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To Be or Not To Be…Seen





“Get a professional head shot.”

“You need to put a photo of yourself online.”

I’m told that showing myself is a good marketing tool. Why? To me, writing is a way to become well known and yet keep my anonymity. No matter how popular my books will become (hopefully!), I’ll be able to walk into my local supermarket and buy a bar of chocolate-covered halvah without anyone comparing me to my lean-and-mean heroine.

Louisa May Alcott understood what happens when fans look beyond the fiction. She wrote a scene in Jo’s Boys where Jo, gray and middle-aged, was a popular author. A family dropped by to meet her and while she hid, her son gave them a tour and pointed to a badly-done portrait. The daughter was disappointed:

‘I thought she’d be about sixteen and have her hair braided in two tails down her back. I don’t care about seeing her now,’ said the honest child, walking off to the hall door, leaving her mother to apologize, and her sisters to declare that the bad portrait was ‘perfectly lovely, so speaking and poetic, you know, ‘specially about the brow’.

This scene has stuck in my head for years. Why ruin the fantasy? My characters do things I’d never do—good and bad—and the reader gets to go along for the ride. Why confuse magic and action and whatever else lives on the pages with the soda- and tea-drinking, cat-loving night owl who spends her hours at the computer?

I could change my mind. There’s that small voice in the back of my head telling me to use whatever tools necessary to promote my work. I look at the photographs of authors whose work I enjoy and respect and think that one day, I might.

But in the meantime, there’s work to be revised and a new story to write and the supermarket awaits.


*Image courtesy of scottchan at

  • Jeff • September 1, 2014 at 2:58 am

    Will you be self promoting your work? Will you do signings and attend conventions? With no photo you could hire an actor/actress to stand in a booth at conventions to promote your work. You could “attend” multiple conventions at once doing that. Seriously though, If you decide to promote your work publicly, eventually someone is going to snap a pic of you and put it on-line. At that point their photo becomes the “official” photo of you available to the public. With an official photo, you at least control the public image.

    • J. M. Levinton • September 1, 2014 at 3:29 am

      Well, I haven’t decided if I’m going to market that way. From what I’ve read and heard from fellow writers, book signings aren’t the best way to market (although they can be interesting).

  • Paula • January 2, 2016 at 10:51 am

    That’s a lovely story about Alcott and Jo. And I am sure she heard that “specially about the brow” more than once. Edna Ferber knew this as well. “There is no denying the fact that writers should be read but not seen. Rarely are they a winsome sight.” Of course children are disappointed when they open up a Christmas present and find a sweater instead of a suit of armour. Some things just have to be dealt with. 😉

    • J. M. Levinton • January 2, 2016 at 11:49 am

      Too true! (I never heard that quote, I’ll need to remember it. 🙂 )

  • Jan • March 12, 2018 at 12:14 pm

    I don’t use professional head shots because to me they look phony. But it is only natural for readers to be interesting in the author of a work they particularly like or hate.

    • J. M. Levinton • March 12, 2018 at 1:08 pm

      Oh, absolutely! (I like your pic, btw.)

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