You can learn a lot about authors from their book-jacket photos. That’s why they put it there in the first place—that, and so if you find yourself reading “My Struggle” on the subway across from Karl Ove Knausgaard, you can recognize him and berate him for stealing your idea to write a six-book series about a guy named Karl Ove Knausgaard. Below, find a handy index of what, exactly, a book-jacket photo says about the book’s author.
Well-Lit, Flattering Photo
This person either is dating a photographer or hired a publicist.
This person writes highbrow fiction. Or is it autofiction? It’s unsophisticated of you to even ask.
Photo Where the Author’s Hair Is Frizzy, His Clothes Don’t Fit, and He’s Wearing Unflattering Seventies-Style Glasses
Either you’re reading a graphic novel or this person is very ugly.
Photo of a Woman Wearing a Feminine Top and a Lot of Makeup
When this author’s book was being pitched to the publisher of the imprint, the publisher asked, “Is this author hot?” The editor was, like, “Uh . . . does it matter?” Apparently, someone decided it mattered. (This book is a how-to guide for reading tarot.)
Author Standing in Front of a Bookshelf
She LOVES books!!!
Author Standing in Front of a Cool Car
Books are for losers!!!
Author Pretending to Play with Symbolically Resonant Dolls
Uh-oh, this one’s got a personality.
Man Wearing a Bucket Hat, Holding a Fish
Guy nature writer.
Woman Wearing a Shawl, Hugging a Tree
Lady nature writer.
Woman Wearing a Shawl, Standing in Front of a Castle
Lady who writes historical fiction that is very, very, very, very lewd.
Woman Wearing a Black Turtleneck, Staring out of a Window at a Tree
Lady nature writer in her jazz period.
Author Standing in Front of a Brick Wall
The author was going to pay for head shots but then thought, Wait, my friend Pete takes pretty good photos. Why don’t I have him just take a picture of me?
Attractive Woman Wearing Glasses
When the publisher was buying the book, she asked if the author was hot and then freaked out because this is supposed to be a work of literary fiction, and if they don’t find a way to make the author less hot, no one is going to take it seriously. (This book is a novel about a woman who reads tarot.)
Photo of a Guy in Glasses
It’s just a guy.
Photo of a Guy in a Scarf
Etching of a Man with a Hat and a Slightly Unbuttoned Shirt
First of all, this author wants you to know he’s fuckable. Second of all, this is Walt Whitman, hat icon.
Photo of a Young Man Taken in Approximately 1970
This author is bald now.
Current-Day Photo of a Young, Bald Man
This author has been bald since Day One.
Photo of Someone Clearly Born After 1995
If you were born after 1995, this is just an author photo. If you were born before 1995, this is an act of violence.
White Guy in a Button-Down Shirt, Smiling
You have never heard of this person, but your dad is obsessed with him. He sells sixty million books a year, and he makes more money in a month than you will make in your entire life.
White Guy in a Button-Down Shirt, Gazing Sensually at the Camera
This man is a French academic.
Photo of an Old Woman
This author is thrilled to be old enough that no one is trying to figure out if she’s hot—that way, she can finally just focus on her work. (Her book is a seventy-eight-poem collection. Every poem is inspired by a different tarot card—it’s not for everyone.)
No Author Photo