This has nothing to do with the actual act of writing, nor does an author’s photo correspond to a writer’s facility with language or how superbly s/he might evoke an imaginary world. I suspect that the majority of the terrible author photos floating about the interwebs are not the fault of the writers themselves but of their publicists.
In this self-publishing age where writers are increasingly responsible for the promotion of themselves as a ‘brand,’ there’s no excuse for allowing a douchy photo of oneself to make it into the public sphere.
A bad author photo can cause the writer true damage. I still won’t pick up a Sebastian Junger book after having seen his 1990s-era shirtless author photo promoting ‘The Perfect Storm’ – a photo so smug, so rippling with prep-school educated, elitist entitlement that my only reaction was to want to smash his face. Over and over.
(To be fair: My sense is that Junger has transformed in dramatic ways as a writer in the years since because of his war correspondence. My point is that I’ve avoided an author I may well have enjoyed because of his self-aggrandizing author photo. Interesting aside: the photo didn’t appear in my Google search.)
As a rule we don’t necessarily expect our authors to be photogenic (although in some genres—such as Bigfoot Erotica—being photogenic is certainly a plus one). We do, however, expect our author photos to convey a sense that said writers are approachable, compassionate, intelligent. Yes, that’s a difficult balance, but it’s a balance we should all strive for.
This is, after all, the person we readers are inviting into our imaginations to tromp around for pages and pages (for weeks and weeks potentially), and when we take a break from the words and consider the latest theme or plot-twist and we gaze upon to the author’s photo, we don’t want some pretentious douche-bag preening back at us.
A horrible and distracting author photo is the visual equivalent of ‘poetry voice’ – that monotone bah buh bah buh bah buh bah that is as excruciating to listen to at a public reading as it is difficult to vanquish from your ears once you’ve heard it. (MFA students and University writers, pointing at you here.) A bad author photo is daring the reader to read the work despite appearances, as if the author is saying,
“Hey, I got published. I can make you look at whatever photo of me I want you to.”
As readers we owe writers nothing. This isn’t college. We’re not required to read anything. If your author photo is repelling me, I may never come back around and judge your work on its own merits, which is what should happen in an ideal world, but can’t.