Decoding the Author Photo

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.

A blurry author photo.

Blurry Photo

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

Poet.

Cartoon

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 photo of person standing atop a cool car.

Author Standing in Front of a Cool Car

Books are for losers!!!

Author photo of person pretending to play with symbolically resonant dolls.

Author Pretending to Play with Symbolically Resonant Dolls

Uh-oh, this one’s got a personality.

Author photo of man wearing a bucket hat and holding a fish.

Man Wearing a Bucket Hat, Holding a Fish

Guy nature writer.

Author photo of woman wearing a shawl and hugging a tree.

Woman Wearing a Shawl, Hugging a Tree

Lady nature writer.

Author photo of woman wearing a shawl and standing in front of a castle.

Woman Wearing a Shawl, Standing in Front of a Castle

Lady who writes historical fiction that is very, very, very, very lewd.

Author photo of woman smoking a cigarette and staring out window at a tree.

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

British.

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.

Author photo of man wearing glasses and a white buttondown shirt.

White Guy in a Button-Down Shirt, Gazing Sensually at the Camera

This man is a French academic.

Author photo of an old woman smiling.

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

Thomas Pynchon.


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