These days, being a great writer will only take you so far. Good looks will get you media coverage.
In the September 2009 issue of, The Writer, I found an interesting article on page 8, about “The marketing of an author’s image.”
According to Harper Collins editor Gail Winston, attractive authors, “get a little bit of an advantage” when marketing their books.
Nicholas Latimer, director of publicity at Knopf, told National Public Radio what he heard from an editor at People magazine: “If you have an attractive-looking author, there’s a better chance that your book will get reviewed.”
This may not sound fair to struggling writers, but we live in a society where the media and consumers worship celebrity. So what can we do about it?
Perhaps authors should ask for a publicity and a plastic surgery advance in their contract with their publisher. (Yeah, right. I can just see that happening in the near future.)
With advances running between $500-$2,000 for unknown authors, it seems that writers today, not only have to be extremely talented, but also millionaires before they can get published.
Example of a writers out-of-pocket expenses:
1) WRITING CLASSES
University extension classes: $1,000
Local writers conferences, including hotels: $2,000
Freelance editorial fees: $1,500-$3,000
Other workshops, writers’ retreats, writers’ clubs: $800
Hiring a publicist: $3,000-$5,000/month. Easily $15,000 total
Media Training? no clue. Perhaps they’re included in publicist’s fees. Anyone know?
3) PLASTIC SURGERY
If you’re over 40 and you want media coverage, maybe you need to budget. If you’re under 40, then no worries.
Botox, Juvederm, MicroDermabrasion
Teeth Whitening, other dental work, depending.
Suits, clothing, accessories:
If my calculations are right:
Author pays out $56,000, and receives $500 advance from publisher.
$56,000-$500 = $55,500 total out-of-pocket expenses for author. Sounds FAIR to me (Ahem!).
Please share your thoughts on this topic, whether you’re an aspiring author, already an author, or if you care to share your opinion.
I’m curious if this is the same for writers in other parts of the world.
The beauty of the net and social media is that if you know how to use it you can overcome many of these hurdles.
Can't promise that you will level the playing field, but you can do more now to publicize yourself than ever before.
This may be true in the US, but probably far less so in other countries that are not so looks-fixated?
Of course, this only applies to men and not women, I suppose… I buy many books based on reviews and I usually don't have a clue as to what the writer looks like. I'm only interested in their writing.
Personally, I think plastic surgery would be going more than a bit too far. Sure, get in shape if you think it will improve your publicity, but plastic surgery seems overmuch.
Midlife Jobhunter says
I figure I've made about -$.000000000003 on my writing. Now, the enjoyment I get while lapsing into that creative place – priceless.
I see your point but I also think the article in The Writer has a point.
I agree that looks shouldn't count, only the writing. I'm just expressing what I read in The Writer, which shocked me. Just one more thing on a writer's plate to worry about.
I agree, but my message to LadyFi, also applies here.
I know many writers who hope to make a living out of their passion. Unfortunately, I think you have to pay for classes, conferences, editors and hire a publicist, to make it. At least that's what I understand from the process in the U.S.
Warren Baldwin says
If this article is right, and I suspect it is, I'm in real trouble!
Miss Footloose says
It's a bleeding tragedy 😉 to have to do all that to make a success of your talents.
On the other hand, while expressing our talents, meaning, while we are actually writing our creative master pieces, we can do so in the nude, which saves on wardrobe costs.
Yes, I'm sure it's true that attractive authors get more publicity. Attractive people also get hired sooner in all sorts of jobs. Taller men make more money than shorter men, and so on and so forth.
I guess it's another kind of prejudice that is hard to get rid of. So if we writers are not gorgeous, we'll just have to find ways to deal with it. And if all else fails, there's always the comfort of knowing you can find a bridge or a cliff.
Miss Footloose, happy, but with her loose feet avoids bridges and cliffs.
Renie Burghardt says
I'm sure that is true about attractive writers getting an advantage. Attractive people get an advantage in life as well. That has always been true.
I've never had the ambition to write a book, but I write many stories that get published, and I have an arsenal of reprints that get published as well. I make a nice extra income with my writing. Tully, the publicist from HCI Books, who publish the Chicken Soup books, called my local newspaper in early June, about my story in the Tough Times, Tough People book and they did a front page spread on me. And you know what? I am sorry it happened. Now I can't even go to town anymore without people recognizing me, and I don't like it one bit, even though it's only on a small scale in a small town! Of course, to a book author, publicity is important, I guess, but I certainly would never go as far as you suggest, and spend thousands, to get a pittance.
Now, aren't you lucky though? You're already attractive and won't need to do anything but smile, when your book comes out.
Elizabeth Bradley says
Oh poo! What you say may be true, but I have NEVER read and enjoyed a book because the author was beautiful. I love certain books because the words were beautiful. Then again, I have never read anything written by Hiedi Klum, or Suzanne Somers either. I prefer well-written fiction.
I'm reminded of the movie "Places in the Heart", when the blind character played by John Malkovich asks the character Sally Fields plays just what she looks like, and she responds with, "I'm okay."
Our society is so focused on one certain kind of beauty. I know many older people that are gorgeous, without the help of botox, or face lifts, or any of that.
Would publishers turn down Pat Conroy's latest book because he's put on weight? Would they turn down Stephen King? What about Anne Rice? (She used to be enormous and is now thin.) Jennifer Weiner has been successful and she certainly doesn't look like Candace Bushnell.
Let's hope it hasn't come down to this. It would be a sad day when authors are judged by the same yardstick as sit-com stars.
I'm just talking about the media here, as expressed in an article I read.
Please don't go to the cliff or the bridge. I want to see your expat tales in print. I love reading them on your blog.
I don't read a book based on the author's looks either. Most of the time I never see their face anyway.
However, perhaps there's some truth to those who get media coverage and those who don't. Need to start paying more attention to that.
I thought most people knew you in town already. Do they come up and ask you for autographs? Thanks for your comment, and I am happy for you, that your stories are published.
I'd say you've got the looks, not to mention the talent to take you wherever you want to go. I look forward to saying "I knew her when", or at least "I read her blog when".
Although I am just an aspiring writer, I'm too old and fat to really care one way or another. I think I would just use a picture of some unknown actress from the 1950's and be done with it. I do not intend to write a book; just stories that hopefully entertain.
It is sad how we judge and are judged on appearance. Think of all of the gifted people out there who have so much to offer, but don't look like they came out of a "sitcom!"
Your expense list looks very similar to an actor's expense list. One has to be independently wealthy in order to pursue a career!
Good post. I'm going to check out the article.
Jungle Mom says
I'm sure it's true. Too bad, because you shouldn't judge a book by it's cover!
Frankly, I am not too surprised to read this. An ex-classmate of mine write really badly, and when I say badly, I mean BADLY – no plot, bad grammar, non-existent style – but she's not only got six books published, she makes frequent appearances at parties that make news.
She gets by because not does she ooze sex appeal, her partner is a rich entrepreneur who pays and enormous sum to a PR agency to push her.
Pathetic doesn't start to describe it.
But, while authors who are attractive may have it easier, I don't think ANYONE is going to read a book unless it is worth reading.
Thanks for the compliment. Now I can focus on continuing to improve my writing skills.
You're right, it does look like an expense list for an actor. Of course I was joking about the plastic surgery expense, but after reading the article, this is what came to mind.
So true. But that might be changing.
So funny to heat about your ex-classmate and her books. Thanks for sharing.
I do have kind of celebrity crushes on my favorite authors. I confess. But I would be enamored no matter how ugly they were.
I think this prettiness thing comes from the TV appearances which are more successful, right, if the author is good looking. But I would always think that a writer should not be too beautiful. I am a little prejudiced against people who look too good. How much can they have going on for them, really?
Lauri Kubuitsile says
I think looks would matter for a marginally talented writer but a good writer is a good writer. I don't want to mention names, but most of my favourite writers are definitely NOT lookers.
As for some of the other costs, it might depend on where you are but I don't think you need a publicist starting out, maybe not even later.
Your readers are wise on this one, Gutsy! They would never spend the money in your potential budget. Classes and conferences and editors, sure. Publicist, probably not, and plastic surgery, you gotta be kidding me!
Yes, some people get published because of what they spend to get there–just another kind of "vanity" publication. Let's work on our inner beauty and on our craft. Let's keep healthy and fit. And let's just "write the hell out of our stories." –Free Advice from Rick Bragg, who, by the way, is no looker.
I'm so glad to have written this article as it seems to have touched a nerve among my fellow writers.
I belong to two writers clubs and volunteer at the library where I here many different speakers, including publicists and publishers. A writer friend of mine is working with a publicist as her book isn't being promoted.
Love the quote you gave us from Rick Bragg. Thanks Shirley.
First, I thought the woman in the pink dress was you, with a different hair style.
Sadly, in our sexualized, "looks-fixated" society, image is important. Probably more important than reality. I think Carnimire was telling us about that.
Thanks for this YouTube video which proves what lighting, make-up can do.
Please watch this if you haven't already.
I knew it! You're blind, as well as color-blind. Her dress is red, not pink. It must be hibernating season for bears soon.
The poor writer gets poorer but I'm better for the advice!
I wonder why we fret over these things. Some of my favorite fiction writers seem to keep their best photos of themselves on the back page. I googled one of them not long ago…Vince Flynn… and saw a few other photos of him that didn't look very much like the one that is on the back cover of his books. It is like our profile picture that most of us use for blogging or facebook, etc. Don't we usually choose the best one we can find, even if it was 20 years ago…ha!
I couldn't disagree with this article more!! I do not care one hoot what an author looks like. I am reading their work…not looking at them on screen.
I think that plastic surgery might depend upon the genre you are going for. Some of the self-help stuff you need to look like you've really lived a life…as well as the stuff that imply that you've done any amount of living.
I think that good looks, no matter what industry you are in give you a leg up. They have done studies and attractive people make more money. But airhead looking people don't make more on something that needs talent. I think looking your best (meaning nice clothes, eating well, normal maintenance and exercise) would be more that sufficient to be enough glamor to help market your book. So much is going online now anyways and so much is via word of mouth recommendations rather than direct work of a PR firm.
Oh, also, I gave you an award over on my blog 🙂
I hear ya! Totally ties in with my impressions. I'm sure readers don't actually care what a writer looks like when reading but in order to get publicity for a new book from a new writer, I can see why marketing departments THINK that physical attractiveness is important. It's part of our looks-obsessed generation in which all celebrity photos other that those from paps are photo-shopped to perfection. I hope in the end that the best writing gets published irrespective of whether the writer has an over-bite or not. I recently entered a writing comp which requested a photo and could only think that this was part of a quest for an attractive writer. A friend here just got an agent in New York; I must ask her if the actually met her or if the agent asked for a photo. Sorry, am rambling….
Money is so intangible, its almost like a promise and a piece of paper.
I just added your feed to my favorites. I really enjoy reading your posts..
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