Internet Marketing Requires High Impact Photography to Attract

Authors who self publish face many challenges in marketing their work. In my previous posts, I tried to establish several key concepts:

  • The task of Internet marketing is to attract.
  • Promotional efforts must focus on identified markets with available points of entry.
  • No data attests to the efficacy of one approach over any other.
  • Sales goals must be set realistically.
  • Positive reviews by established, credentialed reviewers are essential.
  • No guarantees. An excellent literary achievement may not sell well whereas a poor one may.
  • A respected presence in the market is built on trust.

Trust is established as a shopper’s perception is satisfied with the soliciting author’s propriety, competence, and intent. To succeed, an author needs to become consciously competent in projecting these qualities. Photos have high immediate impact on the reader and far more power to attract than the printed word. The photo on any web site should project a positive, trustworthy image.

The author must first decide whether photo is to project a comprehensive personal portrait or a  characterization that accentuates a side of the author’s personality that is representative of the author’s style and aesthetic values.  Portraits project a broad threshold for establishing trust. Characterizations, on the other hand, project an image that implies something specifically about the thrust of the author’s work  or personality.  A few examples may help to illustrate these points.

Portrait versus Characterization

Penny Sanesevieri, President, Author Marketing Experts.

This lady knows knows the Internet. The portrait is of Penny Sansevieri, President of Author Marketing Experts, a firm that helps authors ramp up their entrance into Internet marketing traffic. Penny’s photo is high impact for several reasons. She projects a picture of her true self. She is looking up into the camera, which places the viewer in a dominant position and grants the viewer a sense of control. Yet Penny’s open expression does not give up any of her power. The books she holds are often cropped on Facebook and other sites, but the position of her hands strongly implies that she has something of value to offer. The  image establishes a broadly attractive threshold for building trust.

John West

John West’s photo projects a engaging portrait of  himself . Again, he looks directly into the camera at the viewer. He looks upward, perhaps not as much as Penny, but enough to yield the viewer a dominant, controlling position. His smile is relaxed. Hands and arms are always important, nearly as important as a subject’s eyes, and John’s arm behind his head is non-aggressive. John’s congenial direct expression projects a broadly attractive threshold for building trust. Most web sites only allow a postage stamp size area for a photo. The impact of John’s portrait is not diminished by a reduction in size.

A  direct, into-the-lens photo risks becoming confrontational. The confrontational quality can be softened with attention to a few simple rules.

The Eye of the Beholder — The Lens

Eric J. Hohnm Musician

This is a photo portrait of my son Eric. He is on the same level as the camera, but the composition of the photo, the neutral placement of his hands on his audio mixer, his quiet reassuring expression, and the soft black-and-white lighting all project trustworthy qualities. Black-and-white may also have nostalgic overtones. The photo is artistic without being affected. Composition and lighting, subjects deserving discussion in their own right, can enhance the impact of a portrait but they are often risky for the amateur. Props can be used effectively in a photo. In this case, the inclusion of Eric’s mixer panel quietly attests to his profession as a sound man and musician. Because of the lighting and the use of black and white, Eric’s photo may have reduced the impact of the photo but did so in a manner that did not weaken the trust-building threshold.

My own photo in the banner to my web site is also on the same level with the camera.  It is perhaps slightly more confrontational than Eric’s, but I am a serious writer. Humor is almost never the thrust of my work. I want my portrait to project me as a thoughtful, somewhat serious guy who is open to others but tending to be a bit more formal than the others featured in this article. My photo may also have narrowed the trust threshold because the serious expression projects less warmth and willingness to relate.

Tom Rieber, Author

Tom Rieber writes fast-moving, adventure/crime novels. His picture is completely consistent with the thrust of his work. Dark glasses are usually a bad idea, but his are not opaque. Eyes are the most important in any photo; cover them and the viewer is denied the most important source of information about the subject. In Tom’s case, however, dark glasses are high impact. His photo communicates confidence, a quality softened somewhat because he looks up into the camera. Photos that are not taken head on–with the subject turning into the camera–usually communicate an offhand, candid quality, as if the subject was otherwise occupied at the time the picture was taken. In Tom’s case, his sideways look enhances the casual quality of the portrait and that quality, along with the beach background, may have narrowed the trust threshold somewhat, but at the same time adds to the image of a guy with carefree lifestyle who is comfortable with himself.

Avoiding the Eye of the Camera

Looking away from the camera is risky because the subject disengages from the viewer. The subject appears uninterested in the viewer, but something more subtle is actually taking place.  The subject is sharing his or her perspective with the viewer and becomes one with the viewer. Done well, the sharing can be on a quietly intimate level. The subject’s message is this is how I see myself.  Most amateur efforts in this approach fail and very little is communicated about the subject. But exceptions prove the rule.

John Coates

The photo of John Coates attracts and establishes a strong threshold for building trust because it is completely non-confrontational. John’s expression is calmly thoughtful. The composition could be improved if the photo was not so tightly cropped around the subject’s head, but it is sufficiently open to create distance for the viewer to consider the image without a sense of intruding on the subject. The softer blue tones also convey a sense of calm thought. Coates’ upward gaze is fixed on something distant, a deep thought perhaps or a reverie. The placement of John’s hands is consistent with the thoughtful, almost spiritual, impact of this very honest photo. The seriousness of the composition may limit the appeal of the photo, but it does so without reducing trust-building threshold.

Most portraits concentrate on depicting the author in an honest rendering and do not usually project specific clues  about an author’s work or writing style.

Portraits Project the Person. Characterizations Depict a Trait.

The photos discussed thus far have high general appeal. They portray common values seeking the widest possible audience. The implicit message usually comes off  as accept me and you will like my work.

An author may prefer to focus on projecting a specific message aimed directly at a targeted market. The author chooses to withhold some information about himself or herself in favor of emphasizing a personality trait with the intention of characterizing the presentation. The object of a characterization is to shape the viewer’s response.

Characterizations are confrontational by definition. They demand that the viewer recognize the stance or attitude depicted by the subject and are less ambiguous as a result. The subject needs to be certain that the response elicited is consistent with the author’s intent. Targeting a defined audience willfully risks rejection by others because the threshold for developing trust is deliberately narrowed.

Charles Cronley, Digital Illustrator

Against a neutral background, Charlie has posed himself in a very confrontational manner. He is seeking a specific but limited range of reactions. Looking down at the camera, holding the dominant position, his hand is aggressively in the  forefront. He makes direct eye contact, one eye only. The shot is intended to humor his friends, almost as a caricature, but I offer it as contrasting example. Viewed by anyone other than a friend, the specific reaction that this photo targets is at once humorous and confident. Among several possibilities, a viewer would expect Charlie’s book to be humorous, socially critical, or satirical.

Ashley McGraw

The immediate impact of Ashley McGraw’s characterization is one of mystery. The subject is insisting that the viewer see her in a very particular way. Attired in black with a hood, this near monochromatic photo–the subject’s red lips being the only color– seeks a specific response of intrigue and fascination while projecting very little personal warmth. Ashely’s bold stare at camera level implies confrontation that saves the tilted composition from collapsing into affectation. The bright light to the left of the subject’s head adds to an air of mystery. Among many possibilities, this deliberately artistic shot would lead the viewer to expect Ashley’s book to be avant garde, a mystery, dark romance, or perhaps deal with the paranormal.


I plan to continue the discussion of marketing photos in my subsequent posts. The key points in the article include the following:

  • Portraits project an image of an author; characterizations depict specific dimensions in the author’s personality.
  • Portraits generally have broader appeal than characterizations but characterizations have more power to attract a defined market.
  • Regarding the lens of the camera as the eye of viewer is almost always preferable.
  • Looking upward into the lens is the least confrontational and therefore more trustworthy.
  • When the subject avoids eye contact with the camera, the subject disengages from the viewer and shares viewer’s position.

Author’s Note: I compose my posts using Word and transfer to the word-processing program available through my web site manager. I use the spell check facility on both programs. Some spellings are personal preferences, such as “advisor” for “adviser.” (Either is correct.) I intentionally use incomplete sentences or fragments as a stylistic choice. I am very grateful for the proofreading and editing skills volunteered by Jeannine Churchill, a friend and former colleague at Blue Cross/Blue Shield of Minnesota. If any errors in the text escaped both of us, please do not hesitate to let me know.