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  1. #1
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    Beauty over brains?

    Inspired by the Zadie Smith thread:

    How important is an author's age & appearance to you? On an literary agent's blog, the agent posted that beauty certainly helps in getting your book published. Of course, the writing has to be decent, but often the beautiful people, like in anything else, have a slight advantage. After all, packaging sells... But do you find yourself putting down a book because you don't like the smirk on the author's face, or are you still willing to see it through? Are you more likely to shy away from a younger author, because of less life experience, or do you gravitate to a younger voice?

    I know that I've been influenced by Patricia Cornwall's picture where it shows her in an aviator's jacket beside a plane, and that's how my teenage obsession with her books began. Another picture that I found intriguing was Donna Tartt's picture on the back of "The Secret History". To me, she appears haughty, yet intelligent looking, and just the sort of person who she writes about in her books. The only pictures I've seen of Sophie Kinsella (sp?) are of her back to the camera, shopping bags in hand. To be honest, I've put down a (chicklit) book down because I didn't like the look of the author. Not because she was ugly (she was actually quite stunning), but the look on her face was so smug and she reminded me completely of the snotty, pretty girls in high school. And I'd prefer to forget them, rather than read about them.

    And if you ever wrote a book, would you put your picture on the back cover?

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  3. #2
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    Honestly I don't know what half of my favorite authors look like. I do enjoy it when authors have an interesting photo of themselves on their book - something that represents their interests or genre. For example, I think it is fitting how much of a dork Neal Stephenson looks on his books. I also like how Daniel Handler (Lemony Snicket) has really odd photos and descriptions of the author.



    Lemony Snicket was born before you were, and is likely to die before you as well. His family has roots in a part of the country which is now underwater, and his childhood was spent in the relative splendor of the Snicket Villa which has since become a factory, a fortress and a pharmacy and is now, alas, someone else's villa. To the untrained eye, Mr. Snicket's hometown would not appear to be filled with secrets. Untrained eyes have been wrong before.

  4. #3
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    Well...most of the books I read don't have the writer's photo on the front or back, so usually I don't see them before I read the book. But sometimes the photo is printed on the inside of the [back] cover, so sometimes after I've read a book I come across the photo and go "whoa!" because it's always so unexpected.

    If a book is good enough I don't think about the author at all.

    After the Nobel Prize winner was announced this year my university library put up a display of some of Harold Pinter's plays, along with an old photo of him. I'm guessing he's in his 30s in the pictures and he looks so hot that I keep wanting to read his plays.

  5. #4
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    I was a book publicist for a brief, fleeting moment (which was brief because I was a seriously terrible book publicist), and it was definitely easier to get interviews for authors who were reasonably good looking, or at least who looked hip and/or interesting. It was actually easier to get interviews on the radio, even though nobody would see them. I don't know whether book-buyers take it into account, but I do think that it plays into who gets covered by the media.

    If and when I publish my dissertation, I don't know whether I'll put a picture on the cover. But if I do, I'll put real thought into what I wear and how I pose, and I'll get someone decent to take it, even if that means paying for it myself. Because I think it does matter, especially if you aspire to mainstream publicity.

  6. #5
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    i prefer not to see pictures of the authors because it does bias me in a way. i'll still read the book, but i'll think, "wow... what a weird looking person!"

  7. #6
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    Usually an author's appearance won't be a deal-maker or -breaker for me if I'm interested in the book, but I'm always curious to see what the person looks like. Sometimes I see a picture only after I finish the book and am very surprised because I had a totally different mental image of the author.

    However, when The Beauty Myth was the big popular thing, I refused to read it (and haven't to this day - it's outdated now, right? Right?) simply on the basis of Naomi Wolf's full-back-cover "Look how pretty I am" photo.

  8. #7
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    It depends on the book. I am intrigued by the authors of literary fiction that I enjoy-- I want to know about them and where they came from, so I enjoy peering at their author photos. I am often struck with serious envy when a literary author is both talented and stunningly attractive (like the author of Easter Island!)

    I find chick lit author photos funny because of the "glamour"component of what they are writing-- it is amusing if they are not in the least glamorous themselves, or if they ARE glamorous but are writing about some poor normal-girl schlub.

    I don't tend to buy books that have the author photo slapped all huge on the back of the book, mostly because they are selling it based on it being "that authors work" rather than on the stand alone quality of the individual book (books by James Patterson and Nora Roberts come to mind). That always spells danger to me, unless I already know I enjoy that author.

    But otherwise I don't pay much attention to the author photo until I've read the book, and am interested enough to wonder what the author is like and where he/she came from.

  9. #8
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    what you said, belleepoque.

    did you hear zadie smith's interview on fresh air, literaryvamp? i just ask because that question came up - how did she react when people commented on her looks? - and she said it was insulting. i found that kind of interesting. i mean, it struck me as true, it probably would be insulting as a writer to constantly be asked about your looks. she could avoid putting her picture on the back covers, i guess, but there would really be no way to escape that aspect of her persona totally - unless she never did interviews and holed up in isolation like j.d. saligner.

    usually, with writers i really like i have an image in my head of what they'll look like. when i actually see the person (usually inadvertently) i find i'm always wrong.

    i've never really thought about what an author's looks say about their appeal for me, or whether their looks factor into their appeal at all. it's an interesting topic. i mean, most readers know what hemingway looked like, for example - and that informs our reading of his (or the narrator's) voice.

  10. #9
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    Just to clarify, I should add that I in no way meant to imply that an author, or anyone for that matter, can only either have brains or beauty. I was in a hurry and that title jumped into my head. I have the sneaking suspicion that there's another topic rolling around getcrafty with the same name, because I've been experiencing deja vu every time i hit the site.

    As for Zadie Smith, I hesitate to say too much about her because I haven't read any of her books. I didn't listen to the interview, but I've read other interviews with her, and she gets my claws up. If I was perfectly honest with myself (which I hate to be), I must admit that some of it is due to my own jealousy. She's written critically acclaimed books that have made some money, and she's pretty to boot. That's supposed to be me! ;) On the other hand, she's said some things which I find to be really arrogant, so perhaps my dislike is not completely unfounded. Either way, I think I'll have to wait a few years before reading her works with an objective eye.

    I feel like a bad person for not supporting the works of a fellow writer and woman. I don't have much sympathy for the "it's not my fault I'm pretty" plea because in general, beauty has advantages, but then again, I have Salinger tendencies (sadly, not in writing) so I'd never put my picture on my books unless the publisher threatened to ax them otherwise.

    And now, I must go look up Harold Pinter...

  11. #10
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    i didn't think you were implying it could only be beauty or brains, literaryvamp. :) i have a bit of jealousy where zadie smith is concerned too, although i think it's pretty unfounded because our writing is not alike at all. it's interesting, because i guess she used to be extremely overweight, but lost it shortly before white teeth was published. i'm sure that has affected her perception of the way she's welcomed or not welcomed by readers and the media at large... but i'm not really sure, she seems sort of disgruntled when she's asked about it.

    i found it kind of funny that she's been teaching at harvard. i'm sure she has other credentials, although i don't know what they are. but it seems these days that publishing a successful book gets you the kind of noteriety that before, years of research and ten books might have gotten you.

    i think this is a really interesting topic, i didn't mean to be defensive about smith. sorry if i was! heh.


 
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