I heard on NPR today that an author’s photograph is “essential in marking a book.” The segment went so far as to state that review copies of books have been turned down on the premise the author’s photo on the jacket lacked attractiveness.
Excuse me? Women have been judged by their beauty and their body parts for centuries, and today that practice is considered politically incorrect – even as record companies award contracts based more on appearance than talent. Danica Patrick appeared in the Sports Illustrated swimsuit issue a year ago to further her career as a racecar driver? Having won only one race, she’s typically passed by other drivers more than she passes them on race day. She wanted to be taken seriously as a racecar driver. So seriously she was willing to take off her clothes.
Sports figures from every major sport generate huge incomes for using their looks to sell products. American Idol (note the definition of idol: one that is adored, often blindly or excessively; something visible but without substance) endeavors to create empty vassals for the masses to adore. Corporate America dresses for success.
And now author photos, not the content of their texts, must generate sales.
I must confess that I’m guilty, too, of judging men and women alike based on dress, hygiene, looks. But it’s wrong – simply wrong, ethically wrong – to judge anyone on their appearance alone. Yet we do it every day as a matter of habit, unaware that we do it: attractive people are let off with a warning rather than receiving a ticket for a traffic violation, while less attractive people must pay the fine. Attractive people in courtrooms receive preferential treatment; innocent people are often found guilty because of their looks, while guilty parties go free because they are attractive. Vendors are awarded contracts not so much based on the presentation but instead on the attractiveness of the presenter, be they male or female. Even babies respond more favorably to attractive features – but they don’t know any better!
It’s enough that I must endure rejection of my manuscript submissions because an agent or publisher doesn’t think it is right for them; now I must consider that maybe it’s because someone doesn’t think I’m young and good-looking enough? Maybe I should consider using a thirty-year-old photograph of myself when I had dark hair and six-pack abs.
This country is far too obsessed with youth and beauty – plastic surgery (a practice in which both genders now indulge), liposuction, breast enhancement – all designed to enhance the superficial and distract from what really matters – in the case of books, what lies between its covers. Which publishing house will be the first to include in their submission guidelines: “Must be willing to agree to plastic surgery to enhance marketability of their work?”
Acceptance of this practice of forcing people into a cookie cutter mold based on someone else’s opinion of what will sell to an eagerly awaiting public doesn’t make it right. What’s wrong with judging someone for what they bring to the table, for their talent, whether as a sports figure, an executive, an actor, a singer or a novelist? I would never, never, consent to buying a book based on its cover let alone the author photo – and I don’t know anyone in my circle of friends who would – but for sake of argument, if I ever did and I found the author lacking as a writer, I never again would buy one of their titles. The publisher who wishes to sell books based on an author photo is interested only in the short-term, and this practice to me reeks of everything that brought down Wall Street: make a quick killing today and to hell with tomorrow.
I’m a better writer today than when I started, nearly twenty years ago. How depressing to consider I must give up my craft when I’m so close to achieving the best work I’ve put to paper simply because I’m too old and too wrinkled to have my work considered for publication.