let the fans choose a winner. Would be interesting to see if readers see the characters as I do.

  42. I think the best solution is to alternate.

    As a pre-published author and more of a reader so far…I would say the picture of yourself makes the reader feel like they know you a little bit personally. However, the book cover helps them recognize your work and go, "Oooo, I've been thinking about buying this book."

    However, since you are alternating every so often, they won't get too much of a good thing.

    Plus, if you alternate the same 3-5 photos over and over, maybe even through a pet in there, you will be branding yourself and have many brands to work with.

    Stephanie Carroll

  43. Avatar Rebecca Kiel says:

    I think the most rewarding networking happens in the actual connection between people. People know when they are trying to be sold on something. We are bombarded daily with advertisements, requests for donations, etc. If it is possible to put the burning desire to sell aside, then there is room for more. I am not likely to buy a book from someone knocking on my door every day at 9 am. Why would Facebook be any different? Give me something human, and you've got my attention.

  44. Interesting article, Jessica. It's all about keeping a balance but it can be tricky. Will RT this on Twitter.

  45. Avatar RJS says:

    I don't think I want to live in a world where I have to worry about "failing to brand ourselves". I don't know what most of my favorite authors look like, and it has never occurred to me that I ought to care about it. Kids these days think otherwise, I suppose?

  46. I totally agree with you! Ideally one should use the pix as a brand or logo, which means it SHOULD NOT be changed. And a personal pix is one more link with your readers whereas a book cover will (hopefully) change as you produce more books…

    And we all know that to make a success of it on Internet you need more than one book…Amanda Hocking used a trilogy to get started and Konrath Locke et al are all there with MANY books!

  47. Avatar cttiger says:

    I only wish I had this problem. But with no published book….
    Actually I agree that a personal portrait is better. I like to see the writer whose book I'm buying/thinking about buying. No harm in displaying the book cover on the landing page, or in a blog, but the profile picture should be real – no avatars, please.

  48. Avatar Nicole says:

    I'm not sure about this one. I agree that changing your photo often might be distracting, but I know of at least one instance where I found a new author (and her books) because I clicked on her book cover icon. I didn't know her at all, but it was such a beautiful cover that I was immediately drawn in.

    And while it's interesting to learn more about the lives of my favorite authors, what I still care about most is their writing, not their personal stuff. Sometimes knowing too much about them pulls me out of the worlds they've created on paper.

  49. Avatar Rose Green says:

    Interesting reasoning, but as a reader/buyer of books, I disagree. It's nice to know what an author looks like, but what does 1000 times more for me as far as marketing is knowing what the book cover looks like. Icons are really powerful. (Have you ever seen that internet test of the first letters of various restaurants? It's amazing what you can identify by font even if you've never eaten there.) If I've seen your cover on line somewhere and then I see it in the bookstore, I will almost 100% of the time pick up your book and check it out. To me that's a pretty strong reason for putting up your cover on line.

  50. I agree with you, Jessica. At RT11 last week, it was nice to see and recognize people's faces whom I'd only met online through Twitter or Facebook. I felt more connected to the faces than I did the bookcover people. I'm not a member of the Blogger community so my pic won't post here, but it's now my "brand" to the point where it's on my marketing media as well. At some point, it'll be the picture on my book covers, lol…

  51. Avatar Liesl says:

    Wow, I never thought about this question that deeply. Whenever I see someone with their book as their photo I think "Hey, they have a book."

    I agree with your point that eventually people will forget that they haven't actually read the book, and the picture will make them feel like they already own it, but I'm not so sure it's going to be a big turn-off to people or make them feel like they're not connecting with the author.

    What if the book cover is a lot more pleasing to the eye than the author photo. Not everyone's photogenic and in that case maybe a book cover is a better choice over a bad photo? Or maybe we just need quirky images that represent our personality. One of my friends uses a flowering cactus.

  52. Avatar Cambria says:

    As a writer I want to be approachable. I want someone to want to talk to me. I think this goes a long way with selling books. Would you rather buy a book from someone with no presence or someone who makes you feel good about yourself? I'll take the latter. I think a snapshot of yourself smiling is the best way to be approachable. As far as the book cover…why not use a photo and then also include an image of the cover somewhere else on your blog, FB page or website? Then you get the best of both worlds. I think a good example of this is on Nathan Bransford's blog or FB page. He has a pic up of himself but there is also a photo of his upcoming book on the right side of the page. Works for me. 🙂

  53. Such an interesting post, Jessica. As an author, I've often wondered if I've been doing the right thing by having my picture, not my cover, as my profile.

    I follow a debut author on twitter who, until she got her cover, used to use her picture. She had a lot of followers and rarely commented back to me, but that was okay, because I felt sort of connected to her. But when she started using her new book cover instead, I found that I skimmed over her tweets and never noticed them. I think it's because she felt more like a product, than a person. (I ended up unfollowing her.)

    After I analyzed how this situation made me feel as a potential reader, I decided that using my picture is much better.

  54. Avatar Gina Black says:

    I completely agree. I am not my book.

  55. I use the same photo for everything, Twitter, Facebook and my blog, because that way, people see it and remember me it. My novel isn't published yet, so no book cover to use, but I wouldn't really use it as my photograph, as I think it helps people connect more to an author when they can see who wrote something.

  56. Avatar Gayle says:

    Oh, this is a tough one! Have spent most of today (and some pennies!) choosing a new book cover for my novel (which has just reached the first draft stage – I know, jumping the gun, a bit). But now you've made me wonder about profile pics as I have the new book cover as my FB Page pic. My personal FB profile has a picture of myself, as does Twitter. Goodness, and I thought actually writing a novel was the hardest part of being a writer(!)

  57. Avatar Slugs says:

    Dear Jessica:

    What if a fellow's picture is so damned ugly he dare not show it? What's a fellow to do?

    Slugs Nineteen

  58. Avatar jfaust says:

    To answer those who have concerns about their appearance I don't think it has to be the perfect picture of you. If you follow me on Twitter you'll see that I use a b&w profile shot. I'm wearing sunglasses and you can hardly see my face. But you do start to see it over and over enough to know it's me. And I think that's the point I'm trying to make. A logo, an avatar (like the shark Janet Reid uses) anything that defines you can make a difference in brand building. A changing cover is hard to do that with. That's my point really


  59. Avatar Anonymous says:

    I use my covers so people know that I'm a writer and that I have a new book out. Honestly, I'm "friends" with and follow a lot of writers and if their face is there, I have no idea if they have a book out or not. Or what, in fact, they may write, even if they're famous.

    Maybe, yes, this is an issue for an established romance author who puts out a book every three months. But for a yearly schedule, I don't think readers will be confused about whether or not they've read the book.

    All this stuff is so subjective, but people take it so seriously. I think it's more important to do what you're comfortable with. I really don't think posting the covers of your books is going to cause disconnect with readers.

  60. Avatar bcohen333 says:

    Everything in life is about forming relationships. When you impart information that people can identify with, rather than simply proving more and more photo of yourself, you are helping others and creating a bond that will not only lead to sales, but an improved human experience!