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Opinion: Why Authors Shouldn’t Spend Too Much Time on Photography

Photo of Debbie holding up two of her books in front of a Festival banner

Debbie Young, happy to be on the other side of the camera for a change, at the launch of the Evesham Festival bookshop on Friday (Photo: Angela Fitch Photography for the Evesham Festival of Words)

How much time do you spend taking photographs to publicise your self-published books? Or to illustrate your blog posts, to tweet in hope of a retweet, or to pin on Pinterest to catch the eye of people who share your passions – and who may, with luck, buy your books?

If you’ve got into the snapping habit for the sake of book marketing, that’s no surprise, because:

received wisdom is that any social media update or blog post that features images will be much more likely to be read and shared

Here’s another good reason: we’ve all heard horror stories about authors who have posted what they assumed were copyright-free images on their blog, only to be taken to court by the copyright holder for scary sums of money.

If In Doubt, Take Your Own Pictures…

Getting into the habit of taking and using your own photos is therefore a no-brainer. After all, few indie authors are in the luxurious position of being able to pay a photographer to snap all the shots they need. Besides, once you get in the right mindset, it’s surprising how often marketing-related photo opportunities turn up.

But it’s too easy to end up spending a disproportionate amount of time taking photos, which then take time to upload, edit, and file them in a meaningful way so that you can find them again later… Always short of writing time, I find myself asking whether that’s the best use of the limited hours in the day, which might be better spent writing – or resting or reading or sleeping, or all those other things that most writers never do enough of.

If the technology in our pockets makes it far too easy to get addicted to the photo habit, our smartphones are effectively our enablers.

Yes, we’re lucky to have the technology, and it’s great that we have the chance to use it to further our writing careers. But it’s also important to strike a balance.

I’m a writer, not a photo-journalist.

Shortage of time is not the only reason for cutting down on photography. I was starting to see the world framed through a lens, missing out on anything that was going on beyond the crop lines. I had acquired elective tunnel vision which diminished the actual experience of whatever I was living through.

…But Don’t Miss Out on a Dimension

I am reminded of a visit twenty years ago to the Musée d’Orsay in Paris, where I was very excited to be seeing some Impressionist paintings for the first time in real life. I queued at the museum entrance for a long time to take my turn on what was the equivalent of bumper-to-bumper traffic, moving slowly around to spend a few moments in front of each masterpiece. Being so close to the pictures, I was moved to see the thickness of the paint, the individual strokes of brush and palette knife on the canvas making them three dimensional. I felt close to the hands of the artists.

By contrast, the tourist in front of me saw them only in two dimensions, one eye closed, the other up against the eyepiece of his video camera, with the degradation of definition assured. Although I was sure that he was enjoying his holiday in his own way, I felt sorry that he was missing out on so much by his compulsion to film every moment of his tour.

So as not to seem hypocritical, I shan’t add any images to this post, apart from the one at the start of me on the other side of a camera for a change. (I really enjoyed that photoshoot, with the responsibility lying solely with the professional photographer for snapping all the authors at this event.)

And my smartphone’s switched off, downstairs, in my handbag. Well, till tomorrow at least.

OVER TO YOU

Have I just called the Emperor’s New Clothes, or am I being self-destructively obstinate? What’s your view on the role of photography in the life of an indie author? I’d love to hear your take!

#Authors - how many photos should you take to promote your books? @DebbieYoungBN considers Click To Tweet

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10 Responses to Opinion: Why Authors Shouldn’t Spend Too Much Time on Photography

  1. Karl Drinkwater June 21, 2016 at 9:09 am #

    Balance in all things. Good skills to have, and they can save you time if you don’t obsess over images. Even better if you take your own photos for book cover compositions. Good timing with this post, I’d only written about some of those horror stories yesterday, and the benefit of taking your own photos. http://karldrinkwater.blogspot.co.uk/2016/06/images-book-covers-stock-photo-sites.html

    • Debbie Young June 21, 2016 at 7:03 pm #

      Well, you know what they say about great minds, Karl 😉 Will hop over to read your post now. Yes, it’s all about balance, and when we’re so close to our work, it’s often tricky to get that balance right. I’m sure I will still take lots of photos and use them for PR purposes, but whenever I catch myself getting anxious about taking pics, that’ll be the time to go cold turkey for a bit till I regain my sense of perspective, so to speak!

  2. B.M. Allsopp June 21, 2016 at 3:54 am #

    Debbie, I value all the ALLi posts, but this one struck a particular chord as I have spent many often fruitless hours in recent days selecting photos for my new author website. My debut crime novel. “Death on Paradise Island”, to be published in October, is set in Fiji. I have been trawling through 1400 photos taken during the four years I lived there, certain I could find a dozen or so to give readers an impression of those glorious islands. Not so easy! Technical quality is one reason: when I preview those ‘great shots’ on my site with a critical eye, most fall short. On the other hand, web-sourced professional shots are often too slick and staged. Copyright implications are another: I also worry about this even when the site claims its stock is free. For me, selecting and processing photos is extremely frustrating and time-consuming. I would rather be writing! Right now, I’m looking for an action rugby shot featuring Fijian players-anyone?

    • Debbie Young June 21, 2016 at 7:06 pm #

      Yes, it’s never really a stress-free issue, is it? Especially when we have a clear idea in our own minds of what picture we want, as you do – and it’s hardly a simple solution to nip over to Fiji to take shots to order. (I’m assuming you don’t live in Fiji, but perhaps you do!) Good luck with finding the perfect shot for what sounds like an intriguing novel. I’ll look out for it in October – it would make a great Christmas present for my brother, who has just had a holiday there!

  3. Glenn Bowman June 20, 2016 at 9:01 pm #

    Debbie, many of my stories are inspired to a great extent from seeing a picture which is strong image of what I’m seeing in my mind. Photos I download are for my own personal use and are never distributed. And if I happen to snap a photo of what my soul wants to feel, then it’s a match made in heaven.

    And if a picture is truly worth a thousand words, then my story flows like a river after a rainstorm.

    • Debbie Young June 20, 2016 at 11:34 pm #

      You’ve summoned up a very lovely image there yourself, Glenn 🙂

  4. clare weiner June 20, 2016 at 8:30 pm #

    I use a lot of photos on my blogposts because I take a lot of photos anyway! I’m a visual not a verbal person: I’m a lot happier dealing in images. if I was not writing I would be painting and I would love to do a proper photography course, it was what I wanted to do as a kid for a career but life turned out otherwise and I still don’t have the sort of camera I dream about.

    However, I take your point, it can be addictive and I do not do Pinterest etc – I simply use the images I have taken for my own information when writing and slap those onto the blog where relevant. I also post nature images etc and I believe in illustrating the blog asit breaks up the text.

    That is just me!

    • Debbie Young June 20, 2016 at 11:36 pm #

      The photos on your blog are always gorgeous, Clare – and I’m totally in agreement about how useful images are on blog posts to add visual interest and break up blocks of text. Just now and again it feels like I’m feeding an insatiable beast – however many photos I take, it seems it’s never enough! Though unlike you, I’m less of a visual person – maybe that’s why I find it more of a strain than you do.

  5. Patricia Sands June 20, 2016 at 8:11 pm #

    Debbie, I have to say I’m on the other side of this discussion. A very strong aspect of my brand is the photography that I post … mainly of my travels in France and the locations that are featured in my Love In Provence series. My readers are constantly asking for more photos. I’ve also found Instagram an excellent social media platform for expanding readership. With the ease of taking excellent quality photos on iphones, that also have the ability to immediately edit and share, posting photographs is almost a no-brainer. My blog posts always feature photos as do many of my tweets. I write for several websites and my photo essays are often the ones that garner the most clicks. I guess all this just confirms that the decision to use photography is a personal one and, depending on your established brand, can actually be a tremendous asset.

    • Debbie Young June 20, 2016 at 11:39 pm #

      Patricia, I completely understand that – photos are a quintessential part of what you do, and you couldn’t NOT use photos to build your platform. I don’t have such an obviously visual brand as yours – though I always do try to have at least three images in my blog posts. Your experience of getting so many clicks on photo-heavy posts is exactly why I feel the pressure to keep adding more and more photos to my social media presence and blog posts, though I do it less readily and naturally than you do!

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