To a large degree, they satisfy the vanity of the writer; those small peephole portraits are a way for them to claim ownership, to make their long struggle at the keyboard valid (they also provide a good ID when writing a check at the bookstore). Photos are a publicity tool, of course. Something for publishers to enlarge to poster size -- depending on the author's degree of beauty -- when promoting book signings at the local bookstore (a process that would have hindered, not helped, George Eliot back in the day).Marion Ettlinger has been taking gorgeous black and white photographs of writers since 1983, some of which were compiled into a book. My favorite is Raymond Carver's:
I have the same reaction as David Adams' when I first saw that photo of Carver's staring at me from the cover of Where I'm Calling From: "He's seated at a table, one arm slung over his chair, the other on the table, forming an L, one-half of a frame which immediately takes you up to his face. His eyes are like cigarettes burning holes in your brain. Carver stares directly at the camera --through the camera -- as if to say, 'Sit down and let me tell you a story. It may not be pretty, but it will be real.'"
But it helps to be real *and* pretty. Like this one:
where Jhumpa Lahiri is just smouldering at you from the back of cover of Interpreter of Maladies. A student of mine saw the photo and said, Wow, I didn't know Jhumpa Lahiri is hot.
If hot is impossible, then perhaps take a few serviceable ones that don't obscure your face, like this:
That's just one way to take a bad author photo. Salt Publishing offers nine other ways, none of them flattering and would never help you sell any books.